Author's Notes: This was written for a one shot contest on the house_cuddy livejournal community. The requirements were that the fic fall between 500 and 10,000 words, feature Rachel's giant stuffed duck, and contain the words, melon, spider, and bra. Wilson and Sam were also forbidden from making appearances. Thanks, bridals, for the inspiration!
Warning: This fic contains sexual situations, so if you don't like that, don't read. This fic contains spoilers through 7.15, "Bombshells." If you haven't watched that episode, I wouldn't read this either.
Disclaimer: I don't own the show.
An Ideal State of Imperfection
By Duckie Nicks
This wasn't what she wanted.
It was not what she'd signed up for.
When she'd finally allowed herself to want House, when she'd gone to him and found him on the bathroom floor, she had promised to him and herself that this was absolutely what she wanted. Because to break up with Lucas, to subject him and her daughter to this monumental change, Cuddy had thought she wouldn't be allowed to have buyer's remorse in the morning. She'd told herself she'd have to be sure about House. She'd have to want him more than the fear of having him.
But this wasn't what she wanted. Days filled with multiple instances of him screwing up, moments defined by her concern for him and for how he might behave when she needed him – she definitely didn't ask for that. As much as she wanted him, she did not love the anxiety being with him produced.
Of course, Cuddy found it hard to hate him for that. It was easy to get mad over small things like toothbrushes and toilet seats. But it wasn't quite as simple when the problem was his inherent inability to understand what a relationship was like, what one should be like. When he was soaking wet and too drunk to stop himself from saying that being in love made him a worse doctor, it was impossible to be angry.
He was putting her in an awful situation, yes. There was no way she could miss how much pressure he was placing on their relationship – on her – now. He thought he was being complimentary, telling her that he would let his patients die if it meant having her in his life. But what she took from that was he still didn't understand that he could have both, that he could be happy and a genius. He didn't understand that there didn't need to be a choice. And what that meant was he would always need her to be worth it. Whatever that meant for him, she would have to be good enough to keep him interested, to keep him believing that his "choice" had been the right one.
And who could ever live up to that standard? She knew she couldn't. Even as some part of her might have liked to believe otherwise, she knew that it was impossible; their relationship was far too complicated and unusual for it to always satisfy them both, which meant inevitably there would be times (as there had already been) where they would be at each other's throats. And when that happened, would he still feel as though she was worth the dead patients?
Maybe. If she were lucky, perhaps he wouldn't lash out at her. But there was a good chance he would, and she certainly hadn't signed up for that when she'd gotten into this relationship.
And yet… as he fell asleep on her lap, Cuddy thought she couldn't hate him for creating that possibility. In her mind, the only thing worse than the position he'd put her in was the one that he found himself in.
He believed happiness took away from his intelligence.
He actually believed that.
The idea that he deserved happiness was seemingly a thought that had never crossed his mind. That he could be a great doctor and in love with her was something he hadn't considered. And hearing him talk that way… well, it made her realize just how screwed up he really was.
All of this time, she had known he wasn't normal. She'd entered the relationship understanding that it wouldn't be traditional in any sense of the word. But it wasn't until this moment, when he passed out in her lap while muttering how he would always choose her, that she realized: House wasn't screwed up.
He was feral.
He had no idea how to handle her presence in his life, no understanding of how any relationship should work. As much as he wanted to be with her, he didn't know how. And Cuddy wanted nothing more than to show him just how good it could be for them. But unprepared for the challenge, she couldn't help but wonder if she'd ever succeed.
The toothbrush was nothing, all things considered. For all of his resistance, once he had his own toothbrush, he was good about gnawing on his and not hers. The toilet seat, on the other hand… that was a different matter all together. On that subject, he refused to budge.
"It really doesn't make any sense," he told her, as he carefully deveined the shrimp in his hands. He'd offered to make dinner for her that weekend, on the provision that they stay at his apartment. And she'd accepted, on account of the fact that she could practically feel how desperate he was to have some time alone with her away from Rachel.
But for Cuddy, a romantic dinner and weekend were easily ruined when you couldn't even remember to put the toilet seat down.
He didn't see that though.
"You don't think there's any reason for you to keep the toilet seat down?" she asked doubtfully, dropping a freshly scrubbed clam into a nearby bowl.
"Nope," he replied honestly.
Hearing the truthfulness in his voice, she understood there was no point in fighting him over it. He wasn't going to learn – not any time soon anyway – and nagging him would make her just as unbearable as he was being.
"Fine," she capitulated.
But he wasn't ready to let the matter go.
"I don't know why you're so fixated on this," he said. "Do I complain when you leave the seat down? No." He tossed a shrimp into another bowl on the counter. "And you wanna know why?"
Whatever his reason, it wasn't going to be good. "Not really, but I assume you're going to tell me –"
"Because it's thirty seconds of my life," he answered, not bothering to pay attention to what she was saying. "It takes me less time to put the seat up than it would for me to complain to you that you left it down."
Cuddy rolled her eyes. "Going by that logic, it'd also be easier for you to just put the seat down when you're done than fight with me about it."
"But that wouldn't be fair, cause then I'd be spending all of my time lifting and putting it down. And actually, it'd just be much simpler if we both just did what we needed to do. I lift up when I need to. You set it down when you need to. It's just fair," he said with a shrug.
She shook her head vehemently. "That is not fair."
"No, it's not." She set the clam she'd been scrubbing down, along with the brush she'd been using. "I have to pee more than you do. I have to sit and stand every time." He scoffed at this, but she ignored that. "Not to mention that I have to essentially take off half of my clothing in order to –"
"If I looked half as good as you do naked, I'd absolutely take off my pants every time I had to urinate."
Cuddy honestly smiled at that.
She shouldn't have. Intellectually she could recognize that his… compliment was bizarre and stupid and kind of gross if she thought about it too much. But given that this was House (and he had a history of making comments like this), she could also appreciate the remark for what it was.
"Thank you," she said quietly, briefly glancing over at him. He was focused on getting the shrimp ready for the paella they were supposedly going to make (she still had her doubts). His brow was crinkled in concentration. Yet he was still somehow prepared when she leaned over to kiss him.
His head turned toward her before she'd even asked for his attention, he was instantly ready for the kiss she wanted to give him. Immediately his mouth met hers; his lips pressed against her, his stubble scratching against her skin.
But the moment was over as quickly as it had begun, and as she pulled away, Cuddy couldn't help but say, "I could fall in. Just put the –"
"Who is dumb enough to sit down without looking?"
The answer came the following Wednesday. Cuddy was getting dinner ready; House was watching television and pretending to watch over Rachel. Cuddy knew he was only pretending, as Rachel, excited by the fact that she'd used the potty all day, was loudly running all over the house. And that was when it happened.
Cuddy had just set the butternut squash into the oven to roast when she heard Rachel's piercing scream.
Admittedly, Rachel wailing wasn't a rare occurrence. She was generally a quiet, even-tempered little girl, but obviously, a two year old was more than willing to resort to screaming to deal with a variety of situations. But that was precisely why Cuddy could tell immediately that something was wrong.
Unfortunately the thing that was wrong was Rachel wedged into the toilet.
She was fully in the bowl. Her knees were pressed to her chest, her feet dangling over the white porcelain rim. Her skirt and underpants lay strewn on the bathmat, thankfully dry, but the same couldn't be said for the sweater she was wearing. At this point, surely the bottom half of it was drenched in toilet water, and whether it was being wedged, wet, or something else that had Rachel upset, it was impossible to say. But she was upset – crying for her mother.
"Mommy!" she wailed, her cheeks pink from screaming so loudly.
Cuddy was quick to help her, of course. However, even as she plucked her wet, sobbing daughter out of the toilet, she couldn't stop herself from glaring at House.
Having heard the commotion, he'd clearly come over, just to make sure everything was okay. But now, seeing what had happened, he also obviously wished he hadn't; he was sighing with resignation, apparently prepared for the admonishment headed his way.
Perhaps hoping to avoid a fight, he said sincerely, "Sorry. I –"
"We will talk about this later," she interrupted. She could hear the warning in her own voice, could hear how livid she sounded. Even if she hadn't, the way House slunk away in defeat would have been proof enough that she'd said something scathing though.
And not for a second did she feel sorry about that.
At least now, he would never forget to put the seat down when he was done.
It wasn't enough.
The trying, the fighting, the forgiving, the hoping – it hadn't been enough to make her stay with him.
She'd wanted it to be. She'd tried to tell herself that it could be. She loved him so much, so much more than any other man she'd been with, that she'd hoped it would be enough.
Unbidden her mind had pointed out that he loved her the same way, had reminded her of all the ways he was changing or trying to change for her. And she'd truly wished that all of that would be what it took for them to get through.
Maybe it would have been. If he'd ever been willing or able to truly open himself up to her, allowed her to be present in his life, maybe they could have made it.
But he'd been too fearful.
Selfishly he'd left her alone in doing all of the opening up. She'd brought him into her family, had let her daughter bond with him. And he'd barely been able to use a toothbrush.
Looking back on it, Cuddy thought she should have known. He would never be there for her like that. The second she'd gotten ill, he'd become so scared that he'd run away, and she felt that that had all been very predictable. He could barely share the covers when he was cold. Why had she ever thought he'd share her pain?
Not for a second, of course, had she needed him there. In retelling the story of their break up, Cuddy felt that this point was often lost.
She hadn't needed him there.
For years she had had no one to depend on, no one to share her problems with. There had been no rock for her to lean on. There hadn't even been the tiniest grain of sand to share the burden with. But she had always been okay with that. As lonely as it could be sometimes, she was fine with being on her own; she was strong enough to do whatever it took to succeed alone, as, indeed, she had.
But he hadn't even given her an option.
And that was what bothered her. House had never even given her a choice in the matter. He'd just fled at the first sign of trouble, never once considering how afraid she might have been.
He'd been selfish and cowardly.
And for that reason, it wasn't surprising that he went on a month-long, post-break up bender.
Vicodin, booze, hookers – it was all very expected, she told herself bitterly. In fact, given the way he so easily fell into that pattern, she had to wonder if he'd ever changed at all. When he could show up to work drunk, have sex with a different woman every night, it certainly didn't seem that way. If anything, it just made her all the more convinced that a relationship with him could never have worked.
He clearly didn't have any idea why she'd left him.
Or at least, he had no desire to better himself.
Oh, when he finally sobered up, he made a good show of changing. He wore his lab coat and did his clinic hours without complaint. Once Cuddy heard a clinic patient thank him for his help, and as far as she could tell, House hadn't even paid the man to say it. He brought her flowers when some organization (whose name she couldn't bother to remember after the fact) had given her an award. And somehow, whenever she needed to stay late, he seemed to not only know but also be there to offer to babysit.
But she was not fooled.
She tried to ignore it, tried telling herself that he would eventually give up. Yet weeks after the fact, he still seemed to be going strong. And when he brought her a chocolate chip muffin the day she started her period, she couldn't take it anymore.
"You need to stop this," she said firmly, even as her gaze fell upon the muffin longingly.
She leaned back in her desk chair. "You know what."
"Obviously, I don't." Lazily he tore a dark chunk of the muffin off and popped it into his mouth. "What am I doing?"
"Exactly what I expect." She looked back at the papers on her desk. She needed to get back to work and stop indulging him, she knew. So she quickly added, "And it's not going to work."
At that point, he didn't bother to deny it. She'd thought he would, but House let all pretense aside as he asked her in a voice that bordered on pleading, "Why not?"
"Because I don't want you anymore. You can try all you want to please me, but I don't want you."
She didn't bother to be nice about it. There was no point in sugarcoating the truth.
She didn't want him anymore.
He had made sure of that.
The phone call from Brye Park Elementary came on a Monday morning almost three months after they broke up. Unexpected, it suddenly put the last several weeks into perspective.
House had been leaving her alone. After pestering her for weeks, he'd finally backed off, and she'd been curious as to why.
Now she knew.
He'd simply been waiting for his hefty donation to her choice pre-school for Rachel to go through. Like a spider weaving an intricate web, he'd quietly laid his little trap for her to wander into; he'd made it seem like he was moving on, but in truth, he'd just been waiting for the day when she would find out what he'd done.
That fact making ire surge within her, she was barely able to pay enough attention to set up an interview for Rachel.
Truthfully… Cuddy didn't feel right about taking advantage of the situation like that. Really, she should have refused to meet with the school and concentrated on getting Rachel into Waldenwood as planned on principle. That would have been the smart thing to do, Cuddy knew. After all, she understood that, if she had Rachel interview with the school, if she accepted House's gesture, he would never back off.
Nevertheless, she set up the meeting. Whatever her feelings for House were or might have been at that point, at the end of the day, Brye Park was an amazing school. If Rachel got in there, she'd be poised for all sorts of educational opportunities she wouldn't necessarily have otherwise. And as much as Cuddy hated letting House win this round, that wasn't enough of a reason to put Rachel at an academic disadvantage.
On the other hand, it absolutely was reason enough for Cuddy to seek House out.
The last couple of weeks, she'd made it a rule to ignore him as much as she could. If she had a case for him, she'd given it to Foreman. If there'd been a problem with House's choice of treatment, she'd waited for Masters to confess and then spoken to whichever fellow had been responsible.
Cuddy had not talked to House.
Yelled at him when there had been no other option? Yes, but she had not sought him out and had not had conversations with him. As much as he'd been avoiding her, she'd been just as determined to stay away from him.
But that was all about to end.
Yanking the glass door to his office open, she announced her presence by shouting. "What the hell are you doing?"
Having been looking at something on his computer, he clearly hadn't been prepared for her entrance. Surprise washing across his face, he slowly turned his head to look at her. Instantly his eyes narrowed on her. Assessing her features, he had, she thought, no idea what she was talking about.
"Watching a botched attempt at crush porn," he said eventually, a note of carefulness in the words. She must have looked confused, because he explained, "My patient wanted to make some extra cash. Only she used spiders instead of kittens, and now I'm trying to see if she had an allergic reaction to –"
"I'm not talking about that," Cuddy interrupted peevishly.
"I thought I made it clear: we are not going to get back together."
"Yeah." She could hear the bitterness in his voice, could see the pain briefly flash across his face. "I'd gotten that part."
Cuddy shook her head. He might have been saying that, but clearly his actions showed otherwise. "Then why am I getting calls from Brye Park?"
His eyes lit up with surprise and understanding. "Oh."
"Yeah." Now she was the one who sounded bitter. Her arms folding across her chest, she said, "Oh."
He sighed. "I made the donation months ago. After career day."
She didn't believe him.
And he must have sensed that, because he was quick to say, "After that fiasco, I knew Rachel didn't have a chance in hell at that school. And I figured, if you ever did decide to apply there, you'd realize you were never going to get accepted because of me, and then you'd be nearly as unbearable as you are –"
"You're telling me you did this months ago."
He nodded his head slowly, condescendingly. As though he felt she was too stupid to understand what the gesture meant, he did it several times so she would get it. "Yeah. That's what I'm saying."
Well, that was just great, she thought miserably. He'd made the donation months ago, and she'd made a wrong assumption, and now… she would have to find some way out of this conversation.
But just as she opened her mouth, he said snidely, "I get that you wanted to barge in here and yell at me for still being in love with you. But that's not what happened."
"Good," she said, jutting her chin at him defiantly.
"Believe me. I do not want to be with you. It was fun while it lasted." He shrugged. "Now it's over. And I'm fine with that."
It didn't hit her until later that night just how much she despised the honesty in his voice.
Just when things started to return to normal, she handed him a case involving a two year old who reminded her so much of Rachel. And from that moment on, it had been impossible for Cuddy to divorce herself from the situation.
She'd wanted to. Certainly House and his team would have preferred her to stay out of it (she knew that, because House had told her to go away multiple times). But every time she'd tried to walk away, she'd thought of her own daughter and what it would have been like to have Rachel in that situation. And fear instantaneously railing against her insides, each and every time Cuddy had turned back and returned to House's office.
Not that it mattered.
As the case had evolved, as they had both set aside their personal history to work together, one thing had become clear over time: this was a battle they could not win. The little girl, Emma, had been too small and too sick, the unknown disease ravaging her body too quickly for either House or Cuddy to save her in time. They'd tried whole-heartedly to diagnose her, but it hadn't mattered.
She had died.
And as soon as that happened, all of the feelings for House Cuddy had thought were dead and buried came surging back with a vengeance.
She would have liked to be able to claim that she could see her feelings for what they were: spillover from an emotional case. She really would have liked to be able to say that she smartly ignored what her self was trying to convince her to do.
But she wasn't.
Without a doubt, Cuddy was as far from rational and in control as she could be in that moment. Because even though she'd only planned on going to his office to inform House about the impending autopsy, she didn't stop there. She might have told him, "The family's requested an autopsy. We'll have an answer in a few hours."
But she didn't stop there.
He was standing in front of his desk, getting ready to leave. Her words washing over him, defeated, he nodded his head but said nothing.
And she could have walked away then.
Instead, of their own volition, her feet drove her straight to him. Closing the distance between them before she even had a chance to process what was happening, she kissed him. Without thought, she pressed her lips to his with bruising force. Her hands in his hair, her tongue in his mouth, nothing else seemed to matter in that moment except for him.
And he was eager to return the favor.
As though they hadn't ever broken up, he pulled her close to him. His hips pressed against hers. One of his hands urgently palmed her breast through her bra and shirt, making her desire wound tightly with the guilt she'd been feeling.
At any other time, she would have told him to stop. She would have pushed him away or at least remembered the fact that House's office doors were made of glass. But as it was actually happening, all she could think was how nice it felt to have him back.
God, how she wanted him….
Eager, her hand slipped between their warm, desperate bodies. Just as he kissed her neck, she cupped him through his jeans. He was already hard, straining against the denim of his pants. As though he somehow knew this was going to be their last time, his body was already ready for her.
And she had no clue how wet she was until he pushed her onto his desk. The backs of her thighs bumping the table top with enough force to send knickknacks left and right, she was surprised at how hot the act made her. His hands still trying to yank up her tight skirt, he hadn't touched her yet. But her body was slick with desire anyway, her core pulsing with heat and need for him.
For an escape.
With all of her heart, Cuddy wanted to forget the little girl they'd struggled to save. With the stroke of his hand, she wanted to think only of the here and now and be blissfully ignorant of the ugly realities life had to offer.
He must have wanted the same thing, because he wasted no time parting her thighs with one of his hands. Giving her no warning, he instantly shoved two fingers inside of her. He took her thong with her, the silky material being pushed inside of her heat.
Loudly she moaned, her eyes falling shut.
And that was when she saw it. Behind the inky darkness of her closed eyes, she could picture what they must look like. The Dean of Medicine sprawled on her employee's desk, his fingers pumping inside of her….
And automatically, no matter how good it felt, no matter what kind of escape he was offering her, she suddenly knew how wrong this was.
"Stop," she said firmly, as he was leaning down to kiss her.
He paused, but he didn't move away from her.
"We can't do this." Cuddy swallowed hard, knowing that she sounded like she was trying to convince herself as well as him. "Please. Get off of me."
Unsurprisingly he listened. With a nod of the head, he pulled out of her and moved away.
She didn't dare look at him as she righted herself. If he was disappointed or angry, she didn't want to know. And if he was just as ashamed as she felt, then she really didn't want to see the emotion reflected in his face.
Without so much as a glance back, she left his office.
"I think I want him back."
It had taken two days since their encounter in his office for her to come to that conclusion. And since she had, she couldn't find it in her to talk herself out of it (hence, she was telling her sister).
Julia, who'd been diligently cutting up honeydew melon for the fruit salad, suddenly stopped. Looking around to make sure young ears weren't around, she hesitantly asked, "Did you sleep with him?"
"No," Cuddy answered quickly, her own knife slicing through a juicy strawberry. But immediately she realized that that wasn't exactly true. "Almost."
That felt like the right reaction to have. "Yeah." But as soon as she'd said that, Cuddy thought that maybe she shouldn't have said anything at all. "I'm sorry. This probably isn't the right thing to discuss at a children's birthday party."
Julia just shrugged. "Party's not for another hour, and the baby's sleeping anyway. He'll never know that his aunt almost had sex with –"
"Stop enjoying this so much, Jules."
She didn't bother to deny it. Instead, she defended herself by saying, "I've been married to my husband for years now. I've got three kids. My morning has consisted of preparing food for a birthday that the children will hardly remember two years from now. And my only excitement for the day will probably come in the form of Mom getting drunk and insulting the clowns."
Dropping the freshly cut melon into a bowl filled with other fruit, she confessed, "Sorry. I have to enjoy this."
Cuddy let the comment slide. "So what I do?"
Julia didn't say anything at first. She clearly wanted time to think the matter through. But eventually, she said, "I don't know. I haven't been dating since –" She cut herself off, apparently realizing that she wasn't helping the situation. "All right, tell me this. Do you think he's changed?"
This time Cuddy was the one who didn't know what to say. "I don't know." She sighed. "I have no idea. Part of me thinks he's actually backed off just so I'll want him more. And then I feel like he's just playing games with me –"
"So test him," Julia suggested, as she reached for an uncut cantaloupe.
"Right. I'll just whip out my lie detector test and –"
"It's not that complicated, Lisa," she replied dryly. "You've been trying to go back to the way things were before you started dating him. You want to go back to being friends or… whatever it is you were." Her nose wrinkled in confusion, as though she weren't quite sure calling them friends was right. "Anyway. You invite him to a movie."
Cuddy looked at her sister in disbelief. "I don't think asking House out –"
"You're not asking him out. You're inviting him."
"And if he says no?"
"Then he definitely doesn't want to date you," Julia said simply. "And if he accepts and tries to make a move, you'll know he wasn't trying to be your friend."
Truth be told, it was a stupid plan. But since Cuddy couldn't think of anything better, she used it.
Perhaps not surprisingly, House accepted. At first it struck her as odd, but the more she thought about it, the more it made sense; the two of them doing something together as friends was so weird that naturally he would be interested in it.
Of course, there was also the possibility that he said yes, because he wanted it to be a date. And she refused to let herself forget that. Although there had been a time when she would have been blindsided by his behavior, she was determined not to let that happen here.
So when she met him at the movie theatre, she was… hesitant about the whole thing.
They survived mainly on small talk, casually discussing the line they had to wait in and the pros and cons of their chosen snacks.
"Raisinets?" he asked with disgust as they sat down in their seats.
He stuffed popcorn into his mouth. "They look like rabbit –"
"Yes. Thank you," she said, cutting him off.
"That gross you out?" It hadn't, but she could see how her words might have given him that impression. "Cause this is a zombie movie. You're going to need a stronger stomach if you plan on watching this."
As she set her purse onto a seat next to her, she smiled. "I'll be fine. When I let you pick the movie, I assumed it was going to be on the depraved side."
Depraved, however, didn't even begin to cut it. The film was far more disgusting than Cuddy could have ever imagined. And yet that wasn't to say it was awful. It was… fine, she guessed. Certainly it was entertaining enough, if not to her taste.
On the other hand, it definitely was to House's. There was no missing that.
He was loving this.
His wide eyes trained on the giant screen before them, he was enjoying every bit of violence and nudity prevalent in the movie. He liked it so much that whatever fear she'd had about him trying to treat this like a date seemed stupid now. Hard though it was to accept it, House seemed interested in everything but her right about now.
And that made Cuddy feel… conflicted.
There was no denying that she would have been mad if he'd still been trying to repair their relationship all this time. In that case, she would have felt like nothing had changed. But at the same time… House not wanting her… well, that didn't seem right either.
And it went without saying that wanting him to want her was idiotic. After all, she'd been the one to break up with him. She'd been the one who'd felt that their relationship wasn't right. So she really shouldn't have been hoping he was pining for her.
Especially since the problems they'd had… weren't exactly gone.
Maybe she shouldn't have said that. Perhaps House had returned to therapy (the hospital rumor mill certainly seemed to think so) and learned to open himself up more to other people's needs. But she couldn't say with any certainty that that had happened, nor to the extent he'd changed even if he had grown a little.
In other words? Wanting him now was basically wanting the same problems, the same fights, and the exact same ending all over again.
Rationally, she understood what she was asking for in this situation.
But as she glanced over at him, as she saw the happiness in his eyes and flit across his features, she felt herself yearn to be the one who made him happy anyway.
Which was insane, yes. It was absolutely crazy. There was no point in sugarcoating it, no reason to pretend like it made any sense at all.
There was absolutely no reason why she should feel that familiar pull in her stomach for him, and she knew it.
That fact, however, didn't seem to matter in the end. Rational or not, reasonable or not, she wanted House. God, she wanted him. And she could recognize how nonsensical and stupid – how monumentally, totally, and completely idiotic it was – but that didn't stop her from feeling the way she did.
That didn't stop her from leaning over and kissing him once more.
Her palm against his cheek, she guided his attention her way. And the second he was looking away from the movie, she kissed him slowly.
There was no thinking in that moment for her. She'd seen what she wanted and gone for it. It was as simple as that. For her, all that mattered in those few seconds was the feel of him against her.
And now that she had what she wanted, now that she found herself kissing him, she couldn't help but notice how surprised he was. As her lips moved against his, she could feel how tense he was. He was unsure, she thought, and perhaps with good reason.
The second she felt his hesitation… she discovered her own.
Instantly, it felt wrong.
However much she might have wanted him seconds ago, it just seemed like the worst idea now. It seemed even dumber now on the other side of the kiss than she'd thought before. Apparently, that was possible: she could actually feel worse about wanting him.
Inwardly she groaned. She was such a moron.
Immediately Cuddy wanted to get out of there.
Pushing House away, she only wanted to leave at that moment. Since erasing the last minute of her life was impossible, she just needed to get away. And uttering a hasty apology in his general direction, she went and did just that.
Unfortunately he wasn't willing to let her go this time. She didn't dare glance back, but she could hear him following her out into the hallway.
She didn't listen to him, didn't stop to turn around to talk to him. That would just make things worse – if that were possible. So she kept walking.
Only he refused to take the hint; he just kept following her.
As she shoved the door to the theatre open, she told him, "House, go home."
But he didn't, and she knew that he wouldn't leave her alone until she did talk to him.
"Fine," she said spinning around on the sidewalk. If he wanted to talk, they could do it right here. The air had considerably cooled off, as it always did in the middle of summer, and frankly, the street wasn't exactly deserted; other people would hear their conversation.
At least under these circumstances though, their discussion would be quick, simple, and thankfully, more than likely, result in no kissing. "You want to talk? Go right ahead. Tell me what's on your mind."
House looked at her carefully before throwing her words back in her face. "Why don't you tell me?" he suggested pointedly.
"I have nothing to say."
"Really," he said doubtfully. "Cause you keep kissing me, so –"
"You don't have to worry about that happening again." A little voice in her head said that maybe he did, but she refused to listen to that part of her.
He didn't believe her anyway. "Right. You're not going to make a habit –"
"I kissed you twice. Let's not act like –"
"Actually. I don't think the last time counts as kissing," he interrupted peevishly. "When my fingers –"
"It was a mistake," Cuddy said, not giving him a chance to finish that thought.
"And my point is you seem to be making that mistake with increasing frequency." He cocked his head to the side. "In fact… given your behavior, some would say –"
"I don't want you." But even to her own ears, her flat words sounded completely hollow. So it came as no surprise that House looked completely unconvinced.
Taking a step closer to her, he told her in a calm voice, "I don't believe you."
She grimaced. Her arms folding across her chest, she asked, "Why would I want you?"
She'd meant it as a rhetorical question, but he offered her an answer. "You love me."
"I don't." Realizing it still didn't sound all that convincing though, she repeated herself. "I don't."
He shook his head slowly. "You do."
"After you left me in that hospital room alone?"
Cuddy could hear how hurt she sounded. And to be honest, it was surprising. Over the past several months, she'd thought less about the event that had precipitated their break up and focused more on the fact that they had broken up. Her time in the hospital had faded into the background, more or less forgotten in the face other events. But recalling those days now, she felt as though she were right back in that situation all over again.
"Why would I want to be with someone who couldn't even be there –"
"I was there," he insisted. When she scoffed, he added, "Maybe not in every way you needed."
He ignored the comment. "I screwed up," he admitted with earnest. "But I was terrified."
"And I wasn't?" she snapped back.
"I'm not saying that," he said calmly.
She shook her head. "That's exactly –"
"No." He was vehement about this. "I understand that you were scared and you needed me and I was an idiot. I get that." He stopped speaking for a moment. As though he were hoping she'd disagree with him on that point, he waited for her to contradict him.
But if he were hoping she'd say that he hadn't been an idiot, he would be waiting for a long time.
Eventually catching on, House pressed the matter further. "I screwed up. Obviously."
"Yes. Obviously." She'd willingly agree with him there.
"I'm sorry," he said honestly. But perhaps sensing that she didn't believe him, he repeated, "Cuddy. I'm sorry. But… if this is about not being sympathetic enough –"
"Screw you," she hissed. Having seen where he was already headed, she didn't need him to finish the thought.
She didn't want him to.
Had he done that, had he somehow made the conversation about how she wasn't sympathetic enough to his needs, Cuddy would have been tempted to hit him.
"Ten times out of ten, I would traded places with you in that situation," he said, continuing even if she didn't want him to. "I would have rather been the dying one than be the one who had to watch you die."
Her response was a dry "I'll keep that in mind in case we're ever both staring down the barrel of a gun."
He sneered but ignored the quip. "I thought of your pain, what you were going through. You can't tell me you did the same –"
"It wasn't about you!" Cuddy snarled, her nails digging into her forearms. "Stop acting like I was the one who messed everything up."
"I'm not," he said simply. "We both screwed –"
"I didn't do anything wrong. I –"
"Well, obviously part of you doesn't agree." Cutting across her words so fast, he surprised her in that he even had an idea of what she was trying to say. "If you truly had no regrets, you wouldn't kiss me. You wouldn't keep kissing me."
Once more she shook her head. "I don't regret anything I –"
"Then why do you keep –"
"Because part of me still loves you, you dumb ass."
She'd practically hurled the words at him. Viciousness in her tones, she'd nearly shouted.
But that didn't matter.
What she'd said mattered.
House certainly didn't care about how she'd uttered the words; he was clearly just going to pay attention to the words themselves.
And knowing that, Cuddy sighed. She'd said it. She'd told him what she guessed had to be the truth. So now he would naturally behave like a dog with a bone and refuse to let her leave with any dignity intact.
Sensing the conversation they were about to have, she looked around. Not for an escape, but for some place to sit, she thought, because this discussion between them was surely going to be taxing.
Luckily for her, there was a bench ten feet or so away.
With House hot on her heels, she went straight for it and sat down.
"You love me," he repeated once they'd taken a seat.
She glared at him. "I said part of me."
"Oh. Okay." Obviously he didn't think that made much of a difference.
In the end, she guessed it didn't. "It doesn't matter what I feel." She gestured towards him with one of her hands. "You are you. You don't change. And a relationship with you now… would just be asking for the same problems."
When she saw he was ready to disagree, she told him, "Don't. Don't try to deny it. You know nothing would change."
"You don't know that." His voice was quiet, imploring. Though she'd expected him to angrily fight back, he was far more… introverted about the matter.
"I do." She reached for one of his hands. "House, if we were together, it would just end badly. Again."
"No." He shook his head.
Feeling as though the conversation was over, she looked around once more. She was ready to call it a night and leave.
But House had other ideas.
Moving closer to her, he said, "It doesn't have to be that way."
Cuddy wasn't sure there would have ever been a point where she would have believed that. But at this point? It seemed like wishful thinking. To simply hope that they could magically be different, it seemed foolish.
"Tell me how that's possible. Tell me how we make it work."
She wasn't really expecting an answer. She just wanted to throw the logistics of it all back in his face. He didn't get that though.
"You want a game plan?"
"If you've got one."
He shrugged. "I don't."
"Exactly." She shifted on the wooden bus bench. "We may want this, but that doesn't matter."
"You think?" His features twisted in confusion. "You don't think the fact that we want to be with each other is more important."
It took her a moment to respond. When he put it like that, part of her wanted nothing more than to give their relationship another shot.
But again, rationally she knew that they needed more than feelings for one another. Which was what she said. "I think that any relationship we have is going to be… complicated and not always a lot of fun and –"
"Yeah," he agreed. "It's us. It's pretty much a guarantee we're going to bungle the whole thing multiple times a week." Cuddy was about to say that that was hardly a selling point, but he kept talking before she had a chance. "It's also guaranteed that when we're good, it's better than…." He paused, as he clearly tried to think of what he wanted to say. "Everything else," he settled for.
That part was undeniable. As much as she would have liked to, she knew: House had made her happier than anyone else she'd ever been with.
"We know how bad it can be," he explained. "So we avoid that as best we can."
"I don't think conflict avoidance is our strong suit."
"Then when we inevitably fight, we remember how good it can be."
She blinked. "That's it? That's how we make this work."
He nodded his head. "Yeah."
Cuddy remained unconvinced. "And we just hope, what, that love conquers all?"
They both cringed at the very idea.
"We don't have to put it like that," House told her hastily. "My testicles would prefer you not put it like that."
"But that's the idea."
She didn't say anything right away.
She didn't know what to say.
Part of her wanted to tell him how stupid that was. They couldn't just magically solve all of their problems. And as much as she loved him, she wasn't sure that love would absolve all of their sins.
Yet, there was another part of her that wanted to believe her.
It was that part that, in spite of herself, finally managed to say yes when he begged for another chance.
She didn't regret her choice.
Most days it was still a fight to get him to help out. She still had to ask him to take out the garbage. She still had to nudge him to wash his own dishes (instead of leaving them in the sink for her or the housekeeper). And frankly it remained a rare occasion that he took the initiative to do any housework on his own.
Really, if he seemed eager to do anything for her at all, it was the simple task of zipping her up or making sure you couldn't see the back of her bra over the edge of her dress. And even then, he wasn't perfect. "You sure you want me to zip this up?" he asked lasciviously with increasing frequency.
But House was getting better.
Or maybe she was.
Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was doing more or if she had simply given up on trying to force him to be exactly what she wanted.
All that she really knew for sure was that it seemed stupid to fight over little things.
Had there even been a time when she'd gotten furious over toothbrushes and toilet seats?
Obviously Cuddy knew there had been. But now that she had him back in her life, now that she knew their problems could be so much worse, it seemed foreign to her to be upset over petty things.
Which wasn't to say she never was. When he'd clipped his toenails in bed, she had responded… strongly. She maintained, however, that that was a perfectly natural response to finding toenail clippings on her pillow.
But overall, they'd become better at compromising. And by that, she meant that they had discovered what it was.
That sounded stupid, and maybe it really was. But before every nuisance had seemed worthy of battle. Maybe he hadn't been the only feral one in the relationship, because back then, it had seemed important to talk to him about every annoyance she had.
Once more, the idea of doing so seemed bizarre to her. But she supposed she'd taken his carelessness for selfishness.
And that wasn't what he'd intended.
She could see that now.
Just as he could now see when something mattered to her.
Oh, he didn't always give her what she wanted. But at least now, most of the time she felt like he was at least listening to her.
And after a while, that change no longer surprised her. If anything, it had been as House had said: they knew how bad they could make their relationship become, and they were determined not to go there again.
She supposed a huge fight wasn't avoidable; at some point, they would fight.
But for now, things were okay.
Rachel was terrified of the toilet. Thanks to House, her one time trip into the bowl had scared her from ever wanting to use it again.
Cuddy had tried everything she could to essentially retrain her daughter to use the bathroom. But it was to no avail. No amount of treats, toys, praise, or promises that nothing bad would happen could seemingly erase the incident in her young mind.
Unfortunately, Rachel was at that age where it was pretty much expected if not required that she be out of diapers. She couldn't go to preschool if she needed to be changed every time she needed to go to the bathroom, after all. But even without that particular pressure, at some point, she would have to get over it. She couldn't be changing her own diaper in high school.
No matter what Cuddy tried though, it didn't seem to work. And the future she didn't want for her daughter seemed almost an inevitability at this point.
Frustrated by that fact, she'd brought it up to House in passing. Not for a second had she thought he would try to correct the problem. But she'd been wrong about that.
At least, she could only assume he was trying to help when she walked in on him and Rachel in the bathroom with her giant stuffed duck sitting on the toilet. He must have been trying to assist.
Even if none of his help made any sense.
The duck was on the toilet. Its light pink bow was rumpled, the ribbon hiding what Cuddy thought was some sort of IV bag; she couldn't really tell, but the tubing dangling along the duck's back made her think it must have been an IV.
But how any of this was supposed to make Rachel want to use the bathroom… Cuddy didn't know.
"See?" House asked Rachel. "You sit down. You pee." At that, he reached behind the duck and opened the IV line, so that liquid dropped into the toilet. "You wipe." He jammed a wad of toilet paper between the orange webbed feet of the bird. "And you're done."
He plopped the stuffed animal on to the ground. "All right? There's nothing to be scared of."
But Rachel didn't look reassured. If anything, she looked more confused and dismayed than ever. And spotting her mother out of the corner of her eye, she shook her head at House and quickly ran for Cuddy.
As Rachel buried her face in her mother's legs, House said with a shrug, "At least I tried, right?"
Cuddy, almost as disturbed as Rachel, simply nodded her head. "Yeah. At least you tried."
He was too smart to miss her sarcasm.
Cuddy woke up to the sound of him rustling in the bathroom. Normally this wouldn't have bothered her. But as it was three in the morning and he did this for at least ten minutes, she was too curious to go back to sleep.
Shuffling into the bathroom, she hoped what she was seeing was a nightmare. Because seated on the tile, with a box of tampons in his hand, was House.
Her hands scrubbed over her face, and she blinked a few times. But no, he was still there. "What are you doing?" she croaked.
"Can't sleep," he said dismissively. As he read the information on the box, he asked, "You don't actually measure the blood to determine which size you need, right?"
She rolled her eyes and forced herself not to question his abilities as a doctor. "No. Now, come to bed."
But he didn't move. Instead he asked, "Why do you think you can't get a refund if you live in Maine? That seems unfair."
Finally, he looked over at her.
"Come to bed."
He shook his head. "Can't."
"Of course you can," she said softly.
But as she said those words, he reached down and massaged his thigh. Instantly she understood what his problem was.
"Come on," she repeated. "You'll feel better once you get some sleep."
"Sleep would be nice," he said bitterly. "But the whole chunk of muscle missing… and the nerve damage make it a little hard to count sheep."
House was angry, furious in the way that only the pain made him. He was beyond reasoning, beyond coaxing. He would have reached for the Vicodin long before now in the past, and without the drugs in the present, he was left to essentially force himself to grit his teeth and wait it out. And his apparent strategy for doing that was to find a distraction in anything near by, in this case, the bathroom.
Honestly, given his disposition, Cuddy understood full well that she couldn't push him. He was already on edge, already poised to lash out at her at any moment. So she would need to be careful, considerate of what he was going through.
"Fine," she whispered.
"You should go back to bed."
She nodded her head. As much as she would have liked to stay up with him, help him get through it, she knew he wouldn't let her. This was his way of telling her to go away. And she planned on respecting that.
Nevertheless, she would try to help him in her own way. As she leaned down to kiss his sweaty temple, she murmured, "I left my laptop on the dining room table."
His eyes went wide. "You're letting me read your diary?"
She smirked and stood up.
Walking back to bed, she called over her shoulder, "If you can figure out my password, sure."
She would consider it a late birthday present.
Cuddy peeled herself off of the car seat. Even though she'd had her air conditioning running, the Indian summer would not be beat. But as she stepped out of her car, that was really one of the last things on her mind.
In fact, all she could focus on was the fact that Marina's car wasn't in the street. House's bike was, but her car was nowhere to be seen. And sure, Cuddy had taken off of work earlier than normal (she'd wanted to spend one of the last few warm days with her daughter), but at five o'clock, Marina should have been here with Rachel.
Still… maybe they were just a little late coming home from the park or something along those lines. That would only make sense, Cuddy thought. It certainly didn't make sense, she told herself, to believe something bad had happened. And frankly if she were so quick to believe something was wrong, then perhaps the heat was making her irrational.
Yet if that were true, if Marina and Rachel were out still, why hadn't Cuddy gotten a call? Why was there no note in the house?
The answer came almost immediately.
Cuddy was scanning the kitchen counters for some sort of explanation when she heard her. It was Rachel's muffled giggle.
Following the source of the noise, Cuddy glanced out the window.
And she was shocked by what she saw. Actually shocked.
House was standing at the far end of the yard with Rachel by his side. They were looking off in the distance, though what at Cuddy didn't know. In each of their hands was a bright red Popsicle, which stood out against the yellowing the landscape and stained Rachel's lips, fingers, and cheeks.
From even this distance, Cuddy could see her daughter was babbling on about something. And House was probably barely listening to her, but he at least seemed to humor her, much to Cuddy's delight.
But then he did something Cuddy had never thought would happen. The two were just standing there, discussing whatever it was that a child and man-child had in common. And then he reached over for her.
He didn't hug her or stroke her hair. The motion wasn't that blatant, that treacly. If anything, it was awkward and hesitant. But his fingers lightly caressed the brown curls clinging to Rachel's neck.
And as soon as it had happened, it was over. His hand fell back to his side. The moment short and sweet, Cuddy smiled to herself.
All of this time, she had known they were not a perfect family. She would have liked to claim otherwise, especially given how difficult their first attempt at a relationship had gone. But the truth was: they were not perfect.
Nowhere near it.
There were times when House railed against being domesticated, as she liked to think of it. There were moments when Cuddy pushed him away out of fear and anger and instances where trying to find a way to integrate Rachel into their occasionally volatile relationship seemed impossible.
But they were not, Cuddy realized, completely incompetent.
Throwing the kitchen door open, she headed out to join them.