Imagining

A/N—takes place after Fetal Position, but before Airborne

House was startled from his sleep by a quiet knock on the door. He swept his thumbs across his eyes, wiping the sleepiness from them. Slightly disoriented, he knocked over an empty pizza box that had been resting on this stomach when he dozed off, sending a flurry of crumbs to the floor next to the sofa. He glanced at the mantle place clock: 11:00 a.m. Sunday, he thought, although in his sleep-saturated fogginess, he wasn't positive. Maybe Saturday. Hopefully not Monday.

He finally heard the knocking, realizing what it was what had awokened him. Too early for pizza, he reckoned; and he hadn't recalled ordering any, anyway—not since the previous evening--at least. "I'm coming," he growled allowed. "Give the cripple a chance," he continued more quietly. House glanced around for his cane, wondering where it had gotten to. Whatever.

Hobbling to the door with difficulty, House finally reached it. "I'm not interested in whatever it is you're…" he began angrily. He opened the door to find Cuddy, her hair backlit by the foyer's morning brightness, getting ready to knock again. "…selling." House blew out a breath at the unwelcome disruption. He turned away from the door, too tired to close it behind him, not really caring that she would take it as an invitation to follow him into the room.

She took in the room: empty pizza boxes and Chinese take-out cartons decorated the table tops; beer bottles and a Jack Daniels bottle or two lined the fireplace mantle. "And how was Canada?" she inquired more harshly than she intended. Clearly, from the look of things, he hadn't gone, discarding the airline ticket with which she had gifted him, preferring, instead to stay home in the misery of his own company; phone off the hook. House only glared at her, preferring the evidence to speak for itself.

"Vancouver Island was just great; came back early though. Orcas reminded me too much of y…" Cuddy wheeled on him, her eyes blazed fury.

"Don't. You. Dare. I bought that ticket for you as a gesture. A $1500.00 gesture. To say thank you. To say 'go for it;' have a life; do—I don't know…something. Anything. And you don't even have the decency to…" She was livid with rage.

"I couldn't go." His reply was simple. His voice rough and low: barelyheard from within her anger. House turned from her, making his way to the sofa. She watched his gait: slow and painful. He sat and grabbed his pill bottle from the coffee table, quickly and surreptitiously removing and swallowing two pills. He closed his eyes, rubbing his thigh, waiting for the magic to kick in. He knew it would be half an hour until he felt any real relief, but the anticipation was enough for the moment.

House's words, his demeanor, disarmed Cuddy, renewed the concern with which she had come to his apartment. He had been due back the night before and she had gone to the airport to greet him, knowing that maneuvering the international terminal was brutal for even someone with two sound legs; curious about his time off in the natural beauty of Vancouver Island. It wasn't quite the Galapagos or the Andes, she knew, but, for Househad been a giganticand many-years overdue step towards living again. When he hadn't appeared at the airport she assumed thatHouse had simply missed his flight. His cell phone was off. So maybe he was in-flight. She had tried his home phone, hearing the persistent bzz-bzzz-bzzz of a busy signal. When the line continued to ring "busy" her concern grew, urging her to his flat.

Now , hours later, as she observed him watching her cautiously, like a cornered wild, wounded wild animal, from the couch, her anger dissipated. She noted the DVD boxes strewn on the floor near the television: "Discovery Channel Explores the Galapagos Islands"; "National Geographic Explorer In the Andes;" "Antarctic Adventure." And Cuddy suddenly knew. And her heart broke for him.

House continued warily studying her as she approached and sat close to him on the sofa, saying nothing, realizing that she knew; searching for the right deflection, the right snarky remark to make her hate him as much as he hated his life. To simply go away and leave him be. Or to simply—leave. But he knew that she never would, and part of him, submerged to a nearly silent voice somewhere in his eyes pleaded with her to stay; to throw him a lifeline; a torch—something to help him out of the darkness. He had been there too long; lost his way too many years before, to have the faintest clue. So he sat; he watched; he imagined—and nothing more than that. That last glimmer of light, nearly a year before had gone out too quickly, snatching away any hope of healing; any possibility of normalcy.

"House…" Cuddy's eyes were filled with compassion, causing him to look away; look anywhere but into their depths. But there was nowhere else to look. She was too close; in too many ways. Cuddy grasped his hand, entwining her fingers in his and gripping forcefully so that he would understand her. "You do not have to do this alone. I know what this year has done to you. What getting your mobility back meant to you—and how losing it again… What Wilson and I… What I did to you… None of us can understand what you went through…what you are going through…"

House rallied, his voice cutting through her kindness. "I don't need your pity." His voice was hard, belied by the desperate misery of his eyes. Cuddy refused to back off, continuing the hold on his hand. "I don't want you here." But defeat had crept into his voice, making his words a lie.

"Orcas are nice, I know," she began lightly, realizing that he would bristle at the anticipated platitude. "I DO know. And I know that it sucks that you can no longer scale mountains, or hike glaciers or even commune with Darwin and his turtles. Sucks big time. But there is something to be said for making out a movie; or making love in front of a fireplace driving out to an Atlantic Sea cliff and watching the waves crash and the sun rise. Those are things you can do…"

"Yeah. Lots of fun," he interrupted glumly.

"With me," she finished quietly, ignoring him. She moved her hand to his cheek, forcing his eyes to meet her. When he tried to look away, she wouldn't allow it, instead guiding his head lower, her intention clear. He gave in, defeated, allowing her access, melting into her; Cuddy's lips a balm on his withered soul and heart. Loving her for it.