Title: Security Measures
Author: Lola Lauriestein
Pairing: House/Cuddy, with mentions of House/Stacy
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me, there is no money being made and I promise to tidy up when I'm done playing.
Summary: Their lives together have been a series of locked doors, each incursion punished and a new protection put in place.
When he first comes back to the hospital, it's all he can do to make it to his office in the morning. Standing around waiting for the elevator is an exercise in torture, and when he makes it to his desk, there's no chance of him moving again before lunch. Cuddy starts to harass him about taking on patients and clinic duty, and while a better man might simply explain that he can't, House would rather have her think that he won't.
He shouldn't have been so quick to trade his wheelchair for a cane; his leg is still perilously weak. His doctors and his physical therapist fought him until he got bored and quit. It was the final straw for Stacy - the fact that he doesn't care about getting better. She could cope with him blaming her, but giving up and laying that on her was more than one person could be expected to take. The night he tells her that he's going it alone medically is the night she walks out. He makes a half-hearted attempt to repair the damage when she comes back for her things, but her sadness makes him angry. He can't fix them when he can't fix himself.
As his mobility slowly improves, he needs something to fill the long hours he's obligated to be in the hospital. There are nurses to irritate, Wilson to hang out with and video games to be mastered. None of these activities remove the restlessness in his still functional muscles, the ones that used to run, jump and kick with impunity. Walking the corridors aimlessly bores him in an instant, so he begins setting himself challenges.
Anyone but House would know to start small, but when he makes it up the stairs on to the roof, it doesn't matter that he's crying in pain or lying on concrete in a hailstorm, because he did it. That's when he starts smashing past the recommended dosage barriers, when he gets some of his old life back.
House wasn't sure why breaking into Cuddy's office seemed like such an important task, but from the moment the idea entered his mind, he was a man obsessed. It would have been easy for pre-infarction House, and so it had to seem effortless to him now. Sure enough, the too-trusting Cuddy had only the simplest of locks on her office door, and on an evening when he knew she would be at some university function or other, he tried for the first time.
As he had expected, the lock clicked open with the most perfunctory picking, and within seconds he was on the other side of the glass-paneled door, the clinic's lights reflecting the clinic on the glass doors leaves him secure in the darkness of the office.
Her desk was the obvious starting point, because it afforded him a valuable chance to sit down. He carefully rifled through her drawers, replacing everything once he'd examined it. Cuddy's predictable tidiness irked him, leaving a strong temptation to mess with everything. He contemplated switching on the computer, but didn't want to risk its illumination. There would be other forays into the dark lair; of that much he was already sure.
So it had continued about once a month, until he couldn't resist sending a rude email from her account to the Head of Cardiology. Cuddy busted him so quickly he began to think she must have been hiding in the corner when he did it. It probably was pretty obvious that nobody else would dare to pull anything like that, so perhaps her powers of deduction weren't all that impressive. Nonetheless, she upped her ante, rotating the admin staff so that the desk outside her office was never empty.
Not that House didn't find a way around that. During his routine visits for chastisement, he scoped out the assistants for weaknesses, and before long had them all on his side. Charm was harder to come by in his pain-addled state, but he could wrap the older ones round his finger by telling them how much they reminded him of his dead mother. So what if his mother was alive and well?
The younger women were almost too easy, crumbling in the face of his rugged doctorly authority. The male assistants straight out of fashion college or wherever Cuddy dredged them up from were laughable, their bravado falling at House's first attacks on their masculinity. He got away with it for longer-- almost two years - before he was distracted by her J-Date profile and Cuddy walked in on him.
House allowed her to relax after that; the inability to indulge in his favorite game leaving him irritable and restless, but it wasn't as though the knuckleheads working for him then would have noticed the difference. He had guessed most of her passwords, so the online sneaking around was easy even in exile, but part of him missed the cheap thrill of being where he wasn't allowed. Cuddy had built wall after wall between them since their one night of mind-blowing sex in Ann Arbor, but he could never resist testing those defenses, even when he met Stacy and fell in love.
The maneuvering continued: no direct confrontation about the long-running game; each incident yelled about in isolation. House would fake contrition; Cuddy would give him an even colder shoulder for the next few days, and then would make a move that she thought would thwart him once and for all.
The security guards, ostensibly for the clinic, had been a breeze to get around. A well-placed fifty and a tip for the college basketball betting had been enough to get a blind eye turned to his many forays for snooping and occasional theft.
Before he was stupidly caught by Cuddy one rainy afternoon, he managed to steal the black scarf from her coat rack. Although the weather had been miserable when he got up, House had stubbornly refused to dress any differently from his usual frat boy style, and had been freezing all day. Just as he stuffed the contraband item into his backpack, the exasperated groan from the doorway alerted him to the fact that he had once again been busted.
A variation of her now habitual speech spewed forth, filled with terribly important words like "violation", "privacy" and "fired", but House was in no mood to feign interest. He was itching to get out of there with his loot intact, too busy hoping she wouldn't notice the missing scarf to argue back. That he had been in her office to steal back the file for the case he had just been taken off was suddenly immaterial; he just wanted his tiny victory.
Cuddy stood by the open doorway, seemingly to usher him out once and for all. Though he hardly dared meet her eyes, he risked a brief glance and cursed himself when he saw the concern radiating back at him. Sure, he could tell her one of these years that he didn't blame her, not really. Perhaps she would sleep a little better at night if he confessed that he didn't hate her for saving his life; he just couldn't help wishing she had saved his old life, instead of giving him this crappy new one. So every time they locked horns over patient care and it boiled down to which one of them was right, he fought her almost to the death. He might not give a crap about any of his patients, but when he knew she was wrong, he wouldn't let Cuddy have another limping bastard, or worse, on her conscience.
He made it out unscathed, retreating to his office like the hounds of hell were after him. That evening he left as early as he dared, the soft warmth of black cashmere wrapped around his neck and neatly fitted behind the leather of his jacket.
Like any other trophy, it should have been cast aside as soon as he reached the sanctuary of his apartment. God knows plenty of trinkets had been painstakingly obtained only to be hurled in the trash as soon as he got bored. From Wilson's lucky tiepin to Cameron's copy of Pride and Prejudice that she kept in her locker, he had taken great delight in upsetting them through loss, only to find the actual spoils pretty worthless. That night as he unwound the insignificant bit of wool from his skin, he felt no such compulsion to discard or hide it. Instead, he hung it almost carefully in the closet, wrapped around the hanger of his winter coat.
House was definitely smart enough not to wear the stolen scarf for a while. No doubt Cuddy had instantly noticed it missing, but he should be above suspicion since it was such an easy item to lose. She would probably be more preoccupied with the gap it left in her color-coordinated wardrobe, with each outfit and its accessories meticulously arranged.
There was no preconceived plan, but when the first snow of the winter hit Princeton that December, House instinctively reached for Cuddy's scarf as he prepared to leave. The cold was aggravating his leg muscle even beyond what his daily (over)dose could cope with, and he was less pleased about the trek to the hospital than usual.
As he made his way to the car, safety winning out over pride for once, he pulled his coat tighter around his body, and pushed his chin into the loose pile of wool slung around his neck. All at once, he felt a strange sense of comfort, the faint traces of Cuddy's shampoo mingling with the stronger scent of her perfume. Resisting the urge to pout at the idea of smelling like a girl, House felt a smile flickering at the edges of his mouth, the pain in his leg almost forgotten for a moment.
He didn't know what perfume she wore; it hadn't been on his list of priorities on the few occasions he'd been in her home, authorized or otherwise. He knew she bought some ridiculously overpriced salon shampoo because she had it delivered to the office about once a month. It bugged him that he didn't know something so fundamental about a woman he'd known for all this time. The only thing House did know was that he liked the smell, liked having it so close to him without the complication of the woman it belonged to.
Of course, the burning need to know didn't fade just because the question was trivial. He cornered Thirteen but was met by her usual blank indifference. Not only did she not know what perfume Cuddy wore, she certainly didn't care enough to find out for him.
Next stop, Emergency Room.
Cameron didn't know what their boss sprayed on her neck and wrists every day, but House did have to give her credit for getting a fairly decent dig in about strong perfumes being inappropriate for a working doctor. House was too distracted even to trot out his party line: that Cuddy was merely a glorified paper-pusher these days and could thus bathe in the stuff if she wanted to. Besides, it wasn't overpowering, he'd scarcely noticed until the concentrated patch of fabric had come so close to his nose.
Perhaps he could have asked Cuddy nicely, made her think he was contemplating a gift for her. Sure that she would see through that idiotic notion right away, he felt he had no option but rudeness. So he asked her what perfume she wore because the hooker he'd had the night before wore exactly the same one and it was driving him crazy. He hadn't intended the wounded look that appeared fleetingly on her face, but they were both used to collateral damage in their interactions, so he shrugged it off because he'd succeeded in getting his answer: courtesy of Chanel.
He'd spent an afternoon being harassed by the accounting department, no doubt sicced on him by his insulted boss. When he left for the day, it was in a foul temper, his expression as dark as the snow clouds still hovering in the night sky. That he almost collided with Cuddy at the sliding doors that offered his freedom did little to alleviate his temper, and he frowned even further when she stood there awaiting his apology.
As she stood, breath frosting as it escaped her lips, her frown was replaced by a momentary confusion. Her gloved fingers fluttered halfway from her hip towards her throat, an unconscious gesture as her eyes alighted on the black scrap of fabric protruding from the neck of his coat. House panicked as he saw her wheels turning, and so he grumbled an apology that distracted her enough to allow his crime to remain undetected and thus unpunished. He shuffled off towards the parking lot, praying silently that she wouldn't take pity on his slow progress and offer her help. The last thing he could cope with was letting her know she was able to comfort him, and it only made him more determined not to need her in his life.
Cuddy must have had her suspicions, but in her own passive-aggressive way opted not to demand her property back, but simply stepped up her office defense program. In idle moments, House wondered how she was justifying all these improvements in her airtight budgets, before deciding he really didn't care.
A key code lock appeared, but if she was going to mock him by using birthdays as a code, it was only right that he messed with her office whenever he felt like it. Killing her plants, hiding her car keys, or his personal favorite: paying some Chippendale dude to hide in the little file room off her office and walk out when he heard voices. Of course, the payment did require the guy be stripped to a posing pouch, and it wasn't exactly a coincidence that the voices were those of Cuddy and her latest billionaire lunch date/savior of the hospital.
Of course he was bawled out for the latter feat, but the aggravation was most certainly worth it. Riling Cuddy gave him the sort of thrill he used to get from psyching out opponents on the playing field, only this way the bonus was that she looked extra-special hot when her eyes were flashing and it looked like any minute she might launch herself across the table at him. Getting angry, letting one emotion bubble to the surface made it hard for the unflappable Lisa Cuddy to keep everything else hidden, and there was no mistaking the lust lurking behind the rage.
House realized that they were now in a full-scale escalation. Every appointment he cancelled with a patient was remarkably restored, and it seemed that he spent more time in the clinic than he ever had before. He had Vicodin replaced with laxatives, found himself getting fruit baskets delivered once every ten minutes between six am and nine on a Saturday morning, the delivery boys apparently having been well-tipped to persist until they got an answer. His car was towed, his subscription to Playboy mysteriously cancelled, and the plasma screen in his office suffered a sudden and violent malfunction that left him bereft. He should have known better than to tangle with a woman his equal; this was always easier with the weaker types. It did get him excited though, until all of sudden buses were crashing and people were dying and he was stuck in the world of pain where his best friend hated him.
Then life slowed to an excruciating pace, long and empty days stretching out around him, not even the prospect of screwing with Cuddy enticing him out of his funk. Had he been fully switched on, he might have suspected that Cuddy giving him an injection was a resumption of their earlier pranks. As it was, he quietly forgave her because her deception had paved the way to restoring the friendship he had been devastated about.
So maybe he could have given her a break about the whole adoption debacle, but it frustrated him beyond measure when her wide-eyed idealism cancelled out her hard-earned pragmatism. She should have seen the pitfalls a mile off, the way that he did, like he was trying to scare her into seeing. Maybe a baby would make her completely happy, but all he could see were the risks that would leave her devastated. Invariably, he was right, but for once took no satisfaction in winning the argument.
He hadn't gone there to kiss her; it had been the last thing on his mind. A thousand rationalizations came into his head as he walked away from her, lips still tingling from the fierce and desperate contact. He tried so desperately to avoid the subject, shying away from her presence, from Wilson's interference. Yet he found himself on her front porch, a step or a second away from changing everything.
So, predictably, he walked away. If there was any one thing he could be sure of, it was that he would very quickly find a way to screw something like that up. One-night stands or cash on the nightstand was about as much as he felt capable of, anything beyond that removed the protections he had so carefully laid in place. Losing Stacy once had been painful, and twice was nothing short of pure agony. It wasn't lost on House that his first port of call then had been Cuddy, that he thought she would be the one to give him the morphine he was so sure he needed. Who else would have kept him safe by giving him the placebo until he could think rationally again?
Not that he could rest until he got some idea of what she was thinking. Sure, she had dismissed the whole thing immediately, shot Wilson's matchmaking down like the Red Baron taking out Snoopy, and promptly ignored that anything had ever happened. Textbook Cuddy at her defensive best, leaving him no choice but to launch another breaking-and-entering mission.
He'd always drawn the line at invading her home more than had been necessary, and so he stuck to his previously successful MO of striking at the office where most of her life was lived anyway. House didn't know exactly what he was looking for, only that there might perhaps be an email, a notepad or even an absent-minded doodle in that room that might give him a clue.
When he reached her office door, his own breath deafening to him in the stillness of the closed clinic, he scanned the smooth wood for signs of further fortification. He had expected to be facing something like Fort Worth given the weirdness between them, but to his shock and delight, the handle turned at his first casual attempt. Was Cuddy so discombobulated by his amazing make-out skills that she was forgetting to lock doors now? This certainly was starting to get interesting.
The route to her desk was etched on his memory, so he could navigate the furniture in the dark quite safely, the bumps and bruises of his first attempts long behind him. As he slumped into her ridiculously comfortable leather chair, he flicked on the desk lamp only to freeze as the glare temporarily blinded him.
Sure enough, as his eyes returned to normal, there was no mistaking the petite form of Lisa Cuddy leaning against the doorframe. Clearly, she'd been lying in wait in the clinic, and the stilettos dangling from her right hand explained how she'd been able to sneak in behind him so easily. Shoes that wouldn't look out of place in the most exclusive S&M clubs would most certainly have given her away.
"What do you want, House? Why is my office one big playground for you?"
She couldn't quite keep the exhaustion from her voice. Pretending everything's fine must have been taking quite a toll on her.
"Looking for the originals of your Playboy centerfold, obviously."
Cuddy sighed at his evasion, expecting nothing less. House might be obsessed with learning the answers to mysteries, but he certainly wasn't in the business of giving them away. She sank into the soft cushions of her sofa, letting the shoes clatter to the floor and freeing her hands to rub gently at her temples.
After considering his options, House decided to take advantage of the lack of shrieking and made his way cautiously to join her. He lowered himself gently beside her, not daring to move too close, to lean back too far. He placed his cane flat on the table, instantly regretting the choice as he then had no idea what to do with his hands. Or rather, he had one or two wildly inappropriate ideas what to do, but didn't want to push his luck completely.
He struggled for words, a condition he was unfamiliar with. It was clear she wasn't doing as well as she might like people to believe, and for once he didn't think cutting sarcasm was the way to go. The only problem being that it was pretty much his only way of communicating. Summoning up his best attempts at a platitude, he turned to face her, only to be struck dumb all over again at the sight of her in the warm lamplight.
Cuddy wasn't crying, she didn't look broken or damaged. Instead, she was regarding him with curiosity, a smirk playing on her lips.
When he tried to speak again, she simply rolled her eyes at him and drew him into a kiss.
This time they were more gentle, cautious exploration taking the place of raw need. Her fingers splayed across his stubbled cheeks as their tongues met with surprising tenderness. When they broke for air, nobody pulled away. Instead their lips met with a renewed passion. House sucked on her bottom lip, driving her a little crazier than she already felt, and her automatic response was to push him back against the sofa and straddle him, taking care not to hurt his thigh.
As the kisses deepened, intensified, House felt himself becoming more and more aroused. They were fast approaching that point of no return, and from the way Cuddy was rocking her hips ever so slightly against him, it was apparent that she felt the same. Just as he thought his luck might be changing, that it might finally be a good time to take that leap, he felt Cuddy pull away from him and tumble ungraciously on to the cushion beside him.
Her lips were slightly swollen, her face delicately flushed. His wandering hands had dislodged a few errant curls in their explorations and it wasn't making the sudden lack of contact any easier to bear. House held his breath until the words he had been dreading split the silence of the room.
Immediately embarrassed, House gave her a sullen nod and reached for his discarded cane. With some difficulty, he raised himself to standing and stomped angrily from the room. Unable to trust himself to look back, he continued straight out of the hospital entrance where the sharp shock of the winter night helped to calm him somewhat.
After a sleepless night, he returned to the hospital in one of his crankiest moods. More determined than ever to invade the privacy of Cuddy's office, he was almost happy to discover she would be in the boardroom for most of the morning. He was going to get in there, find out whether she wanted him or was jerking him around, and possibly reformat her hard drive just to be a pain in the ass.
Not that he gave a damn about patients at the best of times, but when the nondescript little bald man interrupted him, it was only to be expected that he be rude. When the man came back, he had suddenly had a lot more to worry about than the contents of Cuddy's desk.