Purgatory
By Angelfirenze

Disclaimer: The title is a reference both to major themes in Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door and the seventh season premiere of Law & Order: Criminal Intent of the same name. Lyrics from 'Pity and Fear' and 'The Ice is Getting Thinner' by Death Cab for Cutie, both from their recent album 'Narrow Stairs', which fit this far better than even I imagined.

Summary: She shakes her head, grappling for words that won't come, and gets to her feet to try and ward off the undeniable sense of anxiety she's getting.

get_house_laid prompt: 138. House/Cuddy -- In the wheelchair he was using, she won't let him get up.

Notes: He: House. She: Cuddy. Pretty much all you need to know.

I have such envy for the stranger lying next to me who awakes in the night and slips out into the pre-dawn light...No words, a clean escape....No promises or messes made and chalks it all up to 'mistake, mistake, mistake'...

So she lied. He should really be used to it by now. For some reason, he can't let it stick the way he does for perfect strangers and, especially, patients. After all, it's not like she's going to kill him taking back a parking space. He wonders, though, why the peculiar sensation of sadness (never really gone but definitely more intense at the moment) keeps crawling over his skin, pulling at him like something skin-tight and really fucking uncomfortable.

He wonders, then how she manages to get through the day, but discards that thought for the time being to consider whether he should go home yet. It's not like he didn't get the space in the end, so really, he should feel like he won the bet. Won, in general, really.

He stares at the ice slick pavement beneath him and fleetingly considers how Whitner will feel when she finds out tomorrow that Cuddy triple-crossed her, courting her favor only to toss it away at the last minute. Then it occurs to him that it was exactly what was done to him and suddenly he's slightly less sympathetic. He respects Whitner, he realizes. He considers the emails they've been trading randomly over the past week searching for the best wheelchairs they can find, getting a perverse tinge of pleasure from coming up with 'awards' for the most useful, best decorated, and other completely outlandish categories. They agree they should be glad that political correctness hasn't seems to spread this far yet. Neither thinks they could face the day with 'assistance implements' even if they were jet-powered and capable of self-contained warming seats.

For good reason, he's not entirely jovial in this search and neither is she. Should the need ever arise, both of them would definitely need to be in the know about this sort of thing. He's forgotten what it's like not to have to care about the stakes involved and suddenly he realizes he's gritting his teeth against the nausea that arises from the knowledge that both Wilson and Cuddy are free to do just that and have done without a thought.

The cold is making what skin is visible on his face burn and he relishes it, takes the opportunity to concentrate on the way the snow is slowly starting to thicken and collect in his lap. He could simply get up and limp back into the hospital, he knows, but all that effort would simply exhaust him and he'd need to collapse on one of the benches in the lobby to catch his breath. There's really not a choice here.

He watches the automatic doors skate open as he maneuvers the wheelchair forward, suddenly relieved that on most days he at least can see over the handlebars when he struggles past them. He can see it's definitely not an attractive view. He'd thank God it wasn't a permanent one, if he believed in God -- or his father, for that matter.

He supposes it's a good thing he doesn't in either case. It takes him nearly half an hour between warming his hands enough to propel the chair forward and getting close enough to the buttons on the walls to open the doors, but he eventually makes it back to his office in one piece. His back may not hurt at the moment, but his arms, stomach, and -- of course -- his thigh are definitely making up for it. Deciding right then and there that he's not going through all that again even with the cane, he takes further advantage of the fact that he's already sitting to shuffle and yank on a set of scrubs before wheeling himself over to the couch and pulling his body onto it in shifts.

Whatever food is in the kitchen isn't worth the effort and he's unconscious before a minute's up anyway. He doesn't remember the last time that happened without help from caramel colored orderlies to assist those little white, sharply angled nurses he depends so much upon. Pity their human counterparts aren't so accommodating or so quiet. He wishes his own hospital stays came with blindfolds and earplugs but he can make due with morphine if he's that desperate. Of course, since the ER bay doors are usually his admittance point, this isn't usually something he has to bother with. He often catches himself wondering when that stopped being weird.

...A storm at sea, the bow cracks and I was capsizing...I sunk below where I swore I would never go...If you can't stand in place, you can't tell who's walking away from who remains, who stays, who stays, who stays...

She isn't looking forward to having to tell Dr. Whitner that their deal is off, but she supposes she should have seen this coming. The thrill of actually getting something over on House isn't nearly as enjoyable as Wilson makes it out to be but she knows it's pointless to try to persuade him of otherwise. Sighing heavily, she shuts her computer down and tiredly begins to gather her things together.

It's nearly four am now and, as usual, she hasn't remembers much of the previous night beyond her computer screen at all. Several complaints lodged by the surgeons House interrupted yet again in his effort to stick his hands in the patient's abdomen are tallied and added to the already sky-high number of relative days suspension House would have if she could manage to catch him long enough.

There's always mail, email, or possibly roping him with a lasso but -- as always -- just the thought of having to deal with his possible reaction sends her resolve inching back into its well-worn corner. It never occurs to her that she doesn't actually have a concrete idea of what his reaction will be but the images and sounds her brain comes up with in the meantime are bad enough without having to deal with it in real-life, too.

Slinging the strap of her purse over her shoulder, she doesn't look back as she turns off the light. Bustling out into the blissfully quiet, familiarly dark parking lot, she is brought up short by the sight of House's decrepit battle tank of a car still parked in front of her. A little skip in her chest shocks her into action and she drops her briefcase to the ground in order to see if House is somehow slumped over in the driver's seat. The car remains empty, though, and she backs up with confusion before turning back to glance at the window on the fourth floor she knows leads to House's office. The lights are still on and she can't for the life of her figure out why.

When she arrives on the fourth floor, she can immediately see House's lanky form sprawled awkwardly over the couch through the propped open door of the Diagnostics lounge he conned her into springing for. For some reason, she can't stop the rush of irritation and righteous indignation that courses through her, though she's not at all sure where it's coming from.

Her loud declaration is halfway out of her mouth when she sees him jerk painfully into a defensive sort of crouch at the volume of her voice, his own name, or some combination of both. His body retains the position for half a second before his right leg gives out and falls back to the floor with a loud thump despite House having removed his shoes.

Before he can stop it, a whimper forces its way past his lips and he cringes, his eyes trained on the carpet beneath them before he drags them up to meet hers with visible effort in what seems to be an unconsciously mandatory effort. His back is ramrod straight and she finds herself grasping for an explanation but can't seem to come up with one.

Letting the breath blow quickly out of her, she curses herself for the anger she still can't place and lets her briefcase fall to the floor with another crack as it hits the leg of a table and the latch pops. The sound isn't deafening but House's body still manages to jerk several inches backward and she can see him visibly trying to calm himself and failing.

...And there are no tears, just pity and fear...The vast ravine right in between...

"I'm..." she begins, but he sharply jerks his head a little to the right and forces himself to lower his hands back to the couch. She finds her eyes widening when she realizes they're shaking. How on earth could she have startled him that badly, she wonders before giving in to the immediate urge to find a stethoscope (and possibly a BP cuff for good measure) and coming back to the couch where he still sits, seemingly trying in vain to melt into the cushions beneath him.

Biting her lip, she manages to refrain from touching him out of habit, taking off her coat, jacket, and the earmuffs he'd spent a good five minutes giggling like a child about, simply handing the stethoscope over and watching him stare blankly back at her for painfully long seconds before letting it fall to the floor and trying in vain to jerk to his feet. She can do nothing but watch as he eventually manages it but shudders to a stop once he remembers that his cane isn't here but the wheelchair is. She almost expects him to stomp over somehow and kick it, but of course he can't do that.

She watches, her stomach pulling itself into a miserable little ball as he shifts most of his weight onto the stronger left leg and uses his upper half as a sort of pulley to haul himself toward the wheelchair before falling into it and letting his eyes shut as his breath slowly evens out again. He doesn't look at her but she can't tear her eyes away.

"If you want a show worth watching, I'd be happy to give you recommendations on the best in the biz. I'd offer coupons and condoms, too, but that's not really an option."

His voice is quiet, tired, the innuendo flowing effortlessly despite his obvious exhaustion and she finds herself fending off persistent images of what House does on his rare days off. His breathing has slowed back to normal now and she imagines his heart's sinus rhythm has, as well, for which she's thankful. It'd be just her luck to be inadvertently responsible for giving him yet another arrhythmia on top of everything else.

His eyes are closed now, almost resolutely, as though he's afraid of what he'd see on her face if he opens them. She blinks, trying to will away the faint burning sensation starting in her eyes, and bends down to retrieve the stethoscope from where it had fallen and places it on the nearby table.

"I came up here to find you because I saw your car out front and..."

"Thought I'd started the engine and died? Wouldn't I need a garage for that, Cuddles?" He still won't look at her and she's too apprehensive both of the scene she's just witnessed and his casual allusions to suicide to be annoyed about his repeated use of that stupid nickname.

"Not if you had a heart attack," she counters quietly, staring at his neck as though she could measure his pulse on sight. "Or another aneurysm."

"Anticoagulants, worry-wart," he chides lightly, finally opening his eyes to stare at the ceiling. "Not to mention, I had to take aspirin this morning." He doesn't elaborate and she doesn't force him to. She doesn't know when she became afraid to be in his presence for any longer than necessary -- as though he were himself conducive to a panic attack -- but she also knows there's no point in asking questions that won't or can't get answers. Like why he seems to be so afraid of her in turn.

"Yes, well -- you asked...well, no, you didn't but..."

She shakes her head, grappling for words that won't come, and gets to her feet to try and ward off the undeniable sense of anxiety she's getting. She needs to try to get out of here and, if she were him she'd simply leave and to hell with everyone else, but she's not him and so she cares about what he thinks of her and how he regards her actions. She knows others do the same, that it's normal, vaunted even, but in his presence consideration always seems to become a chore more often than not. Perhaps that was why she felt herself taking so many of these little vacations from having to think about what would make him comfortable. Maybe that's how she managed to forget.

She doesn't say she's sorry. Knows it won't be appreciated or returned in kind. She wonders when she forgot to be angry about that, as well. Maybe every time it's flung in her face that she has the opportunity to do so in the first place. She doesn't think she should forget the memory of the sting it inevitably creates but she always does. Out of sight, out of mind.

It's never before occurred to her to wonder why such leniency is afforded to her considering that she is his employer and has regulations to follow with the ADA -- and not only for the benefit of patients. If he were more volatile, he could have sued her dozens of times over, whether they were warranted or not, but considering the amount of frivolous lawsuits leveled against him on a fairly regular basis it does strike her that he might be a strange kind of considerate not to waste the time of others that way.

She wonders now just how much he doesn't complain about in the larger picture, using the tiny brushstrokes of allergy flare-ups and such to camouflage the ongoing desecration of what still remains. She read about scarification in medical school but never imagined it in precisely this context. If the garbage disposal is spraying sewage all over the kitchen, you're hardly going to notice or remember the pristine state of the walls and floors beforehand. And if you do, as she's certain he does, then the effort being undone before you is going to push you over the edge unless you do something to reverse the damage. If that's impossible, then all you can do is try to scrub it away as best you can.

There's no use in continuing to be angry.

Unless anger is all you have left, a faint thought filters through her mind and she feels like her mind is turning itself inside out. She's staring openly at House, she knows, but she can't tear her eyes away again. The expression on his face is far beyond groused now.

"Feel free to return your eyeballs to their sockets any time now, Cuddy," his voice is quiet, cold. His hands are gripping the wheels of the chair tightly now and his breathing is quickening.

"I'm not -- " she begins, but he cuts her off.

"Who the fuck does?" His voice is loud and serrated in the looming silence of the halls around them and she winces and shrinks. "A fucking bet -- a prank -- that's all this is to you. That's all it'll ever be to you. You get to get out of a chair or let go of a cane any time you want to -- your favorite ponies, Whitner and I. You can forget that Barbaro died of laminitis after the Kentucky Derby because you're just happy he ran hard enough to win you your stupid fucking prize money. A parking space with a big blue sign in front of it, that was our prize, I suppose. Shrinking the number of steps down to twenty, maybe ten if the separate strides are wide enough. And that's only if you can take them in the first place. There's a fantastic prize!"

His eyes are wider now and she can see the purple-gray shadows where exhaustion is steadily taking its toll. She tries not to remember that even though they're around the same age, Dr. Whitner has that same expression. The one broadcasting exactly how much effort it took to get out of bed and into the building that morning.

"What do you want from me?" she asks now, not meaning to yell back but unable to contain herself anymore. "For me to cut off my own leg -- no, both of them? Will that satisfy you?"

"Don't you get it, Cuddy?" he snarls, giving the wheels in his hands a graceful sort of flick that belies what must be their heaviness. He slowly rolls to a stop right in front of her. The mathematics of the distance don't occur to her as they do to him. It's simply impossible. "There is no right here. There's two modes: hurt and tired -- usually it's a nice conflagration of both. And if there's not hurt, it's probably because you can't feel jackshit at all -- a little like our dear friend in the lab there."

House's arm swings out wildly to gesture toward the hall and Cuddy's eyes follow without her consent but House is still going strong.

"She could slice her own femoral arteries open and wouldn't feel a thing and as much as everyone assumes I'd blithely enjoy her existence, I know what else it entails. Judging distances and weights for buying fruit at the grocery store -- not because of how much you'd need for this or that, but whether you'd be able to get them through the door at all. This is usually impossible if you actually consume food on a regular basis, so it's probably best to find a grocery store that delivers and being prepared with tips for the delivery people who come in your kitchen and put your food away for you.

"Being specifically careful not to leave debris all over the floor so you don't get yourself killed -- I'll tell you, if my dad hadn't beaten immaculateness into me, being a cripple definitely would have done the job. You can't be a slob while handicapped if you plan on living for long. How lovely for you and Wilson and everyone else around here who get to -- "

She didn't know whether it was to get him to simply shut up before he passed out from lack of oxygen or before she did, but she was kissing him now, feeling his rage and frustration rolling down her throat on the tide of his breath and he was staring at her, his eyes crossed and she thought he'd push her away and tell her to get the hell out like she deserves, but he didn't.

She wants to apologize, prostrate before the disabled of the world and castigate herself on their behalf. She wasn't rational, she knew that, but it was overwhelming her, he was, and all she could do was let herself be swept away.

We're not the same, dear, as we used to be...the seasons have changed and so have we...

"What the hell is wrong with you? Did you take quaaludes?" he was watching her now, his eyes trained on her as she kissed a path over to his earlobe, but he wasn't stopping her. No, never that.

"Why, going to recommend something better?"

"Well, there's always -- "

"Shut up, House," she orders, nuzzling his sideburn and letting herself breathe his scent -- he'd changed shower gels for some reason, it seems, opting for something else now. "Just sit."

"Didn't I -- " she backs away from him and levels him with a stare of her own. "Shut up and stay still. You can't say you do that on a regular basis so just try it for once."

She turns back to his ear and did...something that he was suddenly lacking the vocabulary to describe. Or the muscle control, given the way he'd just sagged into the chair. "Don't move," he heard her whisper and was tempted to remind her that he couldn't but now she'd traded his ear for pulling him forward and slipping her hands under the back of his shirt, sliding her fingers over his shoulder blades as she settled onto his lap.

His eyes widened further now, blinking, and she was tempted to tease him but wants to be fair and she'd already told him he couldn't talk. She couldn't fault him for being displeased with her but she could certainly try to even the scales a bit. She could feel him trying to keep himself from touching her and reached down, taking hold of his hands and lifting them before letting go of them halfway and returning her hands to his back and taking a few seconds to grind into his pelvis, delighting in the gasp she received for her efforts and feeling his hands sliding up and down her arms.

Shifting slightly upward, she felt him starting to unzip her skirt and helps him along. It's been nearly a decade since he's had to remove office clothing on a regular basis and he's out of practice. She stood momentarily to let the undone skirt fall to the floor beneath her and step out of it. Dispensing with her hose, as well, she lifts his hands once more and allows him to unbutton her shirt and remove it.

His hands came to rest over her bra, the pads of his thumbs threading over the patterns embroidered in the mesh, before his face came forward and he trails his own nose along the slight dip where her sternum lay over her heart.

Reaching up, she places a hand on the back of his head, guiding his lips upward to her neck and chuckling as she was rewarded with nips and tiny bites. "What are you thinking about right now?"

"You really have to ask?" his muffled voice responds and she felt his hands slide back down again to grip her waist.

"You really can't keep your hands still, can you?" she admonished half-heartedly before something occurred to her and she sat up slightly. "If you could have me completely at your command for one hour, what would you have me do?"

He's staring unabashedly at her now and she forces herself not to laugh at the irony.

"Are their food products involved by chance?" His voice is quiet now, back to the calculating tone she remembers. Inside she smiles but settles for simply shaking her head at him.

"Nope. No outside assistance other than what I give you."

He makes a face at this, considering her for a moment. "And that's you at my mercy, how?"

"It's me at your mercy with only your imagination and the body God gave you -- surely you'd think of something."

He pauses to think for a bit, wondering how in the hell she expects him to fulfill this half-baked fantasy -- Boy Scouts can rig knots out of tree bark or something like that if pressed but getting Cuddy to entertain him with nothing but...he tilts his head and stares down at her open blouse now. She was right, he'd come up with something.

"What -- " he gasps as he felt her hand closing around his shaft, his face falling forward of its own volition. Bringing his eyes upward to meet hers (his head is suddenly so very heavy), he murmurs into her skin. "What happens after this?"

She smiles, bringing her lips down to meet his. "Anything you want."

...There was little we could say and even less that we could do to stop the ice from getting thinner under me and you...

FIN