Phoenix Rising

1.

Lisa Cuddy was in a hurry. Even though it was her natural tendency, particularly at work, to be rushed, today there was an added element to her urgency. Her need for a hasty departure from Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital was predicated on the fact that she had sent Gregory House an email requesting his immediate resignation as Chief Diagnostician of the hospital.

She had, not more than five minutes ago, pressed the 'send' key on her computer and she was already putting on her jacket and grabbing her briefcase and car keys from her desk.

It had been more than five weeks ago that she had gone to his apartment and broken off their months-long affair after he had begun taking Vicodin again.

House was an addict. He would always be an addict. But Cuddy thought that a relationship with her would be the healing balm that might finally drive him to forsake his drug dependency, shatter his need to be right and at the same time destroy his inclination to be reticent about sharing his feelings.

She had been wrong, so horribly wrong. A personal health scare and the possibility of terminal cancer had loomed large when a growth had been found on her kidney. House was unable to come to terms with the possibility of Cuddy's loss. So much so that he had at first shunned all contact with her.

But at the eleventh hour, in typical House fashion, he'd walked into her hospital room, held her hand, made her laugh and stayed with her pre and post op. He had played the supportive boyfriend role to perfection, being there for her in every way possible.

But he had not done it alone. House had gone back to his old crutch, his old demon Vicodin to get him through the worst of the pain and fear of loneliness that Cuddy's demise would mean to him. Her eventual discovery of his slip had initiated her nighttime visit to his apartment where she had broken up with him.

The ensuing weeks were spent with each of them attempting to avoid each other. Cuddy rarely left her office nowadays and House relegated himself to his. If any tricky or questionable procedures in his department required her approval, House sent one of his fellows, Foreman, Chase, Taub, Masters or the recently returned Thirteen to Cuddy's office to get her sign off.

Neither of them had been acting like themselves and Cuddy realized that neither of them probably would feel comfortable again unless a serious change occurred. But Lisa Cuddy had no intention of leaving the job and career she had worked so hard to achieve.

It was House who would have to go then and the sooner the better for them both.

Cuddy would write up a few glowing letters of recommendation. Combining that with House's worldwide diagnostic reputation would surely secure him a new position at another hospital quickly.

The only flaw in this plan was that House's reputation for being a difficult ass was just as renowned as his status for solving cases that nearly every other physician found unfathomable.

But that was no longer her concern. House would need to learn to fend for himself without the safety net that she or his best friend and chief enabler, James Wilson, had always provided for him.

She spent the entirety of her short car ride home in silence without her usual CD music. She was lost in thought and not a little regret and a few tears had started in her eyes as she pulled into her own driveway. Yes, demanding House's resignation was the right move.

She needed to get past this. She just had to conquer her feelings; those of anger, regret and, most deeply buried, love. For she still loved Gregory House more than anyone else she'd ever met.

Cuddy found herself still looking for him every morning as she sat in her office. She would wait for him to cross the lobby, his gait heavy, his expression dour.

She would see a particular shade of blue that would remind her of the vivid color of his eyes and that would send her running to the restroom to avoid bursting into tears. She longed to hear the sound of his voice speaking to her softly as he held her in his arms after they'd made love.

And if she was in a particularly masochistic mood, she would go over their lovemaking sessions in her mind, the look of him with his eyes closed, the feel of him inside her, filling her utterly and completely, the smell of him, the sound of his grunting and deep moans mixing with her own cries of passion. And then afterward, lying contentedly in his arms, listening to the sounds of his breathing and the thunder of his heart beating in his chest.

The sooner Gregory House left her sphere of day-to-day experience, the sooner she could try to forget him and move on with her life.

She entered the house, her babysitter Marina already had on her coat in anticipation of a quick exit. Her own daughter had a school function and Marina had it pre-arranged with her employer so that she could be on time.

Cuddy walked Marina to the door and let her out but quickly turned back to Rachel who had started screaming almost as soon as she'd walked in.

Picking her crying daughter up in her arms, Cuddy paced back and forth across the floor trying to soothe her child. The sound of the doorbell was a relief for her as she rushed to open the door in her haste to welcome Marina back, even if only for a few minutes while the other woman retrieved whatever she'd forgotten when she'd left the first time.

Throwing wide the door without even looking, Cuddy momentarily stood transfixed as the corporeal form of her secret dreams and heartfelt regrets stood on her front porch. Cuddy's minute pause was all the permission needed as House barged his way past her into the living room.

"House! Get out!"

"Not until we talk."

"Get out or I'll call the cops!"

"Really? Don't think your board of directors will be pleased with that. You having your hospital's best asset landed in the pokey."

"Out! Now!"

"No."

House stood his ground as did Cuddy although Rachel's continued screaming made it more difficult for her to do so.

"Rachel! Stop it!" House yelled.

The child immediately hushed, a few quiet sniffs mixed with several hiccups the only remaining vestiges of her crying jag.

"House!"

"Gimme," he said in a quieter tone, setting his cane down against the back of the couch.

As soon as House stretched forth his hands, Rachel began violently squirming in her mother's arms, making it impossible for her to keep a grip on her daughter. She reluctantly transferred Rachel to House.

As soon as she was within his grasp, Rachel immediately settled. The child buried herself against his warm chest, laying one small hand against him at the same time as she placed the thumb of her other hand into her bow-shaped mouth.

Cuddy suddenly felt overwhelmed. There, in the exact position she had dreamed herself in so many nights since their break-up, lay her beloved daughter, her eyelids already drooping with the comfort and security she obviously felt within House's embrace.

"At least one of the Cuddy women missed me," House said in a low voice.

"House . . ."

"Ah, ah," House said, shushing her. "First things first."

He turned and began limping toward the child's bedroom. Cuddy followed, taking note of the increased irregularity of his gait.

House was no longer on Vicodin. There was no way he would be limping this badly if he were still taking the painkiller.

She watched spellbound as House placed her daughter in her crib, gently pulling her blanket over her shoulders and placing her favorite stuffed toy in her arms. He paused for a moment, hovering over the sleeping child, gently stroking Rachel's soft curls.

When he turned to face her again, his eyes held an expression of longing, the likes of which Cuddy had never seen. It was there only for a moment before the more familiar mask fell again as he silently bustled her out of her daughter's bedroom.

House stepped into the hallway, closing the door behind him. Cuddy had not retreated so that House's forward movement brought them standing to within inches of one another.

For a second, Cuddy thought that he would kiss her. For more than a second, she earnestly wanted him to.

"We need to talk," House said flatly.

Cuddy mimed for him to follow and silently led the way back out to the living room.