A/N: Not sure if this is a one shot or a series. So i've left it open, and I'll let your reviews and my muse help me decide.
Disclaimer: House, M.D is property of David shore and FOX. I do not own any of the characters. No money is being made from this fiction.
She wished it was raining. At least then the soothing sound of the rain would provide a background noise to the constant thoughts running around in her head. She lay in her bed, close to midnight and watched the shadows lengthen and morph into imaginary shapes on her walls. She wasn't scared of the dark – she liked it actually. The knowledge that no one could see the expression of utter defeat on her face, or the lines that recently seemed to be deepening into crevices on her face. She had never felt so utterly exhausted in all her life – not during med school when she had studied her ass off to reach the top of her class, not during her internship when she had been working eighty hours a week, not even when she first started as Dean and ran around with the feeling that she had to do everything three times better and faster than the previous Dean.
The past year had been difficult. More than difficult – at times she had wanted to lay down and curl up, waiting for someone to look around and realize she was missing and come save her from herself. Ironically if she had to pick someone who would do that, it would be him. And yet he was the reason she wanted to disappear in the first place.
It wasn't that she didn't feel sympathy. He had been through a terrible time this year, between the ketamine being short lived and the addiction getting out of control – the problem was that he was like a rip tide. Everyone around him somehow got dragged under too, and had to fight the current – fight him for survival. It was draining and she couldn't count the amount of times this year she had wondered if it was all really worth it in the end. She understood House – maybe even better than most. She understood his walls, his patterns just like he understood hers. Lately though something was changing and she felt suddenly like someone standing outside during an earthquake. The ground was sliding out from under her feet and it was wrong and unnatural. She was terrified of falling – mostly because she didn't think she'd survive.
It was sort of her own form of sadism. He was her tool that she punished herself with regularly, but something outside her realm of control was slowly shifting and for the first time in years she had no clue what to expect next from him. She sighed heavily, the thoughts curling around each other and tangling together until she couldn't tell one from the next, she could only feel how drained she was from trying to figure this – him – out. Her silent war with the shadows on her walls was interrupted by the harsh shrill of her home phone. She blinked at it stupidly for a moment before her hand reached out – shaky and pale in the dark – before gripping the handset and picking up the phone. If it was an emergency-
"So what, not even a hello anymore? Cuddy – you're falling behind in the manners department." His tone was gruff and cranky and she almost sighed in disgust as the tension filled her once more. She just wanted to sleep. She was tired, dammit.
"Must be the company I'm keeping. What do you want House? I'm sleeping." Her voice was low and thick with strain, and he paused for a moment, the only sound on the line his deep even breathing as he analyzed every nuance of her statement.
"Well, you aren't sleeping now. And judging by the thickness of your voice you haven't even been to sleep yet." He shot back in a triumphant voice and she felt a small smile flirt with the corners of her mouth before she killed it quickly.
"I'm sorry, shouldn't you be off celebrate your new Zen minimalist, change is good crap? Or can't you call Wilson and bother him?" Her sigh was weak and she felt weighed down by the sheer amount of energy it took to converse with House and keep him firmly out. "I'm just- what do you need House?" Her voice was flat and lifeless – and she heard his intake of breath through the silence strung out tightly along the line.
"I wanted to- say thanks." He mumbled slightly and she didn't respond, since she wasn't sure he had actually said that and she was pretty sure she was wrong anyway. He didn't ever just call to say thanks. For anything. Unless he was about to die or become comatose – Greg House just didn't do things like this. He waited during her tense silence before clearing his throat awkwardly and searching for something else to say. "I uh – I'll start taking applications tomorrow. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll find replacements. I'll let you know." She felt the guilt rise up within her and lodge in her chest, heavy and expectant, curled around her lungs and heart until it hurt just to breath evenly.
"Thank you." her voice was softer now, a gentle stroke after the stinging slap, something to remind him that she still cared – was still there. "House-"
"No time for a booty call tonight Cuddy. I have an ad to write for the job – and lord knows you and your neediness would have me up at all hours. I'll see you tomorrow." His tone was strained, a forced leer entering it as he sought to place them back on the ground they were on a few short days ago. But the earthquake had happened and everything slid out of place. She wasn't sure if he could go backwards from this point. Maybe she didn't even want to anyway. As terrifying as it was, she felt a strange surge of adrenaline at the thought of it.
"Goodnight House. Sleep well." Her voice was surprisingly gentle again, another attempt on her part to reassure him. She didn't think it was working because he didn't speak again, simply sighing softly and dropping the receiver into it's cradle and causing the harsh dial tone to echo in her ears. She hung her phone up, turning her attention to the shadows again. Sleep wouldn't be easy again that night.
She was making tea at two am when she heard the tell tale thump and scrape by her front door. She paused momentarily, staring at the kettle steaming gently in front of her before dropping the teabag she was holding with a sigh and turning to exit the kitchen. Moving silently from the dining room to the foyer, she paused a moment to look out the window. He was sitting on the front step of her porch , and she couldn't tell how long he was there, only that he seemed settled, his hands loosely wrapped around his cane and his elbows leaning on his knees.
"Are you insane? It's two am!" She opened the door quickly before speaking. He didn't turn at the sounds, his only noticeable reaction was his hands tightening around his cane. "House?"
"You haven't been sleeping." His voice was flat and matter of fact and she sighed, crossing her arms defensively. "I've heard you pacing around in there. For at least an hour. Why aren't you in bed?" from anyone else the question would have been rude and borderline intrusive. But rude and intrusive weren't descriptions of House – they were character traits.
"Can we at least do this inside? It's cold out and I'm not exactly dressed for the outdoors." she whispered harshly, and these words did get him to turn and look at her, his eyes traveling over her shorts and tank top with appreciation. He nodded, pushing himself up slowly and awkwardly, his own frame clearly stiff from his stint on her front step. She didn't speak again, simply opened the door and leading the way through the foyer, past her table and back into the warm glow of her kitchen again. "I'm making tea. Do you want anything?" The words were polite – something her mother had ingrained in her as a child – polite people offer guests drinks. Even unwelcome, middle of the night guests. He smirked and she wanted to glare but couldn't seem to muster the strength of feeling anymore.
"Sure. Do you have coffee?" She nodded, pulling another mug down and grabbing instant coffee from the cupboard next to it. He didn't speak, just observed her movements as she measured the crystals out and poured hot water over them before moving across with the kettle and adding water to the teabag in her cup. She handed the cup and a spoon to him, waving in the direction of her dining room table. A moment later they were seated next to each other – her at the end and him to her left – sipping too hot beverages in silence. She decided that despite the scalded tongue, it was better than actual conversation.
She swallowed awkwardly, feeling the liquid burn a flavorless path down her throat as he watched her intently. Finally she put the cup down and swore inwardly. He was like a pit bull. "What?"
He blinked slowly, looking at her in the semi darkness of the dining room, only illuminated by the lights from her kitchen and the faint glow of street lights from the window. "I don't know." His voice finally answered her, slowly, as if he wasn't quite sure it was the right answer. "I thought..." he trailed off uncertainly and she watched his hands playing with the handle on the white ceramic mug in front of him. His fingers traced along the edges and she felt a brief moment of wistful wishing before she pushed it aside and moved her eyes to study his face. He looked younger, an odd sense of content pervading his whole countenance. "I had this ridiculous idea that I'm losing- I don't know." he sighed with defeat and she felt an insane urge to reach across the space between them and comfort him. House didn't need comfort. At least he hadn't.
"Losing what?" Instead she pushed him softly, a stark contrast to how she normally jabbed sharply. She felt afraid suddenly, like she was stepping into an area that was unchartered, with no back up plan.
"I'm not upset by being alone." He stated abruptly and she frowned in confusion. He glanced over at her, frowning when she didn't get it. "I don't have relationships. I have very few friends, but I've always been a firm believer in quality over quantity. I may not have a network of friends whom I'm not particularly close to – but I do have one -" He stopped abruptly, staring at her thoughtfully in silence before continuing. "- or two friends who not only know me well, but have always been there." He paused again, the tension descending upon them in the interim.
"Wilson said I needed a change. Not that I'm giving him credit or anything – because I'm not. But he was... somewhat right." His tone was reluctant and she laughed slightly.
'I'll never tell him." She spoke solemnly and he glanced up again in irritation.
"This is why you're annoying." She simply smiled for a brief moment before centering her attention on him again. "Wilson wasn't right- I deal with change all the time. Things... change all the time. I can't stop them. But I had a chance to change things on my own terms. So I fired Chase. I knew she'd resign with him – the two of them have been circling around each other all year." He spoke with disgust but she smiled slightly anyway. "Stop looking like that. I didn't-"
"You knew it would help them." She spoke softly and he rolled his eyes.
"Whatever. Point is, I figured this was a change I could control. They've been with me three years anyway- it was time. It's not time for you." He was practically growling by the end of his speech but she heard him clearly enough.
"I don't understand-"
"We're dysfunctional Cuddy. Anybody can see that. But it works for us, in a weird twisted kind of way. You're my friend – of sorts – you're always there. We're always the same distance apart. It's a constant in my life, I know that at any given time I can look around and you'll be the same distance from me as always. It's changed. You've changed. I just wanted to let you know – I changed things for them, not us. So why are you further away suddenly?" She listened to his words as he spoke them, tangling them around to try to convey the right sentiment.
"I don't know." She whispered in response, her voice tired and dull. She didn't deny it – it would be futile at any rate. He was a pit bull and she was a bone he was worrying. If he got too close to the center, she was sure she would splinter. Her hand came up to her face, rubbing across her forehead in frustration. "I don't know why." She spoke simply and he nodded in agreement.
"Do you want – to let go?" His voice was soft, so soft she wasn't sure if she heard correctly. He stared into his cup, contemplating anything but her.
It was a loaded question, filled with double meanings. His favorite kind. She didn't answer right away, thinking about how she had been feeling lately and her exhaustion and disappointment, both with him and her life in general. "I need something to change."
"Do you want to fire me?" She was sure he meant it as a joke, but it came out flat and more serious than it should be.
"Then I'd have to fire everyone." she spoke seriously and he smiled slightly. "I just- it's been a hard year."
"I know." He spoke softly and they fell into companionable silence. The clock ticked softly in the hall and she felt a wave of tiredness wash over her rapidly.
"Are you staying?" It was her own loaded question, and he sat in silence for a moment before answering her.
"Are you staying?" He answered her with her own question and she wanted to smile but couldn't seem to work it up.
"Haven't I always?" He nodded, pushing the chair back and scraping her hardwood floor roughly with the legs, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She stood with him, rising before pushing back and at least saving her floor beneath her chair. His hand took hers and she looked down in surprise before looking up at his unusually serious face. He stared for a moment before the corner of his mouth tugged up slightly.