Note: This is a little more brooding and a little darker than I expected. It's also not how I imagined ending this story, but it seems to be a good stopping point. Thoughts?
Cuddy absently picked at the piece of pie from the hospital cafeteria. The crust looked undercooked, the apples looked overcooked, and the saran wrap had mashed it all together. Entirely unappetizing, but it was the closest she had gotten to the baked dessert. On their way to the diner, both had gotten emergency pages from the hospital.
Jeremy Dalney was a 36 year old man who had come into the ER for chest pains. While waiting to be seen, he had started to hear voices. Jeremy became more and more agitated. When it was finally his turn to be examined, he was already in the midst of a full-blown psychotic hallucination. Despite the best efforts to restrain and sedate him, he had bitten an emergency technician and he had stabbed a nurse in the arm with a needle.
Cuddy's page regarded an administrative nightmare. Two of her employees had basically been assaulted while on duty. She had to come in to see if they were alright, to file the requisite paperwork, and to deal with the legal and insurance issues. House's page was a reference to this medical mystery. Jeremy was currently sedated, though if you watched the machines monitoring him, you'd never be able to tell. His heart was beating at a pace rarely found in healthy adults, outside of Olympic level athletes. His brain activity was in the range of master chess players. There was no explanation for these amped characteristics, or how a man who had never displayed any symptoms out-of-the-ordinary was suddenly Superman.
The Mercedes pulled an illegal u-turn, beams from the headlights illuminating the dark houses along the street. The drive passed in silence, both consumed with establishing a plan of attack. House's team had received notice to meet in twenty. Cuddy had woken PPTH's general counsel and he was faxing over papers she needed to review and sign. It was going to be a long night for both of them.
Though the two arrived together, the hospital staff was too busy with damage control to notice. Patients had to be calmed and reassured that they were in good care and that the hospital was not in danger of another hostage situation. Cuddy immediately headed to her office, switching on the lights and drawing the blinds closed with a shudder. Thank God she always kept extra clothes hanging on the back of her bathroom door. House, meanwhile, steadily made his way to the elevator, cane thudding against the polished tile floors. The two hadn't looked at each other since first leaving Cuddy's house.
House slept on the recliner in his office, leg propped up to ease the inevitable pain that would, sooner or later, wake him from his slumber. His cane leaned against his desk, the medical files of his patient strewn over any and all available table space. The white board was covered with symptoms. He had stared at it for hours, blue eyes steady and focused, pouring over the same black and white letters. Diseases, scenarios, medical journal articles, every pertinent bit of knowledge in his mind twisted and turned, working like a Rubik's cube for the right combination. He needed a solution.
Cuddy stood in the hallway, looking into House's office, second guessing herself. She held a cup of hot coffee, cream and no sugar. He looked awful. The stubble that normally graced his jaw had grown into the rougher beginnings of a beard. His hair looked greasy and the bags under his eyes were darker than usual. She had stayed away as long as possible, giving him the space he needed to work. Though he was still as blunt and inappropriate as ever, she couldn't still the relief blooming in her chest every time he burst through her doors to demand another test. Cuddy had watched him work through hundreds of cases, and some he identified with more than others. This was one of them, for God knows what reason.
Her heels clicked softly on the carpet in his office as she entered, pausing momentarily to watch him sleep. The heat permeated the paper cup, slowly spreading through her fingers. She ignored the scalding for a moment before slowly making space on his desk and setting the coffee down. Cuddy looked at her empty hands, perfectly manicured, and the second thing she could think of doing with them was smooth down her wool skirt. She started to leave, but gathered the courage to do what had first come to her mind. Deep breath, swallowing the lump in her throat, Cuddy sat down on the footrest next to House's leg.
She smiled, a soft and sad smile. The corner of her lips turned up, though the expression didn't reach her eyes. Gray and blue wrestled with each other, much like the emotions stirring in her chest. His work would always come first. It was nothing as valiant as caring for the health of his patients. Solving the puzzle was the passion that drove him. It dragged him from beneath the covers into the cold morning. It pushed him through the pain of his tortured leg. If anything happened between them, his motivation would be in the novelty, the excitement, the mystery. But once House had his answers, once she opened up and he figured her out, it'd be done. He'd have his solution, she'd have her heartbreak.
Cuddy's smile faltered, lip quivering as she tried to rein in those thoughts. She was getting ahead of herself. A quiet laugh escaped her lips, laced with cynicism. This thing between her and House had been racing along for some time now. She was just along for the ride, hanging on for dear life and praying that it didn't end in a train wreck. He coughed in his sleep, breaking through her reverie. House shifted, brow furrowing as he muttered restlessly in his sleep. Soundlessly, his lips moved, mouthing the symptoms he had been pouring over for the past few days. Haunted by the unsolvable mystery.
She leaned forward, her body moving on its own. Without care or concern for the people passing in the hallway with a perfect view through the glass plated door, she brushed her fingers along his jaw. Rough stubble scraped her soft fingertips, but she was gentle and barely there. Her hand molded against his face, palm pressed skin to skin, her thumb gracing his cheek.
House leaned into the touch, the warmth on his face a welcome change from the cold he had spent much of the night trying to huddle away from beneath his jacket. He murmured, eyes fluttering open. At first, he thought he was still sleeping. Brown curls cut across her forehead, dark locks cascading around her shoulders. Her eyes were gray, underscored by a brilliant blue. Cuddy clearly hadn't expected him to wake, her thumb stopped, poised against his check. Embarrassed, she broke eye contact, moving to pull her hand away.
Instinctively, without cause or explanation, his hand wrapped around her wrist, jacket falling from his body to pool around his waist. He turned his head, a small movement that brought his lips against her palm, a soft kiss against the skin. The movement was so subtle, the kiss so slight, that the entire thing could have been a figment of both their imaginations. House unwrapped his fingers from her wrist and Cuddy brought her hand away, fingers folded against her palm.
"I brought you coffee. Cream, no sugar." Her voice was soft and hesitant, unsure whether his display of affection was the result of too little sleep or whether it meant something more.
"I want my money back." His voice was gruff, hoarse, raspy and deep, in a tone that caused her knees to quiver.
"You didn't pay for this."
"But I did pay for a hooker to watch me sleep. And I wake up to you. Downgrade." He gave her a crooked smile, on the brink of a smirk. A yawn contorted his face and he struggled to sit up. Cuddy laughed and slapped his leg in response to the quip, standing up and smoothing down her skirt again. He took advantage of the moment to stare at her chest. She pretended not to notice.
"Kutner says you haven't been home in days. You smell like it."
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear. Probably would've saved you hours waiting for that blind date to call. Come to think of it, if he was actually blind he would've been your best bet."
"Right. Enjoy your coffee." Cuddy smiled, eyes playful, as she lifted the still steaming cup off his desk. She turned and handed it to him. House murmured some other insult, but his attention was diverted by the much needed and appreciated caffeine. A moan escaped and his eyes closed, letting the hot beverage flood his body, energy jolting his nerves. As she walked by him towards the door, she caught movement from the corner of her eye.
House placed his free hand on the small of her back, its presence barely noticeable but for the slight pressure on the tail of her suit jacket. He leaned forward, lips against her ear, sleep-deprived voice scratching, "Thanks."
She shivered involuntarily. House's physical proximity was something she would never grow tired of. Her runaway lustful thoughts were interrupted by a sharp pain as he brought his hand down on her ass, a resounding slap echoing in his office. Cuddy rolled her eyes and walked to the door, gathering herself enough to throw a narrow-eyed glare at him over her shoulder. His eyes twinkled, endless blue, as he lifted his cup in acknowledgement. She bit down on her lip, hiding the smile as she sauntered down the hall to the elevator, knowing he had probably followed her to the door just to watch her hips. Might as well give him a show.
36 hours later, Jeremy Dalney experienced cardiac arrest and could not be resuscitated. He passed away just as the ducklings were telling him they were a few more tests away from finding out what was wrong with him. He began to seize, his heart stopped, and despite the best efforts of the medical team, he was gone.
House sent them home, locking himself in his office, surrounded by Jeremy's charts, records, test results, and the white board. He drew the blinds to his office closed, his desk lamp the only light in the dark. The illumination cast shadows to dance on his walls. Though he had used the hospital's facilities to shower, he still had yet to shave. House scratched his beard, the abundant facial hair new and annoying.
A copy of Jeremy Dalney's death certificate crossed her desk at the end of the day, though she hadn't looked at it. The first chance she got was the first breather of the day. Cuddy was packing up for home when she picked up that last stack of papers, flipping through it to separate and prioritize. The name immediately jumped off the page. She sighed and dropped back into her seat, brushing her hair out of her eyes. House rarely ever lost a patient, especially an undiagnosed one.
Within moments, her office was dark and empty, the door swinging closed with a soft click. Her heels tapped along the tile, resonating within the empty clinic walls.
Knocking on the glass interrupted his process. He ignored it and started again, reviewing symptoms, and cause-and-effect reasoning. The knocking continued, persistent. House refused to be deterred, running through all the possible scenarios he could think of. A click and twist before his door opened, her petite silhouette emerging from the bright hallway. The door closed behind her, darkness swallowing her figure. He barely looked away from the white board.
"Maintenance." Cuddy dangled the key ring from her fingers, jingling the collection in hopes of capturing his attention, even for a brief moment. His office was a dark lair but for the lamp on his desk, and she couldn't help but wonder if it was a physical representation of the state his mind was currently in.
"Make a habit of breaking into people's offices?"
"Just taking a page from your book. What're you doing?"
"Having a tea party."
"House... stop. Go home."
"House, why do you need to solve this?"
He continued to ignore her, eyes running over the same words that had been written on the board for the past week. Completely disconnected from the world, he was lost in himself. House was brilliant, no one could deny that fact. But his brilliance was only recognized through the lives he saved. His colleagues begrudgingly respected his intelligence, though only as far as the impossible and improbable cases he solved. The guilt was inexplicable. He couldn't quite pin it down to failing to live up to other people's expectations, or failure to live up to his own.
She repeated the question, and this time she was in his line of sight. Cuddy squatted before him, tucking her finger under his chin and lifting his head. Her eyes scanned his, looking for a sign of recognition. And there, in a brief flicker of blue, he registered her presence. His eyes widened, he exhaled, and she whispered a small prayer of thanks that he wasn't entirely lost.
"House, why is this so important?"
"Because I need to know. The chances he had an undiscovered disease is slim to none, which means there's an answer." He tried to look past her, but Cuddy gripped his chin, forcing his eyes to stay with hers. He was going down that dark and lonely road.
"House, it's not always about the answer. There was nothing you could've done for Jeremy Dalney. He had a heart attack. He was unresponsive. House, you're not God."
A piece of her heart broke when she saw the reaction to her words. The statement was one that House both needed and dreaded. He needed the confirmation that this wasn't his fault, that sometimes, the answers are just out of reach. You run out of time, of space, of resources, sometimes the answers lay just out of reach. At the same time, no answers meant no solutions. The puzzle would always haunt and taunt him.
Cuddy did the only thing she could to pull him back from that ledge. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. When he didn't respond, she fought back tears and slid both hands along his jaw, bracing her forehead against his. Her eyes closed, fingers running through his beard seeking the warmth of flesh and skin. As a tear slid its way down her cheek, slick track in its path, she regained her composure. Cuddy needed only to be strong until she could make it back to her own office.
She took a deep breath and suddenly, she was breathing him in. His lips were on hers, searching. The demand grew and his kiss became bruising, stronger. She grazed her nails along his jawline, burying her fingers in his hair, overcome with relief that House wasn't completely gone. The demand became eager, both straining to taste the other. Their tongues sought contact and the moment they touched was electric. He pulled away, causing her to gasp when his teeth playfully nipped at her lip. House's tongue caught the tear as it lay at the corner of her mouth, gently kissing it away. He leaned his forehead against hers again, breathing.
A few moments of bliss passed before the pain in Cuddy's thighs brought her back to the dark office. Squatting in heels and a tight skirt may not have been the best idea. She gave House another soft kiss on the lips, lingering and almost lost as he deepened it. Standing, she grimaced as the ache in her legs spread. Regretfully, she slipped her fingers free of his salt and pepper graying hair.
"There's not always an answer, House."
"There's always an answer. Just because you can't put together a children's puzzle doesn't mean that it's impossible. What doesn't have a solution?"
"Life, House, life doesn't have a solution." And the want in Cuddy's voice made it clear that she was speaking from a position more personal, more touching, than just about medical mysteries. He nodded, more in acknowledging her response than in agreeing with it. She held out her hand and was more than a little hurt when he refused to take it. House pushed himself to his feet, grabbing his cane and leaning on it as he reached to switch off the desk light. She watched in silence, waiting to walk out with him.
As her eyes adjusted to the sudden flood of darkness, her breath caught in her throat as she felt his hand reaching for hers. Their fingers briefly entangled, his grip tightening as she led the way to the door.
"Hey Cuddy, about that pie..."
Please review, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks.