Author's Note (Part One): I just wanted to let you all know how fabulous the reviews, alerts and reads are! Seriously, they are almost better than chocolate cake... Well, maybe they are a little better than chocolate cake... Here's the alternate ending I promised. Sorry it took so long, but my external hard drive decided to spaz out and die. That's where the original alternative ending and the first chapter of the sequel are currently trapped, so I had to re-write both... which took some time. Anyways, the alternate ending part starts at the end of the piano scene, so this chapter starts at the beginning of that scene. I hope the end's it's not too OOC-- it's really hard to write House opening up or being romantic IC since he almost never does it. I hope you like it! Enjoy! The characters belong to those people who created them, not me.
House sat at the piano in the lecture hall he had used to play fellowship survivor, playing an upbeat little piece he had written when he was with Stacey. It was composed before the infarction and lacked the dismal undertone of sadness that all of his music since possessed. He wondered, briefly, if he'd ever he happy enough again to write something as breezy and beautiful. He doubted that he would.
Suddenly, the door swung open at the back of the room, hitting the wall and interrupting his thoughts. The familiar clicking of heels was followed by a furious "House!"
He turned toward her, still seated on the bench and replied, "Scream it again, but this time make it throatier and moan a little."
"When were you going to tell me that Kutner and Taub got arrested?" she said angrily, clicking sounds growing louder as she descended the stairs.
"Kutner and Taub were arrested?" he said in mock-horror. "Oh my god! Are they alright?"
"You had them break into Mr. Shauer's apartment?" she said, raising her arms in disbelief.
"I had them do research in Mr. Shauer's apartment," he replied, turning back to face the keyboard.
"Research that got them arrested!" she yelled, now standing right beside him, hands on her hips.
"I'm right here, you don't have to shout." House started to play a different song, quietly. It was a jazzy interpretation of a pop song, one of the few after 1970 that he really liked. Though he didn't look up at her, he could feel Cuddy's frown grow more pronounced at the melody.
"House, do you know what you've done? It's bad enough that the doctors, the board and the president think I let you run around like a crazy person, but now the benefactors know. Until now the donors have never gotten wind of your schemes, your brushes with the law and hospital hierarchy. But since you didn't tell me that Kutner and Taub were arrested, I couldn't control the flow of information and now I have people threatening to take their money elsewhere!"
"You'll be able to talk them out of it," he said tickling the keys. "Just wear your lowest cut top, shortest skirt and lacy red bra. They'll be putty in your hands. It always works for me."
"No, it doesn't. You ignore everything I say, lacy bra or not. It never works on you. "
"Works in the shower at least," he smirked, continuing to play.
"House," she said seriously, "You have no idea how difficult my last meeting with the president was, how horrifying the last board meeting was. I had to throw a fundraiser just to pay for the MRI you broke. Or should I say, the third MRI you broke?"
"Technically, I didn't break it. Kutner and Thirteen did."
"When you disregard my orders, not only do you reek havoc, you make it abundantly clear that I can't control you."
"I didn't know that was a secret."
"It's something that we want to keep secret because it's not exactly a desirable trait to have in a Dean. I'm supposed to be able to make you behave, when I can't it makes me look like I'm not capable... And that's bad because it could lead to me losing my job. And let's face it, if I go, you won't be far behind."
"You don't know that for sure. They could sack you and keep me around. Maybe I'll behave better for someone isn't such a tease," he said playfully.
Cuddy threw her hands up in the air and plopped down on the bench beside him. "I don't know what you want from me House."
"A lap dance would be nice," he kept joking.
She sighed, "Three board members are restless. After learning that you destroyed a third MRI, they were livid and rightfully so. You show no respect for hospital property, protocol or administration. They're tired of your ego, your superiority complex, the appalling way you treat patients and the contempt you show for them. They wanted me to fire you and I refused. Then they told me, in no uncertain terms, that the next time you caused problems for the hospital, they would be expecting me to. And if I didn't they would be forced to reconsider whether I am still have what it takes to be Dean."
"So, you're here to can me?"
"No, of course not."
"Cool. So we're good?"
"No, we are not good. We are far from good," she said, exasperated. "I haven't fired you; I'm not going to fire you; which means that I might be fired. And it's not just three board members, other doctors are constantly complaining that I give you special privileges, that I favor you. The president of the university is beginning to doubt that I can handle you. The last time we talked, he let it be known that he thought my 'beside vigil', as he called it, after the bus accident was inappropriate. He thinks that our friendship is impeding me from doing my job. Who knows? Maybe it is. Maybe my personal feelings for you are getting in the way. I don't know," she finished softly.
They sat in silence for a moment as House continued to play the upbeat number, Cuddy waiting for a response, some acknowledgement that he understood. "Did you even listen to me? Or are you so caught up in that song that you can't bother to pay attention?" she asked. After a minute passed with no answer, she stood up. "I don't know what I expected," she mumbled to herself.
House exhaled slowly and stopped playing the happy tune. He plinked a few notes, "You turned Wilson down. Why?"
She shook her head, "I tell you I might, we might, lose our jobs and you want to talk about my love life."
He began a slow, bare melody, gently tapping the keys. "Wilson is a catch, at least most women think so."
"That's it? You're going to ignore everything I just told you and change subjects? You're not going to say anything?"
He played the strain a little louder, still as bare and slow. She frowned, letting a sharp breath escape her lips before turning to make her way up the steps.
Then House began sing, so quiet it was almost a whisper; a gesture that stopped her in her tracks. "Woman, I can hardly express/ My mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness/ After all, I'm forever in your debt/ And woman, I will try to express/ My inner feelings of thankfulness/ For showing me the meaning of success." He continued playing, but stopped singing.
"Sorry," he said in a hushed voice. Cuddy couldn't believe her ears; he was sincerely apologizing. Wondering what else he might say, she stayed, returning to bench, taking a seat beside him.
"Why are you so curious about James and me" she asked.
He shrugged and continued to play. "I'm interested. Every woman I've ever met loves Wilson. You're the only one who's ever turned him down."
"I find that hard to believe."
"He's every female's fantasy; intelligent, attractive, successful, sensitive, modest, charming, all of the qualities in men that Nora Ephron glorifies."
"True, he's all of those things." House frowned at her admittance. "But it wouldn't work between us."
"No, we're friends. There's no passion, no fire. When I'm standing next to him, I don't get a charge; there's no spark."
"The spark could develop, you could light the fire."
"It doesn't work that way," she insisted, wanting him to understand. "You can't fake chemistry. You have it with someone people and some people you don't. Wilson and I don't have it. I've got it with--" She stopped herself and House raised his eyebrows expectantly. "I've had it before."
"The passion, the fire, the chemistry thing is that a deal-breaker?"
"I guess so."
The sat in silence, both lost in thought. After a few moments, House began singing again. This time a little louder, but just as sweetly. "Woman I know you understand/ The little child inside the man/ Please remember my life is in your hands/ And woman, hold me close to your heart/ However distant, don't keep us apart/ After all it's written in the stars," he finished the verse, but kept playing the tune.
"We have chemistry," he said, concentrating harder than he needed to on the keys. When she didn't reply right away, he continued, "At least, I think we do."
"Yes," she said slowly, "We do."
"We've got the deal-breaker," he said, leaning toward her as he continued to play.
"House, what exactly are you trying to say?" she said, further closing the space between them.
He looked up at her, "Maybe we should..." His voice trailed off and Cuddy's eyebrows were raised expectantly.
"Maybe we should?" she asked, hoping House would finish his sentence.
He looked down and stopped playing. House took his cane from the side of the piano and stood up. "Maybe we should get back to work," he finished lamely.
"You want to get back to work?" she asked incredulously, standing up. "You?"
"I do work sometimes," he smirked.
Her eyebrows furled. "You never want to work; you avoid it at all costs. And all of the sudden when you're finally--" she stopped herself.
"Finally what?" House asked curiously. "What did you think I was going to say?"
"I don't know, House," she snapped.
He studied her, "You said, 'when you're finally.' That implies that you thought you knew what I was going to say, that you have been waiting for me to say something--"
"Fine. Don't tell me," she turned to make her way up the stairs. But before she could go anywhere, House caught her arm and pulled her to a stop.
"What did you think I was going to say?" he asked, still holding on to her arm even though she continued to fight for its freedom. "What were you hoping I was going to say? Obviously it was something important because now you're all pissy--"
"I am not 'all pissy'!" she shouted, tugging her arm free of his grip.
"You wanted me to say something--"
"I wanted you to finish your thought--"
"I did. I said that we--"
"No, you didn't. You stopped yourself from saying whatever it was and said the idiotic work comment instead."
"Whatever, House. You're right; I've got work to do and so do you. You need to figure out what's wrong with your patient so that your fellows don't go to jail."
"Why are you so angry?" he asked, a little perplexed.
"I am not angry."
"Pinched face, arms crossed, yelling, sure seems like you're angry--"
"I'm not angry! I'm disappointed. I thought something was different and I was wrong. I don't like being wrong," she began to walk up the steps.
"What did you think was different?" he questioned as she opened the lecture room door.
She turned to faced him, her eyes boring into his, "Something that is obviously never going to change." His eyes searched hers from across the room, but before he could ask another question, she turned and left.
"Interesting," Wilson replied taking a bite of his turkey club. He refused to acknowledge House's presence when his friend first sat down, but quickly forgave him after a speedy but sincere mumbled apology. It didn't hurt that House mentioned he knew about Wilson's purposeful omittance of several key pieces of the conversation he had with Cuddy about dating.
"Interesting? That's all you have to say?" House responded with irritation. "Aren't you supposed to impart some deep truth that will open my eyes and help me be a better person? Isn't that how this works?"
"Usually, I give you wisdom and counsel which you ignore in favor of doing exactly what you want anyway."
"You're useless," House said as he grabbed Wilson's fries and leaned back in his chair so the oncologist couldn't retrieve them. "This is the last time I come to you for advice."
"I'd give it to you if I thought you actually wanted it," he took another bite of food and followed it with a swig from his water bottle. "But you don't really. All you want is for me to agree with you. Tell you you did the right thing, that there was no other option."
"Would that be so hard?"
"House, you didn't do the right thing... Well, you almost did the right thing, but then you screwed it up, as usual."
"Is this where you tell me I screwed it up because deep down I just want to be miserable and alone? 'Cause it seems we made it to that point of the conversation."
"I'm not going to pretend to understand you any more, it only gives me headaches. All I know is, you baited her, serenaded her, wooed her, you reeled her in, you made her admit that the two of you had chemistry and then you threw her back."
"A fishing metaphor is the best you can do? Seriously?"
"Of course, I'm assuming that you actually want her, that you're not just trying to screw with her."
House rolled his eyes, "I'm not trying to screw with her."
Wilson leaned close to his friend conspiratorially, "Are you actually admitting that you like her?" House looked across the cafeteria to his right, sighed deeply, subtlety nodded his head as if he found the question deeply annoying and then looked back at his friend with pleading eyes.
Wilson leaned back and chuckled, "I always thought that if I witnessed a miracle there would be more fanfare."
"Oh, shut up."
"You should be pleased. Admittance is the first step. The second step is recognizing the power within yourself to change."
"What are we at an AA meeting?"
"You have to find her, tell her how you feel and convince her to give you a chance all without insulting her or making an ass of yourself-- that's going to take a lot of power from within."
"You sound like Dr. Phil."
"You wanted my advice. My advice is tell her you like her."
"Such breadth and depth," House said sarcastically.
"I don't know what you were expecting; it's not brain surgery," Wilson said, finishing off his sandwich.
House stood up, throwing the empty fry basket on Wilson's tray, but before leaving, quietly asked, "Do you think she might feel--"
"I think so," Wilson smiled back, sympathetically.
House nodded and murmured a quick "thanks" before heading off to his office.
Lisa had left work early and decided to sweat all the worries of the day out in a hot bubble bath. She loved taking a tub, but hardly found the time to soak-- showers were more conducive to her busy schedule.
She allowed herself to drift off to the lulling voices of NPR discussing the day's news, hair pinned up, head poking out of the water and bubbles, legs extended and crossed, resting on the side of the tub. Lost in fantasies of George Clooney and Javier Bardem, she had almost forgotten the stress-filled morning and her frustrating conversation with House when she heard her doorbell ring.
Deciding that she would just wait for the visitor to leave, she remained firmly planted in the water. Ding dong ding dong ding dong. Lisa groaned and realized that the persistent salesman wouldn't go away until she answered the door.
Grumpily she climbed out of the bath, grabbed a towel and hastily dried off. Throwing her robe over her still slightly-damp body, she stomped to the door, put on her most intimidating face and threw it open.
House was surprised with the force the front door opened with and even more surprised, though very happily, in Cuddy's choice of garments. He stared at her, completely entranced, unable to hide his fascination. He appreciated the way the gray fabric clung to her wet skin, particularly to her breasts.
"Wow," he whispered so low that she couldn't hear.
"What are you doing here?" she asked testily, crossing her arms, ruining House's view.
His eyes traveled up her form until their eyes met. "I was thinking... was going to say... wanted to tell you..."
She raised her eyebrows and sighed. House took a deep breath and let his eyes look anywhere but at Cuddy.
"After the accident you were always hovering around, babying me, which I hated. I know I was a bastard because, let's face it I'm always a bastard, but you just kept hanging around like a dog who likes to get kicked--"
"Is this rambling going anywhere? Because I can wait until tomorrow to hear you compare me to a dog--"
"Just let me finish," he snapped; she sighed again. "You're always there, always around, driving me to the brink of insanity, screaming at me, making me want to kill myself--"
"Thanks for visiting," she interrupted. "I'll see you tomorrow." Cuddy began to shut the door, but House stopped her.
"I don't mind it. I don't mind when you drive me crazy, when you yell at me, when you get so passionate about something you become hysterical and throw your hands up in the air. I like the way you challenge me, the way we challenge each other, the way you stick up for me even though I don't deserve it, the way you forced Wilson and I to make up, the way you try to boss me around, the way you sashay away after you think you've won an argument, the way you refuse to leave me alone, the way you laugh at my sexist comments, the way you look when you just come out of the shower, the way you hired me when no one else would, the way you made a department for me, the way you can forgive me for all the stupid stuff I do, all the horrible things I say... The way that no matter how hard I push you, you still stick around. You care about me even though I..." his voice trailed off and he looked away. He mumbled, "I know that you can't... don't... You're intelligent and beautiful and thoughtful... and I guess I'm trying to say that I kind of like you."
He looked down, studying the handle of his cane, waiting for a reply. When there wasn't one, he nodded. He turned around without even a glance in her direction, already cursing himself for his vulnerability.
He had made it down two steps before Cuddy grabbed his sleeve and tugged hard, pulling him back toward her, forcing him to turn around. When he finally looked at her he was surprised to see her smile at him with glassy eyes.
They stared at each other for a long time, House searching her eyes for permission to kiss her, she anticipating what came next. After what felt like a lifetime, Lisa grew impatient. Tired of waiting, she stepped down onto the top stair.
"Why do I always have to be the one who concedes?" she asked. But before House could answer, she grabbed front of his shirt and pulled him into a kiss. Her lips lightly brushed against his and parted slightly, waiting for him to take control. He was too surprised, too in awe to move, too overwhelmed by what was happening to function. So she continued, cradling his face gently with her hands before sliding one around his neck and the other in his hair, deepening their kiss. After the shock died down and his limbs were functioning again, House put his arms around Cuddy, pulling her closer to him, pressing her body against his, extinguishing all space between them. The world was put on pause, only the two of them standing on the steps in front of her house still moving, tangled in each other. They didn't part until House's cell began to ring.
"House," Cuddy said throatily as she pushed him away, "The phone."
"It can wait," he said pulling her to him.
She resisted,"It could be important. About your patient."
He sighed and answered, "Go away." It was Foreman with an update on Mr. Shauer.
While House was distracted by his phone conversation, Cuddy stepped up onto the porch, widening the distance between them. House watched, worried that she was having second thoughts. He was only half-listening when he heard Foreman tell him the patient was cured and the charges had been dropped.
"Great. Now leave me alone," House shut the phone and quickly climbed the steps to close the gap between him and Cuddy. "No more charges," he said, now practically on top of her.
"Mr. Shauer's cured?"
"He'll be discharged in the morning," he said, bending down to continue their kiss.
"House," she said, pushing him away. His heart dropped into his stomach, she had changed her mind. "I can't just make out with you on my front porch. My neighbor Mrs. Rosenbaum is watching." Cuddy nodded in the direction of a little old lady, staring at them from her front porch as she pretended to water her flowers.
"If she wants a show, lets give her one," he said taking another step toward her.
"I don't want to give her a show. She's the head of the neighborhood home owner's association; she could make my life hell."
"Fine," he grumbled, taking a step back. He picked up his cane from where he had dropped it and watched her walk into her house.
She made it three steps inside before she turned around and looked at him quizzically. "Don't you want to come in?" she asked, confused.
He grinned, "Oh yeah."
"Well, hurry up before I change my mind."
He limped toward the door, "You wouldn't change your mind; you're hot for me."
"What can I say?" she said as she shut the door behind him. "All that sarcasm and stubble turns me on."
Author's Note (Part Two): Done! I can't believe it! My first official finished fic! Yay! The sequel is titled "Dweller on the Threshold"... so for those of you following, can't wait to hear what you think! If you're not coming, thanks again for all your support! I really appreciate it! You guys are awesome!