So I was finally sorting out my documents, and I found a completed fic that I wrote over a year ago, but for some reason never posted. It's House/Cuddy and well, here it is. I'd be especially interested in hearing how you think this compares to what I'm writing lately, or really just any thoughts at all.

Title: Remnants of Life
Author: Lola Lauriestein
Rating: PG
Pairing: House/Cuddy
Words: ~1900
Disclaimer: Not mine, just borrowing. All characters remain the property of Fox, David Shore, etc.
Spoilers: Set in the hiatus after the season 4 finale.

Prompt:

Choose a book, doesn't matter which one. From this book you'll take the 1st sentence on page 10, 20, 30, and so on, and write a story based on each of those sentences.

PAUL AUSTER: THE INVENTION OF SOLITUDE, pg 20

"Or, to put it another way: we have all become monsters, but there is almost no one without some remnant inside him of life as it once was."


The bathroom tap dripped its annoying staccato rhythm for the second endless hour, forcing House to perform his cripple's calculation for about the hundredth time. Was stopping the irritation really worth the fresh bolt of pain through his thigh, not to mention the constant contractions of agony that would fill the five-minute shuffle back and forth from the adjoining bathroom? With an unintended grunt, he settled for shifting his position on the sofa, pressing the cushion over his ear to block the incessant noise.

Turning over had presented him with an exciting new vista: the ravaged expanse of his coffee table. Countless dents and scrapes from shoes, canes and the accidental stumbles that had inflicted more damage on his skin than the once polished wood. Four stained and empty mugs were nestled snugly in their drying rings of condensation, accompanied by a fingerprint-smudged tumbler decorated with the crystallized remains of his last Scotch. His Vicodin bottle was nestled against his exposed chest, a pair of baggy shorts his only required clothing for the muggy summer weather. Books on everything from the nervous system to the lives of Sicilian Mafiosi littered the dusty floor around the sofa, and his laptop whirred quietly on standby. There was nothing to do but lie there and be bored, staring at the hairs on the backs of his hands, racking his brains for something interesting enough to validate an excruciating hobble to the bookcase. His TV remote had been launched into a corner in a fit of pique over something or other, an action he was regretting more with every passing second. His iPod battery had crapped out on him after his impatient shuffling had run it down in record time. Too scared of moving, too bored to conjure up something to keep his interest, he felt himself falling restlessly into a doze.

He awoke to a stinging slap on his right cheek, the action itself not without precedent, but usually he had been misbehaving immediately before it happened. Although the slight sting of the slap woke him, he noted that it lacked the venom he was used to. Forcing his tired eyes to open, he was confused to see a positively irate Cuddy staring back at him. What had he done in his sleep to piss her off?

"Oh, thank God, I thought you'd OD'd!"

Her exclamation softened as soon as the words fell from her lips. Invincible women like Cuddy hid their worries and vulnerabilities behind irrational rage, which was Women 101 material. Still listless from sleep, he settled for making a face in response.

"House, have you been like this since I left yesterday morning?" she enquired, her typical blend of concern and reprimand.

The prone diagnostician attempted a shrug, his position on the overstuffed cushions making it a somewhat futile gesture. He struggled to find a witty remark, waking up had been a much more gradual process since the bus accident, a sure sign the stress on his brain had been much less than a temporary affliction. He watched his boss busy herself with the thankless task of restoring order to the monster's lair, wondering briefly why she didn't bully some minion or other into doing this scut work for her. God knows it wasn't like she had an abundance of free hours in the day.

As his senses approached full capacity, the unmistakable scent of pepperoni pizza assaulted his nostrils, provoking a violent growl from his neglected stomach. So many tasks, from peeing to fending off starvation, and here he was steeling himself to get off the couch without giving away his pain level to the woman currently tutting at the porn magazines not very discreetly lodged behind a sofa cushion.

Grinding his teeth in a way that severely threatened their enamel, he grabbed his afflicted leg and maneuvered himself into a sitting position, pausing only to wipe a tiny speck of unflattering drool from his lip. Phase one complete, he took the deepest breath that his still bruised ribcage would allow and pushed himself to standing. Only a slight hiss belied the searing shots of white-hot agony that coursed through his right leg.

Unfortunately, it was enough to send Cuddy scuttling to his side, the Vicodin bottle she retrieved from the sofa more than made up for the embarrassment he felt at her intrusion. Placing a steadying hand on his bare chest, she reached for his discarded cane and offered it to him. He hesitated for a moment, which she correctly interpreted as an admission that even with the cane he still needed helping in moving around. Resisting the urge to make a sarcastic comment, which in itself felt like using an unfamiliar muscle for the first time in years, he grumbled to himself that they must be spending too much time together.

Having completed a rudimentary bathroom routine, including a quick shower spent leaning gratefully against the disability rail Cuddy had arranged to have installed while he was still in the hospital, House emerged from the bathroom feeling vaguely more human. The rapidly cooling pizza was waiting on the miraculously clean table, a cold beer keeping it company. The sheets draped over the sofa had disappeared, replaced with distinctly cleaner ones he couldn't remember owning.

For some reason, the sight of Cuddy tucked up in a corner of the sofa, attacking some wedges with her customary determination, made him feel a lot like smiling. Wilson might be ignoring him with a stubbornness to rival House's own, and his teams past and present might be slowly imploding, but his skull was healing nicely and a hot woman was providing him with company, takeout and beer. He knew it would hurt just as much tonight when she made her excuses about an early start, leaving as early as she thought she could get away with, but for once he was determined to enjoy the moment. Maybe never having any to enjoy these days was having a bigger effect on him than he realized.

It felt like he was remembering something, even though he knew it was happening to him now. Cuddy was an arm's breadth away from him and yet his view felt distorted, as though he was watching her through a window or on a television screen. A quiet desperation filled him at the thought of his own loneliness, of night after night lying awake and listening to the loud emptiness contained in these four walls. It had been so long since he felt happiness, something so readily available to everyone else. Tonight, House had smiled a genuine smile, and the only result was a blind panic that the person causing it would be hightailing it out of there as soon as she had digested her dinner.

With the impulsiveness that he knew made everyone mad at him, he grasped frantically for her hand. When that had the desired effect of stopping her mid-sentence in a long-winded complaint about the Pediatrics department, he saw his opportunity and lunged forward like a drowning man in pursuit of a life preserver.

He kissed her.

To his surprise, she kissed him back.

Not just a polite or curious kiss, but the kind of brain-scrambling, sensory overload, grab frantically at each other sort of kiss they had shared years ago. This time it wasn't alcohol, tears or frustration that had led them to this confusing moment, but simply a decision based on a vague memory of how it felt to be happy. Her lips were warm and she tasted a little spicy against his tongue, the sensation a pleasant mix to his cocktail of nostalgia and lust.

This was what he missed.

How could he have spent all those years pining for Stacy, for the muscles in his leg, when he still had medicine, music and a beautiful woman standing by him for all this time? He could have kicked himself, if only it weren't as painful as it was pretty much impossible.

He broke the kiss at last, steeling himself against the barrage of questions or talking about feelings that were sure to ensue. To his amazement, Cuddy went back to her food and beer, her eyes a little brighter than they had been, shooting him the occasional glance.

"Uh, Cuddy, you're the girl…" he offered.

"I hope you realized that before you kissed me. I don't want that rumor starting up again," she smirked, with just a hint of warning to underline it.

"Shouldn't you be spoiling that perfect little moment with a checklist of feelings and emotions we have to discuss, not to mention the ten-year plan for our future that you're frantically writing in your head?"

"Oh, that? No."

Shit, he'd misjudged her interest. At least the Vicodin was reaching maximum effectiveness right about now, but he didn't recall anything in its remedial properties about easing mortification. Aiming for nonchalance, he shrugged and went back to his pizza.

"Did I hurt your feelings, House?" she probed, after allowing an uneasy moment to pass.

With a dismissive "pshaw" noise, he waved away the question.

"I'll just be glad if you don't press charges. We all know how hysterical you can be."

Cuddy laughed at that. They both knew House was far more hysterical than her.

"I don't have expectations of you. They're the one thing you can't deal with, and I decided a long time that while I could hope you might grow up and act like a responsible human being, there was only misery in expecting it."

House felt a strange urge to request a DNA test, because this couldn't be the same Lisa Cuddy that he knew and, well… antagonized.

"So you're okay with us making out like horny teenagers? And you don't expect anything more than that?"

Cuddy nodded, apparently fascinated by her own bottle of beer.

"Oh, okay; good to know."

He turned away once more, deciding to play her at her own game. It worked, too, a few seconds later he felt the sofa cushions shift and suddenly she was very, dangerously close.

"Can you, for once, not screw this up by being you? Can you just let something happen, try to cheer the hell up and resist the urge to pull at it until it falls apart?"

House shrugged, finally daring to look her in the eye. The predatory stare that Cuddy gave him in return sent a jolt of longing straight through him, activating all the fun centers.

"House? Kiss me. We'll worry about the rest later."

It was really a very persuasive argument, and he was grudgingly beginning to accept why she was so good at the sham she called a job. House weighed his options for a few more seconds, because he had to torture her somehow.

When he kissed her the second time, he almost forgot to feel lonely.