Summary: After so many years of hiding it from her, so many years of denying it, he had almost convinced himself that maybe, just maybe, he didn't need her to go on. Or at least he had gotten good enough at lying about it.
It was Friday night and they were bundled up on the couch watching the latest chick flick out on cassette tape. He couldn't remember when it had become a mandatory tradition- something that if either of them needed to miss, they needed a damn good reason and a time and place to make up for it.
He imagined it started when he had taken a movie- god save him, but he had rented a chick flick for her- because she had been out for a week with the flu. He still smiled at the image of her dressed in baggy sweats and his Michigan sweater, her nose red, and her eyes dropping with exhaustion. She had accepted the steaming tea with that smile that he liked to imagine she saved for only him and ushered him to her couch. He had fallen asleep there after watching the movie and spending the next few hours mocking and discussing it.
She had repaid him a week later by renting 'James Bond' and, somehow, a tradition was born. One broken only occasionally by cram sessions and family visits.
The mushy part of the movie was coming- he had developed a sense for it after all the chick flicks she had forced on him- so he looked away. He watched her instead, smirking at the faint sign of tears welling in her eyes that she didn't dare let fall. Smirking at the way her hair was frizzing and falling out of the messy bun she had thrown it in. Smirking at his sweater she had "borrowed" four years ago.
He couldn't believe it sometimes. Four years ago he had reluctantly allowed himself to be guilted into going to the library to get out a book for his friend- Mark had just gotten a new girlfriend, thanks to him, and didn't have time for such trivial matters. He owed it to Mark, though; if it weren't for his procrastinating, lazy ass, he never would have noticed her cuddled in the corner chair. He never would have knocked into her on purpose to get her to talk to him. He never would have met those grey eyes and fallen right then. Not in love- no, he didn't believe in love at first sight- but he would certainly call it attraction. He lusted over her for a time, then he crushed over her, and before he knew it, he had genuinely begun to like her. Care for her dearly.
He kept watching her, his eyes growing gentler as he did. He wondered how she survived the first months of their friendship. It was mostly one-sided, or at least it appeared that way from his angle. He would find her- usually on purpose, though he would claim it was just fate throwing them together- and somehow he would occasionally coax her into coffee or food or something. It was just before the summer after his fourth year- her second- that he finally convinced her to come watch him play in his last lacrosse match. He didn't actually think she would show, but there she was, smiling as she watched him. He knew that day that it was more than lust or crushing. Neither of those brings out such giddiness.
Summer had done nothing for his feelings for her. He considered calling her many hundreds of times, but he could never work up the courage. Instead he looked her up on the first day of school. If she was put off that he never called, she didn't look it.
It was right around then that she stole his sweater. He had convinced her to take a walk after they went to dinner with a bunch of friends. It had been warm right up until the sun set behind the trees and she started to shiver. He took pity on her and pulled off his sweater and offered it to her. She had never given it back and he didn't really mind.
He looked at her now, and wondered how they had ever managed to find each other and how he had managed to keep from screwing it up after so long. He imagined it had to do with controlling all his insane impulses. There had been so many times he had wanted to just lean in and kiss her, so many times he had longed to touch her, to hold her and wake up to her in his arms. He wondered, too often, what would happen if he did. And he wondered, even more often, why he had never just tried.
She cuddled farther beneath the comforter and he saw that she was shivering. It was December and practically blizzarding outside.
In a few short months, he would be leaving for some kind of career and she would still be stuck there for two more years. He wondered what kind of relationship that would be- a few months of intimacy and then years of being apart. Would they be able to survive it?
She shifted and her legs grazed along the length of his. He watched a small lock of hair fall into her eyes. He longed, just as he did so many times, to lean forward and brush them behind her ear. He longed to let his hand linger just too long and he longed to brush his lips over hers as he did it. He longed to pull her into an embrace and warm her and he longed to cuddle up next to her as they watched their movies.
But no matter how much he longed to do it, he always hesitated just too long, just too deep in his own thoughts. And, just as she always did, she brushed the strand from her eyes and shifted deeper into the blankets, never knowing that she had just solved the latest battle of a four year war.
Then he shifted, pulling away from the warmth of her legs and her freezing toes. He looked away, watching as the credits rolled over the screen.
He had kissed her once. A peck on the cheek before he had wrapped his arms around her and held her one last time. He had graduated, cleared out his apartment, and was on his way out west to California. He was going to miss her; he could already feel his heart tearing in two. He knew it was showing in his eyes and so he had ducked down some and committed the feel of her to his memory.
It was two and a half long years before they saw each other in person again. She called some times and he called when the nights became too lonely and watching movies every Friday night no longer comforted him. They would talk and it would almost be like old times, but it wasn't. And when they hung up, it only hurt worse, like an old wound that was rudely ripped back open.
He was standing, paying for a coffee, when he heard the familiar gait. She would never believe him, but it was true. Every person walked differently- well, that she would agree with- but he had learned to recognize some people's walk. Hers was etched into his memory.
He swallowed hard, cringing when he realized that the coffee was too hot to be swallowed at all. He wanted to spin around, to grace her with the largest smile he could produce, and pull her into his arms. He wanted to grab her and kiss her and never let go. He wanted to-
He could only smirk and turn slowly to find her standing directly behind him. His eyes dropped from her face, taking in everything about her first. She had changed some. Her hair was longer and not quite as curly. Her make-up was a little heavier and he wondered if she hadn't slept recently. But it was the clothing that caught his eye. The skirt was more revealing and the shirt was much lower cut than anything she had ever worn in college. Not that he wasn't impressed.
"Been a while, eh?" She smiled at him and finally he kissed her for the second time ever. Just a graze across her cheek as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
"It must be the fates pulling at those strings again."
And he smirked, amazed and horrified that she remembered his lame excuse. And suddenly he was wondering if she still had his sweater somewhere. He wondered if maybe she wore it sometimes when she missed him. He wondered if she ever missed him.
"So where are you headed?"
"Hmm?" She looked at him oddly and suddenly he glanced off to the side and remembered where he was. Harried businessmen hustled from terminal to terminal, stressed parents dragged children behind them, young people waited to return home or leave for a new life. Oh, how he loved airports. So many people just to sit and watch.
"Oh, um… Chicago."
"Yeah… I'm going to be working there at their Diagnostics Department."
He melted under her hand caressing his arm. He wished he had learned how to tell her that. He wished he could tell her that.
She smirked. "I'm heading back home. Seeing the folks, I guess."
He nodded. "You still working around here?"
"Still like it?" She laughed, as if it was absurd that she couldn't like it, but she never answered.
"How long until your flight leaves?"
And with her single question, the smile faded from his eyes and reality hit him hard and fast. He had enough time to buy his coffee, stroll leisurely to the gate, and have a few minutes to spare.
"Um… like very soon."
He wasn't sure why her disappointment jolted a small burst of hope in his chest. Maybe because it suggested that he wasn't the only one missing someone.
He sighed and looked off into the direction of his flight. He could miss it. He could just trade it in for another, later ticket. He didn't need to be there for at least another day. Then he looked at her as she checked her watch.
"Yeah, well I probably need to be heading to my gate too."
He nodded, not because he wanted to but because he thought that he ought to. He opened his mouth, prepared to suggest taking some time to talk, but then the words never came out. "Yeah… yeah…"
He looked at her and he wondered where that perfect synchrony, that perfect platonic intimacy had disappeared to. When had they been reduced to awkward conversation?
"I guess we'll talk later. Call me when you get there."
"Yeah. Yeah, you've got to call me when you get to Chicago and tell me how it is."
She smiled and he smiled back, but it was awkward, almost forced.
He considered it then, as he was slowly leaning onto the back of his heels, preparing to twist around and head in the opposite direction. He looked over at her- at the seductive clothing, at her beautiful face, at her taunting lips- and he was tempted, oh so tempted to lean forward and kiss her goodbye. To kiss her in a way that she would beg to go to Chicago with him.
Instead, he flashed his infamous Gregory House smile, lightly slung an arm around her shoulders, and kissed her hair.
"I most definitely will call once I find out if this place is better than the last."
"Have a nice flight."
And that was the last thing he said to her face for years.
"You gonna bring me a coffee too?" He smirked at her, shaking his head even though he knew she couldn't see it.
"As much as I would love to- for brownie points, if nothing else- I'm afraid coffee doesn't stay well over the phone." She laughed lightly and he shifted the phone against his ear as he dug his money out of his pocket, picking his coffee up off the counter.
"So what's up with you recently?"
He sighed and shrugged, "What's up with me? Um… not much really. Got yell at again." He could hear her laughing in his ear; it made him smirk just to hear the sound.
"Let me guess. Your boss told you what the patient had, you disagreed with him, he didn't care and told you to treat patient for what he thought it was, and you went and treated the patient for what you thought it was anyway. The patient got better and your boss was pissed at you."
"You know me so well."
"You're just predictable in that manner."
"Thanks." He sighed and rubbed the weariness from his face, resisting the urge to drop into one of the chairs.
"Didn't sleep much last night?"
"I can hear your tiredness seeping through the phone."
"Yeah… saving lives can wear a person out."
"Tell me about it."
He laughed. "Yeah, well in your case, it's not saving lives that's wearing you out."
He chuckled, wincing as his coffee burned his tongue. "So… what's new in your life these days?"
"Um… Jason and I have been talking lately-"
"That's good to know. I'm glad to hear you speak occasionally in between screwing each other." He could almost hear her rolling her eyes as she ignored him, continuing on as soon as he was quiet enough to speak over.
"We've been talking about moving in together."
And for the first time in a very long time, he was silent. He just stood there, coffee in his left hand, the phone against his ear in the right hand. He tried coming up with something witty, something annoying, something that wasn't a croaked reflection of his feelings. Somehow, no matter how happy she sounded with this guy, he had always hoped it wouldn't work out. As long as it was casual, he had priority over some other guy in her life.
"Oh…" He winced and wondered if she could hear every thought in that one sigh. "Just trying to make it easier to get laid or…" His words didn't carry his usual bite; he felt the life seeping out of his heart, collapsing his stomach and weighing down his lungs.
"You are incorrigible."
"You wouldn't have me any other way." And then he heard her sigh and he knew that he was right. She didn't like him because he was easy to get along with. She liked him because he was always interesting, always doing something, always making her laugh, and always making her step up to compete at his level.
"Well, I should let you go."
"Yeah," he sighed, "And… I'm happy for the two of you. I hope it all works out." He bit his tongue as he spoke. He hated lying to her.
"Thanks… Talk to you later."
He didn't hang up first, he never did. He waited for the click in his ear before he started walking. He waited two steps before he snapped the phone closed. He kept walking even as he stared down at the object, not paying attention as he walked out of the coffee shop-
Until he felt the scolding liquid of his coffee soaking his arm. He groaned, biting back a more violent reaction to the pain.
"Shit. Sorry. Shit." He couldn't think of anything else to do or say. He looked up at what had come into his way. She just stared at him, wide eyed and open mouthed, equally as startled. He glanced down quickly- her blouse was stained in the shoulder.
"I'm so sorry. I wasn't paying attention."
"Sorry. Sorry, um…" He looked at her finally. Just black hair cropped around her chin; dark eyes; just shorter than him. She wasn't Lisa. But he needed someone who wasn't Lisa. "I'm Greg."
"Can I buy you a coffee and maybe get you some napkins."
She smiled and he smirked in return.
He knew it was her hand that was carefully stroking his cheek. He wanted to open his eyes and look up at her, he wanted to peer into her stormy grey eyes and see everything she was feeling.
She felt guilty, he knew. For not finding the problem sooner, for not acting faster, for not taking his leg, for taking his thigh muscle, for leaving him in pain for the rest of his life. He knew that she thought it was her fault. He knew that she thought he blamed her. He didn't- well, a little.
He yelled and carried on at times; at others he wouldn't even look at her. She had given up around the time he called her 'Dr. Cuddy'. He wished he could take away his words. He wished she could become 'Lisa' again, but he knew that she probably never would.
He wanted to open his eyes and catch her stroking his brow. He wanted to smirk at her and crack a joke like old times. He wanted her to smile back and be relieved, relieved to feel the guilt rise just an inch off her shoulders. He wanted for her to be 'Lisa' again and for him to be 'Greg'. He wanted it all to disappear, but he didn't for a moment think that it would.
He wanted so desperately to open his eyes, but he was so tired. He would leave her with her short moment in private, thinking that only she would ever remember the encounter. He would leave her to believe that things had no hope of changing, that he was still mad at her. He was mad, but that didn't mean that he would never forgive her. He doubted that she thought the day would ever come.
If he were honest, he was far madder at himself. Far more disappointed in himself than in her. He was mad at himself for never taking a leap and taking their relationship one step farther. He was disappointed that he would now never know the possibilities.
He entertained the notion that maybe, just maybe, the experience would teach him to take a leap of faith. Maybe it would make him appreciate life more. Maybe he would learn to embrace Lisa's friendship and maybe, just maybe, something would happen.
Suddenly the warmth of her hand was gone and he forced himself not to groan in protest. He could vaguely hear the sound of the door slide open. Just as quickly, the notion faded. She was 'Dr. Cuddy' now and he was 'Dr. House' and that was all that they would ever be.
He watched as she walked out. There was nothing he could say- no snide comment, nothing sexually harassing that came to mind. He couldn't even come up with a serious thing to say.
For a long time he sat there and for a longer time he mentally scolded himself for his inaction.
How easy would it have been to call out to her before she walked away? How easy would it have been to pull the question she had wanted to ask out of her? How easy would it have been to stand and follow her out? How easy would it have been to simply yell "Yes!" down the hall after her? How easy would it have been? Not as easy as it sounded.
It didn't take a genius to figure out what she had wanted to ask him. She wanted- needed a father for her child. He had all but dared her to consider him. To come out and say that he wanted her to consider him, that he wanted his own "dinner date" with her, wasn't his style. He liked subtly- making her think that he was interested wasn't even enough. He needed her to decide if she wanted him or not before he let on that he truly wanted to be a part of this child's life.
Sitting there, stunned that he had achieved his intended goal, he froze when the ball had bounced back into his court. She would assume that, if his curiosity was peaked enough, that he would be chasing her within the following days. And, if the subject of said curiosity was anything other than Cuddy herself, she would be quite correct in such an assumption.
But, when it came to Cuddy, nothing was simple. House had never figured out the enigma that was Lisa Cuddy, and he hoped that he never would.
He thought maybe he would give her time to realize what she had just said to him. He would give her time to realize that he had effectively read between the "Thank-you for my injections" and had come to understand what she was asking of him. He would give her time to change her mind and take it back. He would give her time, not because he thought she needed it, but because he did. Because he had no idea what he would do if the word 'yes' ever escaped his lips. Because he had no idea what he would do if the word 'no' ever escaped his lips. Because the chance to be so close to having 'Lisa' back excited him. Because the chance to be so close to having 'Lisa' back scared every fiber within him. Because the thought of seeing the disappointment wash over her face made his stomach knot and his heart twist. Because the thought of seeing the disappointment wash over her face would assure him that nothing in their comfortable relationship was going to change.
He stared at the white door that Cuddy had just closed on him. He wondered how symbolic the action was. Had he just closed the door to all possibilities with her or had he closed the door of their old one, giving them the chance to search out a new one.
He sighed as he turned away. He should have just admitted it. God, how he wanted to. But he couldn't. After so many years of hiding it from her, so many years of denying it, so many years… He had almost convinced himself that maybe, just maybe, he didn't need her to go on. Or at least he had gotten good enough at lying about it.
"Do you like me, House?"
Oh, if she only knew. If she could only reach back into the fog of her memory and watch it all from his perspective. If she could only go back and see how much he regretted that they had been nothing more than friends in college, how much he missed her when he left. If only she could recall the first time they meet up after she had graduated and watch it from his eyes. Would she understand how painful it was to be forcibly reminded of her charm, of her beauty, of her quirky smile and her musical laughter, of the way she could go toe to toe with him and not bat an eye? Stacy was the only other one who could ever do that and not with the same charm and defiance in her eyes- would she understand how unique and perfect that made her?
He wished she could understand how she had tormented him with what's-his-face. He wished that she could understand how his emotions ripped at him when she was with that guy. How he had loathed and loved the happiness he could hear in her voice during their frequent phone calls. He wanted her to be happy and he would do anything to see to that, but the fact that some other man had put that giddiness on her face burned him. Jealousy was not an emotion that suited him. He wanted with all his being for her to be happy and yet he so desperately wanted the relationship to fall to pieces, for her to discover that what's-his-face was an ass, and for her to come running to him for comfort. It had and she had but she never ran to him. She never ran to him for comfort and he could never find anywhere to focus that anger. Not at her, not at him, not at anyone. And so he decided that he could be mad at the world in general and all the people in it.
And he even wished, sometimes, that she could understand his love for Stacy. Stacy was her, packaged a little differently and met just too many years too late. Maybe if he had never met Lisa he would have been able to settle down with Stacy. Maybe he would have seen how lucky he was to have such a woman. But he never could; he was too busy looking over his shoulder, hoping that one day Lisa would be there waiting for him. He was too busy hoping for a future that would never be.
He just sighed as he turned away. He wished her luck with this new guy, with the hope of finding love. He wished that he could make a move; he wished that he could show her just how he felt. But he couldn't and he didn't expect her to wait for him forever.
He sat there for a short time, straddling his motorbike. He wanted her- how bad did he want her- and yet she was so far from his reach. Or maybe he only saw her that way- maybe he was the one standing miles away.
He revved the engine, his mind replaying some ridiculous scenario, hoping that she would rush out and join him on a late night ride. He shook his head and sped away.