Chapter 4/4 - Thanks for reading please review


III. Return

The inconclusive flashback fades with the break of a new day. House spent the night in a state of nostalgic reconsideration, a robbed memory bank reminding him of emotions he'll never feel again, everything he wants that he can never have. Selfish really, because he has a patient.

The patient is in fact the reason for the recollection. Samantha Wagner, Roy's daughter, is a student at Princeton. She was rushed into the ER three days ago with a rather boring array of symptoms: headache, nausea, sensitivity to light. Symptoms she's had for weeks, symptoms misdiagnosed by four doctors. The ER was the first place that scanned her head. The MRI revealed a mass in an inoperable part of her brain, a mass that House doesn't think is cancer. Now she's his patient and he's struggling to forget about her dad so that he can cure the girl.

As he drives his bike back to work his mind wonders again - about the details of first being hired, what he knows and what he doesn't.

time travel and motion sickness

In the aftermath of their 'love making,' or 'sex having' or inevitable indiscretion several things happened that House, with all of his diligent deduction, remained unaware of.

Cuddy was late. And so distracted and consumed by her job and imminent elevation that the anomaly initially went unnoticed. But the calendar caught up with her and she sat home alone one night a little panicked and counting the number of days in November.

Morning sickness, motion sickness but no guilt or regret and the anxiety was over the uncertainty more than anything. She was a grown up, if she got pregnant she would be able to handle it. She wanted children one day anyway and to Greg House, the legend and the love of her life, it wasn't a mistake. It wasn't a miracle either.

The possibility added certain stress to her situation. Cuddy realized that in a few more days when she took the blood test, the results would change her life and her career. She may have to decline the offer of promotion, stop working completely for maternity leave, reassess what she wanted out of life and have a complicated adult conversation with a convalescing, condescending narcissist.

A second occurrence (or recurrence) coincided with the week in the memorable winter that she held her breath, her birthday. Cuddy turned 32 and realized that if she was deemed Dean, she'd be the youngest ever and first female at PPTH.

It was her dream, her life long aspiration.

And so she was forced to confront two choices that would change everything: medicine or motherhood, hire House or have his child.

Ultimately it wasn't her decision to make, the waiting was the hardest part and with time nothing changed.

The blood came the day after her birthday, she fulfilled his prophecy of one day running a hospital and hired him within weeks, never mentioning the baby hope and never discussing their recent or long remembered past.

-

Fragmentation reigns.

When he was given everything he wanted, his own department, something exceeding a second chance (or rather a fifth) House sought satisfaction beyond his office and parking space. Still uncertain what he and Cuddy were, more than once he made an advance, a suggestion and not in earnest.

He'd corner her in the crowded clinic and slur some lascivious scenario into her ear or grind against her nipping her neck, making Cuddy a victorious shade of blush from the danger of being seen, the public display of almost affection. It didn't matter if they got caught, she was the boss now, the only reason she let it continue- she had control of the situation.

Eventually and perhaps predictably, House took it too far. She came to his office at the end of one day to find it empty. As Cuddy turned to walk back out House was standing in the doorway, crossed the threshold and closed the door. In a surprising swift and even stride he stood behind her, splayed a hand over her stomach and started unbuttoning her blouse.

"What are you doing House?" She asked squirming but not resistant.

"Trying to undress you, a little cooperation would be nice," he managed, kissing her neck and the corner of her mouth.

She could feel him, hard, alive, whole again throbbing against the contours of skirt confined cheeks, curving into a cleft. When he finished with the long row of buttons one of House's hands skated up to her breasts, the other found the zipper of her pencil skirt.

"Stop," her breath and body damp, weak and wanton.

The sound of the zipper was an epiphany, a few of his fingers slid inside her panties but her hand pulled his out. Flirting with an employee was one thing, being fondled and fingered in a dim room behind transparent glass doors would ruin both of them. It was more than a risk, it was wrong. Cuddy talked without facing him, buttoning her blouse.

"We can't do this now."

"Okay. How about my place, later tonight?" .

"No.

We can't do this at all. I'm your boss -"

"I know, I was planning to sue you for sexual harassment if you didn't put out. Again."

"Seriously, this can't happen anymore. It shouldn't have happened at all. I was your attending for God's sake."

Regret, rejection, House sat at his desk, picked up the tennis ball and finally saw how she felt about him.

"Alright. "

It was over before it even began.

After the concise conversation, the last ditch effort, they fell into their inescapable roles, interaction became professional, well as professional as possible. He'd joke about her perverse pleasure in rejecting him, building a barrier, the great wall between love and hate but it was never really enough. House knew she was pushing him away for his own good, that it was black or white with no gray alternative, that she still felt something.

The affair - their past - was more than conjecture or rumors. It was practically overt, more obvious than anything. Cuddy was the one responsible for the conspicuous inconspicuousness of their relationship. Her concern, her protection, her tolerance of House revealed not just that she loved him but that she was still in love with him. Their rapport alone signified that they had slept together.

It was never a secret.

Over the years everybody has inquired, Vogler, Cameron, Stacy. But Wilson was the first to suspect. Boy wonder oncologist had been at the hospital a few years when Cuddy's administration commenced and was worried about the course of his friend's career's reincarnation.

"Did you and Cuddy...?" Wilson asked, walking.

"Yes," sarcastically "We did." House said.

Wilson's brow rose in tentative shock. House elaborated:

"It was all a terrible accident. You see I tripped and fell into her.
And then out of her. And then into her again. It continued that way until I finally stopped trying to stand up.
Then she screamed. Or maybe it was more of a shriek. Or a squeal..."

"She's your boss now House, the exchange of bodily fluids is dangerous without a marriage license and a good lawyer.
It could cost you your job."

"See, that's where you're wrong Jimmy. It's much more dangerous to live with the tribe in the amazon than to go on a chaperoned safari
of a tourist trap."

"So you...went on a safari?"

"No. We didn't do anything. It's Cuddy, it's my boss. I'm not that stupid," a lie motivated by the need to conceal his ineradicable love with a callous.

Cuddy however never denied sleeping with House. She dodged, deflected, clenched and sweat but never said no.

So for thirteen years there have been snide and satirical remarks about bondage, fun bags and red thongs- perjury, ketamine and hormone injections, an extensive timeline of sacrifices and consequences.

They never stopped loving each other. Cuddy kept him at any cost, one hundred million dollars, her own career and everybody lies on the witness stand and to health inspectors. She saved him, defended him and even cured him. House was never a burden, he was her best friend.

But she was only his boss.

Their personal lives remained mutually empty and incomplete. JDate and hookers, the return and rejection of Stacy, and a private investigator, nobody's really right. They tried and eventually accepted that they're meant to be alone, together.

A tacit and final fidelity.

-

It's all just sunsets in rearview mirrors now, beautiful but behind them. The metaphor works as he drives, two wheels on dry pavement. As long as he works for her it would be wrong, it would be complicated, it would be the greatest loss when it all falls apart.

tempus fugit

Roy Wagner did go to Hollywood. He became a director of photography and a pillar of the craft. He married a producer and had three children, the oldest of which is now House's patient.

The arrival of a forgotten face has forced Greg House, with all of his glory and disgrace to acknowledge the passage of time. Being numb from narcotics made it hard to remember and that made it easier working for her, being close and with her. Under her.

After the infarction the hope of being relieved only gave him the courage to suffer until the pills were swallowed. Then he remembered relief was only temporary and the pain, the scar, the loneliness were a permanent presence. Now is no different.

Every cripple must creep his own way.

And he does, parking his bike and limping to his office.

Samantha Wagner, nineteen years old and scared to death, does not look like her father. She's tall with wide blue eyes and thick bright blond hair. A History major with no sense of the significance of cinema, her boyfriend is at her side.

House enters her room for the first time since she's been admitted and stands silent.

"Who are you?" Sam asks.

A pause, a thought, identity reconsidered.

"I went to school with you dad."

House is staring at Samantha and her lovelorn bedside beau. He has no epiphany, no hope, only the thought of how different everything should be.

Roy is what House could have been. Cuddy's boyfriend, successful and sober and married with kids, he's normal, not alone and probably happy. Even his oldest child has more than House, someone who cares, people affected by her illness, who would miss her if she were gone. It's not envy it's just regret for inaction, for not saying something, not doing something then. A generational absence, now he's confronting how much he refused, how much he forfeited, how much he lost.

"House," Roy says, walking into the room with his wife.

"You're Dr. House?" Sam asks.

He nods.

"You look the same, Greg.

How is she?" Roy asks.

"She's sick," says House with his candor for the conspicuous.

"But she's going to be fine," he adds. It's more an observation than a prognosis.

"Are you sure?" Asks Roy's wife.

House nods again.

"I don't think it's TMJ or a tumor," he says to her parents. Then to their daughter,

"I'm going to start you on antibiotics, if the pain subsides and the mass in

your brain goes away, it'll confirm my diagnosis."

"Which is?" Roy asks.

"An infection," House says, vacating the room.

Neither optimistic nor certain she has a abscess and infection House returns to his office vaguely relieved. He's brooding about a more personal puzzle.

They found the corner piece first, he thinks.

He and Cuddy formed a border at Michigan. A straight edge, a connection of strange shapes to frame their future, all they had to do was fill in the empty space to see the whole picture. But they never had a boxtop to reference, they never knew what they wanted, saw or had. Nubs, voids, color and a scattered pile of potential, now is the future and the puzzle is still incomplete.

They've gathered and rotated each piece, moving them together or apart, trying to make sense of the memory mosaic. Something's missing or lost, something they never had but the return of Roy is making the picture clearer. The kiss weeks ago was clarity, it was what he should have done years ago.

House is starting to see an image, something he hasn't considered since Ann Arbor. The relationship between the past and present is almost visible. Finding the last piece feels possible.

Except that a jigsaw puzzle is a finite object, a photograph, more tangible than the challenge that's before him, that's been unassembled for so long. Weeks ago he arrived at her doorstep, he kissed her and then he left. The next night he visited again, walking away, certain completion of the puzzle is an impossible illusion.

The analogy ends, hours have passed musing within a metaphor.

"Time flies," House says when he sees Cuddy approaching him.

"Samantha Wagner is getting better."

"A doctor treated a patient and she got better, what gross negligence. Are you going to fire me?"

"It was an infection, tests confirmed Gemella."

"Six weeks of ampicillin, she'll be fine."

A beat. Cuddy comes closer.

"You should go see her again, say goodbye to Roy. "

"I know he's a big Hollywood hotshot and everything but I don't even kiss my boss's ass. And besides, you're the one that slept with him."

'Chemistry', Roy thinks, watching them from behind the opposite corner at the end of the hall. They're lucky, in a collegiate atmosphere perpetually and with each other. They possess the rare comfort of an old friend's company yet they take if for granted.

"You did good, House."

"I did my job."

"I know."

There's an inexplicable smile stealing her expression. She loves him the most when he reminds her why she hired him, which is every minute she's with him.

"Where are you going?"

House walks away from her without answering, still thinking about jigsaw puzzles.

Cuddy watches, it's a struggle for him to stand but he walks, he works. There's something fundamentally Byronic about the man. She's almost forgotten his poetry was photography once. It seems so long ago but she remembers a fragment from a freshman lit class.

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever the years...
In secret we met
In silence I grieve
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

Cuddy walks back to her office with a melancholic lump in her throat, the poem is more than appropriate. It's accurate, it's timeless. Wilson was right about her contemplating the possibilities with House, she always has. And she always will, regardless of how it all ends. Now though, the stagnant inaction of the last five years is settling, a heavy restless weight.

-

House goes home. Spent, lost or wasted, time doesn't really do but bites heal, the itch he couldn't scratch years ago has returned, making the significance of a single kiss missed a relevant reflection, a stinging pain in the meaning of it all. He kissed her the day she lost Joy, it was impulsive and premeditated and perfect; it was what they both needed. It was that feeling he'd almost forgotten was everything, but it wasn't enough.

He wanted more than one kiss, so did she. But 'want' is a foreign feeling for them, continuing would have been complicated, irrational, maybe even regrettable and House couldn't take advantage, the same way he couldn't when they were in college. And through all the experience, the agony and irony of two decades, he still can't find a way to reconcile love and lust (or them, as a couple). It's a semantic argument of carnal complexities and empirical confusion.

Marriage and making love, relationships and having sex, it's all just different names for what he's missing.

Commitment isn't a piece of paper or a ceremonious patriarch accompanied processional, he thinks. Commitment is wanting to stay, but not having to.

And love, love is litany. It's loyalty and a lie.

Making love is the greatest misnomer of all. Implying emotion can be invented or contrived, summoned by connecting flesh and muscle, by executing a rhythm, it's ridiculous.

Having sex is vaguely more accurate, though sex isn't really 'had.'

It happens.

So many inaccurate descriptions and terms, sex remains an esoteric activity yet ordinary. A paradox impossible to describe and occasionally paired with emotion. A simple encounter between a man and a woman but complicated beyond explanation. Cyclical, kinetic, natural, it's validation, combination, everything and nothing. The experience he and Cuddy shared thirteen years earlier can only be defined as everything else: indescribable.

Words are utterly useless so he drinks and thinks.

After a few sips, House remembers again his strategy for discovering some absolute truths in a world of lies years before and goes in search of them.

The box of photographs, a collection of colorful polaroids and glossy contrasting blacks and whites, he doesn't remember ever throwing away, so he initiates a quest to find it, or at least a few stray stills.

Later that night when Cuddy realizes House didn't visit Roy again, she goes to see the patient and her father. Roy thanks her and tells her how far she's come. Sam's asleep and after his wife steps out he calls Cuddy 'Lisa' instead of 'doctor' and says how good she looks. A part of her wants to confess how far she is from where she thought she'd be, where she wanted to be when she first knew him. She wants to cry on his shoulder, to turn back time.

Before she leaves, he rests a hand on her shoulder and tells her he left earlier to go get something. Roy hands her a manila envelope and asks her to give it to House. Cuddy smiles and nods, she was expecting graft or some token to commence an affair but after a moment she chides herself. House deserves the gift, whatever it is.

She wanders past his office and is disappointed when it's empty. She doesn't peak in the envelope but can feel the shape, the rectangular case that's inside and knows what it is.

sleepwalking

Cuddy goes home late with the envelope forgotten and lost among her things. House and Roy and everything lately has gotten her frustrated, in a sexual and existential way. As her feet step through the door her only intention is opening a bottle of wine and curling up in bed with a glass in one hand and her vibrator in the other. She needs the relief, the release, the relaxation.

'Everybody masturbates,' she thinks, deciding it's more true than House's patented mantra about the human condition. Her shoes come off on the way to get the wine, one heel in the foyer and the other in the hall (the hallway where he kissed her, finally and again, the hallway where she kissed him. House said 'forget it,' she wonders if he has).

Cuddy gets a glass and the corkscrew and pours herself some burgundy, sipping as she saunters to her bedroom. The silence is satisfying but sad. A part of her still longs for the patter of children's feet, the sound of a cedar chair as she rocks an infant to sleep, the snore of a husband and his weight beside her, some constant, some sense of fulfillment beyond her career.

After lamenting her loneliness her libido lags and Cuddy decides to work, find something to distract herself from all the ordinary things she may always lack. She brews a strong batch of coffee to counteract the alcohol and sits on her bed buried in a pile of pillows and administrative papers.

In the pile is a manila envelope.

Drowsy but drifting into a caffeinated coma, she's beginning to consider and reconsider. Everything. What she and House could have been if he had kissed her twenty years ago, what they are after the passionate compassion of a recent 'goodnight', what they might have been if she'd gotten pregnant before she hired him, if she'd adopted Joy.

Still, they'd not even be together if she hadn't hired him.

It's not chaos to her, it's the sum of sacrifices and mistakes- sliding doors and the difference every detail makes.

Cuddy feels as if she's been sleepwalking for years now. Ambulatory but unaware, alive but ignorant, aimless with her eyes closed, any idea of direction has just been a dream. A black and white dream because she's made it one, she and House only opposing polarities in their colorless roles. She wants to feel something again, she wants spectral sentient and to not be colorblind anymore. She wants an awakening and she wants him.

Her eyes settle on the envelope and in a heartbeat she sees and feels the culmination of all contingency. The past and a patient at her hospital, the connection and revelation of everything she's lost, been denied, sacrificed, it's time to change things, or at least try.

-

On the drive there Cuddy' nervous. She shouldn't be, it's the middle of the night but he's called and come to her window or door no matter the inconvenience, so she's just returning the gesture. And she has a gift.

The only rational fear is being pushed away. There have been times when he wouldn't even let her in the door and she understands, exclusion is emotional preservation.

alchemy

Wide awake as she knocks and waits, she decides she's just going to deliver the disc and doesn't expect to be invited in. She'll be satisfied to see his face and know that he watched it. Maybe he'll call her and they'll talk, it's been a long forever since they had a real conversation.

Cuddy knocks again, an enthusiastic anxiety coiling in her chest. Footsteps follow the thud of his cane.

"What time is it?" House asks, opening the door.

"Late," she says aware of a certain subtext in the question and answer.

House closes his eyes and raises his brows, forcing himself awake.

"I brought you something," she says as he walks away from her.

The word 'kinky' echoes from a distance as he hollers and she goes inside.

The place is messier than it usually is, at least the few times she's been inside. Books and magazines are missing from shelves, boxes and crates are in the middle of the space. For a moment Cuddy panics imperceptibly at the thought that he's moving. But House limps out, hair tousled and thin, the grip on his cane tight, in a tshirt and pajama bottoms.

He's still here, just searching for something.

Cuddy's wearing jeans and House tries to remember the last time he saw her in denim. 'Partypants,' he thinks of saying for the first time since he discovered it was her password, but doesn't.

"Roy left this for you," handing him the envelope.

"Since when does the Dean of Medicine do midnight deliveries?

House opens it and pulls out a black dvd case. An eyebrow arches.

"Think it's porn?"

Shaking her head, Cuddy smirks and starts to walk back out the open door.

"Cuddy," turning her around.

"Stay," an involuntary invitation, a response to the sight of her walking away.

Uncommon sentiment stays in the air for a mutual sigh of surprise.

"He gave it to you to give to me, maybe he wants you to see it. And besides, you got me up, I might as well keep you up."

"You were already up," she says as his friend again, no longer his boss, no longer in control.

Cuddy sits on the couch as House turns on the TV and puts the disc in. He returns and collapses beside her, suspecting but not knowing what's on the dvd. The leather's cold in the space between their bodies, a black gap they could easily close.

After a moment as the menu appears House reaches an arm low and behind her back and Cuddy thinks the distracted caress is an advance. Her heart flutters with a nervous excitement, a winged adoration she hasn't felt since she was nineteen. But the arm retreats quickly with his hand wrapped around a remote and he presses play.

The first few frames are unfamiliar.

It's celluloid. Telecined recently, the guileless glow is a diffused glimmer into the past. The colors have bled together, too warm, too soft, it's a stunningly accurate portrait of what they remember, vivid but fading at 1080p.

The titles appear and pass, it's Roy's thesis film.

Cuddy slouches, sinking deeper into the couch, creating a paradox in proximity. They're close but not touching, watching but not yet seeing.

Each excerpt appears followed by its collegiate parody equivalent. The privilege of driving and an alcoholic parallel parking, an educated explanation about sex and people having it, the digital transfer hasn't done the irony justice.

The sex shot of Roy's unwitting roommate and his girlfriend is more explicit than either of them remembers it being. House thinks of alchemy for a minute, certain there's no love in the act. Years wasted contemplating a coherent, cohesive connection between love and sex, past and present, employer and employee, now he knows there isn't one.

The scene is simultaneously arousing and depressing. Arousing because it's passion, release and loud. Depressing because it reminds both of them of what they could have done together, everything they should have had. The couple is on a bed, Roy's roommate is on top in control, his girlfriend's legs wrapped around his back when House experiences a certain envy in the position he took for granted, he wishes he could have been with Cuddy when he still had two good legs, when he was young, when it would have made a difference.

He's getting hard with a heavy heart.

Cuddy's equally affected by the misguided montage of memories. Like House she feels an anachronistic awareness in watching the film. The past is suddenly the present and they're out of place.

The scene is longer than they remember it being. House shifts, adjusting his rising erection and Cuddy looks away every few minutes. The gasps, the groans, the smack of sweaty stomachs, the sight of two underexposed individuals who, under different circumstances should have been them is a final confrontation that makes them realize as much. Suddenly uncomfortable just sitting, they want to move, they want to make love, they want more than to just remember.

House is about to fast forward when the coital exhibition ends with its climax. The next contrasting comparison is one that they don't remember at all. It's an educational film about substance abuse produced by the University of Michigan. It focuses on narcotics and seems a little too appropriate for its audience. House goes to put his arm around her and make a joke but Roy's parodical funeral procession ruins the mood.

Cast shadows and false starts, the room suddenly seems dark. Reel time is making another eager error of enlightenment tempting but no less impossible. They're about to give up when the last juxtaposition starts.

The sight of the lake, the lake twenty years ago, is the most effective encapsulation of their shared past. The projection forces a final reflection, a synchronous reconsideration as they watch in silence. House puts an arm behind Cuddy, not touching but bringing them closer. Recent reality dissipates inside of him. In its smallest particles memory seizes his mind, his state and his state of mind.

They hold their breath, struggling to remember their roles in the scene. It's a green season as Cuddy stands on the shore surrounded by a group of peers, at home. She waves to someone on the water while everybody else drinks, collecting wood to build a bonfire.

The motion of her arm steals his attention and House stands transfixed and out of focus behind her. It's clearly more than curiosity, it's even more than they remember. There's something in his expression Cuddy's never seen, not for years if ever. An instantaneous appreciation for filmmaking, for photography and for college consumes her. She understands now why he used to take so many pictures.

-

Truth needs distance not context, House thinks.

Context distracts, distance provides focus.

The observation is influenced by the objectivity of distance. In the film he's farther from her and the empty space allows for honesty. Here they're close, too close and considering context, they can't be honest.

His philosophy is interrupted by the thought of where the pictures might be. He may still have the old Pentax somewhere, not that he has much worth photographing anymore. Looking at Cuddy through the corner of his eye though, he regrets his inability to capture this moment.

The camera is the only machine that can trap time. Film is flypaper for moments of truth, a negative the time capsule that transmutes the transient into the tangible, the unforgettable, making a photograph a kind of message in a bottle. Now only a lament of isolation and loneliness; not from the loss of a love, but the lost image.

A confession was sent but never received. The camera was communication.

He longs for it again almost as much as he longs for her again.

The still image is inspiration, House realizes, staring at her and not the television, but the moving image is proof. It's evidence, it's everything. Visible, intangible but real nonetheless, the only way to really relive the past.

They share a temporal and literary aside, reminded of Proust and his magic lantern, compressed ephemera, gaussian impressions of remembrance and recollections. The best days of their lives are no longer blurred, no longer lost, they've returned here and now, fragmented but full circle.

Young love softens aged doubt, the pathology of the present is uncertain as they sit with questions and conversations pervading their consciouses.

"That summer at the lake..." Cuddy starts.

"It was fall," he corrects with a sad nostalgia tainting his voice.

Cuddy tilts her head and thinks. House is right. She continues with more certainty,

"I remember the thesis screening. It was ninety degrees that day..."

"June."

"And they had us crammed into that theater."

"I think that was the last time I shaved," rubbing his chin.

"You didn't shave that day either. You were hungover."

House laughs, a crooked smirk shaping.

"Young, naive Cuddy really had a thing for me..." he says, both knowing it's an incomplete thought, an open observation as much as a question.

A beat, an awkward transition.

"It's too late, I should go," her only rational response, a few fingers on his left leg are an unexpectedly intimate ending.

Cuddy looks up and blinks as she stands, dispelling any evidence of tears.

"I still love you, House," under her breath and to herself, his name almost audible as she starts toward the door.

"Wait," House says. It's only taken thirteen years.

He walks over to her quickly, forgetting about any handicap, any injury other than his broken thoughts and fractured heart, every affliction only she can cure. There's no reluctance, no limp just bare feet on mahogany and an overwhelming desire to stop time.

Their eyes meet and they stare together, alone in space a few surreally suspended moments. His arresting blue eyes seduce her gaze, the weakness and wisdom are behind them still. House's hand rises to her chin less cavalierly than when he was twenty six.

"What are you doing?" Cuddy asks quietly.

His lips part and his glance shifts as if only now he recognizes her as someone he knew long ago.

"Making up for lost time," a listless whisper. He kisses her but it's no goodnight kiss.

It's a soft almost sentimental defeat to magnetism. They feel the thrill, the fear, the end of inevitability. With closed eyes and a few fingers on the small of her back he can taste coffee and wine and toothpaste on her lips. It's impulsive and eloquent, her mouth opens wider and her hands frame his face, thumbs stroking the tender rims of his ears. House's tongue takes a chance and tangles with hers and she opens her eyes, motionless, holding her breath, watching him kiss her in utter disbelief. She blinks one last blink, dissolving into his arms.

The whim becomes a whammy.

The embrace evolves. A desperation, a tide of mutual urgency has finally crested. The recognition, the familiarity of the nearly forgotten feeling, there's a security, a certainty in what's beginning, what began so long ago. It's return, the culmination of hazard and vulnerability. They walk backwards to his bedroom, neither leading but both acknowledging another alchemic attempt.

-

Streetlight seeps warm almost romantic highlights through the window, contrived candlelight in an otherwise blue room. House sits on the edge of the bed, hands rising to Cuddy's hips as she stands in front of him. Slowly unbuttoning her jeans he kisses her stomach. It's the closest they've been with anyone in years.

In the dark they're ageless, just a familiar presence, a lost love, old friends. They can pretend that history hasn't already been written, that this is more than a second chance. Or a third.

Lips linger as he remembers a dream, a dream of dreaming. His gust gives her goosebumps as the air ebbs down her body. House starts at the bottom, undoing the long line of buttons on her blouse. It falls slowly and as he tugs on the zipper of her jeans they tumble. Before she can step out of them he kisses her again, a hip, her belly button, his beard burning across her abdomen.

Cuddy sits on the edge of the bed and kisses him, her hand sliding under his shirt, he's sweating. He's nervous. House unhooks her bra, feeling sixteen and almost shy, slipping it from her shoulders. Tugging the shirt off his upper body she plants a wet kiss on his neck and bare chest with one last peck on the lips before she lays back on the bed.

Now she sees it. The little boy and everything she imagined Greg House once was, the little boy his child would be and everything he is. Leaning on top of her, his laconic glance says everything in a blink, a breath, a heartbeat. The next kiss rouses a longing so deep it affects her womb.

Cuddy's hair is down and mussy, her makeup is all but worn off completely but there's a majestic beauty, an eternal youth he sees in her, almost wishing they had married a long time ago so that her graceful aging might have been his benefit.

House's lips brush over her sternum and ribs, the ticklish spot low on her shoulder, he kisses the bend of her arm and strokes a soft elbow, ascending up to her erogenous ear. It's a slow rediscovery ending when his mouth finds hers and he stares into her eyes, stares past them, seeing everything they could have been but not what they still could be.

Feeling lost, feeble, invisible again House rolls onto his back, certain this is impossible. She's his boss, but that's not really what's stopping him. If he can't make it work with her...

She's the love of his life, he couldn't survive the loss, his mind's in anarchy at the thought. He can't take the chance.

In voiceless sorrow, leaving the words unsaid, they're side by side. His lazy arrogant confidence is dim and disappearing replacing desire with dread. A sigh and he's suddenly aware of his own mortality. Life and death and he never found the box of pictures, he never found anything he's ever looked for. The search is over leaving him wondering where his camera is, knowing he's only ever been a spectator. But he wants to be more. He wants permanence without a photograph, without a word, he doesn't want this to be another one night stand.

It's a somber sobriety knowing tonight could never be anything more.

Cuddy touches him. Her hand splays across his stomach and she waits. She knew it wasn't going to be easy, nothing's ever easy with him. Still she has to let him know there's no regret, there never was, that it's worth taking the risk. She holds him close a while, a sort of embraced exposure. A few fingers coast down his cheek and she turns his face to hers, kissing his chin, the corner of his mouth and resting her head on his chest.

Time passes and she hears his heart beat faster and faster. His fingers are trailing up her spine to her arm, bringing her hand to his lips. House accepts it as whatever it is, if only another singular transgression. His eyes beg for it to be a second chance as kisses her softly, letting her know.

Cuddy's head rises and she slides out of her panties, returning with a long deep kiss. House's hand finds her clit, tracing then rubbing in a spot that coats every finger and makes her bite his bottom lip. She massages him through the cotton and he swells. Hovering over him, she kisses the scar on his chest from the bullet and then the one on his neck. Her lips rest on his forehead over the scar from the bus crash and kiss the one on his nose from his first bike accident. There's a flawlessness in his flaws, all of his scars are remnants of wounds, reminders of pain, brands of hopelessness.

Her body descends his, tongue circling each nipple, slippery across his ribcage stopping at his navel. The pajama bottoms are pulled down and tossed aside. Cuddy kisses along the elastic of his boxerbriefs sliding a finger in, making House jerk as her fingers brush through hair and pull out, her chin a faint caress on his growing girth through the fabric. The briefs slide to shins, freeing his beautiful crimson shaft.

A hand takes the throbbing pillar between her eyes, close to her lips and she feels every muscle in his body tense under her. The hair spilling over his sensitive skin is a torturous tickle and he watches, gaping in shock and suspense. One hand wraps around him and then another. The grip is familiar, a reminder of the tragedy of thirteen years before. House wants to feel dejected, he wants to feel miserable because all the scene reminds him of is the infarction and Stacy's abandonment but he just feels unbridled anticipation. She strokes him to a straining stiffness, twisting her wrist, languidly lapping the underside of his length. The pace quickens and then stops. Nuzzling his thighs and massaging his testicles, her touch is soft.

House groans, foreboding fluid flowing out of him and Cuddy licks it up with the return of her talented phalanges. He starts bucking into her grip, trying to push himself between her lips but she won't let his manhood meet her mouth except for a moist plump kiss on the head.

Rocking erratically, he prepares to surrender to her dedicated hands when they stop again.

Cuddy takes him in her mouth, unexpectedly engulfing him entirely and hearing his guttural grunt. She strokes and blows, feeling the dangerous ripple course through his body. She sucks hard and almost does it again, wanting to keep it simple and just swallow and sleep but she can't bring herself to end it here.

So she rises, the salt of his sweat gloss on her lips, looking almost innocent.

"Lise," House starts, winded and hoarse, with a lisp that she's missed.

But she kisses him, smothering any protest, any doubts. Drowning in the prepossessing scent of the woman, the girl, a waft of years gone by, he kisses back speechless and spellbound.

Cuddy straddles him, kissing still, never letting her lips leave his, making everything that follows an extension of the kiss.

Fingers curl around his shoulders and she just savors the taste of him, the safety, the illusion of him beneath her again. The slickness of her arousal saturates them both as her hips sway on top of his, seeking a certain pressure. He's not even in her and she's close, grinding and writhing and making out with a bleak fury, the urgency of every year, every minute they were doing anything else. Her pelvis presses harder against his, the wet glide a mounting tension and he quavers, making her moan.

After kissing his temple she pulls back rising, seeing him with a renewed clarity, seeing a potential, a promise kept. The future's indefinite, the past is perpetual and the present is the only thing that matters at all, she thinks, smiling under just enough light to see the ocean blue hue of his eyes.

Cuddy bends down raking her nails through the growth of stubble in the hollows of his cheekbones and cradling his cherished countenance in one palm while the other seeks his seeping shaft, stroking as she lifts, leading him to her, guiding him in in one smooth submersion.

The solid thick pulsing heat of him fills her, familiarly fantastic. It's been so long since she's had him over, under, inside of her that Cuddy comes on contact, convulsing, clenching and he swallows the echoes of her suffocated scream.

It's an aural allusion, that sound she makes that forces him to forget about everything except her, the smell, the sight, the syzygy of senses. He thrusts, deepening the connection, prolonging her pleasure, watching her squint and squirm. The pleasure's sharp, she arches her back as euphoria becomes desire again, then clings to him, still, burying her face against his neck to compose herself, kissing with a persuasive passion until she starts moving slow, feeling the resonating reverberations of their reunion.

They find a soothing ancient rhythm. Cuddy's legs align with his, a long sought symmetry coming to a kinetic compromise.

Riding, reviving, remembering, they build a relentless bliss. His beard grazes her breasts, tongue teasing a nipple as her beautiful body bounces above his broken frame. Belief and bondage- a tie to the past and faith in the future are in exhilarating equilibrium.

There's a delicate balance of strength and restraint in the instant they realize it may be their last reconnection and pledge an unspoken promise to make it perfection. Relief, exhilaration and anxiety dissolve into sexual synchronicity, as muscle and sweat and soul and flesh coalesce.

Possession and protection- this is more than sex, House thinks, driving into her and pulling down on her, coming together again and at last. The impact of integration and momentum of every fleeting moment make reciprocity more than a regrettable reaction, they're on the verge of achieving the impossible, a hope he hasn't felt since his accidental poetry was photography.

There are no poetics in sex, just science, House tries to convince himself, jutting up, watching her shudder at the sensation, trying
to calculate her refractory period, uncertain if he can make her come again before he erupts.

With a palm spread against his chest Cuddy feels the strength of his heartbeat and the vibrations of his words, whispered vowels suppressed for years, pressing a quick kiss to her forehead then her lips. She shifts above him as he moves inside her tilting so that he hits that place, that anatomical apex only he's ever known existed, harder. House has one hand on the small of her back and the other cradling her breast as both hands drift lower, four fingers molding into a dimpled cheek magnifying the magnificently fluid friction of each thrust while the other draws spirals around her clit.

The intuitive touch shatters something inside of her and Cuddy starts to let go again, every muscle a constricting clench around him, her toes curl and thighs tense but House stops her, steadies her hips and procrastinates, terrified now of this ever ending.

Nothing has changed, they're still just immutable base metals begging to be treasure, to shine and combine with appreciated affection, the context of the price, a precious past. But it takes love over logic to defeat lust with trust and he knows that what they have can be a mined memento or run through his fingers like dust.

It's a long beat, a stagnant spectacle as they ease back from the edge.

In silence they hold each other, trying to hold their breath, trying to reverse the direction of time. His calves are cold, the sheets are damp and their hearts are still. Within the overwhelming return to his arms Cuddy tries to speak but House kisses her, muffling the message into a humming hyperbole, knowing what words now would mean.

When their lips unlock they start moving again, closed eyes concentrating on controlling the uncontrollable, succeeding in sweet shallow slowness, bound and becoming one.

It's not carnal, it's simple. It's happiness. Each kiss is a smile, a glance, a lifetime flashing before their eyes as a phenomenal night nears its end. With reverential recognition they accept the unexpressed and accelerate, remembering as a new memory's made.

She's tight, he's deep, lips on her fervor flushed cheeks as he starts pumping into her faster with a ferocity for infinite fusion. Cuddy sprawls across his torso, kissing, panting, slowing him with her leverage. She stares at him in abstracted awe, eyes half closed in pleasure, in disbelief, climbing towards climax.

The rise and fall of his taut trim boss and her salacious squeeze on him is making House care less about science and logic and everything except the revitalizing recurrence of simultaneous rapture. He shifts, rolling his hips, holding her tighter, somehow reaching an impossible depth. Then he kisses her, long and deep, merging motion and emotion.

"I love you," Cuddy says, a breath of honesty between them.

The rush consumes her again, soaring, surging, escaping as she rocks relentlessly, eyelids fluttering, muscles clutching, she comes apart with a sob, a sigh escalating into a scream, repeating the three words into his mouth, she elevates the enduring elation.

Incapable of resisting the exchange of energy any longer House thrusts, transcending, recapturing and finally understanding- time, her, everything.

With the rise of House's release, he sees there's nothing to change, no impossible transformation, no triumphant transmutation because what they've had all along was gold.

It's always been chemistry, never alchemy.

He lifts his head and kisses her, a compensatory kiss for everything he never said, it's completion, holding her closer as he comes - a gushing, searing, white hot stream of consciousness, of the awareness that they've always loved each other, that they always will.

-

They're still connected long after ecstasy becomes reality. His hands have gone from her hips to her neck, holding her to him as orgasmic continuity transitions back into an endless kiss. Cuddy breaks it, breathless and blind now that the room is black. House pushes a stray strand of hair out of her eyes as she rests on his heaving chest. After a few minutes she tries to roll off of him but he holds her tighter, refusing
to disconnect.

By not letting go House is saying I love you without saying a word. Cuddy listens to his heart with her heart and falls asleep in his arms knowing nothing else.

after the gold rush

The fear of her leaving him again almost eclipses the experience of love and sex coexisting. A philosophy has been disproved, debunked or redefined and his all consuming concern is the loss of the only person who made him an exception, the only exception herself.

Stacy, hookers, every other woman was different and wrong and it's not simply because of context or history. It's because of chemistry. Atomic attraction, elemental bonding, the composition of matter - they've been united and reunited, lost and found, incapable of settling for anyone else, settling with anyone else.

House holds her knowing the truth but not knowing if he can do anything about it. All that glitters is not gold- she said she loves him but everybody lies.

__

The first rays of a new dawn penetrate the horizon, linear illumination through closed blinds. Reflecting off their gilded past, shining on their golden present, the potential for an aureate future accompanies the soft light. House never let go, now on his side behind her, a knee bent between hers. His arms are a reminiscent ring as his dry lips rest on her shoulder, he looks and decides there's no sight more beautiful than her bare toes at the bottom of his bed.

While she sleeps he considers the mis en scene of the room. It's photographic if not cinematic. She's nestled in his embrace, gorgeous and glowing with an amber halo, pale, warm, naked against him. They're a tired tangle of sheets and limbs. A pile of clothes is stacked beside the bed: her bra, his tshirt, high heels at the bottom. The TV is still on in the other room and only now does he catch the flicker and long to watch something with her again. This morning doesn't feel like the morning after, it feels extraordinary and it sounds like home with birds and traffic waking up. He's not alone and sighs at the thought, almost happy.

The exhausted dean stirs and her yawn consoles him. House loosens his hold, unclasping his hands, caressing her curves, letting her know he's awake (and in love). Cuddy goes to say something but he stifles the sound.

"Shhh," she hears as House lifts the long dark waves of her hair and kisses the back of her neck.

His mouth is warm and his arms are strong and with his sentimental insistence she falls asleep again and he soon dozes off, still trying to not let go.

------------------------------

After hours of shared sleep, recuperating from the rare intersection of the physical and emotional, lust, love, past and present, House wakes. The space beside him is cold and his arms are empty. Defeated and disappointed but not surprised, he closes his eyes and contemplates why she left him, again. Years of resistance, the pain of repetition, he can't define what they are.

Lovers, colleagues, classmates, nothing is exact.

Like a child repeating a grade, there's something remedial about their relationship, a puerile interference, a proverbial schoolyard hostility and the longing to be forever young.

Perhaps they're more like a broken record, an antiquated and dismissed relationship, sex has scratched and distorted their delimitating melody, leaving only a damaged destiny.

Looking toward the window he wonders if it's more like the cyclical aesthetic of sunrises and sunsets; paradise, visible but unattainable heaven separated by intervals of darkness.

Or a reoccuring dream, he thinks, wishing he never woke up.

No analogy fits, they're all too dismal, too hopeless to be accurate.

What they have revolves, it's temporally, fatefully circular. It's a contagious kismet they keep catching but his differential is inconclusive. So he thinks a while longer, alone, his mind adrift on what again could have been.

"You're a boomerang," he finally decides, trying to visualize his most coveted picture of her, that fear of losing him on her face, now what he feels.

"You will return to me," a meaningless murmur to himself, not optimistic but knowing he's right.

Satisfied with his diagnosis House rolls over, covering himself with the comforter, occupying only one side of the bed still, almost hopeful.

-

Before he drifts into a dream (or a propane fueled nightmare) he hears water running but ignores it, drowsy and depressed, convinced it's a neighbor. Minutes later the creak of a door opens his eyes, he sees her bare feet beside his bed and smiles as she crawls back in to lay beside him.

Cuddy lies facing House, hearing his soft snore, her head sinking into a pillow, her hand on his, the curl of their bodies like two perfect circles intwined. She thinks about Ann Arbor and last night and tomorrow.

Resistance, repetition and return, a trinity of inescapable truths.

She wonders what he wants and if anything will change, what's possible and what's not now. She wants to marry him, make love again, she wants more than the memory of Michigan and these moments.

The dream of dreaming is reality.

It's true, she loves him. She stayed. Cuddy's smiling as she strokes his

his hand. House wants to kiss her, he wants to scream 'I love you,' say anything she wants to hear and everything he ever substituted with silence. He wants to sleep. The trust, the vulnerability, the truth he has at last, he wants to fall asleep knowing that the first thing he sees when he opens his eyes will finally be her.

They're another day older but a golden age, in the middle of their lives and together again. House will cut himself shaving later, a little bleeding in an attempt to be again the person he once was. He'll buy a camera but never forget the remiss kiss missed or anything that might have been. Soon he'll hold and see what is.

What he wants to be is a latent image they can only develop together.

He knows they may never have more than this, no matching bands on their ring fingers or the simplicity of a spinning mobile above a white crib, but they have today, they've always had gold and they'll always have each other.