This is chapter one of my summer project. After everything that's been going on regarding the show and its actors, I figured we needed some good Huddy lovin'. :) I know there have been several similar stories floating around, so why not add my own to the mix? XD On that note, I want to give a shout out to partypantscuddy and Cherokee Jedi, whose stories, "Life Unexpected" and "Safety" (respectively) were part of my inspiration to write this. There may be some similarities to these or other stories along the way, but rest assured these are coincidences only.
This story is set in a sort of AU season five after Joy, but before Joy to the World. Ergo, no Lucas, no Rachel, no established Huddy relationship. Don't get me wrong, I love Rachel, but this is just how things worked out.
Disclaimer: I don't own House or any of its characters. The title of this story comes from the novel of the same name by E.B. White. This chapter deals with suicide and is not for the faint of heart. The views expressed in this story do not reflect my views on any religion or belief system and are not meant to offend anyone.
The air smelled like rain and wet asphalt as Cuddy made her way slowly through the gathering crowd in the parking lot of the hospital. Some were murmuring, some were crying silently, others merely stared. Flashing red and blue lights reflected unfeelingly against glistening pavement and pale faces. It was a bustling center of morbid activity, but to Cuddy, it all seemed to move in slow motion. Her legs moved sluggishly, as if she were walking through waist-deep freezing water. As she approached the yellow police tape separating the onlookers from the scene of the tragedy, she could do nothing but stare.
Two officers stood over the twisted body; the younger one of them had removed his hat and was tiredly wiping his brow, and the other, who looked older and more experienced, looked on with a grim expression that said this was probably not the first time he'd seen something like this. A third officer, a woman with her red hair pulled into a tight and orderly ponytail, was speaking to a borderline-hysterical young nurse who had apparently witnessed the act.
The girl was young, lying face-down in a pool of her deep red blood, her brown hair splayed out over her head. Her limbs were twisted unnaturally, her hospital gown stained and torn over her mangled body. The sight of it made Cuddy's stomach churn; nothing in her medical training or years of practice could have prepared her for this. She looked away, swallowing her emotions as one of the officers, the woman who had just been speaking with the nurse, began to walk over to her.
"Are you Dr. Cuddy?" she asked, her cool, professional tone tinged with sadness and exhaustion. Cuddy found herself nodding. "I'm going to need to ask you a few questions…" She paused, seeing the emotion roiling behind Cuddy's eyes, and her tone softened. "Would you like to go somewhere more private?"
"I…yes…" The woman nodded understandingly and stepped under the police tape, leading Cuddy through the crowd into the front entrance of the hospital. They stood just inside the door, the officer's body partially blocking Cuddy's view of the scene, but she still saw them drape a white sheet over the body. Somehow, the finality of the act was more painful than having the body itself in view.
"I'm officer Hollerith," the officer said. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Cuddy said, her voice tense and tired.
"You're Dean of Medicine of this hospital, correct?"
"Did you witness the act?"
"Did you know the victim?" Officer Hollerith looked through her notes discreetly. "Charlotte Mendel?" Cuddy took a breath.
"She was a patient of yours?"
"I oversaw her treatment while she was here two months ago."
"Did she show any signs of depression then?"
"No…" She sighed. "Not that I noticed." Now that she looked back on the events of two months prior, she felt a heavy sense of guilt. Should she have noticed something? Was there something she could have done to prevent this? There must have been…she must have missed something. She must have overlooked some crucial factor, something that could have saved this girl had she seen it earlier. But now there was nothing that could be done about it now; this girl was dead, and there was no way to change it.
"What about when she checked in yesterday?" Cuddy rubbed her temples, straining her memory. Surely there must have been some sign that she could remember.
"I don't know…" she relented tiredly. "I didn't see anything. If I had, I…" She let her arms fall uselessly at her sides. Officer Hollerith wrote down one last quick note and then looked back up at her.
"I know this is difficult," she said. "Just few more questions." Cuddy nodded. "What's security like in the hospital?" The question took Cuddy by surprise, and she furrowed her eyebrows at it.
"We have an excellent staff of security guards, a state-of-the-art lockdown system, employee I.D. badges and extensive background checks-"
"Maybe I should clarify," Hollerith interrupted. "The windows in the patient rooms don't open, and none were broken, so the victim must have jumped from the roof. How easy would it be for a patient without any security clearance to have access to that restricted area?"
"There's only one door to the roof in this building," Cuddy sighed, pursing her lips and brushing her hair from her face. "It should have been locked."
"But it wasn't?"
"Obviously…" Hollerith nodded, scribbling something down again on her notepad. "Most of the doors lock automatically, but when we changed out the older locks all throughout the hospital three years ago, the roof access door was one of the few that wasn't serviced. It has to be locked manually…"
"So someone must have left it open."
"Yes…" Hollerith nodded again, her lips pursed. Cuddy expected more questions, but apparently she'd given all that was needed of her.
"Alright. That's all. Thank you for cooperating, Dr. Cuddy." As exhausted and emotionally drained as she was, Cuddy could only nod solemnly as Officer Hollerith headed back out the door. Cuddy leaned back against the doorframe, covering her eyes with her hand. She looked out the door again; they were placing the body on a gurney, still covered. A bloody hand slipped out from under the sheet, hanging off the edge of the gurney. It was quickly covered again by one of the EMT's, but Cuddy had to look away. She hurried to the elevators and jammed the button repeatedly, scrambling inside when the doors opened and watching them close before her. Finally alone, she let herself collapse against he back wall with a heavy sigh, her eyes burning.
She only let her tears flow freely when she'd shut herself in her car in the parking garage. From there she couldn't see the flashing red and blue lights, and she was cut off from the crowds and the charged emotions. Still, she felt cold and slightly nauseous, remembering her twisted body, her bloody, matted hair, the heavy finality of her covered body being wrapped up and carried away, horrified bystanders watching helplessly. She choked back a sob; it had been such a short time ago that she'd spoken to the girl. More than anything, she recalled her eyes: deep brown, holding back years of pain and secrets that seemed so much more obvious in Cuddy's memory than they had in life. Why, oh why couldn't she have seen it when it had mattered?
A tap on her window caused her to start, and she looked over, trying to dry her tears, thinking it was another officer come to ask her more follow-up questions. But instead of green eyes and a tight ponytail, she saw deep blue irises, messy thinning hair and a gruff, stubble-covered face. Sniffing and wiping her cheeks half-heartedly, she leaned over and unlocked the door; he got in beside her and closed the door behind him.
"You see her jump?" he asked. Forward of him, she thought. But then again, how else could she expect him to act? He wasn't one to sugar-coat things just to make people feel better. She shook her head, then something dawned on her.
"Did you?" He mimicked her actions, shaking his head as well.
"The body was already covered when I showed up." He paused, giving a half shrug. "Sad."
"Yeah…" A moment passed of absolute silence. The quiet was stifling in and of itself, and Cuddy shifted uncomfortably.
"Did you know her?" Cuddy surprised herself then, a tragically heavy laugh escaping her throat, and she played with the crumpled napkin in her hands.
"She was in and out of the hospital…three times in the past six months."
"Stomach pains…nausea…fatigue. Nothing that seemed all that out of the ordinary."
"We never found the cause…" Cuddy sighed. It seemed so obvious to her now. Why hadn't she pried deeper? Why hadn't she asked more questions? Three times…those weren't suicide attempts; they were cries for help. And Cuddy hadn't seen it until it was too late…nobody had.
"Why are you here?" she asked, her tone coming across as harsh even though she hadn't intended it to. She was merely curious, but her emotions made her voice sound terse and unaccommodating. House only shrugged.
"Is it really so hard to believe I care about your emotional well-being?"
"Fine…I wanted to see if I could use your mental turmoil to get out of clinic duty this week." The smallest hint of a smile tugged at her lips, but it was quickly snuffed out as her eyes darkened again. They sat in silence for several moments, and House sighed. "If you've got nothing else to say, I guess I'll just leave you to wallow…" He was just reaching for the door handle when Cuddy spoke once again.
"Her father is a born-again Christian preacher…" she said heavily, and House sat back in his seat.
"He try to banish the devil from her innocent body?" he asked. Cuddy shook her head.
"No…but he never left her side. Not in a tender, loving, 'I'm-worried-about-you' way, though…It was almost like he was…guarding her. Like he expected her to do something horrible the moment he left."
"Was she abused?" Another shake of Cuddy's head.
"Not that we could tell. No bruises, no scrapes. Not even innocent ones. Like she'd never even been out of the house…" Her voice was tinged with an unmistakable hint of disbelief. "Her dad…He was always getting in the way of our treatment. Always insisting that there was no reason for her to be there. That God would take care of her if we would just stop interfering…" She scoffed distastefully, like the words and the memories tied to them left a bad taste in her mouth. "He kept insisting she be discharged the minute her symptoms subsided, even though we hadn't found the underlying cause."
"You didn't stop him?"
"I couldn't," she defended, her voice rising. "He was her primary caretaker, her guardian. She was seventeen." She let out a heavy sigh, looking down at the steering wheel. "Legally, there was nothing I could do…"
"What about the mom?"
"She was more willing to see reason…" Cuddy relented. "But she couldn't stand up for herself. Whatever her husband said she just went along with…" House nodded slowly, solemnly.
"Well…that explains the suicide, then," he said. Cuddy quirked one eyebrow at him. "If my dad was a Bible-thumping idiot and my mom was a doormat, I'd probably kill myself too." Cuddy looked away, rubbing her temples.
"I could've helped her…I could have saved her if her father had actually given a damn about her physical well-being instead of just throwing it away in favor of her soul…" Her throat ached, and she angrily threw the shredded napkin in her hands at the dashboard.
"I saw him…in the crowd," she said, looking down heavily, her tears beginning to roll again. She didn't want to look up; she didn't want House to see her cry, even though she already knew he could. "He was praying, but he wasn't crying. Not even close. He didn't look sad or even hurt. He just looked…disappointed." Her fingers wrapped around the steering wheel, her knuckles turning white with anger and sadness. "After years of telling his own daughter that she was a hell-bound sinner…the bastard couldn't even bring himself to shed a single tear for her…" She covered her face with her hands, hiding herself from House's view, ashamed of the emotion roiling within her, but unable to obscure it. She slumped against the dashboard, just sobbing, unable to hold it back any longer. She was so angry. She felt helpless and weak, and she hated it. She hated this feeling of being unable to reign in her emotions.
When the fog of emotion began to fade, her awareness and control returning to her, she expected to turn and find House no longer there. She expected him to have left somewhere in the middle of her episode. But he was still sitting there, staring at her, his face unreadable.
"I'll drive you home," he said suddenly, and for a moment Cuddy thought for sure that she'd imagined it.
"What?" she asked, eyebrows furrowing. Surely, he couldn't be serious. He merely shrugged.
"You're obviously in no condition to be driving yourself. At this rate you'd probably be so busy sobbing and punching the dashboard that you'd crash into a mailbox or something…" Cuddy sighed irately.
"Don't make me sound like some emotional train wreck, House. I can take care of myself."
"Not tonight," he persisted, and he motioned for her to move. "Now come on. Switch seats with me."
"Why are you-"
"Why is it so hard to believe that I'm trying to do something halfway thoughtful?" House suddenly snapped, his voice rising, eyes sparking. Cuddy was taken aback by how frustrated he sounded. No, not just frustrated. He was not quite angry, but it seemed that a wave of emotions and exhaustion had just broken the surface after being valiantly held back and controlled as he tried to convince her to accept this favor from him. Acts of kindness were not his strong suit in any form. She sat in silence for what felt like quite a long time, just staring at him, and he ran a hand through his hair with a heavy sigh, appearing to regret his outburst. It was not, however, something that called for regret as far as Cuddy was concerned, because it had, in a way, gotten through to her, breaking down the wall of emotion that had been clouding her mind.
"Okay…" she relented. Maybe now was not the time to be arguing with him. Maybe it was not the time to be questioning his motives or to be picking this situation apart. Now she was just tired…beyond tired. She was exhausted; her arms felt heavy and weak. All she wanted was to go home and crawl into bed and forget all of this. Slowly, trying not to agitate him, she reached for the door handle and slipped out of the car, hearing him mirror her actions on the other side. He walked around the front of the car as she walked around the rear, and soon enough, the two of them were seated again, House now in the driver's seat.
"Keys," he demanded gruffly, holding out his hand, and she handed them to him without a word.
The ride was silent. It was beginning to rain again, and as House pulled to a stop at a red light, he looked over at Cuddy. She was staring out the window at the falling rain with a far-off look in her eye, and he returned his gaze to the front.
"What did you see in her?" he asked, and he seemed to have broken her out of some kind of trance, because she looked up at him with a slight start.
"You don't get attached to just any patient. Only the ones you identify with. So what was it? Crazy religious parent?"
"My mother isn't crazy religious. She's just…"
"Crazy," House finished. Cuddy did manage a small, wan smile at that, though it faded quickly. She returned to her staring out the window.
"Someone in your family a jumper?" She winced a bit at his audacity, but then of course, she supposed it wasn't something that should have surprised her.
"Someone wanted to be?"
"No, House." She rested her head in her hand and sighed. She was getting a headache. A bad one, at that. House seemed to take the hint, and he fell silent. It struck her as odd; he was not normally so willing to conform to social courtesies like that.
So of course, he had to speak up again moments later.
"So why did you get so attached to her anyway?"
"I wasn't attached to her, House. I saw her three times. I saw what she had to deal with. It was normal human compassion, not a deep emotional connection…"
"Right…so you go into a downward spiral like this every time a patient dies at the hospital-"
"She didn't just die, House!" she burst. "She threw herself off the roof!" She let the volume of her voice drop down to a near whisper. "It's not the same…" House took pause, not speaking again right away. He saw her holding back the tears that gathered in her eyes as she spoke. The glimpse of them lasted only a moment, and then it was gone, and she'd put on a desperately strong face once again.
They pulled into Cuddy's driveway a few minutes later, and Cuddy was quick to get out of the car after he had taken the keys out of the ignition and handed them to her, not caring about the rain as she unlocked the front door and scurried inside, leaving it open a crack so House could come in. She felt conflicted; she didn't want to be alone. Not really. But she didn't much want to spend time with House. Still, after he'd showed her some uncharacteristically thoughtful sympathy and driven her home, it didn't seem right to lock him out. So she waited in the foyer awkwardly as he shuffled inside and closed the door against the rain.
"I guess I'll…call a cab…" House mumbled after a moment's silence, fishing in his pocket for his cell phone.
"House," Cuddy called, and he stilled, looking up. Her voice was gentle, albeit tired, and her eyes were soft. "Thank you…" she murmured. House nodded curtly.
"Sure…you know I can't stand seeing my boss upset." His tone was sarcastic and joking, a defense against letting himself be too vulnerable. He looked back at his phone. "You have the number for a late-night cab service? I'll just-" He felt a hand on his arm, tentative, and he looked up.
"House…" she said. "Why don't you…just stay here." She offered a small, exhausted smile. "You can sleep on the couch." He stared at her in surprise, phone hovering a few inches from his ear.
"Cuddy…you finally giving into your feelings for me?" he taunted. Cuddy rolled her eyes.
"I'm just repaying a favor. You're being…" She sighed. "…surprisingly thoughtful, and I figure it's the least I can do…" She paused and looked up at him, realizing for the first time how close their bodies were. She could smell his earthy scent and feel his body heat radiating from him. How nice it would be, she thought to herself, to have that warmth closer, pressed against her body, comforting and soothing her. How nice it would be to not have to feel so alone, if just for one night. She shook her head discretely when she realized what she was thinking, and she pushed the thoughts from her mind, looking away from him.
"There's sheets and extra pillows in the hall closet," she said, trying on some level to distract herself, to make the atmosphere less charged.
"Thanks…" he mumbled, and he strode into the living room as she gathered the bedding. He was standing somewhat awkwardly next to the couch when she found him again, massaging his leg. Rain always made his leg hurt worse, she'd noticed. She felt a pang of sympathy for him, but let it pass as she handed him the fresh sheets.
"I was going to make some tea…do you want some?" she offered. He shook his head.
"Never liked tea…" She pursed her lips and headed back into the kitchen, opening the cabinet and taking out the box of tea bags. She reached up again and pulled down the first mug she found: the red one she'd had since med school. And suddenly, as she looked at it, feeling the smooth ceramic surface in her hands, her breath hitched. The deep burgundy color sent a thousand thoughts racing through her mind, and out of seemingly nowhere, she was staring at that girl's twisted body once again, staring at the red blood pooling around her head. In a flash, it was gone, and a loud crash snapped her out of her daze. The mug was broken on the kitchen floor, and tears were streaking down her face. She hadn't even felt them, hadn't noticed the mug slipping from her grasp. Her heart was pounding and her breathing was irregular, coming in awkward, hitching sobs.
"You okay?" She turned at the sound of his voice, gruff and tired, but tinged with worry. She nodded, trying to hide her tears, trying to wipe them from her face as she leaned down to pick up the broken shards littering the linoleum. He squatted next to her, pushing her hands out of the way as he brushed the largest pieces into a pile, picking up what he could. Cuddy straightened up, focusing on getting her breathing back into a regular pattern, and in moments, House was facing her again, looking down into her eyes.
"I'm fine," she insisted. But she could tell from his face that he wasn't buying one second of it. Memories flooded back to her again as she looked up at him, their gazes locked. But this time it wasn't of the girl on the asphalt. Instead, it was of a night that seemed so far away, even though in reality it couldn't have been more than a few weeks gone. When he'd come to her home, stared at her as tears had slipped soundlessly down her cheeks, when he'd pressed his lips to hers and wrapped his arms around her and given her just a few blissful moments of escape from her pain before reality had come crashing down on them again. And to her horror, she felt that same magnetism pulling them closer once more, his pain seeming to attract hers and vice versa. She was leaning toward him, her mind reeling, not knowing what she was doing, her body seeming to act of its own accord. And to her surprise, he wasn't pulling away.
She wanted to run, she wanted to get away from him, from this pull he had on her, but she also wanted more. She wanted to feel his lips, his skin on hers, to taste his breath and be closer to him, to let him comfort her. The minute their lips touched, feather-light, almost not a kiss at all, it was as if all the walls and uncertainties that she'd built up in her mind were obliterated in half a second. She suddenly realized that she'd closed her eyes at some point along the way, and she had no way of knowing what House was doing besides her sense of touch. Their lips came together once, twice, almost shy, never advancing past an almost nonexistent touch.
Without warning, her body lurched forward, and she threw her arms unabashedly around his neck. His hands were on her back, his arms encircling her, his tongue pushing past her teeth. She was all too eager to accept, her hands wandering through his air, his stubble grazing her lips and cheeks. For a few shining moments, she had him, all of him, and neither of them could think past that moment. They were lost in each other.
When she was finally separated from him, her heart was beating a mile a minute, her lungs were burning and her mind was spinning. She opened her eyes and looked at him, and she saw trepidation, surprise, panic, all things that, within moments, she knew were mirrored in her own eyes.
"I should…" He turned, heading for the door, and though she knew that the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, would be to let him go, to forget about the euphoria she'd just felt, she couldn't bring herself to do so, and she stepped forward, taking hold of his arm, making him turn to face her.
"Don't," she said. Her eyes stung and she didn't care. She was worn down to the bone. She'd taken all she could. She didn't want to be strong anymore, she didn't want to deny herself. She wanted, needed to let herself be comforted, even if it wasn't meant to last, even if it was just for one night.
"I don't want to be alone tonight," she admitted, her voice cracking, soft. "I don't…I don't want to sleep alone…" If she'd taken a moment to analyze what she was saying with a clear head, she would have potentially seen how dangerous and how ridiculous the words sounded, but now she didn't care.
"I can't…" House sighed, sounding taken aback by how vulnerable she was, but how much of her wants and emotions she was letting him see. He was used to seeing her put on a brave face and deny herself the things she may have wanted. He was used to seeing her deal with difficult patients or even more difficult doctors without batting an eye. He was not at all accustomed to watching her break down like this, especially not to him.
"Please…" she said, and it was almost a whisper. She looked up at him, staring him down. "House, I know it sounds crazy and irresponsible and…wrong. But I just…I need this…"
He shook his head. "You'll regret it."
"I'm not looking for a commitment. I don't want a relationship. We don't even have to mention it ever again, but I need one night…that's all."
"We both know that's not possible…" he said. Cuddy pursed her lips, looking away from him, saying nothing more. She expected him to leave at any moment, to turn and get out of her house as fast as he could before things got even more out of hand than they already were. But to her surprise, he merely stood there in the foyer, staring at her as she tried and failed to get herself under control.
"Would you want me here in the morning?" he suddenly asked, and she looked up at him again, surprise and confusion written all over her face.
"What do you mean?"
"If I stayed…" He sighed heavily. "Would you want me to still be here in the morning?"
"I…don't know…" It was an honest answer. She hadn't thought that far. It was hard to think beyond tonight in the haze that clouded her mind and judgment.
"That's exactly why…I can't stay…" He looked down, and began to turn away before another thought came to him and he looked at her once more. "You would regret this," he repeated, his voice stern, but oddly gentle. "Maybe next week, maybe tomorrow, maybe even as soon as it was over. But you'd regret it. And you'd resent me for taking advantage-"
"No, I wouldn't," she insisted, but he merely shook his head sadly.
"I'm sorry, Cuddy…" he growled, and he finally turned to leave. It was Cuddy's voice, suddenly more sure and confident than it had sounded all night.
"I'll make breakfast." It struck him as odd to say the least, and he looked at her with one eyebrow raised. "In the morning…I'll make breakfast…" Her gaze was…hopeful, and for a moment they stared at each other. House set his jaw as she stepped closer, her hand brushing tentatively against his sleeve. She leaned toward him, but he stopped her.
"Promise me something," he said, voice growing hoarse as he felt her breath on his lips. "Promise you won't…" He paused, swallowing and blinking a few times to try and clear his head. "…you won't fire me for this…" To both his and her surprise, Cuddy let out a small laugh at that. There was no time for words afterwards, because then she covered his lips with hers. Just like before, they moved slowly, gently, lips coming together in soft, unhurried meetings. But, again, before long, timidity gave in to passion and need, and Cuddy felt herself being pressed up against the wall as she battled his tongue with her own.
Outside, the rain grew to a thundering crescendo, falling in sheets that pounded on the roof of the house with a deafening roar. Back at the hospital, the parking lot was long vacated. A stain of deep red on the asphalt slowly became distorted and twisted as the rain lifted it off the pavement, washing it away.