Title: Defining Reality

Author: Cschick

Rating: T

Pairing: House/Cuddy

Spoilers: Both Sides Now, post-episode

Author's note: To those reading my other story, I am still editing the next chapter of Universal Forces. But this little piece has been bothering me for a while now, and I needed a break from the difficult task of writing smut.


The rhythm of daily life at Mayfield both offered House stability and drove him to distraction.

Due to his acknowledged hallucinations, and because he had admitted to living a delusion that had temporarily replaced reality, his shrinks had decided that House was to be told each morning about any variation from routine planned for that day. He found it both patronizing and reassuring--while some part of him raged internally at being treated like a slow child, it was also comforting during those first few days to know that the life he was living, the events he was experiencing, were real. To be able to cling to reality and easily label what was logically unreal.

Even as Amber had stopped stalking his every step and questioning his every decision, as his mind slowly released itself from the overload of opiates he'd spent most of the past decade building up, that daily knowledge of what was expected or not remained an odd source of stability. Take his medications, talk with his doctors, participate in his group sessions, and try to keep something of his own.

Even here, even while accepting the help he needed to accept, there were guards that could not come down, things that he would not admit to or discuss. He knew that his shrinks were not pleased when they realized he was less than fully forthcoming, knew that they thought that they could judge better than he could what was important for his recovery or not. But on certain topics he remained silent, until the day when his nurse informed him of his scheduled visitors that afternoon, and his morning shrink informed him that he'd asked them to come.

So, he knew that today he was receiving visitors at two in the afternoon. He knew exactly who was coming to visit: one a person he wouldn't mind seeing, the other a person he had no desire to see while in this place. He also had plenty of time between learning of the expected visit and the visit itself: plenty of time to recall his behavior during the days leading up to his realization of his mental break; plenty of time to beat himself up for his stupidity. After lunch, he isolated himself in his room rather than taking his normal hour to watch soaps in the lounge with his fellow inmates, staring at the four blank walls and wishing himself away so strongly that he wondered if he could wish himself into another delusion.

He'd managed to not think much about those last forty-eight hours of his former life during his time here, had refused to actually talk about that final delusion that had finally forced him to he admit he was broken. He knew what the doctors here could do with knowledge of that particular series of hallucinated longings. While he could barely admit them to himself, he certainly didn't need them picked apart and over by a bunch of vultures looking for a cheap thrill.

So, when the gentle knock sounded at the door of his room, he was laying on his bed, eyes closed. When he heard the door open, and the softer-than-expected footfalls walk across the room, he wondered if they were real or not, and refused to react. He refused to open his eyes even as the slight sinking of his mattress told him that his visitor had sat down on the edge of his bed. He didn't want to open them and see her, open them and wonder if the sight was something created by his fucked up and needy brain, or was actually her in this place where she shouldn't need to be, in this place where his mess had brought her.

"You're not asleep, House." He recognized that almost-sarcastic tone of voice, the one she used when she was equal parts worried and annoyed, but trying not to let either influence her reactions.

He shrugged, but kept his eyes closed.

"You know, I'm not even sure why I'm here. The least you can do is acknowledge me. Although, expecting you to do even the least is often hopeless."

He opened his eyes and sat up, evaluating her. Cuddy was wearing a casual top, jeans, running shoes, and an expression that indicated she was desperately trying to keep her face neutral, yet failing miserably. He didn't think that his mind would have willingly come up with a Cuddy who was so obviously bitter and unhappy with him, or would have let him acknowledge that she was bitter and unhappy. So, he concluded there was a fair chance she was real.

"I don't know why they asked you to come," he said slowly. "Wilson could have managed whatever they think needs to be managed here."

"Really? Wilson doesn't manage you, you manage him." She pursed her lips, and regarded him steadily. "They say that you're refusing to fully participate in your treatment."

"That's their opinion."

"Even you know that treatment like this doesn't work well without some cooperation from the patient." She gestured around her, at the featureless room, the hospital-standard furniture. "You planning to make yourself a permanent life in here?"

"I am cooperating. I'm just refusing to tell them things that aren't their business to know. I know why I fabricated the delusion I fabricated, I know exactly why I lived what I lived. I don't need a shrink decoding it for me."

"Oh, and so you're analyzing it and figuring out exactly how to put yourself back together based on your conclusions? I've never quite known you to be the self-reflective type."

"People change."

"You suppress. The more personal it is, the more frantically you suppress."

Damn the woman. He had to wonder how much Wilson had told her. Probably everything, to manipulate her into coming here.

"Wilson knows, and apparently you know. If you both consider it so damned important, you tell them."

"I don't know!" Her voice went up slightly with the last word, echoing her unprofessional rage in the hallways of her hospital. "And if I did know, I probably would tell them. But, to help you along." She wrestled herself back under control, closing her eyes for a moment and breathing deeply.

"It's not something important for you to know." He had already decided that if Wilson didn't tell her, if he didn't admit to it, maybe she'd never find out. He didn't understand exactly why he didn't want her to find out, but he knew didn't want either her pity or her disgust. And, as Amber had whispered to him late in those last nights before she finally faded away, one of those two was almost certainly going to be her reaction. One thing his delusion had definitely done was prove that he was neither capable or deserving of having a relationship with anyone.

"Maybe that's something I could decide?"

"No."

"Damn it, House. You owe me some explanation." She looked down at her hands, refusing to met his eyes. "You attacked me on every level you could attack me. You attacked my child, you attacked my respect and name in my hospital, you even attacked our personal relationship on every conceivable level. I might even be able to forgive you all that. But I need to understand what reality you were functioning in.

"Because I suspect it was a much different reality than the one I was experiencing. And I can't even figure out how to relate the one I was living to the hints of the one you created."

He could hear the raw distress in her voice, he could see it on her downcast face. He knew he'd been refusing to relive that day partly because he'd been refusing to confront what he'd done to her. He'd played with her emotions like they'd been continuing forward toward a mutual goal they both understood, while she'd been spiraling further into betrayal and hurt.

At the very moment when he had the hope that maybe they could finally move beyond the moment and relationship they'd been stuck in for decades, he'd been blindly destroying every possibility.

He rolled on his side, looking toward the window. Bright sunlight spilled through the window, reminding him it was summer out there, that life was continuing even as he mouldered away in these walls. "It was better, for that little while. But then, it was worse."

She sighed, and unexpectedly laid her hand against his arm. A pang went through him at the contact, her physical demonstration of the depth of forgiveness and the degree of empathy she somehow continued to have for him. Even as his delusions and actions had shown him he could not reciprocate either.

"I know you aren't fully responsible for whatever happened that day. I know that it's probably best to forget what happened, to move beyond it. But I know you, House. The more I try to forget, the more I realize that there was purpose in how you were acting, what you were saying. The more some part of me desperately wants to know what that purpose was."

"You claim to know me, you should be able to figure out what it was."

"I have my suspicions."

"Why do you want me to tell you, then?"

"Because I need to hear it from you, not just be some misdirected fantasy of my own creation."

Misdirected fantasy? One thing that Amber had said right: nothing here could be described as fantasy. As horror, as disappointment, as sorrow. Not fantasy.

"I let myself believe that I'd managed to ask for your help, and that you'd listened, that you'd been there for me. That you'd helped me detox, that you'd stayed with me, that we'd succeeded together." The words spilled from him, but he forced himself to stop there. This, she should all already know.

"House, if I had known, if I had realized, we would have worked something out. I would have been there for you. That I care for you isn't just a creation of your cracked mind. It may be an symptom of my cracked mind, but it's not a delusion of yours.

"But that's not all, is it."

"Isn't it enough?"

"House, you asked me if we should move in together."

His own little twisted delusion that maybe they could make it, maybe they could have something more than they had. His half-joking, half-serious question, the question that some part of his brain had let out of his mouth without any part of his brain thinking through the consequences.

Flashes of his delusions came back to him . . . her lips against his lips. Her body warm and desperate against his, crushed between his and the wall. Her body under his, their hands intertwined, their hips moving together . . . he found himself flushing, vaguely aroused, horribly embarrassed all at the same time. And totally unable to figure out how to explain anything to her.

"My delusion . . . was quite intense. And I convinced myself that maybe we could actually have something. Maybe . . ." he hesitated, as no further words presented themselves.

"That maybe I loved you?" she finished in almost a whisper.

Even within his delusion, those particular words had never come out of her mouth. Even within his delusion, he hadn't allowed himself to go there.

He tried to analyze her tone of voice, without turning to look at her. "That maybe we had a chance. That I could be the man with you, and that you might want to be the woman with me."

Her hand tightened on his arm, and she did not respond. As her silence continued, he finally forced himself to roll back toward her, to look at her again. He saw the tears falling silently down her face, and he hated himself for it.

"Why couldn't we have gotten here a year ago?" she asked.

"Here?"

"To where you'd be willing to see that choice, to make that choice. Before it came to all this."

He hastily sat up and leaned toward her, wondering what he could do to comfort her, if he could even comfort her. He knew it was entirely possible that anything he did now could only worsen the situation. "Cuddy, I'm sorry . . ."

"How exactly do you always make my heart return to grasping at the faint maybe, right after the sensible part of my brain has finally convinced it that we've reached the absolute end?"

"I didn't mean . . . "

"Oh shut up, House." Then she leaned forward, and caught his lips in a kiss.

For the briefest moment, he found himself motionless with shock. He felt the soft pressure of her lips against his, smelled the faint scent of her shampoo. It was nothing like the desperate passion of the kisses from his delusion, but it was infinitely more real. Infinitely more Cuddy.

He brought his hands up, tangled his hands in the thick hair at the nape of her neck, and returned the kiss. She sighed against his lips, and he felt a half-sob, half-laugh shake her body. He tasted the saltiness of the scattered tears which had found their way onto her cheeks and lips, the tears that that she had shed for him, because of him.

She broke the kiss and buried her head against his shoulder, a wave of sobs shaking her. He held her against him, rocking her, whispering "I'm sorry" over and over into her hair.

Behind her, Wilson entered the room and stopped in shock, staring at the scene they presented. House didn't even know whether he'd knocked and neither of them had heard, but he directed a glare over the top of Cuddy's head and Wilson backed out again, raising his hands as a sign of surrender.

After a few minutes, Cuddy's sobs slowed, and she drew back from him, bringing her fingers up to her mouth.

He tried to lighten the mood. "So you kiss me, then you cry. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to interpret that."

She laughed, and responded "It's all about your sparkling personality, House." Then she sobered again. "We're not going to figure this out right now. Not while you're here, not while all this is hanging over your head."

"I know." As far as he was concerned, they were already far further than he had dared believe they would ever get again outside of his delusions. Maybe, even within his delusions.

"You need to figure out how to get yourself stable enough to get out of here, how to get yourself stable enough to return."

"I still have a job? I recall being fired."

"I never put through the paperwork. Being without health insurance, while being stuck in this place, would have driven you to ruin. I'm not that heartless."

"That's true. I might have even needed to turn to unsavory activities to pay the bills."

"You need an excuse?"

He shrugged. "Excuses are the story we tell ourselves."

"Yes, they are." She sighed and stood up. "I think I need to go and let Wilson come in and talk with you. I'm surprised he hasn't come barging in yet to make sure that we're not at one another's throats or something."

"So, are you going to tell them?" he asked, remembering her threat of earlier.

"Not today. It's your story to tell, not mine. But, will you consider you telling them?" She paused. "Maybe they can help you figure out how to have that chance we both want."

He thought about her request for a moment. He still didn't want the shrinks here to tear apart the story he'd created over those hours for himself, the story that had fallen to pieces around him. But she was offering him the chance to take that story and maybe make it reality. Anything that could make that possible . . . "I'll consider it."

"Good." She headed towards the door, then paused with her hand on the doorknob, and continued, "and House, know there are two ways you didn't delude yourself: I care about you, and I love you."