Chapter 7: Letting Go
"You know my methods, Watson. Apply them!"
In the car, Foreman asked how long it had been since I'd eaten.
"Who are you, my mother?" I retorted, and then had to lean back and close my eyes because even sneering hurt. "Shut up and drive."
After that, Foreman seemed content to let me concentrate on not upchucking all over his spotless upholstery, but once he pulled into his parking space, he turned to me with purpose.
"Being with Wilson might be the best thing that's ever happened to you."
"Really? Too bad I wouldn't know."
"At least consider giving him another chance."
"Ironically," I said, "I seem to be the only one around here who remembers my obligations to my actual partner."
His face looked even stonier than usual. "House. You're not going to tell Cuddy."
I didn't even dignify that with a response.
"Please," he said, "don't do anything you're gonna regret."
"Oh, now you tell me."
"Your marriage was over. Both of you barely managed to climb out of the wreckage. What can you hope to gain by talking to her?"
I gave him a sharp look. "The truth."
He cocked his head and stared at me, unblinking, for a long moment, then nodded and got out of the car. We walked in silence to the elevator together, my head and thigh throbbing with every step. Once inside the main entrance, Foreman stopped and jerked his chin towards Dean Cuddy's office.
"Go ahead and do what you gotta do, House. Good luck."
"I thought you said we had a patient," I said accusingly; he only shrugged.
"We need to talk."
Cuddy looked up from her paperwork, then deliberately put down the pen, uncrossed her legs, and stood stiffly to come out from behind the desk. She sank down on the edge of the sofa and patted the place beside her, wordlessly offering me a seat.
"No, thanks, I'll stand." I was too agitated, and only movement dulled the raging ache in my thigh. "There's something I have to tell you." I paused, closed my eyes briefly. This, in all likelihood, was the end of the charade. She'd have my hide. She might get my medical license revoked. The divorce settlement would be spectacular.
"I've been wondering how long it was going to take you to come talk to me." She said it flatly, almost matter-of-factly, although she couldn't completely conceal the tremor in her hands.
"I'm sorry. I know that this is going to sound crazy, but I didn't know that I-" I stopped and blew out my breath in frustration. "We're still married, and I… I've been forgetting my responsibilities to you."
"Cuddy," I said, and stood before her, shame-faced but steadily. "Any rumors that you may have heard about me and James Wilson…" She just looked up at me, as if politely waiting for me to continue a commentary on the weather. "They're true. I've been… having an affair with him. But I, I realized some things just recently, and I'm here to say that I'm sorry, and it's over. I married you, and I want to be here for you."
Her gaze dropped to her lap, and her shoulders started shaking. I felt like a complete cad. Leaning my cane against the coffee table, I hastened to sit down beside her and reached tentatively to wrap an arm around her small, sturdy frame. That was when I realized that she was laughing – at first, a hard, mirthless, almost bitter laugh, but gradually it smoothed out and softened into something generous and real. She leaned her head against me, tucking herself under my chin, until her chuckles finally died down. "House," she said finally, "I know."
"You… what? How-"
"How is not important. I know about the amnesia. I know that's why you stopped staking out my house and office like the obsessive-compulsive lunatic that you are. I know that you didn't realize we were married when you started sleeping with Wilson. I'm not angry with you. In fact, I'm… kind of relieved."
This was making no sense. "You found out that we've been keeping this a secret for weeks, possibly putting the entire hospital at risk for legal action and you're… relieved?"
"I didn't say that I wasn't angry with Wilson," she replied with some asperity.
"Well, that makes two of us," I muttered.
"I was the one who asked you to leave. Having some time apart has been… helpful. I've been doing some thinking, seeing a new therapist. And I've realized some things about myself. Things about us.
"It's no good, House. I love you, but… we don't fit. I don't really like the person I am with you, and I'm pretty sure that you could say the same. No, don't interrupt, I'm certain about this. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with either of us; we just need different things."
"You need freedom. I need power. I am always going to try to control you, to change you to be the man I want you to be. And you are always going to resist. The challenge is what made it so exciting. And that's fine for a flirtation, but for a lifelong commitment? It doesn't make sense. House… I want a divorce."
"Cuddy," I said, my voice low with urgency. "The accident… Rachel's death must have been such a shock. You shouldn't make any rash decisions."
"Not like you, you mean?" she asked archly, raising an eyebrow. My face must have fallen, because she reached out and clasped my hand, spoke more softly. "Wilson told me yesterday that you… were going to hurt yourself. And I was too wrapped up in my own grief to notice." She squeezed my fingers, and I could see just how shaken she had been by this news. "I'm just grateful that Wilson was there to pick up the pieces."
I looked away. The thought of Wilson's deceptions still nearly choked me with rage. "Cuddy, I can't-"
"He was there for you," she cut me off. "He still is. And that's so important. It's the only thing that can make this easier." She held my gaze for a few seconds with a serenity bordering on stubbornness. "I'm going away."
"Away?" I repeated stupidly.
"Yes. I'm taking a leave of absence. I've had this job for almost fourteen years and have never been away on sabbatical, can you believe it?" She laughed shortly. "For the last seven I stuck around because I was worried that no one else could keep you under control. No, it's all right, don't you dare apologize. I have issues. My issues have issues. You're not the only one who needs to find yourself. I was always so ambitious, always rushing to make the next milestone. Now I'm forty-three and, and stuck, and I need to take some time to figure some things out."
"You're sure about this." It wasn't really a question.
"Yes. I found a year-round retreat house. Meditation, yoga, no distractions. Time to mourn. Time to heal." Her voice caught, and she paused and cleared her throat before continuing. "It's too late to interview for a permanent replacement this year. I'll have to get the Board to approve an interim dean." Cuddy leaned closer, confiding. "You do realize that you're practically unemployable."
"So I've been told."
"Don't worry. I've thought of someone, a very popular current department head who knows you well, appreciates your abilities, and can manipulate you almost as skillfully as you manipulate everybody else."
I stared at her as horrifying realization dawned. "You don't mean-"
"Go kiss and make up, House," she smirked, patting me patronizingly on the arm.
"I don't think-"
"House. Sit. Let me tell you a story."
"I've already heard the one about the atheist, the Jew, and the salami."
"Very funny. This story is about a medical conference attended by two doctors who were longtime friends. One of these doctors was scheduled to deliver a talk in which he planned to reveal that he had assisted in the deaths of several of his terminal patients. His friend found out about this, sedated him, stole his pants, and delivered the speech in his stead, thus saving him from professional suicide."
"Sounds just like the kind of thing Wilson would do."
"Wilson didn't do it, House," she told me triumphantly. "You did. Without his consent, and very much against his wishes."
"That's a very touching story," I said, doing my best to sound bored, although my thoughts were racing a mile a minute.
"Here's another one. One day I get a complaint from a patient because the doctor who came in to examine her breast was obviously agitated, winked at her, took his own vital signs in front of her, and then marched out declaring that he was going to kill someone. Do you know why?"
I rolled my eyes. "I suspect I will in a few seconds."
"Because you had given him methamphetamines! Because rather than just having a conversation like normal people about how he'd been doing since his third divorce, you doped his coffee so you could prove that he was taking antidepressants!"
We stared at each other, Cuddy looking more invigorated than I could recall seeing her, with eyes bright and face faintly flushed. The image flashed unbidden through my head of Wilson, so concerned at all times with maintaining his conservative, caring persona, clumsily groping a patient's breast and winking at her, then practically tripping over himself in apology. I felt my lip start to twitch, and despite my best efforts, the twitch turned into a snort. Cuddy must have had the same thought, because her mouth stretched into a wide, dazzling grin. And then we were both laughing, helplessly, conspiratorially, and I knew that this was the beginning of the end.
"Well played," I said when I finally got my breath back.
Cuddy cleared her throat. "You also once sedated my mother at dinner."
"Yes." She tried to frown at me and failed. "I think you were worried that she was going to ask you to do the honorable thing."
"Obviously the sedative kicked in too late."
I couldn't return her reminiscing smile. "Cuddy. We were married. Technically, we still are."
"Yes," she said steadily. "But I told you. I need to put that behind us."
"Cuddy, I'm sorry to ask you this, but nobody else can tell me…" I took a deep breath. "Why did you blame me? Was I responsible for Rachel's death?"
She bit her lip, but immediately placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. "House, no. I needed somebody to blame. It wasn't your fault."
"What happened that day?" I could hardly look at her, but I pressed on doggedly. "I need to know."
She sighed and sat back, pushing glossy dark hair out of her face. "It was an icy day. I was driving, Rachel was fussing in her car seat behind me. She had managed to unbuckle her safety straps, and I was turning my head to scold her when…" Cuddy paused and swallowed. "The other car must have slid when the driver tried to stop at the intersection. It slammed right into the driver's side and threw Rachel out of her seat. Shattered the windows. Broke my arm." She shook her head, staring straight ahead. "I never even saw it coming."
"Cuddy… I'm so sorry. But then why…"
"I told you, it was never your fault. The only thing you'd done wrong was to walk away without a scratch. But I said that Rachel would never have… died, if she had stayed in her car seat. That she was fooling around, and distracting me, because you weren't strict enough with her."
"Not like my father," I said, understanding.
Cuddy nodded and squeezed my arm. "Not like your father. You were so terrified of turning out like him that you could hardly scold her, even when she was genuinely being a brat." She smiled slightly even as her blue eyes brimmed with tears.
"So, still, in a way…"
"House, no." She shook her head vehemently, then sniffled and swiped a tissue to dab at her eyes. "We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can't say for sure that it wasn't anybody's fault, but it definitely wasn't yours." She looked up at me, and it was clear just how much effort this absolution was costing her. "I'm truly sorry that I blamed you. I'm sorry that I let you feel responsible."
I took her hand and raised it wordlessly to my lips. She patted my knee, then gave me a little push. "We can talk about this again later if you want. Right now, I think that there are other apologies in order."
Recognizing this as a dismissal, I stood. I was halfway to the door when she added, "Send Wilson down here when you're done with him, would you?"
"Yeah," I said. And then, "Interim dean, huh?"
"No good deed goes unpunished," Cuddy smirked.
I should not have been surprised to run into Masters right outside of Cuddy's office. She stepped in front of me, blocking my path, so that I almost tripped over my cane trying to avoid her. Arms folded defensively over her chest, she lifted her chin and preempted anything I might have had to say by blurting, "I had to tell her. She had the right to know, to protect our patients. And to understand why you've been acting so oddly. And you won't need to fight with her to fire me this time. I resign."
Cocking my head at her, I gestured with the cane for her to have a seat. She shook her head and remained standing, shaking a little but obviously unrepentant and resolved.
"Who told you?"
"No one," she shrugged. "I've always had a brain. I learned how to use my eyes from you."
"Is that right." I considered her for a moment, so terribly young and clever and arrogantly transparent. "Guess you think you're a real hero."
She stared back stonily. "I didn't say that."
"Didn't have to."
"Dr. House," she said, squaring her shoulders, "do you accept my resignation or not?"
"Where would be the fun in that?"
"You're determined to fire me, then," she stated rather than asked.
"Fine - what?"
"Emineminem, of all the members of my team, you are the smallest idiot, and I'm not just referring to your cup size. But you still have a lot to learn. Want you to stick around until you see the error of your honest ways. Until you can look your boss right in the eye and lie like the best of us." I started walking away, more eager than ever to get up to the fourth floor.
"But you're my boss," she said to my back.
"Finally figured that out, have you?"
The door of Wilson's office was closed, but the soft shuffling sound of papers being filed betrayed its conscientious occupant. I raised my hand to knock, then muttered, "Fuck it," and simply pushed the door open.
On the other side of the desk, Wilson froze. He was obviously in the middle of packing up his office: his framed posters had been removed, a half-empty box sat on his desk, and several closed, neatly labeled ones were stacked against the wall. He looked terrible, too, pasty-faced and hollow-eyed.
We both spoke simultaneously, "What are you-" then stopped in confusion.
I recovered first. "You seem to be under the mistaken impression that you're going somewhere."
Wilson stared at me with a mixture of remorse and resignation. "Why do I feel like we've had this conversation before?"
"No fucking clue," I shrugged. "But I'm willing to bet that you were just as wrong the first time."
Wilson pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's been at least two times, actually, and how could I possibly stay here now that-"
"You're an idiot," I said gruffly. He wouldn't look at me. "Wilson. Please tell me that you're not going to stop fighting now. That after all this, you're not just going to let me go." When Wilson still didn't reply, I stepped up to him, into him, clasped his unshaven jaw with both hands, and kissed him urgently on the mouth.
He hesitated for just a second – a second that felt like an eternity – before responding sweetly, eagerly, and my knees went weak with relief.
When I released him, he squeezed past me and shut the door, then turned back, his gaze hopeful but wary. "House, I can't believe you actually came back. Those things I said to you-"
"No," I said quickly. "You were right. Someone should have said them to me a long time ago."
Wilson rubbed his face. "Stacy tried. You never forgave her. And I thought that if I told you what I'd done, you'd cut me out of your life. Worse than that, you'd cut yourself out. Without my help."
"I know." I didn't say that I was sorry, much less thank you, but we both knew that the thoughts were there, simmering just below the surface.
"But you didn't. You're here." Wilson still looked incredulous, as though he expected me to dissolve into mist and drift away at any moment. "What's different this time?"
"Me," I said simply. And then, reaching for his hand and tugging him to me once more, "I can't change the past. But I can choose now. I can choose this."
Folding my arms awkwardly around Wilson's taut, trembling frame, I rested my forehead against his and stood there for a long moment, quietly, pretending not to notice when his breathing roughened, ignoring also the sudden blurring of my sight. When he finally slumped against me, I tucked my chin over his clavicle and pulled him close. I could smell him, unwashed and damp with anxious sweat, and so achingly familiar that I hardened against him without warning.
It had abruptly become obvious that there were far too many layers of fabric between us. I released Wilson and started peeling him, still dazed but unresisting, out of his suit coat. He shuddered as I leaned forward to lick the soft skin just below his ear and began unbuttoning his un-ironed shirt. "House… not that I'm not… ahhh… thrilled, by your change of heart, but do you really think we should be doing this… at work?" he gasped.
"The jig's up, Jimmy. I just talked to Cuddy."
Wilson's eyebrows shot up as he jerked back away from me to peer into my face. "And?"
I gave him a slow, wicked grin. "Let's just say that I still have a job here, and she has no problem with you filling her shoes." That was all he needed to know for now. It was Cuddy's place to persuade him to take on the interim dean position, and I had far better things to do with my mouth at the moment.
Wilson apparently agreed, because he made no further protest when I sank into the chair in front of his desk and guided him nearer, nudging his legs apart. Straddling my thighs, Wilson rested warm hands on my shoulders and closed his eyes as I unbuckled his belt and unzipped him, then rubbed my stubbled jaw teasingly against the conspicuous bulge in his boxers. I ran my hands appreciatively up his flanks and back around to more yielding flesh, feeling my own cock twitch as he sucked in a startled breath.
Just then a sharp knock rattled the door, followed by Foreman's voice. "Dr. Wilson? Have you seen House?" Already unbalanced, Wilson jumped and half-fell against me, reaching frantically for the flaps of his fly as the chair legs scraped loudly against the floor.
"Kinda busy," I sang out, holding Wilson firmly in place with a warning look.
There was a pause. "It's not urgent," Taub declared; I could picture his lips twitching in amusement. "We'll come back later."
"Do you think they're-" That was Chase, sounding simultaneously titillated and indignant. "Here?"
Foreman's voice trailed off as they presumably moved away from the door, but I could still hear him clearly, "Oh, yeah, you're a fine one to talk…"
I turned my attention back to little Jimmy. "Now, where were we?"
The soon-to-be-former-Dean of Medicine made her official announcement two weeks later in the main auditorium in front of flashing bulbs; most of our major donors and nearly all of the hospital staff had turned up to send her off. Cuddy was wearing an elegant sky-blue suit that emphasized the clarity of her eyes. She made a smiling speech before bringing Wilson up on stage to join her, clasping his hand, and giving him a little kiss on the cheek. I assume that it was mainly complimentary; my brain was buzzing so much that I couldn't hear a word.
Afterwards Cuddy was completely hemmed in by well-wishers, but Wilson managed to escape for a moment so that he could come over to join me and my fellows. They each congratulated him with an enthusiastic handshake or a half-hug. I harrumphed and poked him in the chest with my cane, keeping him at arm's length. "I'm undone. I'm actually going to be supervised by someone who managed to subvert my entire team for weeks without my knowledge."
"Almost the entire team," Taub added sotto voce, rocking back on his heels with a significant look at Masters.
"Don't be ridiculous," Wilson said warmly, "there's no reason for you to have any doubts about where their loyalties lie."
I looked around at their young faces, all lit up with gratitude and affection, and felt my throat tighten. "Go on," I told Wilson gruffly. "Get your kumba ya-yas out. We'll celebrate properly when you get home." He blushed a little, still not completely comfortable with the idea of being out in the open, but smiled and nodded and clapped Chase on the shoulder before walking back over to Cuddy.
"Wow," Foreman shook his head, once Wilson was safely out of earshot, "I still can't believe you had the foresight to start sleeping with your new boss so far in advance."
"Yeah, well, it's only an interim position." I waggled my eyebrows suggestively at Chase. "Here's hoping that you get picked to replace him and not Taub."
"Hey, what about me?" Foreman demanded with mock indignation.
"Sorry, a reliable source informs me that you already had your chance."
Taub suddenly rose to his tiptoes, craning his neck in a futile attempt to see over the crowd. "Did I just see Cameron?"
Chase jumped a little. "She came?" he asked, looking decidedly twitchy. In just a few seconds his ex-wife had appeared from between two tall orderlies and slipped her arm through his.
"Surprise," she said to him. "I know we've had our differences, but she's kept this place going for so many years, and this is a huge step for her. I decided that I had to show up to see her off."
I belatedly realized that the "differences" referred to Cuddy, not Chase, and my fellow confirmed this insight with his next words.
"Um, we weren't going to say anything just yet, but I suppose this is as good a time as any." He looked around at Taub and Foreman, who were staring at him with unconcealed curiosity, and took a deep breath. "I'm finally leaving Princeton Plainsboro. I'll be moving to Boston at the end of the month."
Everyone's jaw dropped a little bit as Allison added, "I've been hired at MGH to start up a new Department of Diagnostic Medicine, and Chase is going to work with me for a while, at least until we can find something more permanent for him." She smiled radiantly at each of us in turn.
Foreman was the first to find his voice. "Congratulations," he said, apparently sincerely.
"Thanks," Allison answered, and winked. "Keep in touch, we might be looking next year."
"I don't know quite how to say this," Taub abruptly addressed her, "but are you sure? A year ago, it seemed like you never wanted to see him again."
She tilted her head, considering. "I don't think anyone can ever be one hundred percent sure," she said at last. "I've been in therapy-" her gaze flicked over to meet mine "-long overdue, I might add, and I expect that I'll still be working some things out for a while. But I absolutely know how lucky I am that Robert is willing to give this another chance."
Chase smiled down at her, and the love and vulnerability was so naked on his face that I had to look away, my throat tight. I wanted to warn him off, grab him by the shoulders and shake him until he saw sense. But a man who's cast his lot with an acknowledged adulterer and three times divorcee who just came out of the closet doesn't really have much of a leg to stand on. So instead, I only nodded briefly and said to Allison, "Don't screw this up."
Instead of reacting with anger, she answered, "Actually, I should thank you."
"The hell for?"
She flushed then, and looked around apologetically. "Give us a minute?" she said to no one in particular, and my entire team was suddenly out of earshot.
"That was a nifty trick," I observed.
Allison stepped forward and stretched up to murmur in my ear. "Our circumstances weren't so different, were they? I never would have expected to learn this lesson from you."
And I knew that she was referring to forgiveness, and to letting go of lost causes, and my eyes went unerringly to Wilson at the other end of the room. Allison smiled, missing nothing. "I want you to know," she said, "that I'm happy for you. And I never thought I'd admit this, but it makes things easier for me, too."
Without taking my eyes from Wilson's face, I muttered, "I meant what I said before. If you hurt him-"
"House," she interrupted, "I'm going to hurt him. And… he's going to hurt me. But what I've realized is that it's okay. What we have will be strong enough to survive it."
Then Wilson's eyes finally moved to meet mine, and something deep inside me turned over as a smile spread over his face. Reaching up to scratch his ear, he subtly beckoned to me. "Gotta go," I said.
Allison brushed her lips briefly to my cheek and released me.
Wilson was speaking to a recently elected member of the Board along with his own temporary replacement in charge of Oncology. "Doug," he said, holding an arm out to include me in their circle, "there's someone I'd like you to meet. This is our head of Diagnostic Medicine, Dr. Gregory House."
I inclined my head and shook the man's hand briefly as Wilson went on, "Dr. House enjoys an international reputation for his expertise. And I'm even prouder to say that he's also my partner." Wilson's voice barely quavered, but I could see the effort that it cost him to put this out there.
The board member didn't bat an eyelash. "Nice to meet you, Greg. Mark and I would love to have you over for dinner sometime."
"Oh, gee, thanks, Doug," I answered sweetly. "Maybe in a few months." I reached back and grabbed Wilson's ass, winking broadly. "We're still in the honeymoon phase."
Doug chuckled. "Can't say I blame you. Well, you just say the word." He nodded to Wilson and Chernin, then walked away to join the cluster of people around Cuddy.
Wilson was rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm starting to see why Cuddy was so pleased to name me as her replacement."
"It's obviously your own fault," I said, "for wearing such tight pants."
"I'm not-" Wilson began, and then shook his head and broke into a smile.
"At least I didn't compliment you on your cleavage," I said, squeezing his ass one last time for good measure. "I'll see you at home."
"See you at home," Wilson echoed, and the expression in his eyes promised that my best memories were yet to come.
Final Author's Note: I just want to say a huge thank you once again to my beta reader, jezziejay. Seriously, I almost consider her to be a co-author – that's how integral she was to the plotting and writing of this piece. She was right there with me from conception to delivery, and without her help, this would be a very different, and far less satisfying, story.