Title: Giving Up
Characters: House, Cuddy, Huddy angst
Spoilers:Everything up to 4x16 Wilson's Heart.
Summary:Does Cuddy have a breaking point?
Disclaimer:If I was skipping I would hear not-not-mine.
Written for cuddyfest, prompt 108: Cuddy/House, "I give up".
With a thousand thanks to my awesome beta, Lucy, who can impose discipline on the most run-on of sentences.
Lisa Cuddy was not the sort of woman who walked away from a fight; in fact, a smart person would always put their money on her to win it. She had as many faces as her life demanded—from cold and uncompromising to the maternal or the hilarious. She kept her own life intensely private, but made her friends and colleagues feel she was sharing by involving herself in their problems. Those who saw the compassionate side of Dr. Cuddy wrote her off as just an older version of Cameron, too soft for the harsh realities of the world. What those fools failed to realize was that you didn't get to be Dean of Medicine at 32 by being a sap. On the many occasions that she was feigning that compassion for appearances' sake, she was simply lowering expectations in order to keep confounding them down the line.
Since childhood, she had been blessed with a determination that bordered on outright stubbornness. When her parents refused to take an injured bird to the vet, explaining it was nature's way that the poor animal be left to die in peace, she had stolen one of her father's medical textbooks and the first aid supplies to try and repair its wing herself. Ultimately she never saw the bird again after setting it free in the garden, but what mattered was that she had done absolutely everything she was able to.
In med school, she was told from the start of her final year that there was no hope of her finishing in the top three – those spots had been held consistently by the same three people and nobody ever bucked that trend with the results of their finals. That didn't stop Lisa Cuddy from putting into action a military-grade plan: basically living in the library, studying beyond the points when her brain practically begged her to stop. With near-perfect scores, she bumped herself up to second place. The position itself didn't matter; just that she did what others had thought impossible. That was how you made an impression. Sure enough, her academic references had hospitals falling over themselves to hire her.
At the end of her first year of residency, one of the big LA hospitals made headlines in every newspaper and medical journal by appointing the youngest ever Dean of Medicine, a guy who had just turned 34. By the third line of the article, Cuddy had a new goal and her dedication to endocrinology stepped up a gear as she also began a campaign of networking and building up favors owed at a rate that would put any politician to shame. Every conference, every secondment or temporary cover that she could put herself forward for, she went for it. As an attending, she was sought for every referral, and the jump to Department Head had surprised nobody at PPTH. When she had first collected her application "portfolio" for the Dean's position, everyone from the secretary in Personnel to the outgoing Dean had warned her off. It was far too early, women had to wait that bit longer; she'd make a strong candidate with a few more years under her belt. Not one person had supported her application, but between her letters of recommendation from star names across the country and a presentation to the board that caused spontaneous applause, she had made it to the final shortlist. The whispers that she'd proven her point were ignored, though the lack of faith from every corner weighed her down like the guilt she was so used to. Perhaps it would have been more honorable to step back at this stage, to be flattered at being allowed to make it so far. That didn't sit too well with Lisa Cuddy though. The idea had been in her head these past seven years and she felt that she really could turn this hospital into something amazing. She could have accepted the crumbling facilities and demanding enough position as a department head, or she could keep on giving this exhausting 110 until she won. Expressed in those terms, it was no longer a choice.
It could be said that the pathological need for Cuddy to see through a challenge was well established long before House came back onto her radar. They kept in touch through occasional letters (from her) or drunken phone calls (from him). He surprised her by being back in New Jersey, a fact she only found out when Stacy started at the hospital and gossiped about her doctor boyfriend over coffee one day. It had taken Cuddy a full 20 minutes before realizing who this Greg guy actually was. Stacy had squealed at the coincidence, insisting on setting up a dinner for them. Cuddy grimaced at the prospect of rustling up a casual date that would ever forgive her for subjecting him to an evening with House. Thankfully, finding a gap in her schedule had been impossible now that she had made the step up to Dean; so much money to be wheedled and a thousand improvement projects to launch. When he showed up in her office without an appointment, it hadn't taken long for him to talk her into the benefits of a dedicated Diagnostics department like they had in European hospitals, and hiring him to run it was simply the next logical step.
Cuddy had known before the offer left her mouth that it would present the single greatest challenge of her life to date, but her "bring it on" attitude had her feeling confident. Stacy had mellowed the crazy House she remembered from Michigan, though he was still pretty rough around the edges. As they sipped coffee on either side of her messy desk, she had already been formulating ways to run interference, and how best to cash in on his reputation while keeping him as far as possible from anyone with a checkbook.
The infarction was the clearest and the haziest of all her memories. She remembered in excruciating detail the meeting she had with his original doctor, then her Head of the ER, who was irritated by the rudeness and drug-seeking behavior. Had she listened a little more carefully, been less distracted by the fight she'd had with her sister over Thanksgiving dinner, she could have seen something. Had she gone to speak with him right away, he could have convinced her when all these idiots were ignoring him. Perhaps she'd forgive herself one day, but it didn't seem to be in this lifetime.
Most other people would have considered their obligation discharged when he left the hospital, but Super-Cuddy knew she was in this for the long haul. She rearranged meetings to console Stacy, to try and talk her into staying as the going got especially rough. Her own feelings pushed firmly aside, Cuddy knew that losing Stacy would do as much damage to House as the dead tissue. When the inevitable break occurred, she joined forces with Wilson—previously just another face in her Oncology department—to drag House through it.
The lack of success in helping House recover bothered her on a daily basis. She had tried daring, tricking, betting and outright bribing him to manage his pain more sensibly. Hell, hadn't she supported him through rehab and the second heartbreak of Stacy's return, not to mention perjuring herself and risking the hospital's accreditation? Her mother had always instilled in the younger Lisa that one should never give and expect anything in return, and true to form, she had asked him for nothing. Occasionally to stop breaking laws or to refrain from making sexual advances when she was in meetings, but nothing that would actually cost him anything.
The Greg House she had known all those years ago in college was still in there somewhere. She saw it in rare moments when he let his guard down. Whether injecting her with a hormone cocktail or giving her a performance review, those moments of intimacy gave her hope that he could still heal, that the caustic fog surrounding him would one day retreat to the minimal levels before his infarction. Cuddy, the realist, the pragmatist who kept thousands of people in line on a daily basis, knew better than to expect that his sarcasm or stunning lack of work ethic would ever change. That wasn't what she needed to achieve; what she wanted was to return him to a level of functionality in his life that would allow her to no longer feel responsible for causing his misery. Perhaps one day he would even allow her to make him happy again, but she knew better than to hang all her wishes on the improbable.
Days after he had landed her beloved hospital with a 200,000 fine, she was there trying to save his life. While she wanted him to solve his damn mystery, for him to have peace enough to recover, her first priority was always to protect him. Cuddy understood his need to do something for Wilson once Amber's situation was uncovered, and yet she would rather he stayed in bed instead of risking his own life again. How she had cursed him for collapsing in that bus, for once again pushing his body beyond its own limits. It frustrated her that there was nobody to whom she could explain the blind panic that surged through her as she frantically tried to resuscitate him. There was no outlet to explain that she could never have forgiven herself for letting him die.
Cuddy had taken all the reasonable steps, the nurse and security guard her first line of defense in not losing this battle with House's self-destructive stubborn streak. When that failed, she had slept on an uncomfortable lounger just to make sure she saw the plan through. Yet there he was having the brain surgery she had forbidden and in the coma she had fought tooth and nail to prevent. Even in the face of apparent defeat, she stayed by his side, unwilling to let matters get any worse. After all, there was nowhere else she could go as long as she knew that he needed her.
Wilson was understandably absent, though in the privacy of her own thoughts, she was frustrated with his blaming of House. Eventually Wilson would have to accept that accidents did happen, and not even House's narcissism could account for such a random tragedy being entirely down to him. Wilson's distance allowed House to hate himself and as the days went past, it was clearly affecting his recovery. Cuddy, being a compulsive fixer, decided to spur him on to greater progress in the best way she knew how. When he left one Monday morning for an appointment with the neurologist she took the time off work to sort out his apartment. Living there with him and sleeping on his couch was taking its toll on her more anal tendencies. As she cleaned, she came across the multitudes of empty Scotch and vodka bottles that he had made his way through, clearly hiding it from her. To her horror, their full companions were filling most available cupboard space in his small apartment. Realizing the extent of his problem, Cuddy made a snap decision to stop him from this destructive behavior, and promptly began to pour the contents of each glass bottle down the sink, gagging at the fumes as they built up.
When he returned home to find her in the kitchen surrounded by empty bottles, the last liter of Absolut circling the drain, she had expected whining or pouting. What she hadn't been prepared for was his anger. Sarcasm, yes, perhaps even getting defensive about not having a problem, but for the first time he actually scared her.
Ranting and raving, he proceeded to grab wildly at the discarded bottles, smashing them against whatever he threw them at: walls, the floor, even his beloved piano didn't escape. Though he threw them away from her, his eyes burned right into her, never leaving her undoubtedly terrified face. Out of ammunition and seemingly spent, he shuffled closer to her around the kitchen table and spoke to her in a tone she'd only heard once before. This time there was no running shower to hide her tears. He cursed her for her betrayal, for babying him, for ruining what little quality of life he had with her shrewish behavior. He detailed a list of her crimes against him, from the obvious fact of his leg to her attempts to keep him out of jail by restricting his Vicodin.
Unable to bite her tongue a moment longer, Cuddy's last strand of patience snapped under the torrent of sheer rage that overtook her.
"I am so sick of your bullshit, House! God, you store up every little slight, real or imagined, and cast it up to me every time you feel like screwing with me! It can't be to goad me into guilt, or for sympathy; I'm already here and helping you. So that just leaves a sick need to push me until I hate you as much as everyone else does!"
"I am tired of feeling guilty for saving your life, for keeping you employed, and the most pointless task of all: trying to make you human again. What do you give me in return? Sarcasm, sulks and just being downright mean to me. It's just… enough already!"
"I give up."
These last words didn't erupt with the white-hot sparks of anger that accompanied the rest of her speech. Instead, they were spoken with a quiet resignation that Cuddy didn't recognize as her own voice.
Not trusting herself to look at him even once, she swept up her purse and stormed out, slamming the door for good measure. The satisfying noise jolted her towards the parking lot and her freedom, just as her legs threatened to give out on her. Had she really done it? Had she finally broken this cracked and sticky-taped relationship that had been stumbling ever since she followed her legal obligation and executed Stacy's wishes? Part of her wanted to go back in there and demand a half-hearted apology from him, to shake him until he saw that he needed her. The part that won out was the same part that denied risky treatments to dying patients or withdrew funds from underperforming departments: cold, hard reason.
Not trusting herself to drive, she pulled out her cell phone and called a cab, her voice barely above a whisper as she stood paralyzed outside his building. Only the insistent beeping of the arriving car's horn forced her to find her feet, to focus for a moment on the business of putting one foot in front of the other. She gave her address brusquely, hoping to dissuade any attempts at conversation. For the 15-minute journey, she was capable of nothing more than replaying the nasty scene over and over in her head, almost gagging at the waves of panic hit her. Had she really just walked out on House? She felt sick to her stomach, even as the tension in her shoulders eased at the prospect of not having to spend every minute of the day chasing or chastising him. Her split-second of relief served only to let guilt join the insistent rhythm of the panic, and by the time she reached her own abandoned house, she was fit for nothing more than fetching the open wine bottle from the fridge, taking a hearty swig from it as she collapsed into an overstuffed armchair.
Ten times that night, she stood to go back and yell at him. Another 10, she thought about calling one set of ducklings or the other to go check on him. Tortured by visions of him falling on all the glass he had shattered, bleeding slowly, alone and injured. It took all the willpower she possessed, a strength bordering on the supernatural, but she finished her wine and took a bath. No point in going to bed when sleep was a de facto impossibility, and so she spent the twilight hours compulsively organizing her freakishly neat house all over again. It would be easier by morning, when she could tell herself that she had left him alone for a whole night, that he didn't need her after all. It would hurt like hell, but like every other disappointment, she'd get over it.
True to form, she was in the hospital two hours before she was expected to start, and he came in scowling, almost an hour late. Part of her, the part that foolishly believed he would one day love her back, held her breath as she waited for him to head towards her office. The apology she so desperately craved was clearly not forthcoming as she saw him continue straight on to the elevators. Blinking back the tears that threatened, she returned to the piles of charts on her desk. Sometimes being right hurt more than it was worth.