For about the twentieth time since she'd started running, Rachel cursed herself for having run off without shoes on. The twigs and gravel speared her feet as she sprinted over them, causing her to wince every few seconds. She was already away from the main farmhouse and surrounding area when she slowed to a jog and curled behind a tree, pulling out the letter she'd grabbed off the table.
Patrick had told her recently that, although he stayed at the farmhouse most days, he technically didn't live there. He had a cabin a few miles away that was his legal residence. She grabbed the letter as she'd run off, hoping - correctly - that his real address would be on it. She had to hold the letter really close to her eyes so she could see. The sun has set; she hadn't realised how dark it was until she'd tried to read.
Her breathing rate had slowed, and now she finally stopped and thought about what she'd just done. She was now in the pitch black, in the middle of an unknown wood, searching for a house and man who didn't know she coming and therefore might not be there.
Something behind her moved and she whipped round in fear. She started to panic. She kept her eyes darting from point to point, but realistically there was dark everywhere. She took off at a sudden run, the letter clasped tightly in her hand and her eyes focused only in front of her.
"Have you found her?" Cuddy shouted from upstairs.
"No," Buck shouted back, all the way from the wine cellar. "Lisa, I don't think she's in the house."
Cuddy barrelled down the stairs and almost head butted House's chest. "We can't find her," she muttered, her breathing shallow. "She's run off in an area she doesn't know in the middle of the night." Her eyes widened and then filled with tears. "This is my fault," she whispered.
House wrapped an arm around her and kissed the top of her head. "She's a teenager. She's supposed to be crazy. You didn't cause this."
"I pushed her," Cuddy commiserated. "I should have known that she'd do something like this."
"She'll be fine," House tried, in vain, to convince her. "She'll be crouched under a tree a mile away, biding her time long enough to scare you for pissing her off."
Cuddy closed her eyes and pressed her forehead into his chest. "I hope so." She let out a shaky breath. "I was selfish in bringing her here. I did this totally for me. It's no wonder that she's pushing back."
"I know guilt is pretty much your go-to response," he drawled, "but you don't have to beat yourself up over every decision that you make. You don't only exist as a mother; you're allowed to make choices for you too."
She shook her head, exasperated. "I'm a mother first."
House didn't respond. He wasn't a father, nor did have anything inside him that could be, even tenuously, identified as paternal feelings. He didn't understand how she was feeling, so he chose to just say nothing rather than aggravate her (which would probably end up happening).
"Buck and Archer have gone to get the truck," he said instead. "They're going to patrol the streets looking for her."
"They won't find her if she's in the woods," Cuddy replied, chewing on her thumbnail.
"You don't know these two," House alternated. "I'd put my money on them."
Cuddy nodded and let out a long breath, closing her eyes and trying to still her rapidly beating heart. "Okay," she accepted. "Fine." She pulled herself out of his embrace and started across the room. "I'm going with them."
Buck came through from the kitchen to grab his jacket just as she revealed her plans. "Lisa, I don't think that that's a good idea," he said diplomatically. "Mothers tend not to be a help when searching for lost daughters."
"You can't stop me from coming," Cuddy told him, jutting out her chin defiantly.
Buck sighed. "No. I can't. But I can advise against it." He slipped on his jacket and moved toward her, placing a kind hand on her shoulder. "Stay here. If she comes back then you'll be here to get her, and we can reach you easily if anything happens."
"You could reach me better if I was in the car with you," she muttered.
Buck took her hand. "We'll find her for you. She can't have gone far, not on two feet."
Cuddy nodded infinitesimally. Buck turned around to meet Archer in the truck, leaving House and Cuddy alone. Before he could even leave the room though, Archer came in with a perplexed expression. "Lisa, there's someone here for you. Says he knows you. Well, more than just knows you. He says he's your fiancé."
Cuddy whipped round. "What?"
"That's what he said," Archer reiterated. "Look, I told him to wait outside for a minute. I'm going to go with Buck now. Let him in if you want... And if you don't, leave him out there and we'll deal with him when we get back." With Cuddy's infinitesimal nod he left so that it was just her and House in the kitchen once more.
House stepped forward, moving closer to Cuddy. "I thought you told him it was done?" He asked, his jaw setting into a hard line.
"I did," Cuddy responded immediately. Then she paused. "Well, I... left the ring and told him not to follow me. But that's clear enough, right?"
House rubbed his forehead with his thumb. "I guess you could have been a little more explicit..." As her expression changed to one of hurt, he hastily continued, "but he shouldn't have followed you." He blew out a breath. "Do you want to deal with this or shall I?"
"No," Cuddy jumped up. "No way are you talking to him."
"Who said anything about talking?" House answered. "My fists can do their thing without my lips ever parting."
"You are not turning this into a fight," she warned, though the pitch of her words was rising. "Rachel's missing, House. And I need to focus on finding her, not on the pair of you arguing or worse."
"Are you going to talk to him, then?" House said, his voice taking on an almost confrontational edge.
She sank onto a kitchen chair. "In a minute," she said quietly.
House laughed incredulously. "What's the matter with you?" He asked her, aggressively.
She looked up, wide-eyed and confused. "What? What's wrong with me?"
"You can't run away anymore!" House appeared livid. "He's here. You can't ignore him anymore. Go and tell him - in a way that I know you know how to pull off - how little you want to be with him or even see him. No doubt that he thinks that he can get you back and that you're just freaked by what happened, because domestic abuse doesn't have to be a big deal, or he can change, or whatever lame excuse he'll give and you need to tell him to back the fuck off. That it's over between you two."
She put her head in her hands. He sighed. "Are you scared?" He asked tentatively.
Cuddy head snapped up. "No," she replied, with such indignation that House could only assume she was lying.
He pulled the adjacent chair out roughly and sat beside her, taking her hand and rolling her smooth fingers between his own. "It's okay," he said awkwardly, his best attempt at consolation.
"I'm not scared that he'll hit me or anything." She spoke softly, face obscured by the evening shadows in the kitchen. "I'm just... scared to pop the bubble we've been living in for the last few weeks." She turned to face him and pressed a soft kiss to his cheek. "You've been so good to me," she whispered. "I don't want anything to change."
"It doesn't have to," he murmured back, equally quietly. "Just tell him to go and be done with it."
The silence prickled in the darkening room. "I don't want to leave you," she said softly, right into his ear. A tingle ran down his spine.
"Who says you have to?"
"Lucas. Rachel. The world that keeps on turning despite my insistence that it's ground to halt for the past few weeks," she responded mindlessly.
"Lucas has no say over us. Rachel is still under your rule, and besides, she loves it here. And Cuddy..." He used one strong arm to pull her closer to him. "Screw the world. Pretend it's stopped. Life's too short."
"But - "
"No ifs, no buts," he interjected with finality. He cupped her cheeks with his hands. "If you want to be with me, we'll make it happen. I'm not saying how or where - but I'm saying I'll do it. This is one person telling another person that they'll stick with them from now on. Read into that what you will."
"So this is it, from now on," she checked.
"This is it."
She smiled. "You'll never know how happy I am that things worked out like this."
He smirked. "Ditto."
The moment was broken by the doorbell ringing, the audible sign of Lucas' frustration. As she got up to answer it, House called after her. "I'm with you on this. You kick his ass."
Cuddy nodded to herself from the hallway, took a deep breath, and opened the front door.
At the sound of a frenetic knock on the door, Patrick hauled himself up from his spot in front of the TV and went to answer it. His surprise was clear as he saw Rachel on the other side. "Rach...?"
"I know I shouldn't be here," she said immediately, pushing past him into the cabin and dropping her back onto the floor. "I know that this was a stupid idea and that I should probably just go home... But I didn't want to be there, with them. I wanted to be here with you." She shrugged and put on a hopeful smile. "So... here I am."
Patrick was just staring at her. "You do realise that House told me to back off, right? I told him there was nothing - and from now on, I intend there to be nothing. He was right. You're too young. And - "
"Don't let them bully you into this!" She shouted. "House and Mom are like ten years apart, but no one's telling them to leave each other alone."
"It shouldn't be! Age is just a number. It doesn't mean anything..." She was getting shrill, clearly desperate for him to share her perspective.
He gave her a soft smile. "Why are you so determined for this to work out?" He asked gently. "You are young, and I say that to make you realise that you don't need this right now. There'll be plenty of guys - of all ages - who you'll date and kiss and whatever else. It doesn't have to be me - and given the stress that all of this is causing, I can't understand why you want it to be me so badly."
She pressed her lips together and huffed. "I just do," she muttered, a little petulantly.
"It's not a competition," he continued and at that she interrupted him.
"I know, I know, 'losing your virginity is not a race' blah blah. I've taken a health class - "
"I mean between you and your mom," he finished, leaving her stunned and speechless.
"That is the grossest thought ever," she finally said. "I'm not competing with my mother. We're not... like, discussing... why would you even say that?" She garbled, sounding a little distressed.
"You're only freaking out at that because you see that it makes sense," he said. "It's not bad, Rach. It's not a creepy, lifetime-movie-worthy story where the mom and daughter fight for the same guy or anything. It's just that she's come here and is all loved up in a way you've never seen her before, and you're jealous - which is fine - but you want some of that for yourself. So you're determined to be with me."
"If that were true - which it is not - is it really so bad?" She asked tentatively. "Does it matter why I want to be with you?"
He shrugged. "I guess not."
She looked so miserable in that moment that Patrick wanted to take back everything he'd said and kiss her. She rose and her gaze and meet his eyes. "Can I stay here tonight?" She asked, in a small voice.
"Of course you can," he replied softly, the corner of lip quirking up in a smile. "I'll get you a blanket for the couch."
Cuddy pulled open the door and found herself face to face with Lucas. The awkward stare continued for a fair few moments, until she finally spoke. "Hi."
Lucas smiled at that, and stepped forward to hug her. She stepped back. "Why are you here?" She asked whilst folding her arms over her chest.
"To take you home?" He replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Her eyes softened. He was so... open. "I'm not coming home," she told him, gently but firmly. "At least, not with you."
"Lisa I'm sorry," he said with enough sincerity that Cuddy believed him. "I was angry and impulsive but I've never regretted anything more in my life. I love you. We're meant to be together."
"Oh God no we're not," she sighed. "Lucas... I don't love you. And I'm sorry about that. But we're not meant to be. We're a terrible couple! And it's not about what you did - I just want to be here with... him, and not in Princeton with you. I'm sorry. But there really is nothing you can say to change my mind."
"Have you slept with him?" Lucas asked.
"That's really no concern of yours," she replied tightly.
"Did you everlove me?" He asked.
"Yeah," she told him, but her heart wasn't in it. He raised a skeptical eyebrow. "I did love you," she reiterated, a little more emphatically. "Just... never in the same way that I love him. I'm sorry. I'm sorry you came all this way just for me to send you home."
He scrubbed his face with his hands. "Lisa... You don't belong here. You're talking crazy. I understand that you can get a little bored so you thought you'd take a little trip to spice things up - but this isn't your home. You have to come home with me."
"I don't have to do anything," she answered, with a hard edge to her voice. "You hit me and that made me realise that I was miserable with you, miserable at work and generally disenfranchised from my life. So yeah, I left to 'spice things up'. It's my life - and I don't want you in it. Leave."
"We've between together for years. We're supposed to be getting married. You can't just tell me to leave and never come back."
"I can and I have," she stated matter-of-factly.
The silence hung in the air. Lucas was waiting for her to say something that would indicate that everything she'd just said was a lie and Cuddy was waiting for Lucas to say something that indicated that he'd accepted what she'd had said and was going to leave. Neither spoke.
They were still standing there a few moments laters when Archer and Buck pulled up in the truck. Cuddy's attention was immediately focused on them. "Did you find her?" She shouted. Before they could answer she'd pushed past Lucas and ran down to the truck.
"Not yet," Archer said carefully. Cuddy exhaled roughly, her distress evident. "We're still looking, we just wanted to quickly check that she wasn't back here before drove a little further away."
"What's going on?"
Cuddy jumped at Lucas' voice from behind her. "Uh, nothing," she said, flustered.
"Found who? Rachel?" The concern was clear in his voice.
Cuddy sighed. "She ran off a few hours ago."
"Well, you know, I am known for my finding skills..." Lucas drawled.
"Thanks but we've got it," Buck said shortly, recognising Cuddy's desire for him to not be involved.
He looked at the three of them. "I only want to help. I love the girl. I watched her grow up."
"You don't love her," Cuddy responded immediately.
"Why is that so hard for you to believe?" He asked incredulously.
"You're not her father," she said, by way of explanation.
"I'm the closest thing."
"She doesn't even like you!"
"Hey," Archer intervened. "If you two want to argue then that's fine but if you want us to find her then you need to shut up and cooperate."
Lucas nodded. "I want to help."
"Lisa? Have a problem with that?" Buck asked, raising an eyebrow at that.
"Does it matter? I want her found - if he wants to help, so be it," she acquiesced. After a communal nod was exchanged, Lucas made a move to climb into the backseat of the truck.
"Oh God what now?" Archer groaned as House made his way down the driveway as quickly as he could. "House! What do you want?"
"If he's going then I'm going," House answered, getting in the other side.
As he sat, Lucas turned to him. "House," he nodded.
"Woman beater," House nodded back.
"Oh God," Cuddy said, scrubbing her face. "If you're both going then I'm coming too."
"Then no one's here if she comes back," Buck pointed out.
"Who's volunteering to stay?" Cuddy asked in response.
"Alright then," she clapped. "Let's go."
Archer started the engine and pulled out into the road. "Are you guys just planning to... drive around?" Lucas said after a minute, clearly unimpressed with their teenager recovery skills or action plan.
House rolled his eyes and spoke before Lucas could provide his private detective expertise. "Has anyone called Patrick?" He felt Cuddy stiffen beside him. "You know she's probably gone straight to him."
"He didn't pick up," Buck answered.
"Why would he be busy?" Cuddy asked nervously.
"How far is it?" House asked.
"A good forty five minutes. She'd have made it already if she was running."
Archer picked up the pace as they sped along the dark road toward Patrick's. House took Cuddy's hand. "She'll be there. You know she will. She ran off to prove you wrong, not just to hide." She squeezed back and mouthed 'thank you' back to him.
The five of them settled into silence, trying to avoid letting the palpable awkwardness become to great to ignore.
Patrick was drinking a beer on the porch when Rachel padded out through the front door. "Couldn't sleep," she muttered, sitting down beside him. He sipped his beer and didn't say anything. She took a deep breath and moved closer to him. "Even though we shouldn't... It doesn't mean you don't still want to..." She whispered into his ear.
"You don't have to fight it," she said slowly, kissing his jaw.
Patrick didn't know if the two beers he'd had were affecting his judgement a little - but she seemed to be making a good point. Throwing the beer aside he turned and kissed her back. The voice in his head that was telling him how wrong this was was slowly getting quieter as the kiss deepened.
She made a move to pull him inside. He knew what would happen if they went back in. "Rach - "
"Please," she said, looking into his eyes. "I don't want to be a kid anymore."
He paused for a moment and then pressed a kiss to her lips. "Okay," he whispered and that was all the pair needed to stumble inside together.
Rachel had her head lain on Patrick's chest with his hand stroking her arm. She was smiling lazily, the two curled up under the sheets. "That..." She muttered, kissing his chest. "That was amazing."
He smirked. "I'm glad that you agree," he replied.
The two looked at each other, smiling conspiratorially, guarding their secret. "No has to find out," she said. "This can stay between us."
"I know," Patrick said. "This is just for us."
Then there was a knock at the door.