We're coming to the end of the story, I'm sorry to say. Here's the penultimate chapter.
I can't believe there are over 150 reviews! Thank you everyone for your support and encouragement. They really mean a lot to me - this is after all, my first fanfic.
Hope you enjoy this chapter.
The phone rang in the middle of House's soap. He ignored it.
"Hows? You there?" Rachel's tentative voice came drifting over the machine.
House immediately muted the television and reached for the phone. I really am losing my touch.
"Hi Hows!" Rachel squealed.
"I at hospital. Marina sick so I with Uncle Jimmy in hospital."
"I see. So why are you c-calling me? Tell Wilson to stop fussing like a girl."
Rachel glanced up at Wilson, who sat next to her on the couch. He nodded and gestured for her to go on.
"I bored Hows. Uncle Jimmy boring."
"Yeah he is. But he's funny when you annoy him. Go annoy him."
"No! Boring. Can you go park with me? Pretty please?"
House hesitated. The last time they had tried to go to the park they had ended up in a car wreck. And he had barely gone anywhere out of the house since the accident.
"Hows?" Rachel's voice interrupted House's thoughts.
"Yeah. Put Wilson on the phone."
"Yeah House?" Wilson's voice sounded too innocent.
"Is this some ploy of yours? It b-better not be."
"Does it matter? And no, it isn't. Rachel has been a ball of energy the whole day. I knew I shouldn't have bought her the ice-cream." It was true, Wilson couldn't say no to the adorable girl, even when he knew he would regret the decision. But he crossed his fingers anyway. "Marina usually brings her to the park around this time. And I really need to get these budget reports done. Right, Rachel?"
"Please please please Hows!" chimed Rachel in the background. House could almost visualize her bouncing up and down on the couch in Wilson's office, her chin jutting up as it always did when she pleaded for something.
House sighed and ran a hand over his face. "I'm not going to take a cab."
Rachel sat on the swing, legs dangling as House pushed her from time to time. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves around them. Around them, children ran around in the park, chasing one another, feeding pigeons and filling the afternoon air with their laughter. Joggers with ears plugged into music pounded the path and worked up a sweat. House watched them silently, lost in his thoughts.
"Why you staring?"
"What it's like to walk and run."
A silence lapsed as the girl and the man both looked intently at those around them.
"Why you no at hospital anymore?"
House paused before answering, "I'm not feeling well."
"You hurt?" Rachel slid off her swing and walked in front of him, placing her hands onto his lap as she earnestly looked up at him.
"No... But I –"
"Then you should go back to hospital. Mommy say you, Uncle Jimmy and her all save lives."
"Well technically your mom spends more time talking to donors and doing paperwork." House muttered. He cleared his throat. "Did Wilson make you ask me?"
Wilson didn't. He had merely wanted House to get out of the house, and spend more time with Rachel. It was observant little Rachel who had noticed that she could no longer run to House's office to look for him, as she didn't know the man Mommy called Dr Foreman in House's office.
House sighed. "Never mind."
Rachel flashed a grin at House, and ran off to the slide. House groaned. She really had too much energy. He wheeled himself closer to the playground, and watched as Rachel instantly made friends with the other kids there, scampering up and down. He kept a distance, preferring not to mix with the gaggle of mothers and nannies hanging around the playground watching their own children.
As he watched Rachel, House found himself contemplating an answer to her question. What would it be like for him to go back to work? Truth be told, he was starting to miss his puzzles and cases. And even working with – or brow-beating – his team. Taking consults over the phone had just reminded him of what he was missing.
But House was not oblivious to the fact that he had stepped on many toes in the hospital over the years. He used to not care. He could tower over them, berate them and fire at them his cutting insults and wit as he waved his cane threateningly. Or he could simply limp away. But now, those weapons he used to wield to keep everyone at bay, to avoid their pity, and to survive in the hospital, were all gone.
House did not know what to expect from his co-workers if he were to return to PPTH. And what would his patients think of him, their doctor, being in a wheelchair? Already he had to face patients who were stunned that their doctor had a disability (and didn't wear a labcoat).
Imagine having a doctor in a wheelchair. He was more likely to be mistaken as a patient of the hospital. He grimaced at the thought.
His thoughts were interrupted as Rachel waved at him from the top of the platform. She was four feet above ground, but the small girl felt like she was on top of the world.
"Look at me Hows!"
House felt a smile tug at his lips, and nodded his head at her. No way he was going to wave like some enthusiastic mother.
House caught sight of a boy racing along the platform linking the slide and monkey bars, trying to escape from his friends as they played catch.
Before House could shout a warning, the boy unwittingly bumped into the still-waving girl, who stumbled forward and onto thin air. Unable to find anything to hold onto, Rachel fell from the platform and onto the ground. She was still for a moment, winded from the shock of the fall, but almost immediately, began crying.
"God dammit!" House immediately began to propel himself towards Rachel as fast as possible.
Suddenly, the wheelchair jerked to a halt, and House found himself unable to move forward no matter how hard he pushed.
He looked down.
A short curb, separating the playground from the brick pavement, was the small yet insurmountable wall between him and Rachel. He bumped the wheelchair against it several times, but the wheels refused to go up and over.
"Rachel? Are you okay?" House yelled. There was no reply, only the sound of furious sobbing, and House could see the little girl rubbing her eyes furiously as she wailed.
House cursed his disability and his inability to help her as he jerked the wheelchair forward as hard as he could again and again. He cursed the drunk driver. He cursed himself for being so goddamn useless.
Out of the blue, a figure rushed past him. Cuddy. She scooped Rachel up into her arms, soothing the hysterical child with her quiet words of comfort.
House watched as Cuddy checked Rachel once over. He watched as Rachel stopped crying, and began to look around for him. He could see her mouth his name and seek his comfort.
The shame and helplessness he felt overwhelmed him like a tidal wave crashing down as he realized that he couldn't, and didn't, do anything for Rachel. A small curb, barely a few inches high, had prevented him from getting to her, when she could have been seriously hurt.
How many more times would things like these happen, and he would find himself powerless to help her, or Cuddy?
House began to propel himself away as fast as was possible. He pushed and pushed himself along, not knowing where he was going, ignoring the ache that started to burn in his arms. He needed the physical exertion; he needed to escape from them, get rid of the burning feelings of shame and disgust at himself.
She finally found him half an hour later, a solitary figure parked right by the lake.
She sat down next to him at the park bench, and joined him in looking out at the tranquil lake. Rachel dozed in her lap. Cuddy absentmindedly stroked her hair, waiting for House to talk.
"Is she alright?" His voice was flat.
Cuddy turned to look at him, but he stared ahead at the lake, gaze unwavering. She could see the storm in his eyes, the emotions rolling and thundering in him. He felt like a small ship trapped in a storm, having lost all sense of control after what mattered so much to him had been taken away. He was a drowning man, so desperate to fight against the current, to not get swept away.
"A little stunned, but she's okay," she hesitated, "Are you?"
He didn't answer, only nodding once. He was so tense; she could see the muscles in his jaw twitch slightly.
Her gaze fell to his hands, which had several nasty looking abrasions.
"House! Your hands! That's not okay."
Ignoring him, Cuddy searched her bag for the small bottle of water she always carried around. She gently reached over and took his hands.
"I'm fine." He tried to jerk his hand away but she held on tight to it.
"Just rinse it."
He turned to look at her, and saw the obstinate jut of her chin and the determined look in her eyes. He knew that look – there was really no way of escaping her when she had that face on. He exhaled, and relented.
He watched as she tended to his hand, pouring the water over the abrasions and gently cleaning them with the Kleenex.
He couldn't take his eyes off her, couldn't believe how good it felt to have her touch ghosting over his skin when it was at this moment that he never felt more alone, more helpless than he'd ever been in this world.
He withdrew his hands abruptly and turned back to face the lake.
"Go home, Cuddy."
Cuddy could almost see his walls draw up and him retreating into his shell again.
"I'll sit here with you."
"I'm not leaving you." A moment's hesitation. "Not again."
His gaze flickered towards her, betraying a slight surprise. She simply sat quietly next to him, and waited for him to speak. Her phone buzzed in her purse, but she didn't answer it. He heard the vibration.
"Aren't you going to answer that?"
"Why are you doing this?"
"I'm just sitting here next to you, House. Waiting for you."
They both understood the true meaning behind that. A silence lapsed, only interrupted by the chirping of the birds around them.
His voice was a hoarse whisper. "I can't be with you, Cuddy."
Cuddy felt like she'd been socked in the gut. Hearing those words out of his mouth… it felt painful. Was this how he felt when she had said goodbye to him that day? The emotional part of her wanted to burst into tears. But the rational part of her, the part that had been dealing with House for years, knew better. She knew there was something more behind it.
"Because," he mumbled, "I can't give you what you need." He took a deep breath, steeling himself. "I can't be the man that you need."
She reached over for his hand, and gripped it; trying to show him, make him feel that he was.
The warmth of her hands felt so good, so comforting, like it was where his hands truly belonged. But he took her hand, and slowly removed it from his.
"I can't. This is me telling you that it's not going to work out. Like I did before our entire mess of a relationship. I told you the day after that it wasn't going to work. And look where we ended up. It didn't work. I can't, Cuddy."
"Why can't we try again?"
"Now you say we can start over again because I no longer need Vicodin." It wasn't a question. It was a matter-of-fact statement.
Cuddy had no idea how to get through to him. She wanted him back. She had been terrified at that moment when she realized he had taken Vicodin. She had been terrified that it had been a full-blown relapse, and she didn't know if she could handle it.
"It was a mistake, House. I was terrified – "
"You left me after I took one pill. You didn't even know if it was a full-blown relapse. It wasn't. Not until you left." His voice trailed off as he recalled sitting by his bathtub, staring at the pills he had tried so hard to stay off despite the pain that plagued him daily. "I was… I was terrified too. But you can't just want me back again, just like that. It's not a good enough reason. You just feel guilty, grateful – "
"I don't want you back because of that." She reached out to place her hands on his cheek, and gently turned his face towards hers. She insisted, "I want you back because I now really know how deeply you love, how incredible you truly are. You… you would give up your life for my daughter. How can I not love you?"
He refused to meet her gaze, choosing to look down at his useless legs.
"You told me I was the most incredible man you ever knew. But… it's not enough. I told you I loved you. But it's not enough to keep us going."
He needed to end it. He knew that he would never be good enough for her, not with him in a wheelchair. She deserved more than him. Rachel deserved more than him.
He placed his hands on the wheels, and finally looked at her in the eye.
"I told you that you make me a crappy doctor, but that I would always choose you. That was how much I was willing to give. – "
Cuddy flinched. She didn't think he actually remembered saying that. He had been drunk. She had dismissed it as some insincere words uttered while he was drunk, and that he wouldn't remember it. Now, looking back, it meant so much. House had always clung to the fact that he was a good doctor. He had even chosen to continue being in pain because he believed that he was a worse doctor in the absence of it.
And he had actually been willing to give that up for her. He chose her, over being a good doctor.
" - But you still left me, because you couldn't take me for who I was. I don't blame you. I made a grave mistake in taking the Vicodin to avoid pain and fear." He gestured to his legs. "But I'm still willing to choose you over everything, Cuddy. But what makes you think you can take me for who I am now? I can't even walk, Cuddy. I'm miserable. I can't even bring myself to go to work. I'll probably remain a misanthropic bastard for the rest of my life. – "
And then he voiced the question that he had thought about over and over again. It was the ultimate straw, the best reason why he thought they couldn't be together.
" – If we couldn't even make it to one year together when I was whole and happy, what makes you think we can work now?"
And he began wheeling away from her.
Cuddy stared at his retreating figure, too stunned to say anything.
She was the one who had encouraged him to open up to her, and to give her his fragile heart. But she had totally neglected the fact that he had his demons to fight too – he was a recovering drug addict, and she should have known that relapses were possible. Yet, she had given him such a hard time, when he had given so much to be with her. She had imposed her unrelenting standards on him, forgetting how unique Gregory House really was. He was not the typical man at all. And instead of helping him, she had thrown him back into the deep end when she knew he had taken the Vicodin. He had stayed clean for nearly two years. It was partly her fault that he had turned back to it.
"I can't be the man you need."
"It's not enough to keep us going."
"I'm still willing to choose you over everything"
Now he was running away again, because he didn't know if he could hold it all together. Listening to him, she knew that he wasn't angry at her. No, he still loved her. He did. He probably never stopped.
But he was pushing her away again. Because he was afraid of what might happen if they reconciled. Afraid of letting himself open up again. But most of all, because he felt inferior, and unworthy in a wheelchair.
She could let him leave, and everything could go back to normal, whatever that was. Friends, colleagues. It was the easy way out.
Or she could be the one fighting for their relationship and to keep him holding on.
She reached out, and grabbed his arm, preventing him from getting away. Her mind was firing at a million miles an hour, but she didn't know what to say.
"Physically stopping the paraplegic now, aren't we." There was no hint of sarcasm - it was just a mumble of a broken man. "Just let me go, Cuddy."
She stood up, and knelt down right in front of him. He stared into her eyes for a while before dropping his gaze to the ground. She was startled for a moment by the uncertainty that clouded his eyes. She wasn't used to him being vulnerable.
"I won't. Just let us start over again – "
"It's not that easy – "
"Why are you making things so difficult? I – "
"I can't walk, or stand ever again, Cuddy. You saw what happened! I can't protect you or Rachel at all. She fell, and I couldn't reach her because of a tiny curb. A curb. I should be able to step over it! – "
He yelled, all his fears and frustrations reaching boiling point. He pounded his fists on his useless legs. She needed to see why it would never work.
" - She could have broken a bone, or gotten a concussion or something! You need someone you can depend on. Maybe I never was that person, and that's why you left. I tried, I really did try, but now I really just can't be that person. At all. Physically, it's just impossible. So just – "
He was silenced by the feel of Cuddy's lips pressing on his.
It felt right, having their lips pressed together. He tried to pull away so he wouldn't have to find out how much he really did miss it, and how much he will miss it when they can't be together.
But her hands came up to cup his jaw, and her thumbs wiped away the tears he didn't know had escaped from his eyes. He closed his eyes.
It wasn't a kiss fuelled by passion, but one fuelled by tenderness, filled with love and sorrow. A simple press of two lips together. But it encompassed all their misunderstandings, their flaws, and their winding journey to one another. It was an apology, and expression of hope, and a prayer for them to find their way back to each other, where they truly belonged.
She finally pulled away after an indeterminable amount of time. But before he could say anything, words rushed out of her mouth.
"I was wrong. I thought you couldn't handle pain, thought you couldn't be the one to stand up for me and Rachel, but you proved me wrong. The accident, all I've seen… I don't know how I missed it during the one year we were together, I let my expectations of a perfect family get ahead of me – "
"But you deserve perfect, Cuddy. You do. Which is why – "
"I don't need perfect. I just need someone who makes me happy. And you are that person. I want you back. I need you back."
House found himself yearning to say yes, to agree with her that they could start all over again. It had been what he all he ever wanted since they had broken up. He had felt alive with her. He found comfort, and sanctuary in her. He didn't expect to come to love Rachel, but it turned out that she too had captured his heart of stone. Gregory House actually liked the man he was when he was with them. But now he didn't really know what to do, or who he was anymore.
"I don't even know… I don't know who I am anymore, Cuddy." He swallowed hard, and looked into her eyes. "How would you know?"
Anyone else would have found that statement puzzling, but not her. She understood perfectly. For so long, his pain had defined him. Now it had abruptly been taken away from him, and the legs he had fought so hard to keep had given up. House was quite simply, lost. Caught up in the whirlwind of what had happened, unable to find his bearings.
She reached over, and took his right hand again. This time, he didn't withdraw it. She raised his hand to her lips, and kissed his knuckles.
"We can find out together."
House felt a glimmer of hope and possibility, but he was still unconvinced.
"What if we don't – "
Her index finger immediately went to his lips, and she pressed against them, effectively shutting him up.
"Shut up, and just trust me, okay? You're scared, I know. But things will get better. And we can work through everything together. I love you. It might not be enough, but it damn well makes things a lot easier."
House smirked at seeing that fiery and confident side of her. It reminded him all over again of why he had fallen in love with her so many years back.
He found his heart winning over his head, telling him to go with it, to be with the woman he had loved for so many years. To not be afraid to screw up again, to trust that they could be happy together. That he could be happy again.
He leaned over towards her tentatively, and buried his face in the crook of her neck. He searched for comfort in her like he had done when she had come to him that day. She had found him and picked him up when he was at the very brink of it all. Like she was doing now. She was his anchor, his life buoy, preventing him from capsizing and drowning in the storm.
His hands crept around her, and hers around him. She planted a kiss on his temple, and embraced him. They reveled in the physical contact, at being together again. With their arms around each other, nothing felt wrong.
Rachel woke, and they broke apart from their embrace. Cuddy smiled at House. The corner of his lips quirked upwards, betraying his own feelings.
The little girl wriggled between the two of them, and opened her arms wide. "Do I get a hug too?"
Cuddy laughed, and did as she was told.
Rachel turned to House, who quickly said, "I'm not a teddy bear."
"But I love you, Hows."
"Yeah yeah… No, no, ew! Please don't kiss me." His command went unheeded as she did anyway. The mock disgust faded away, and he turned solemn, and lifted Rachel onto his lap. He looked into her eyes.
"I'm sorry I couldn't help you just now."
Rachel's eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open a bit. She was genuinely bewildered at House's apology. Because, in her eyes, he had done nothing wrong.
She patted his cheek. "Why you sorry, Hows? I okay."
House opened his mouth to explain more, to apologise more. How could she think it was okay? But Cuddy gripped his hand, and caught his eye. Don't blame yourself. It's okay.
Looking at the small family unit they unwittingly formed in the middle of the park, House felt that perhaps, everything could be okay. There were so many more questions unanswered, so many more problems to tackle. There would be more ups and downs in his relationship with Cuddy. Arguments, blow-ups at home and at work. He still felt insecure. He hated the stutter that would reveal itself when he was agitated. He still hated how he couldn't walk.
But for now, they were okay.
Before he lost the fleeting moment of hope and courage, he spoke up.
"I think… I would like to come back to work soon."
Cuddy broke into a radiant smile. "Okay. That's definitely more than okay."
"Do I still have to do clinic duty? I don't think I can see over the exam table…"
She shot him a mock-glare. "I have to think about it."
They were okay. Everything would be fine. Not easy, but better. And definitely okay.
That night, House wheeled himself into the loft. He found himself in front of the baby grand, which he hadn't touched in months. It was spotless, though. Wilson made sure of it. The bench was gone, because he wouldn't need it again.
He parked himself in front of the piano. He reached out, and lifted the lid with slightly trembling hands. The white and black keys greeted him like an old friend. He ghosted his fingertips over the keys, caressing them, enjoying the feel of the ivory keys below his fingertips.
He closed his eyes.
He exerted the gentlest of pressures, and the tinkle of the piano keys sang in his ears. His hands began moving in symphony, coaxing out from the piano a simple tune. It had been far too long.
He had been afraid of hearing the music, because he knew it was inevitable that it would sound different.
But as he listened to the music and lost himself in the moment as he always did, he found that it was okay. It was different, but not wrong. He could make up for it with the accents he inserted into his music. The music was still beautiful, and still a comfort he could rely on.
Wilson stood in the doorway, listening to the music fill the loft again. House hadn't even heard him open the door. He smiled gladly as he looked at his best friend engrossed in front of the piano, hands dancing over the keys, playing the music he had missed so much. He was happy again.
It started off a melancholy melody, but soon, it flowed into a tentative, but hopeful tune.