Title: Another Lost Summer
Author: Lola Lauriestein
Spoilers: Right up to 5x24 and prompted by the events therein.
Summary: She's never known him in the summer. How Cuddy passes the time waiting for House to return.
Unbeta-ed because I'm impatient and timezones are against me. Getting this out of the way gets my attention back on the finale of There Will Be No Divorce.
They've never had a summer.
It seems to be the time of year he retreats from her, from everyone. Perhaps the sunshine and long days are too hard on his gloomy soul, but he flits the hallways like a ghost and because it gives her less aggravation she doesn't question it.
Other years it's been recovery, or grief or Stacy leaving, perhaps Stacy returning. Even back in college it was their enforced time apart, her returning to Long Island for those idyllic family barbecues, him haunting the campus bars or locked up with piles of books, one of those loner kids who didn't feel welcome at home for the holidays.
When she gets in the car, strapping Rachel securely in her car seat, she tells herself silently that it's because Rachel loves long drives. That works the first time, and when she takes the turning for Mayfield she rationalizes that it's simply a chance to see the countryside.
The second trip is an escape from the hospital on an unbearable afternoon. She drives there, sits in the parking lot and stares at the imposing architecture as some kind of tinkling jazz plays softly on her car radio. She hopes against hope that he'll walk out and mock her for listening to such mainstream crap.
For four months she racks up the mileage on her Lexus, missing lunches, being late home for the increasingly well-paid nanny, even slipping out in the middle of the night with a sleeping baby in the back.
She needs to be near him, but not once does she walk up to those steel doors and attempt to see him. The grounds are discreetly secluded, so there's no chance of seeing him in the distance. It would be so easy to call ahead, to consult with his attending. Excuses could be made, her position could be abused and she could be sitting at a shaky plastic table with him, checking for herself if that haunted expression has begun to fade.
Wilson plays his regular part of messenger and confidant, but she doesn't tell him about her visits. He keeps in regular touch with the psychiatrists and the director, offering her detail that she always declines. All she needs to know is that it's working, that he's improving. She won't believe anything else until she sees it for herself.
When she is told his release date, she types a simple 'H' into the calendar of her Blackberry and watches it sync with her computer, her assistant's calendar and the myriad back-up systems that confirm it over and over again.
It should be the news that finally saves her gas, and though she does worry about the environment (she worries about everything), it's too much of a habit for her to stop. When the day finally rolls around, she surprises Wilson by handing him Rachel and taking off before he can argue.
She drives the route almost from memory, reacting on some level to the cars around her when necessary. Early as ever, the gravel under her tires is suddenly deafening, like a series of miniature landmines.
Undeterred, she marches across the parking lot in her impractical shoes and by the time she reaches the grand stone staircase, the quiet creaking of the door alerts her to his presence.
He looks good.
It almost breaks her heart to see him again, softer in places, his grays more pronounced than she remembers. His clothes are neatly pressed and she wants to crumple the smooth cotton in her hands to make him recognizable again.
Then he smiles. It's weak and a little unsure, but it's him.
There's no hug, and she fights back the threatened tears with years of practice. He nods in acknowledgement, the initial smile already receding, and looks past her to the waiting car.
She walks two steps behind him, never able to match his longer strides even as the cane still impedes him. He isn't leaning so heavily, she notes with some satisfaction.
He lets himself into her car, as comfortable invading her space as ever. When she turns the key in the ignition and the radio starts up he launches into a self-righteous tirade about muzak and the crimes against humanity this station is apparently committing.
It's all she can do not to let her head rest on the steering wheel and weep with relief.
The engine is running and as she moves to put the car in Drive, his hand skims lightly over hers.
"I owe you an apology. And an explanation. But I'm not sure either is really going to help."
She shrugs, inclined to agree with him.
If things were better, if there was less to consider, she might kiss him there in the front seat of her car.
Instead, she'll settle for taking him home.
At least this way they'll have the fall.