Author's Notes: This was originally written for the LJ community, Music Fest. My prompt was Damien Rice's "Rootless Tree," so this fic is inspired by that (though no lyrics are featured). Special thanks to my beta, Olly, who really helped me get through this.
Disclaimer: I don't own the show. Don't sue.
By Duckie Nicks
She'd broken the first rule, the one that made this entire situation work.
She… had fallen in love with them both. Which meant that this had to end.
But unwilling to admit that truth, Cuddy chose to ignore both House and Wilson on this particular day. Her office was her chosen fortress, the clinic an effective mote. Only the oncologist had dared a visit, and he'd been stopped abruptly by a patient's projectile vomit.
It was the perfect plan in theory. The hours normally spent babysitting House were being used to court donations and finish weeks' worth of paperwork. And yet the day seemed to linger on, time passing by at the slowest rate humanly possible. A clock ticking irregularly on her desk, a phone ringing, or a coughing fit echoing in her office were the biggest disruptions for Cuddy. And she knew that this was what her days should be like. But save for a few hours spent in the clinic, she'd spent the majority of her day being an administrator. Not a doctor.
Which was how she spent most of her days. Her heeled feet resting on her desk, a rubber band lazily being twisted by her index fingers, she was the definition of useless.
The brunette glanced at the clock. Still not late enough for her to leave.
And thinking about it now, because there was nothing else to do, Cuddy could only deduce that today was unbearable because of House. Or rather, because he wasn't around to provide sufficient distraction. She would never tell him this, but… there was something satisfying about being his boss.
Everyone had always placed emphasis on the high House got from solving puzzles. But Cuddy understood that she felt the same way each time he did it. Shifting in her chair, the leather fabric groaning under the movement, she wasn't sure why she got the high. Maybe it was from the occasional help she gave him in solving the cases. Perhaps it was the knowledge that she – through hiring him – had saved the patient's life.
Well, that was a bit of a stretch, she couldn't deny. But at least each time House saved a patient, it reinforced her belief that hiring him was a smart decision. And maybe more than that, a solved puzzle meant the curmudgeon would be happy for a small amount of time – something no other high seemed capable of these days.
The rubber band twirling around her fingers slipped through her grasp, and the elastic snapped painfully against her hand.
Cuddy sighed, looking down at the angry red mark already forming on her skin.
She wasn't supposed to be thinking about House. Or Wilson, for that matter, but at least with the latter, she didn't feel the need to check up on him to make sure he wasn't blowing up an MRI machine.
Twisting the rubber band once more, Cuddy couldn't stop herself from wondering what House was up to.
She'd broken the first rule of their threesome: you didn't fall in love. But he didn't know that. There was no way his brilliant mind could have figured that out, and it was unlike him to avoid her these days. Why would he when House could spend hours ogling and annoying her instead of doing clinic duty.
Unconsciously pulling the elastic tighter, Cuddy understood there were only two reasons the diagnostician would avoid her. Okay, she amended almost immediately; there were a few other possibilities, but more than likely he was either treating a patient using the most dangerous and illegal methods possible. Or… he was sitting in his office downloading porn.
From years of experience, the Dean of Medicine doubted House had a case. All the telltale signs of his work were absent today, after all. Equipment was working; her phone wasn't ringing frantically, and there were no screams or people bursting into her office. So he'd obviously found other ways to amuse himself.
What House didn't know was that the janitorial staff – even the weird night janitor who wore his pants backwards and liked House – were tired of cleaning up his office. More specifically, they had told her that they wanted his office carpet replaced. Not too surprisingly the janitors found it insulting that they could clean so much and still have a room covered in various body fluids from the diagnostician.
The rubber band snapped, breaking under the strain, and she let out a sigh of defeat.
Someone was going to have to make sure House did his job. And as always that meant her.Truth be told, she really had no desire to play Mommy, but the older man should at least pretend to be a doctor.
Throwing the rubber band in the trashcan, Cuddy left her office, breaking her seclusion.
It made her nervous – going to yell at him, because there was the very real possibility that he would figure out her secret. And maybe Wilson could handle this newfound love of hers (God, she hated to call it that, but there was no alternative). But House wouldn't react well; he wouldn't want that, wouldn't want a relationship, wouldn't want anything but the sex the three occasionally had.
Which meant that this, going to him now, was essentially jeopardizing the tentatively formed bond.
And there was a choice, Cuddy knew. She could let him do what he wanted. She could pretend, as she often did, that House was doing exactly what he should be doing.
There was a choice… but as always, the job came first. The one constant in her life came first, and if that meant she ended up ruining this, then…
Stepping onto the elevator, she shook her head. Dark curls tickled her soft cheeks, the feeling providing some distraction from the situation. But it didn't last long.
The doors shuttered closed, and Lisa tried to tell herself that it wasn't that bad. They were rule breakers; this wasn't the end of the world. Nothing would happen. Because nothing had happened when the trio decided to do it again (the first version of rule #1).
No one said anything (much) when House started to use their time together to manipulate favors from Wilson and her.
And it wasn't like this was breaking rules #3 and #4 – Wilson couldn't marry it; neither man could impregnate her. So falling in love with them wasn't all that bad…
Her blue eyes focusing on her metal reflection, Cuddy knew no amount of rationalization would make this any better.
Damn. She'd almost believed it too. The doors opened, and Cuddy, knowing she was nearly defenseless against his mind, tentatively took a couple steps towards House's office.
Running was still an option, she supposed. Ignoring the issue at hand might not be the worst thing in the world. But House would figure it out eventually, and Cuddy couldn't expect to keep this a secret forever. At some point, she would have to make sure he did his job. So maybe now was as good a time as any.
Pushing the glass door out of her way, Cuddy took a few steps inside, the sound of her heels muffled by his stained-with-God-knows-what carpet. He was there, obviously not doing work. Sitting in his chair, House's half-opened eyes gazed pointlessly at his computer. And since he hadn't noticed her come in, the brunette took the time to assess his appearance.
His clothes were wrinkled slightly more than normal, and his graying hair stuck out oddly on the back of his head. Even with the unkempt stubble dotting his jaw line, House somehow managed to look like a little kid freshly awake from his afternoon nap.
The surface of his desk was difficult to make out, as stacks of un-filed paperwork, a handful of candy bar wrappers, a couple cans of soda, and a bag of half-eaten potato chips covered most of it. And most telling of all was the empty bottle of Vicodin hovering near the trash.
He looked like a little boy, ate like a teenager whose parents were gone for the weekend, and acted like a toddler who needed to be kept on a leash because he couldn't be left alone for five minutes.
"Why aren't you working?" Cuddy finally asked, announcing her presence. The irritation in her voice wasn't feigned.
His blue eyes, hazier than usual, slid over to her, immediately checking her body out. "Hmm?"
"You're not working," she accused.
Modulating his voice to match her tone, House said, "You're not wearing panties."
Cuddy scoffed at the thought, moving closer to him. "Yes, I am. Why aren't you working?"
"No case," he told her, as though that were explanation enough. "Thong panties?"
"This is a hospital, House. Plenty of patients for you to see." She closed the distance between them, and taking a quick glance at his computer, the brunette could see that he had been watching his rat via some sort of camera. "This is what you've been doing all day?"
The older man leaned into the back of his chair. Resting her hands on the surface behind her, she mimicked his action, pushing her butt against the messy desk.
It was, all in all, uncomfortable for her, what with the edge of the surface biting into her lower back. Not to mention her fingertips were grazing something sticky. But leaning against his desk had the advantage of making her look bigger than she was (and protecting her ass from House's hands).
"Course not," he told her. "I've done plenty of things…"
"Uh… you know, stealing candy from the vending machine, downloading all the new Internet porn." He waggled his eyebrows at her before continuing. "Making sure Steve here is okay."
Cuddy glanced back at the computer monitor. But given that it was impossible to see if the rat was all right from her position, she leaned forward to get a better look. "What's wrong with him?" she asked, trying to keep the concern out of her voice but not entirely succeeding. Her pale eyes searched the live feed on the screen.
But for all of her training as a doctor, the brunette thought the animal looked fine. The rat was scurrying around in his little cage, occasionally pausing at a sound. If anything, Steve looked perfectly happy.
And then she felt it, the real reason for the rat being mentioned. House's hand roamed unabashedly across the curve of her ass. He too was searching for something, his touch moving upwards towards her lower back.
Immediately, her fingers clasped around his wrist, pulling his hand away. "Stop it," she hissed.
He was pouting, but it had no effect on her – it rarely did. The rat forgotten, Cuddy stood up, pressing her butt against his desk once more so that it was out of reach. "I know your actions would suggest otherwise, but you work here, House. I work here."
"Didn't bother you three nights ago."
She could feel her lips turn downward into a frown. "Shut up."
"Seriously, two men at once. That's a little tawdry, even for you." He grabbed the half-eaten bag of chips and started munching on the snack in the most obnoxious way possible. The plastic bag crinkled intentionally; chips chomped down upon loudly. And allowing the crumbs to fly where they may, House was… being House, annoying her.
She contemplated killing him.
Her hands curled into fists, her teeth clenching, but for now, she was able to keep her homicidal urges in check. "Keep talking, and it won't happen again," she threatened.
He tossed a chip in the air before catching it in his mouth, much like a dog with a treat. Talking as he chewed, House said, "All evidence points to the contrary on that." Another chip was thrown and caught. "Having sex with two people once… is college for most people. Average experience, mistake maybe."
She grabbed the bag of chips before he could do his irritating trick once more. The sound of crumpling filled the room, and House looked like he wanted more, which made her slightly happier.
Almost immediately he reached out, trying to grab the bag once more, but she safely kept it out of reach.
It was a small victory for her, the grin on her face a nice change. Cuddy understood that it was incredibly childish on her part. However, these days she rarely, if ever, beat House at his own game. This was just… a little revenge for broken MRI machines, stolen thongs, and the rest.
He pouted but continued talking. "First time, you were drunk. Upset the second time." He started to brush his hands together to wipe off excess crumbs.
But then his blue eyes lighting up as he looked at her, House quickly used her skirt as a napkin. "House," she snapped, pulling the now dirty material away from his greasy paws.
"We're up to double digits now, though. You can't write all of it off as a drunken mistake," he explained. "Which means you're sleeping with two men at the same time because you want to. And your good little Jewish girl morals say that you should stop, but you haven't, which means you don't really want to do that."
She bristled under his close inspection, was almost afraid to continue this conversation. Too afraid that he would discover the truth.
"Did you see any patients today?" she asked quietly.
"Nope." The grin spreading on his features was barely contained.
"Don't you think that you should at least try to look like a real doctor?"
"Wilson and I had a bet." He grabbed his cane but didn't move, and quickly, the rhythmic tapping of the rubber bottom against the carpet filled the room.
"A bet. On how long you could go without doing any work?"
He let the cane fall against her leg and began bouncing his pink and green ball instead. "How long it would take you to realize I wasn't doing any work."
The ball bounced – twice – on the floor. But then quickly, effortlessly, House caught the object and flipped his wrists so that the ball crashed lightly into her chest. They both watched the pink sphere clatter to the floor. "You're a jackass," Cuddy told him earnestly.
"You owe me twenty bucks." The reason went unsaid, but her mind worked it out quickly enough. House obviously lost the bet, and since it had been her actions that brought about his loss, in his mind, she owed him.
At that moment she thought jackass was too kind a word to describe the self-centered bastard. But all the brunette said was – "Yeah, I'll get right on that."
"Wilson said you were avoiding him," the diagnostician explained, as he reached down to pick his toy back up. "And apparently, the only reason to avoid him, in his mind, is that you're pissed at me." The ball spun around in his rough hands.
"Wonder why he would think that," Cuddy said sarcastically.
"Well now you are. But you weren't earlier." House cocked his head to the side. "Even if you were, you'd do anything but avoid me. You'd have come up here hours ago and dragged me away on my leash like the evil dominatrix you are."
She smiled and leaned forward towards him. "Just because you want that to be true doesn't necessarily make it so."
"Your lips say no, but the red marks on your hands say you've been spanking Chase on your lunch break."
"Fine," Cuddy conceded. "You're right. So if I could finish disemboweling you, that'd be great – I have an appointment with Foreman in five minutes."
He shrugged. "Should be plenty of time to figure out what you're hiding."
"I'm not –"
"The only time you get mad at Wilson is when he does something to me," House said standing up. "Or when he's my accomplice." Caneless he took a tiny uneven step towards her, closing the miniscule distance, so that her knees grazed against his legs. "But neither of those things have happened recently, which means there's something else going on."
Always pushing – he was always pushing, and now that she was trapped between the desk and him, there was no place to run. His bright blue eyes bore into her with an intensity that took her breath away. And it was all she could do not to avert her gaze.
"Something that involves Wilson and me," he said slowly.
There was a brief moment where she thought he might not figure it out. Where she prayed he wouldn't learn the truth. But…
The smirk spread on his face. "So you've either turned into a lovesick puppy or you're pregnant. Or both."
This time Cuddy couldn't help but look away. "I…" she started to say, but her throat felt dry, and the words remained elusive, and so instead of an explanation, she fought his diagnosis of the situation. "You don't know –"
He waved her off. "The only reason you would avoid us both is if you broke a rule. And since I doubt you married Wilson…" His voice trailed off as he looked over her shoulder.
Her pale eyes following his line of sight, it was easy to see he was assessing her butt… again. "No first trimester ass, though." House finally stopped craning his head, but this only allowed him to focus on her cleavage. "Fun bags look like they've grown, but I'm going to assume that you're wearing your water bra – so that if you had to have this conversation, you could distract me with your C, look like D, cups."
His eyes lecherously continued to look her over. "A valiant attempt, really. Next time you're gonna drop a bomb like that, show up topless."
She frowned. "Thanks for the advice."
The older man sat back down in his chair. "So you've fallen –"
"Yes." She closed her eyes briefly so that she wouldn't have to look at him.
And now that he'd figured it out, Cuddy knew the real torment was about to begin. Because now the dog got to play with his bone, and he would force her to see herself from his perspective.
"You realize this isn't going to end well," he warned.
There was no point in denying the truth, Cuddy thought. And so, her voice soft and filled with defeat, she admitted, "Not like I planned it."
No, she hadn't expected him to declare his love for her. She knew him better than that, but still…
Her frown deepened then. In every other aspect of the world, House was a genius. He could diagnose patients without touching them, identify the most obscure causes for medical problems, find patterns where no one else could. And sometimes it amazed her to know that, despite how smart she was, he was so much better at his job. She tried to keep up, knew it was important to do so, but in the end, when his mind was focused… he easily ran circles around her.
And yet his knowledge of human emotions was so incredibly lacking. He wanted her to flip a switch and stop being in love with him – with them. "It doesn't work like that," Cuddy scoffed. Mentally she added if doing that were possible, they could have avoided this whole conversation all together.
"House," she said in exasperation.
"I mean it," he warned.
Placing her hands on her hips, the brunette looked down at him. "You're being an –"
"Uh huh," House agreed, nodding his head. "I'm being a dick, yeah. But you're being a moron. What do you think is going to happen when Wilson finds out?"
She shuffled on her feet. The question wasn't ridiculous but one she had no answer to nonetheless. However, Cuddy was in no mood to be honest, preferring to give into her irritation instead. "I don't know, but I doubt his reaction can be any worse than yours."
She wanted to punch him.
"Wilson," House started loudly, drawing out the oncologist's name, "likes things to be normal."
"He's your friend. How much do you think he really appreciates normal?"
"He is my friend, which is why he likes 'normalcy' – as he likes to define it – in his squish mittens. Doing the both of us at once is… temporary. He likes it for now, but eventually, he'll talk to a shrink and evaluate his life." The last part was said with particular disdain. "You tell him that you've fallen in love with him, or with both of us, I guess, and… that won't be good."
"You don't know that."
"He'll be flattered, think about it some, and then he'll realize that you two as a couple don't work. Because you're not needy enough for him, and Wilson is too nice to you."
His words hung in the room, filling the air she was breathing, making her feel like she was doing nothing but ingesting his poison. His toxic words.
There was no malice in it, no anger in his eyes. But it stung nonetheless.
"You two don't work without me," House explained. "And… threesomes are good when you have a midlife crisis, but making it permanent is something he won't do. You've fallen in love with this, and all you've done is ensured that… it will end as soon as Wilson learns the truth."
The man stood up, his full height making her feel trapped. He grabbed his cane and started walking toward the door. It was his way, she thought, of trying to end the conversation, but Cuddy wasn't ready to give up.
Walking with him to the elevator, she countered, "You don't know that."
The elevator doors opened, but she made no move to get on with him. His blue eyes looked at her sadly. "I do, actually."
Determined to not let the conversation end there, she followed him onto the elevator reluctantly. And as the doors closed, House told her, "He won't say anything to you when it happens. He'll… distance himself, work late, and eventually screw around with the hot nurse in Peds, so you'll be the one to end it."
The elevator started to move, and only then did she dare to glance at him. Their eyes catching once more, he continued. "Wilson and I will go back to being friends; you two will go back to being co-conspirators in your plan to make me Cameron."
Cuddy rolled her eyes but decided to humor him. "All right, Nostradamus. Since you think you know how this will end, what about –" She didn't say the word, "us." Just gestured between their bodies instead. Because it was one thing to know that you loved someone, another to know that they knew that you loved them.
But she wasn't going to say it to him. Not now, not when he was determined to show her how miserable this was going to end up.
"Don't worry," he said. "You won't have to stock up on your battery supply just yet. Wilson will leave, but you and I will… continue on." House shifted as the evasive words came out. "Because I like your ass, and… you're unique in that you actually choose to be near me… in a way that Wilson isn't."
"You mean I let you get away with everything," she snapped.
"Exactly. Which is why you're perfect."
"And who says I won't leave your ass?"
House gave her a wry smile. "You've had plenty of opportunities to leave. But you haven't. If anything, you've insinuated yourself into my life… You'll stay, no matter how bad I treat you, because you'd rather be with me than alone."
She looked away from him then, unable to consider the truth his words might hold. Fighting him still, Cuddy asked, "So basically everyone else ends up happy but me."
The doors opened, and the brunette quickly got out of the elevator. It had been a mistake to go to him, had been a mistake to sleep with him – and Wilson – and now she wanted to do nothing other than wallow in her office. Chatting up potential donors and playing with rubber bands suddenly sounded incredibly enticing.
Her footsteps quickening, she was dismayed to hear House's uneven steps behind her. Stopping only when they got to the outer door of her office, he told her, "Yeah… you'll be miserable… but you won't be alone."
She bit down on her lip. "Go away," she gritted out.
"But just think," House said, his voice annoyingly upbeat. "You get to have sex with this body for the rest of your life." He smoothed his crinkled shirt with one of his rough hands as if trying to tempt her. Another waggle of his eyebrows left no doubt in her mind that that's what he wanted.
And under any normal circumstances, she might have laughed at the joke, insulted him… something. But at the moment, the brunette couldn't appreciate it – not when he'd just told her that she was going to be stuck with him for the rest of her life.
"Go to hell," Cuddy told him, closing her office door behind him.
When she started to take her seat, he finally ventured to open the door and peak his head in. "Love you too" was his sarcastic comment before walking away.
Alone – and feeling more lonely than ever before, she couldn't help but think that House was right. He was an ass, as always, but he was rarely wrong. And even though he was a jerk most of the time, Cuddy knew that if there was any chance he was wrong… if he actually thought things might go another way, he wouldn't let her think otherwise.
At least not for this long.
Grabbing several files worth of insurance billing information, Cuddy hated the irony of the situation. Despised that, because she'd fallen in love, she'd be miserable. Hated that because she didn't want to be alone, she would be for the rest of her life.
And it hit her then: all her life she'd wanted to fall in love. It wasn't the feminist ideal, was almost shameful to her, but… some part of her had wanted to fall in love and be changed by it. Hearing House bribe patients in the clinic to go to a different hospital, Cuddy knew – she should have been more specific.