Cuddy and Lucas looked at each other. They both looked hurt, defeated and Cuddy couldn't help but imagining a hint of guilt on his face.
Something told her that the reason why he was breaking up with her was a lie. He had known from the very beginning that she put her work above everything else.
So did he.
And all of a sudden this was a reason to break up?
He was smarter than that, and he should have known that she was smarter than that, too.
But he was also a nice guy and she would let him go. Because he had made up this lie for a reason. And it had caused enough pain, to both of them.
He leaned in and kissed her on her cheek, with his stubbles painfully tickling on her skin.
It was one of those kisses that always told you it was over, those bitter kisses that were meant to comfort but made the pain burn even more.
"I'll pick up my stuff before you get home. You won't even see a trace of me. I promise", he parted and walked towards the door.
Slowly, too slowly to really convince her that leaving her was really what he wanted.
She gave him a bitter smile when he turned around.
"I mean, you know. Discretion is my thing", he added with a sorry tone in his voice.
Cuddy's smile first froze and melted away in an instant. But she didn't find any words that would serve as an acceptable goodbye.
So she just nodded and watched him leave in silence.
Why did she have the feeling that he had left her against his will?
But before she could ponder any longer, his absence was immediately replaced by House's presence in her office.
"Whatever it is, can it wait?" she shot in his direction without looking at him.
"Why? Trouble in paradise?" House grunted with a glare in his eyes.
"Not that this was any of your business", Cuddy hissed.
But House didn't make a move, instead he waited and watched her, surprised this was getting to her so much.
"He wasn't the right guy anyway", he suddenly said which made her turn around and look at him in disbelief of his indiscretion.
House could tell by the thin line her lips were forming that she was angry.
"Get out", she curtly commanded him and crossed her arms in front of her chest to make a point.
House nurtured on the fury in her look and turned around in satisfaction. The observation he had made from the hospital's balcony had just been proven right.
Lucas and Cuddy had broken up.
He had marked his territory and the other male had left it, which made him, Gregory House, the alpha-male.
Some wrong primitive instinct in him had made him come to her office in need to feel his victory.
However, he now noticed that it felt less like a victory than deadly peril standing in this office, as he had forgotten about the alpha-female who had been hurt in this primordial fight between the males.
So House hesitated and remained silent, while Cuddy kept staring at him.
"You knew about this, didn't you?" she suddenly asked him while he was already preparing to leave.
He stopped but dared not to turn around again. However, he felt her coming closer, moving forward from behind her desk.
"If you have anything to do with this, you better say it now", she threatened him.
That made him turn around and he was surprised to see her standing right in front of him.
He looked at her. And, as always, he wasn't able to ignore just how much he was attracted to her.
His mouth went dry when he realized that another guy had laid hands on these curves, her silky skin, the dark curls, had tasted kisses on her lips.
"What makes you think I had anything to do with this?" he deflected and Cuddy chuckled.
"The fact that the minute he walks out, you come in with that look on your face that tells me you know more than you should know about this."
"I just happened to run into him", House kept deflecting.
"Right. Just like you happened to run into him last night when-", she hesitated. "Wait a minute. Did you say anything to him last night?"
Her voice had turned shaky during these last words. The paranoid apprehension of his involvement in this breakup had just started to dawn on her when her anger had already reached its full bloom.
House had not even tried to hide his jealousy during the past weeks. She had noticed that, Wilson had, everybody had, including Lucas himself. And Lucas was one of the most honest and open people she knew. Did that mean they had they talked about this? Was this the actual reason why Lucas had broken up with her?
She shook her head and chuckled.
"Of course you said something to him", she said in bitter defeat. "Because why would you for once allow anybody to be happy?"
The fact that House neither denied nor confirmed this but looked at her with a guilty somber look on his face was answer enough.
Cuddy tried to find meaning behind this look and for a few seconds their eyes were doing all the talking.
However, this was not enough. Not any more.
So she lowered her gaze and turned away from him.
"Get out", she repeated herself and walked towards her desk again.
"You're right", House finally broke the silence. "I did say something to him", he added, barely audible.
Cuddy froze and looked up at his reflection in the window. He looked so much smaller, so much more vulnerable in that reflection.
"I told him I loved you", he then said as if that had been the easiest thing to say.
With her mouth open, she gasped for air as her eyes were filling with tears and her feet were losing ground.
She turned around in shock.
And the look on his face told her that it had not at all been easy to tell her that.
"You - what?" she tried to collect herself, when a nurse suddenly entered the room behind House and interrupted them.
"Dr. Cuddy? It's urgent. They need you in the trauma room. There's a ... situation", the nurse announced with a guilty look on her face since she had instantly picked up on the awkward tension between Cuddy and House.
"I'll be right with you", Cuddy replied hoarsely without breaking eye contact with House for a second.
The looks they exchanged were honest and fierce, stripping to some extent.
Because they both knew this game was over. And they both had lost it.
When she walked past him she could have sworn that his hand tried to touch hers as it left a burning sensation on the back of her hand.
Before she was out of his sight she turned around once more and looked back at him, so darkly and forcefully that House wished he had never said these words that were obviously unsettling her even more than that breakup with Lucas. He had made himself vulnerable in a moment of perceived victory, another act of self-destruction.
While Cuddy was trying to deal with the situation in the trauma room she could not push the picture of him aside. Standing in her office, all alone.
It hurt and satisfied her at the same time to have left him like this, with this unanswered commitment out in the open.
A few hours later
House was sitting at his desk, one hand playing thoughtfully with a rubberband, the other one lying on his computer mouse, clicking on buttons on the screen from time to time while he was researching old Chinese myths for a reason he had forgotten a while ago. But it kept him from thinking.
When Cuddy entered he knew immediately, because she entered with a softness only someone who was there for a personal reason would enter with.
He looked up and their eyes met, which bereaved them both of their words.
She came closer and let her fingers glide over the cold glass surface of his desk.
"House…", she tried to start a conversation but her voice trailed off again, facing the depth of the last words he had spoken to her, she didn't know what to say.
"What now?" she then pushed him gently when he wasn't saying anything either.
He leaned back in his chair and shrugged his shoulders.
"Don't know. I guess the next step would be a date?", he replied nonchalantly and flipped the rubberband in her direction.
It suddenly seemed so easy to him. He had nothing to lose at this point.
The rubberband landed on her shoulder and she picked it up with a slow motion and a pretty judgemental look on her face.
"This is how you're asking me out?" she asked, not even trying to hide her disappointment after what he had said to her earlier that day.
House nodded with a boyish expression on his face and she started twisting the rubberband between her fingers.
Looking at him sitting there in his chair reminded her of what he had looked like in her office only hours ago when she had left him there, still owing him a reply.
He had taken a step she had always thought him incapable of taking. He deserved that she now took a step towards him as well, risking just as much as he had.
"Not the most grown-up approach, but I give you credit for trying", she replied slowly after that thoughtful pause.
She gazed at him provokingly. "Any plans regarding the location?"
"I'll pick you up on Friday at seven", House replied and averted his gaze from her to turn back towards his computer.
Cuddy rolled her tongue playfully, realizing they had just started a new game. She leaned in and placed the rubberband flatly on his desk.
Her head was close enough to his so that she only needed to whisper her next words.
"Just don't pick me up with the motorcycle", she warned him.
"Please, that gigantic ass of yours won't fit on it anyway", he replied and she stood straight again smiling at him.
"Well this kind of charm isn't getting you anywhere on Friday", she retorted and left his office with a flirty sway on her hips.
House watched her and smiled to himself. He had feared this would complicate things, but instead it had added a certain lightness to it.
Friday night at seven
House didn't even have to knock against her door because she was so nervous that she had been standing behind that closed door for minutes already, and had immediately recognized his car when it had entered her street.
Which was why she opened the door a second before he lifted his cane to knock.
He froze in amazement at her sight and instantly lost interest in any outdoor activities with her for the rest of this Friday night.
However, the cry of a baby being left with the babysitter in the background was a pretty bad turnoff.
So he offered her his arm, which she accepted with a bewildered look on her face and the two of them walked to his car side by side, like any other couple on a Friday night.
"Well, this is awkward", she admitted when he opened the car door for her and patiently waited for her to get in.
But when he had sat down next to her on the driver's side she looked at him warmly, acknowledging that he was really trying to make this work.
"You look nice", she said softly.
Without returning the look he started the car.
"So do you", he hoarsely retorted and Cuddy felt that she was blushing which made her roll her eyes at herself in disbelief.
"Where are we going?" she finally asked after a few moments of silence.
"We'll indulge ourselves with the molecular cuisine of Manhattan", he announced and Cuddy lifted her eyebrows in surprise.
"That certainly promises to be interesting", she said referring not only to the food but also to the awkward tension that would make this date one hell of a ride.
Two hours later
House had waited for Cuddy to sit down first before he took a seat and Cuddy once more noticed that House actually did know how to behave. Why had he never done so in the past twenty years they had known each other? But she already knew the answer. Because he was House. House was truthful, he despised hypocrisy. He didn't play by the rules if the rules were mere decoration to make the truth look less ugly. That quality of his was exactly the reason why she was here with him now. And which was the reason why his good manners kept confusing her so much.
They were handed the menus, but House immediately placed the orders for the two of them. Something she hated and something he knew she would hate.
"It's way more fun when you don't know what you get, trust me", he said with a glint in his eye and they turned silent again, staring at their plates awkwardly, just like they had silently stared at the road in front of them throughout the whole ride to Manhattan.
"Have you been to this place before?" Cuddy tried to initiate a conversation. Again.
"No" , House curtly replied and Cuddy rested her chin in her hand in defeat.
"House, please, I'm really trying here", she beseeched him.
"I know, and I want to you to stop that", he said and their eyes met.
For the first time this evening they met in establishment of a connection.
"Okay", she finally relaxed and leaned back in her chair, allowing him the full view of the silky fabric of her aubergine colored dress flowing over her curves like water over soft stones. "But only if you stop holding the doors for me. It irritates me."
"How is the baby doing?" House then asked her without taking his eyes off her.
"Are you asking me that in another attempt of polite smalltalk, or do you really wanna know?" she retorted in disbelief.
"Children are our future, how can you not be interested in them", he said with a familiarly mocking tone, but Cuddy actually found herself believing him to her own surprise.
She lifted her glass and took a sip of her Martini before she gave him a reply.
"Well, she took her first steps a month ago. And her first words surprisingly include 'Mommy', though I think her first word was 'No'."
"Yah, but that's no use, cause every guy knows when a girl says 'no' she actually means-"
"-and she's really smart and joyful", Cuddy cut him off and gave him a victorious smile when she had finished her sentence. "You asked", she reminded him.
"Have her grandparents ever tried to contact you?" he dug deeper, feeling more comfortable now that the ice was broken, and Cuddy was intrigued to find that he was in fact showing honest interest in what was going on in her life.
"No. Never", she looked down and her posture stiffened.
"Isn't that scaring you?" he asked.
"Why would it?" she looked up and the icy glow in her blue eyes showed him that he had struck a nerve.
"Because you could still lose her any time once her grandparents overcome their grief and rediscover their evolutionary need to keep the genes in the family", he said and looked at her intensely.
Cuddy resisted his testing gaze and swallowed hard.
Then she nodded. The truth did hurt, and she didn't know why he chose this moment to hurt her.
"I know. But that's what life is about. You can lose anything anytime", she replied coldly, trying to remain unimpressed.
House swallowed, he had crossed another one of those invisible lines with her. As always. Because she was the only one besides Wilson who could handle the truth coming from him.
Except for when it came to that one vulnerable soft spot. Which was either Amber in Wilson's case or Rachel or any other child-figure in Cuddy's case.
"Great", House then said. "I killed the groove, didn't I?" He gave her a guilty look. "And we were doing so well", he stated.
"We are doing well", she agreed and gave him a forgiving smile. "At least it kept your eyes off my cleavage for a moment", she added and this time he smiled.
They were interrupted when someone brought them a plate beautifully decorated with swirls of caramel that looked like frozen hazel curls.
And in the center of it lay a little green colored drop. They both then were each offered a pipet containing an auburn fluid.
Cuddy gave House a helpless look.
"Olive-basil flavored hard candy with a drop of chestnut oil", he explained and placed the drop in his mouth. Cuddy watched him with a frown on her face.
"How many of those dishes will we need until we're full?" she asked.
"About fifteen", he replied and picked up the caramel swirls to eat them, too.
Two hours later
They were sitting in House's car again and House was steering it through Midtown Manhattan Friday night traffic. Which was close to being at war with an army of yellowcab transformers.
"This isn't exactly the fastest way out of the city", Cuddy said when she couldn't hold herself back any longer even though she had promised herself to criticize him as little as possible.
"Who said we were getting out. You may have noticed that I'm actually trying to get in even deeper", he said and did not forget to wiggle his brows at her supporting the ambiguity of his words. "We're hitting a comedy show on the Lower East Side."
Cuddy gave him an impressed look from the side.
"You know, you're really good at this. This must be the best date I've had in years. The most creative one at least," she added, not willing to make him feel too good about himself.
"Really? Well, that's just sad", he said in reply.
"Why is it you don't do this more often instead of ordering prostitutes on your Friday nights?"
"Because if I just want sex this is way too much foreplay", he retorted.
"Which means tonight you don't want sex…", Cuddy picked up on that and bit her lip knowing she had trapped him. But she should have known better. There was no trap he wouldn't find an escape from.
"I already had sex with you", he said and looked at her for a second before the traffic caught his attention again.
"Twenty years ago. Which makes that night fall under the statute of limitations", she said, almost offended that he so openly stated his disinterest in spending the night with her. Even though she didn't believe it, given the looks he kept eyeing her with.
House had no answer to this and Cuddy therefore chose not to pursue this topic. Instead she looked at the clock in his car.
"How much time do we have until the show starts?"
"Twenty minutes", he said.
"Okay, stop right here", she cried out and left his car the second it stopped while the engine was still running.
House watched her walking back almost the entire block until she disappeared in a pizza parlor and reappeared two minutes later with a square box that most probably contained a pizza.
"You can't seriously be full after those fifteen molecule-sized dishes", she explained herself and started eating her pizza.
For a second he watched her and felt intensely turned on by her animalistic appetite for real food after this most sophisticated dining experience.
But then his own hunger came over him and he stole a slice of pizza out of her box.
An hour later
They were sitting closely, almost squeezing in the small basement of the comedy club, that was apparently very popular among in-towners, as there was hardly any room left to breathe.
While Cuddy obviously enjoyed the show enough to chuckle and smile every now and then, House was more enjoying the sight of her looking as relaxed as he hadn't seen her in years.
This evening was almost too perfect, which left a bitter taste in the back of his throat.
A taste of its transience.
And what was even more disturbing was that it was himself who was for once the reason why Cuddy was laughing.
House was trying to ignore the pain, the fear and the excitement he was feeling about this, knowing there would be a time when they would mess this up and would destroy this memory with insults.
Facing this fragility and her frisk he finally forced himself to seize the moment, too.
Until when, in the middle of another joke that made her laugh, she grabbed his arm in a comfortable reflex and their eyes met for an instant.
Everything else faded out and she herself became aware of the fragility of this happiness being so beautifully displayed in the grey haze of melancholy in his eyes.
They both knew it was time to leave.
However, when they stepped outside into the cold air, surrounded by the lights and sounds of the city something had changed.
And Cuddy reached out for his hand, which he took wordlessly until they reached his car.
On their way home it was as if that background noise of awkwardness between them was growing louder again as the noise from the city was fading out.
It was more than awkwardness, though. It was insecurity intertwined with hope and the certainty that they were heading for a wall at 100 miles per hour.
However, at this point the rush made them feel alive.
Which is why throughout the whole drive home they talked.
It was smalltalk only for the first sentences.
They soon found a literary topic that felt more comfortable as it lacked the shallow taste of smalltalk, something they both weren't very good at, always in need of the intellectual challenge of a discussion.
Then they reached the moment House stopped the car in front of her house and their discussion instantly died.
Cuddy looked at her home as if it were a stranger, as if the only true reality she wanted to be in was inside this car, where she was safe.
Ironically, at this point she felt safe only there, with this man by her side who had only days ago felt like the biggest source of instability in her life.
Their eyes met and House knew what he wanted, though he wanted it too much to ask for it. Instead he gave her the chance to back out.
"I guess this is goodnight", he therefore said and Cuddy sighed.
"I'd ask you to come in…", she started hoarsely and her voice broke.
"Then why don't you?"
She swallowed and instead of a reply she placed her hand on his cheek and leaned into a kiss, brushing his lips gently with hers, barely touching them.
But then she felt his hand wrapping around hers, taking it off his cheek so that he could pull her closer towards her.
And what had started merely as a gentle teaser now turned into a kiss that clearly promised more.
While they were both gasping for air between their kisses House ran his cold hand up her leg, under that silky fabric of her dress, up her knee, her thigh, where it felt warmer and warmer.
She shivered under his cold touch, but it didn't reach her, all she consisted of was the physicalness of their bodies.
His smell was all she breathed, his eyes were her only horizon and his skin was all she touched.
With a moan he helped her from the passenger's seat onto his lap so that she was now all his.
Blowing kisses on her neck, her collarbones and her shoulders, he kissed his way into her nakedness, removing the straps of her dress and inhaling the scent of her perfume that was covering her skin like an invisible layer of flowers in full bloom. Her hands instantly seemed to remember what they had to do to make him crazy and he returned the favors, remembering just as well.
It only took minutes, minutes that felt like the past twenty years were trying to fit into them, compressed into the pure physical desire for each other.
When it was over much too soon and their sighs and the heat were still filling the air of the car, Cuddy quickly pulled up the straps of her dress and let herself fall back into his passenger's seat staring into the empty street ahead of them.
"That was certainly not an improvement compared to twenty years ago. Locationwise", she finally said, totally bewildered, not knowing what else there was to say after an explosion of primeval desires like these.
"But this time we were at least sober", House replied and Cuddy gave him a sour look.
They were both still out of breath and secretly smiled at this forbidden pleasure they found themselves guilty of.
"Still, can we do this in a bed next time? We both aren't twenty any more", Cuddy retorted, slowly regaining balance when her heartrate slowed down to its normal pace.
"We just finished and you're already signing up for the next time. Cool. I didn't know I was that good."
Cuddy looked at the clock in the car and gave him an unimpressed look.
"I just thought that after twenty years you owe me little more than seven minutes, don't you think?" she teased him dryly and he grinned with a glare in his eyes.
With that she opened the car door, letting out the steamy flowery scent that had filled the car and letting in the cold of reality kicking back in.
"Goodnight, House", she whispered and gave him a coy look that very much reminded him of the first look they ever shared, only that her eyes now shone even more brilliantly that they were circled by the fine lines of a life they had more or less shared with each other.
"Goodnight", he whispered back hoarsely, playing with her first name on his tongue, trying its taste, but not being able to say it yet.
His eyes followed her as she walked up to her house.
She didn't turn around, leaving him with the memory of that look that, like twenty years ago, carried promises they both knew they wouldn't be able to keep.
But that was the challenge of their relationship: Living with its fragility, hurting and getting hurt in return, only to heal the sores with salty kisses that stung even more.
Only this time he had made himself more vulnerable than ever before. Which had been all she had needed him to do. And it hadn't hurt at all.
Maybe that was what love was all about.