They had reached a bizarre equilibrium.
They woke up together, went to bed together and spoke a little during the day. The details, at this point, were almost irrelevant. She was pulling away from him and he was letting it happen.
It had started with a phone call. Her mother was back from her trip to Fiji and just wanted to check up on her daughter, as Cuddy seemed unwilling to pick up the phone and do it herself. The conversation had started with strained pleasantries and ended with Cuddy slamming the phone down, a look of hurt and disbelief plastered all over her.
Cut to the pair of them that evening, House on the couch and Cuddy pacing. "She was here after it all happened," Cuddy ranted incredulously. "And... she wasn't that bad, was she? I mean, she wasn't perfect, but who ever is?"
House remained quiet. He knew that she wanted to rant but wanted someone there so she didn't have to be talking to herself. "But it's as if none of that happened," she continued. "And she basically told me that the wallowing was cute, but I need to stop. I need to stop pretending like I'm still affected by what happened. She said she was sad that I'd lost my ability to take things in stride."
"Your mother's a bitch," House interjected. "And a wrong bitch at that."
"I know that. But I didn't think she was that much of a bitch," Cuddy responded absentmindedly, and went back to her ranting.
And so it continued.
Next, it was a Wilson crisis for House. And House ranted, he raved, while Cuddy listened diligently. By the end, when there was nothing left to say, an awkward, frozen silence would set in. They'd stare at each other, aware of all the feelings and unsaid words between. Of all the anger there.
The anger was new.
Both could now feel it - there was rage simmering under the surface, and for the life of them, neither House nor Cuddy could figure out why. Both - independently - had vowed to open up more with the other. For the most part they were sticking to that, at least superficially. House would tell her when Wilson, or a case, or his leg was upsetting him. Cuddy would tell him when her mother, or her sister, or her memories were upsetting her.
But they wouldn't talk about how they felt about the other.
House was now pathologically afraid of losing her. He knew of his propensity to hurt her and his desire to protect her outweighed that. So he kept his mouth shut.
Cuddy had House as her main support system. She couldn't jeopardise his place in her life over anger, whether it be misplaced or not. It had to be misplaced, she rationalised, because he hadn't done anything wrong. So she kept her mouth shut.
The days blurred into one another. They awoke, they moved, they slept. It was a choreographed dance. The moments where they had really opened up to each other and felt their feelings were always preceded by intense fear or intense love. The moments had to be intense for either of them to feel comfortable talking.
This equilibrium was anything but intense. It was calm and... easy. So they couldn't talk. It was as simple as that.
Their kisses felt forced. It was as if neither wanted to do it, but realised that it was the right moment. Cuddy hadn't let anything else happen. It was similar to their talking problem - for her to feel comfortable being with House in any sexual way, she had to feel vulnerable and okay with it. That required emotion of an unordinary kind. So they didn't touch each other. She didn't really feel like she was the same person anymore.
Her nightmares dulled. She slept better. She stopped jumping at the doorbell. She started therapy - properly. Really, she was getting better. She was doing as she'd promised. She was putting the past behind her... But her relationship with House was disintegrating as she did it. Not fracturing, not crashing down, just... wasting away day by day.
Neither had entertained the thought that House's part in her recovery, in her life immediately after what happened, would mean that she wouldn't be able to have him there when she was recovered.
"I need to talk about House."
Olivia looked up from across the office and tapped her pen on her notepad. "Alright. What do you want to say about House?"
Olivia was the polar opposite of Dr Foster. She was bigger, dark skinned and warm. Her office was littered with colours and artefacts and photographs. It wasn't stark and cold and clinical like that of Foster. It wasn't in a hospital, it was in small building half an hour from their house that Cuddy had found almost by accident. Olivia gave her peppermint tea when she arrived and let her settle in first, curling into the blanket on the soft armchair. There were no long couches... Just two chairs that they sat in as equals.
Cuddy felt exponentially more comfortable here than she'd ever felt with Foster. Part of it was that she'd chosen Olivia. Foster had been thrust upon her. She liked the control - and it wasn't hard to figure out why.
Cuddy sipped her tea. "I love him," she started, using her gaze for emphasis.
Olivia nodded. "I'm sure you do."
Cuddy clasped her hands in her lap. "We can't talk to each other anymore," she admitted, sounding pained.
"Why not? What's changed?"
"I don't know. I just woke up one day and felt... awkward around him. We know each other so well at this point that we're not even talking. We just sort of work around each other. There's nothing to say..." She murmured, tailing off.
"The way you started to mutter there makes me think that there is something to say," Olivia prompted.
Cuddy blew out a breath and tucked her feet up under her. "How insane am I if I'm mad at him?" She blurted out.
"I wouldn't say you're insane at all," Olivia replied smoothly. "Why do you think you're mad?"
"I don't know," she muttered, sipping her tea and not looking Olivia in the eye.
"I think you might," Olivia responded, equally quietly. "It's alright, Lisa. You're allowed to feel whatever want - that's the point of therapy. You feel things, you talk about them and you understand how to deal with them. It's important you're honest with me, though. Tell me whatever you're comfortable with." Cuddy said nothing, just sipped her tea. "It's okay to be nervous."
Cuddy sighed. "It started a couple of weeks ago, when I was called to the hospital in the middle of the night because House had punched a patient's husband. She'd been abused as a child, the husband has only just found out, and he said he was going to leave his wife. He and House got in a fight and House went a bit nuts. I had to rush in and I found him, brooding, on the roof." She shook her head with a hint of incredulity. "Part of me loved him so much in that moment. The way he feels about me, and about what happened... he'd do anything to protect me. But another part of me was angry. Because I'd only just got to sleep. And then he decided to lose his temper and have me, and Rachel, called in in the middle of the night." She sighed. "I was so tired and I just can't understand why he couldn't control himself."
Olivia nodded. "And it's just got worse?"
"I know that this is tough on everyone and he should be allowed time and space to... I don't know, feel his feelings or whatever, but... I know myself. And I'll just keep worrying about him if he keeps doing things I need to worry about."
"Do you usually worry about him a lot?" Olivia asked.
Cuddy let out a breathy chuckle. "Yeah," she nodded.
"Does it usually bother you?" The therapist pressed.
Cuddy thought. "No," she admitted eventually. "It never did. I guess I just factored it in as a part of my day," she laughed humourlessly. "But my day is now full of my own problems." She sighed. "It's not that he's doing things because he's having an issue with himself - it's his issue with this, with what happened to me that's making him this way. And it bugs me," she continued, with gritted teeth, "because..." She stopped and took a breath. "Because..."
"Take your time."
Her demeanour changed. "It's selfish," she started to babble. "I'm just being overly sensitive, it's not - "
"Lisa," Olivia cut in, leaning forward. "Tell me."
"Because it was worse for me," she said, with finality. She looked unhappy after she'd said it, as if she was somehow betraying her partner. She watched Olivia forlornly. "It's terrible of me to think."
"It's not," Olivia answered immediately, a sympathetic smile on her face. "I promise you. You haven't said that he shouldn't be affected, you just said that you are the one who's suffering most because of this. That's fine."
"But it's not fair," she said, almost whining. "And I don't need you to reassure me."
"Why do you feel bad for wanting him to focus on you for a little while?"
"Because he has his own issues. And it has been almost six months... I'm not saying I should be over it. I'm just saying that maybe I shouldn't be depending on him too much."
Olivia leant forward. "Lisa, I know that you know that recovering will take a very long time, and it will stay with you for the rest of your life. You know that six months, especially while you're still in the middle of the trial, is no time at all."
Cuddy nodded, but said nothing.
"Something's still bothering you," Olivia picked up on, astutely.
Cuddy felt a tear roll down her cheek. "I wish he'd been there, that night," she whispered, amazed that she'd been able to voice that feeling.
"Do you think he would have protected you?" Olivia asked gently.
"I know he would have," she answered, sniffing. "That's what upsets him now. He wishes he'd been there. I can't imagine the helplessness." She clasped her hands so tightly she almost cut off the blood supply. Her eyes watered. "It's not fair of me to be angry at him for not being there. But... I am." She shrugged. "I'm mad and I can't help it."
"Do you not think that you could be projecting some of this anger on to House?"
"Oh definitely," Cuddy nodded, feeling some of her calm return. "He's around me all the time. I'm tense, almost all the time. It's pretty likely that some of this is me being irrational."
"You don't have to call yourself irrational for having feelings," Olivia smiled. "I understand that talking about what happened and how you feel about it is incredibly difficult. I want you to try and normalise yourself with the fact that you have feelings." She let out a little chuckle. "You're not irrational, you're not insane and you need to start accepting this process within yourself."
Cuddy nodded. "Fine. I'll stop calling myself insane," she smirked.
"If you are projecting, where do you think this anger's being projected from?" Olivia asked, leaning in.
Cuddy raised her eyebrows. "I don't think that needs much talking about," she answered shortly. "Not yet," she added, almost pleading.
"Of course," she responded instantaneously. "We can leave it. I'd like you to start thinking about what you'll feel comfortable sharing, though. It certainly doesn't have to be all of it, but some of it. Things you feel okay with saying aloud."
"I can tell about it, if you want," Cuddy replied. "I've told the police and the lawyers and doctors... I can say it. I don't like to, but I can do it."
"But you do know that the things you share with me will not just be said and forgotten - you'll need to think about how they made you feel," Olivia said. She knew that Cuddy knew all of this, but she hoped if she kept repeating it, Cuddy would start internalising it.
Cuddy nodded. She looked momentarily uncomfortable. "I don't know when I'm going to be ready to do that."
"Are you scared of talking about it?"
"Not scared..." She mumbled. She glanced up. "I don't like remembering," she whispered.
"I know. That's why you can take your time. But it is important that you - we - work our way through it eventually. Think about how all this is already affecting your relationships - I don't want it to cost you them in the long run."
"You think he'd leave me?" Cuddy asked, fear creeping into her voice.
"Quite the opposite, actually. Guilt is clearly an issue for you, and so is your desire to protect House from any negative feelings you may have. I certainly wouldn't make a definite predictions, but I wouldn't want that guilt to overcome you." Olivia looked into her eyes. "You are in a position to come out of this stronger than you were before, and with a stronger relationship because of it. I want you to take advantage of that position."
She finished up her tea and put her mug down on the table. "I wouldn't leave him. There's nothing I won't do to make sure that after all this House, Rachel and I are still together."
"I have no doubt of that," Olivia responded, the hint of a smile evident on her face.
House fell down in the chair opposite Nolan with a thump, thrusting his cane to the floor. "I need to talk about Cuddy," he said gruffly.
Nolan nodded. "I'd already assumed that."
He rubbed his thumb across his brow. "What am I supposed to say to her?" He threw the question at Nolan, eyes bright. "Everything's wrong. I can't bring up what happened - but it's too huge a presence to work around. We're stuck."
"That makes you... sad? Angry? Hurt?"
"It frustrates me because we care about each other, we... love each other but this has stopped us from being able to exchange even the most basic of thoughts. I didn't spend that much time working on my communication skills just to have something I have no control over ruin all my hard work." The pain in House's eyes was genuine, and Nolan really felt for the guy. He felt for Lisa, too, and the whole family for ending up in such an awful situation.
"Are you really telling me that you don't talk at all?"
"Oh, we'll talk about what we want for dinner and who's turn it is to take the garbage out but that's about it."
"So trying to avoid talking about the assault has invaded enough of your thoughts that it's all you two are thinking about... I'll be honest, it doesn't sound like you're avoiding it very successfully." Nolan was being as gentle as possible, but he knew that House didn't always respond to 'gentle'.
"What do I say? Seriously, tell me," he answered, an unusually open edge to his voice.
"I can't tell you."
"Don't give me any of that 'work it out for yourself' crap. You don't know. No one knows."
Nolan leant forward. "You're right. No one knows - and no one can know, because everyone is different. Everyone will react differently. There's no protocol, no magic words."
House put his head in his hands. "I can't do this," he said quietly.
"You can," Nolan assured him.
"I can't," he stressed, and when he looked up Nolan could see a thin sheen in his eyes.
"Are you planning to leave her?" He asked gently.
"No," House replied, but sadly. "I wouldn't - I couldn't. I love her."
"Are you staying with her because you want to or because you feel obligated to?" Nolan pushed. He could see how uncomfortable thinking about this made House.
"I'm staying with her because I need her in my life. I just need her - not this person she's turned into."
"Do you think these changes within her are permanent?"
House sighed. "I don't know," he muttered. There was a pause, and then House started to speak again. "She has moments, every now and then, where it's like she's completely fine. She and I can be together - to an extent - and she isn't terrified... she isn't angry or exhausted. And she always, always, convinces me - even if it's not overt or deliberate - that this change is lasting. Sometimes she even says "I'm going to be just fine" with such a sense of revelation and hope that I can't help but believe her. But... it doesn't last. Ever. Everything's always up and down."
Nolan nodded and a silence filled the room. House watched his therapist, could see the cogs whirring in his head. "Do you know what happened to her?" He asked, suddenly, catching House off guard.
House blinked, confused. "Yeah?" He responded, as if it was were an idiotic question.
"I don't mean know the basics - I mean, do you really know what she went through?"
House deliberated. "I don't know any of the specifics, if that's what you're asking."
"I think you should ask her."
House's eyes widened. "I don't want to ask her," he said with vehemence.
Nolan smirked a little. "Hypothetically, if you did ask her, what do you think she would say?"
"I don't think she'd want to tell me," he said immediately.
Nolan paused. "You two both need to try and stop being scared of what happened. The fact that, when you got down to it, neither of you would be able to cope with that conversation is irrelevant - it's your unwillingness to try that's going to keep you stuck."
House scrubbed his face in his hands. "I should ask her to tell me about everything he did to her?"
"You should tell her how you feel. And - more importantly - you should be willing to hear what she says about how she feels, even if you don't like it."
House sighed and then looked up with the hint of a smirk on his face, as if he couldn't quite believe the conversation. "This is so hard," he said. "It is so hard."
Cuddy shut the door softly as she left Rachel's room, hoping not to disturb her from her sleep. Rachel had always been a light sleeper but now she seemed to be even more attuned to her mother's movements from her side, making exiting the bedroom after story time a difficulty. Knowing this, Cuddy padded down the hallway as gently as possible, her feet merely tapping the floor before she moved again.
House looked up as she careered into the living room, thrown off balance by walking on her tip toes. He couldn't suppress his chuckle as she catapulted herself into the armchair, using the cushions to break her fall.
She looked up and smirked at him. They held each other's gaze just long enough to feel the unsaid words between them, almost palpable in the air. The unspoken emotion hung heavily on both their minds, practically emanating out of them. Cuddy looked at House and House looked at Cuddy, both willing each other and themselves to speak.
But then the moment began to slip away. Cuddy bit her lip and glanced away, breaking the tension. House fiddled with the journal he'd been reading, the sound of the crinkling paper disrupting the silence. He hardened his gaze for a second, almost pleading with her to start the conversation. Please, Cuddy.
But she didn't. She merely got up and made her way toward the kitchen, ignoring his sigh behind her as poured herself a glass of water. She scrubbed at her face in exasperation.
House moved his eyes back to the page in front of him but he wasn't really reading. His ears were tuned to her movements. He heard her gulp down the water and place the glass on the counter. He heard her move back toward him, her bare feet pressing softly on the wooden floor.
He was ready for her when she placed herself next to him. He reached over to give her thigh a gentle squeeze, all without taking his eyes away from the article. She gripped his hand tightly as it caressed her leg. She looked at him and he looked at her.
"We're in trouble, aren't we?"
House looked up. "What?"
"You and I. Us."
He sighed. He started to say, "we're going through a hard time," but didn't have the willpower to finish it. Instead he settled on "yeah. We are."
Cuddy bit her lip. "Are you happy?"
The question filled the room. The answer was unpleasant, but House wasn't one to be dishonest. "Not right now, no. You?"
She paused for a second, but she knew her answer. "No." She turned and faced him. "Not at all."
House thought back to what Nolan had said in their session earlier that week. "If I wanted you to, would you tell me what happened to you? In detail. Could you... share that with me?"
He expected some reservations from her at his request, but nothing like the indignation and rage that he was met with. "What, do you think that you're entitled to know that?" She spat. "That somehow it's your problem just as much as mine?"
He was shocked. "No... I just that it might help us - "
"How?" She replied, and House had to admit that she had a point. "How would that help us? Do you really want to hear about how he held me down as I screamed, begging for you to come and find me? How he'd taunt me, telling me that I'd never see Rachel again. How he... he..." Her fiery determination faltered and she stopped, much to House's happiness. He had to hold his hands down to stop himself from covering her mouth as she spoke. She wasn't crying - she was far too defensive for that right now - but she was shaking.
She was right, of course. He didn't want to hear any of it - but he had to admit, he was beginning to see Nolan's point. She didn't trust him with this information. She was guarding it like a mother would her child, refusing to let him in. And he was letting her.
He could see the blaze in her eyes and knew that she was squaring up for a fight. As much as he wanted to push back - as their dynamic dictated he would - he stopped himself and he reached forward and grabbed her hands with his.
"Talk to me," he implored. "Please."
She was caught so off guard by his openness that words failed her. "About what?" She said after a moment.
He shrugged. "Anything," he settled on. "Anything at all."
As she rooted around inside herself for the courage to say what was really on her mind, she focused on the man sitting before her. Her man. The one who - at least she hoped - she would be waking up next to for the rest of her life.
"You should have been there."
House stilled as the words left her mouth. He felt the knot of anxiety in his stomach tighten. "This isn't my fault, Cuddy," he said delicately. "I wish I'd been there. But I wasn't."
"If you'd been there, this wouldn't have happened."
Each sentence of hers was like a knife to the gut. He felt his leg throb. "You don't think I know that?" He muttered, a hard edge to his voice.
"I'm sure you do," she whispered.
"So that's what this is about?" He asked, the volume of his voice rising. "You can't blame me for this." He said darkly. "It's not fair."
"It's irrational and stupid," she mumbled. "But it's how I feel," she admitted, looking at him straight in the eye.
He remembered what Nolan said. "You should tell her how you feel. And - more importantly - you should be willing to hear what she says about how she feels, even if you don't like it."
He braved himself to follow that advice, but then he thought... fuck that.
"I would do anything to be there with you!" He shouted, taking her by surprise. "Anything. There is no way that you and I can move past this if you spend all your time blaming me and hating me. Blame him. Hate him. Not me." He cupped her face in his hands. "I wish more than anything that I could have been there. But I wasn't. You have to stop hating me, when I'm the one trying to help you most."
"Right..." She drawled. "Because everything you do is about how I feel."
He wiped a hand across his brow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You drag me to the hospital in the middle of the night, you keep me up, you bully patients and scare donors and break equipment. You pull away from me and then get close to me and you're sweet to Rachel and then you're not sweet her because you're getting too close and you're up and down and it fucking stresses me out," she panted, eyes wide with fury. "You think that you're being helpful but you're not. You're just being you. How you act is ultimately about you and what you want."
He was speechless. "I... don't know what you want." He replied listlessly after a minute. "I'm trying everything I can to support you."
She put her head in her hands. "I know you are..." She said softly. "It's just not enough."
There was a silence. House's fists clenched as he thought about what he wanted to say. "I know that I'm not supposed to get mad at you or shout at you because you were beaten up and raped and that was awful... but you are being fucking unreasonable."
Her eyes widened. "Unreasonable for demanding that you don't destroy the hospital?"
"Unreasonable for suggesting that I should know instinctively how to look after you, when you have given me absolutely no guidance. This isn't one of those things that people are just prepared for. I don't know how to do this - you can't honestly believe that I'm supposed to just a manual in brain to sort this. Help me to help you. I'm not warm, caring or loving but I am trying to be for you - because you'll will never truly know how glad I am that I didn't lose you. Even now I'm just thankful that you're here for me to fight with."
"I want you to know how to help me," she said wistfully in response.
"I don't, and I probably won't unless you tell me."
There was pause. "I don't know what to say."
House sighed. "Why I don't I spend the night at Wilson's. You can think."
Cuddy nodded absentmindedly, clearly battling with the thoughts racing through her head. House went up to get his coat and motorcycle keys. His hand was almost on the front door when she spoke.
He shook his head and slammed the door behind him.
House hadn't said much to Wilson when he turned up at his door. Something about a fight. Wilson had merely nodded and grabbed a blanket from the cupboard, laying it down for his friend. House had fallen asleep almost immediately after a glass of scotch, clearly ready for the day to be over.
Wilson was about to pad back to his and Sam's room when he noticed House's phone on the coffee table. His friend needed to rest, he thought, so he gently reached and switched off the ringer and vibrate function.
And House did sleep through.
He slept through message number 1, left at 12:30 - House, it's me. I know you're mad and you want to be alone but this is the first night I've spent without you since this all started and I wasn't prepared for it. I'm shit scared, House. Come home. Please, please, come home. I'm sorry.
And message number 2, at 3:15 - Seriously, this isn't funny. I can't sleep, I'm sitting downstairs with all the lights on but I keep thinking that he's going to come through the backdoor or the window. I know that you always leave your phone - don't ignore me. Help me, House. I'll sleep on the couch or in the spare room if you want but I need you here with me.
And message number 3, at 4:20 - I couldn't sleep. I still can't sleep. YOU asked me to tell you how to help me and I did and you ignored me. House I'm scared. I'm terrified. It's just me and Rachel here and I can't protect her if anything happens. I would try, of course I would die trying, but I'm not strong enough for that. I'm alone, House. You're supposed to be here with me. I remember how you and I worked through it together at the hospital and I miss that... I miss us supporting each other. We can have it back. I love you.
Her final message was at 5:55 - I can't believe you left me.
House slept through it all.