Author's Notes: This fic will contain sexual situations. If that bothers you, please do not read. Since this piece is set post "Moving On," there are spoilers for that episode. I should also warn you now that this is not going to be a quick journey. I was inspired to write this, because I've been craving a way to get my feelings about the season finale and the end of Cuddy's character out. This is my way of working it out in my head, and while I would like to have a House/Cuddy ending, please understand that this is not going to be a piece that ends happily ever after in five chapters. I'm sure there are works like that, but this will not be one of them. If this piece still interests you, I hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own it.
Fear of Fire Leaves You Cold
Chapter One: I didn't understand then, but I understand now
By Duckie Nicks
"True passion is not a wisp-light – it is a consuming flame, and either it must find fruition or it will burn the heart in which it has been enkindled to dust and ashes." – William Winter
She didn't cry.
At the moment, that seemed so miniscule compared to what had happened, but by the same token, at that moment, given what had happened, it was the only victory she could see in sight. That she had some shred of dignity left, despite the fact that House had tried to kill her, was all she could cling to.
He had done this to her.
But she hadn't cried.
Tears burned her eyes as she struggled to recount just how they had gotten to this point. Maybe even one or two slipped when her control seemed to falter a little bit.
But she didn't cry.
Even as Wilson was taken to the hospital, even as Julia and her husband struggled to get out of there as quickly as possible, even as her date disappeared the second he could, Cuddy remained stoic.
Sitting on her cold stoop with a blanket around her shoulders, she guessed she shouldn't have been surprised. She'd never thought House had had it in him to try to kill her, no. But he'd lost his mind before. Why should now be any different?
Because he'd been to therapy for, what, thirteen months? Because he'd been to a mental institution and released? That was what supposedly made him sane?
No, she thought, a bitter taste coating her tongue. He'd never changed. He'd gotten help for a temporary problem, but deep down, he was still the same House: the one who didn't care who he hurt or what he had to do to get his own way.
Looking back on it now, she wasn't sure why she'd ever thought differently. He'd seemed changed. The way he'd said, "I love you," and meant it, the way he'd made an effort to be friends with her daughter – it all had seemed so unlike him. But as tonight had proven, he'd obviously never really meant any of it. If he could so easily put all of their lives in jeopardy, he clearly never meant anything he'd said and done.
And that almost did make her cry.
After all, it had only been on her sister's insistence that Cuddy had conceded a double date. She hadn't felt all that ready to date again, but she'd agreed – and regretted it. As nice as he'd been, the whole time, she'd thought that she wasn't ready to date, that maybe even she wasn't ready to let House go. She wasn't ready to let go of someone who clearly never cared at all about her.
She'd sat there thinking that Jerry was sweet, but inwardly she'd felt that something was missing… something that only House had ever made her feel.
Desire for him had consumed her. Attraction and history had made her want him in a way that she'd understood she would never want this guy. Jerry might have been nice; she could have even grown to love him maybe, but he would never do for her what House had unknowingly done all those years ago when she'd been a wide-eyed, naïve college student.
And realizing that, she'd started to think that maybe she'd given up on House too soon. She'd been hurt and scared, and he hadn't been there, and she'd had a right to be mad about that. But perhaps her fear of dying alone had pushed her to do something she shouldn't have done.
She'd said she couldn't alter the laws of the universe to make a relationship with House work. But at that moment, her perspective on the world had shifted just enough to make her think that she'd been wrong.
That was what she'd been thinking: she'd been too quick to break up with him.
She'd been considering giving him another chance at the same time he'd decided to get in a car and drive it through her home.
And that should have made her cry, because she'd gotten it so wrong.
But it didn't.
There might have been tears at the precipice, but bitter irony refused to let them fall. She'd just been so wrong that it was almost laughable now how badly she'd missed. Truly, they hadn't just been on different pages; they'd been in completely different libraries.
But he'd made his feelings clear, she thought. Whatever she'd believed to be the truth before, she absolutely understood how he felt now.
Her lawn was torn to pieces. Dirt was everywhere, and the plants she'd managed to keep alive through winter (which was a feat in itself, considering how bad of a gardener she was) had been uprooted and ripped from the earth. By some miracle, he hadn't hit the curb, which was good for the neighbors, because they were lined up on the sidewalk now in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the disaster behind her.
Her home was in shambles. No one had told her that the structure had lost integrity, but she'd seen the way they kept glancing at the roof. She'd had enough work done on it to know that it wouldn't stand much longer.
Her dining room was destroyed. Curtains were dirty; wood was strewn about the floor. The wedding china her father had given her, the only thing she'd kept from her marriage, had shattered in her china cabinet. The table Lucas had proposed by had cracked in half and fallen to the floor next to Rachel's baby pictures. The history and memories Cuddy had within the walls had been obliterated in a matter of moments.
Because of House.
No, whatever confusion there had been between them… he'd cleared that right up for her.
Which allowed her to be equally honest with her actions. She wouldn't damage his property as he had hers. She wouldn't threaten his life or his family's as he had done this evening. But she would press charges; she would ask for the temporary restraining order the officers were offering her.
It wasn't about revenge or hurting him. Cuddy just wanted it to be absolutely clear: she was done.
She was done, she repeated. The more she heard it in her head, the more true it seemed to become.
They were over.
For good this time.
There would be no friendship, no working relationship to salvage what they'd shared together. They were done. He would be arrested and go to jail and be fired, and she would never have to put up with him again.
That was it.
And as she sat there on the cold stone steps, she realized why she wasn't crying. It should have pained her to lose someone who had been such a huge part of her life. It should have hurt to say goodbye. But thanks to his actions, she was neither all that pained nor hurt. She was simply resigned.
Their relationship had ended.
This was the way it was meant to go.
There was nothing left.
And if she didn't cry then, she thought it was because she didn't want to let him win.
After everything he'd done, she didn't want him to think he'd broken her.
"I'm sorry I'm late. Is she awake?" Cuddy asked her mother the second Arlene answered the door.
The question came out brusque, which wasn't what Cuddy had intended. But she'd spent the last several hours dealing with police officers and paramedics and everything else that came with your ex-boyfriend destroying your home. Needless to say, she didn't have it in her to be patient with her mother.
And honestly, Cuddy was okay with that. Her mother was nothing if not capable of giving as good as she got.
But she didn't.
"She was getting cranky. I put her to bed hours ago," Arlene said simply.
Immediately Cuddy knew something wasn't right. She'd been curt to her mother. Habit and history dictated that that tone of voice would be lobbed right back at her. It wasn't though. Her mother had been calm, matter of fact but not passive aggressive. In other words, she'd acted the exact opposite of how she normally would in that situation, and it went without saying that that wasn't right.
Because when did Arlene ever decide to take the high road?
Cuddy racked her memory to recall when that had happened in the past. She couldn't think of a single time when that had occurred though. Her mother liked to take issue with Cuddy's choices. She enjoyed making Cuddy feel guilty or bad for various perceived mistakes. Cuddy didn't think she meant to be cruel; her mother just couldn't help herself. So if she were behaving differently now, there was a reason for it.
"Julia told you," Cuddy deduced almost instantly.
"Of course she did," Arlene said with a nod of the head. "Most daughters tell their mothers things such as their home being destroyed."
Clearly the desire to make a dig had been overwhelming. Though decorum dictated the smallest amount of sympathy, apparently in that moment Arlene had been unable to resist reminding them both of all the times Cuddy had kept secrets from her mother.
"I was going to tell you," Cuddy said through teeth she tried not to gnash together in frustration. Were they really going to go through that today of all days?
Yes seemed to be the answer.
"Like you told me that you were urinating blood and needed a biopsy." Arlene smiled tensely and nodded her head as though she could see her daughter's logic and found it to be completely idiotic.
"I did tell you about –"
"After the fact." Anger bled through the words, betrayal coating each syllable so thoroughly that Cuddy almost felt guilty for making the choice she had.
She couldn't feel completely ashamed by her secrecy – as she still maintained that it had been the right decision to make. Her mother had been recovering from surgery, and there'd been no telling how ill Cuddy really was, and there had been no point worrying her mother.
Especially when her concerned mother tended to be a shrill, overbearing mess who took her stress out on everyone around her.
"Mom," Cuddy started to say.
But Arlene was quick to interrupt. "It doesn't matter." It hardly sounded convincing, but Cuddy wasn't about to point that out. If her mother wanted to act like they were past that, it was all right with her. "Come inside."
She stepped out of the threshold to allow Cuddy to cross it. And Cuddy quickly did just that, thinking the entire time that the faster she got in, the sooner she would be out.
"Where is she?"
Arlene quietly closed the door behind her daughter. "She's sleeping in the guest room. I would have kept her up for you, but after three hours of hearing her talk like a pirate, I was sufficiently annoyed and let her fall asleep."
So there it was then, Cuddy thought bitterly. She hadn't wanted to think about him any more that night, but her mind helplessly wrenched her memory onto that topic. There it was, she repeated to herself.
House had effectively cut all ties with her by crossing every boundary she knew existed. And it wouldn't be enough for him to have done that – to have violated her like that.
He also had to leave behind her daughter... obsessed with that cartoon.
He had to leave a reminder of his presence, of the life they'd had together, of the family they could have been to one another.
Just another slap to the face in what felt like a line of many, it seemed never ending.
That was what Cuddy thought in that moment, that he might have fled the scene, but he was still here with her, hurting her.
"Are you all right?" Arlene asked tentatively, interrupting the disgust bubbling within Cuddy. "You look like you're about to plotz in my hallway, which I'd rather you not do. Jesus just painted the walls. So if you're going to get emotional, I would prefer you move to the kitchen." She grimaced as though the idea of someone being upset was a messy predicament that she would like to avoid.
And knowing her mother, Cuddy thought that that was probably exactly how she felt. Emotion, showing it or handling it, had never been Arlene's strong suit. She had never been intentionally cruel or dismissive, but her stoicism had often made her unhelpful in crisis or upheaval. Cuddy doubted that she had ever meant to be cold, but she had always been that way – too controlled and calculating to comfort.
For that very reason, Cuddy had had no intention of being emotional now. Crying, screaming, fighting – none of it would have made her feel any better or earned her the sympathy Arlene instinctively shied away from.
Quite simply, there would have been no point.
Which was why Cuddy was being honest when she said, "You have nothing to worry about, Mom. I'm fine."
It didn't seem to be the right thing to say though.
Within seconds, Arlene's grimace withered away, only to be replaced with a look of… dismay? It was impossible to know what to call the troubled fret and pursed lips, what to make of them.
"I… I'm sorry," Arlene said gingerly. The apology sounded as unnatural as it felt probably for both of them. "Jesus and I were supposed to go on vacation tomorrow, but thanks to his wife, he has to stay in town."
She headed into the kitchen without even bothering to see if Cuddy was following behind her. Clearly, it was just assumed that she would. And that assumption wasn't exactly wrong, because Cuddy did follow.
"You thought his wife would be all right with you taking her husband –"
"She doesn't love him," Arlene interrupted as she reached inside her freezer for a chilled bottle of vodka. Plucking two glasses out of a cupboard, she quickly added, "I don't know. Maybe I was rash in thinking he would go away with me. If one thing is evident as of late, it's that my judgment has been compromised when it comes to men." She poured herself a drink and took a sip of it. "I…." She paused and seemed to consider her words. "I apologize for encouraging you to get back together with House. Obviously that would have been a disaster."
Cuddy didn't know what to say to that. After her mother's unfortunate stay in the hospital, their relationship had suffered greatly (and that was an understatement).
After Cuddy's father died, they'd realized that there would never be someone else between them to say, "What Lisa meant was…" or "What your mother really thinks is…." They'd suddenly become dependent on themselves to maintain their own relationship, and the only way they had been able to do that was with honesty. It hadn't been easy, especially since they rarely saw things the same way, but they'd managed to find a way to trust one another. They'd found a way to do it, because they'd agreed: no lying, no evading.
But Cuddy had done just that when Arlene was in the hospital – multiple times. And after all of that, Arlene's foray into matchmaking hadn't seemed that bad. Or if the incident still hurt, it had nothing to do with the goal of her behavior and everything to do with the awful things she'd said at the time.
Cuddy didn't bring any of that up, however. Though there were times when it was hard to remember why, they were trying to work through that. They were trying to repair what they'd worked so hard to create, and Cuddy didn't want to ruin that by rehashing the past.
Especially not tonight.
"It's fine," she said, hoping that they wouldn't keep talking about this.
Arlene shook her head vehemently. "It's not." She reached out for the second glass and poured some vodka in it. After she set the bottle back down with a delicate clink, she held the cup out for Cuddy to take.
She didn't take it though. "Mom, I have to drive to the hotel. I shouldn't –"
"Stay here tonight."
It had been an offer not extended to Cuddy since her mother's second hip replacement.
Because of that, it was impossible to say no. Honestly, Cuddy didn't feel like staying with her mother, especially after the day she'd had. She loved her mother, but being with her was hardly stress-free, which was precisely what Cuddy wanted at that moment. But again, they'd worked so hard to get to this point once more. They'd spent months trying to forgive and move on.
And she wasn't going to let House screw that up for her.
He might have ruined her home, poisoned her daughter with that God-awful cartoon.
He wouldn't have this.
"Okay," she said calmly, her voice purposely even.
Arlene seemed relieved by this development and offered her the glass of vodka again.
Cuddy took it.
She didn't want it. Maybe she should have, after what he had done. It certainly would have made sense. But she didn't want it at all.
She hadn't been lying when she'd told House that he used Vicodin as a way to deal with his pain and anything else that bothered him, physical or otherwise. And she was determined not to do the same thing.
Regardless of how tempting or understandable it was, drowning her sorrows was not something she was willing to do. Again, her relationship with her mother was tenuous enough that she felt compelled to accept any kind gesture that came her way. But she couldn't drink it and instead merely held the glass in her hand.
Cuddy could tell though that her lack of drinking was making her mother uncomfortable. The silence between them was tense and awkward almost instantly. And the longer it went on, the more painfully obvious that fact became.
Shifting on her feet, Cuddy tried to push past the weirdness between them. "You could go by yourself," she suggested.
"I don't think so," Arlene said tensely. "At my age? It just becomes slightly pathetic, even more so since I booked the honeymoon suite on the property."
Cuddy was almost surprised to hear her mother say in not so many words that she was concerned with what others thought. But it was less shocking to hear Arlene follow that up with, "Besides, a less-than-youthful woman on a tropical island in the Pacific? It's not –"
"Maybe some other time then," Cuddy said, cutting her off as diplomatically as possible. She didn't mean to bring up the subject and then drop it quickly, but the fact of the matter was letting Arlene focus on her own misery was never a good idea. It might have been an effective way to start a conversation, but it wasn't something Cuddy wanted her mother to dwell on.
It seemed too late though.
"Let's not kid ourselves. Men don't change, Lisa." Arlene plucked the unused glass of vodka out of her daughter's hand and drank it herself. The sour expression that appeared on her face then had nothing to do with the liquor, Cuddy thought. "They don't have to. They just move on to the next slut who will put up with them."
"Have you been like this all night?"
In a way Cuddy was sure the answer to that question was no. Her mother had been riled up when Cuddy had first dropped Rachel off, yes. But that had been because Arlene hadn't intended on babysitting that night at the last minute. At least Cuddy thought that, but perhaps she'd been wrong.
Then again, she thought instantly, even if she had been, what did it matter, really? Even if Rachel had been stuck with her insane grandmother, was that so awful? Cuddy didn't think so, because Rachel being here had meant that she was safe.
Regardless of Arlene's insanity, Rachel's presence here had protected her.
And Cuddy couldn't exactly regret that choice even though her mother's behavior concerned her.
"I thought your profession required you to have a fair amount of deductive reasoning," Arlene said in a cold voice. "You should show me the slightest hint of your intelligence here, I believe."
"Of course not," she snapped, answering the question in a raised voice. However, she must have realized that she'd gone too far, because she immediately changed her tone. Calmly she said, "You should remember that."
Cuddy could feel her brow knitting in confusion. "Remember what?"
"They don't change," Arlene said sternly.
"If you're talking about House –"
"Of course I am."
At that moment, Cuddy felt she could only respond one way: "You don't have to worry about that."
She meant it. And truly that was the part that seemed to hurt the most. After all those years together professionally, after all the back and forth, after nearly a year of dating, she never had to worry about giving him another chance.
She'd spent all this time thinking he could be better than he was.
She had no such illusions now.
All her life, she'd wanted the kind of relationship where she could go to her mother, confess to her what was bothering her, and get advice in a nice way (and this did qualify as nice, sadly). Now though, Arlene was doing that, and ironically Cuddy knew she had no need for it.
House wouldn't change.
And for the first time ever, Cuddy accepted that.
His light blue sheets tangled around her limbs, soft cotton caressing her ankles and calves. He was on top of her and inside her. His body was heavy against hers, every pound weighing deliciously on her as he slowly drove himself in and out of her.
He kissed her gently, tentatively as though it were the first time he was sleeping with her. And she couldn't help but think that it was sweet that he was so tender, so careful with her. They'd had sex decades ago, after one night of drinking and partying that had caused the memory to blur around the edges. But here he was, delicately kissing her, letting his palm only lightly press against one of her breasts as he thrust into her.
She gasped as much at the sensation as she was at his overall demeanor.
This was what she needed, she thought then. Even as her hands clasped his shoulders insistently, she recognized that she'd needed the consideration. Giving into him, giving herself to House... it was frightening and wonderful, and she needed this: the warm feeling of safety washing over her.
"I love you," she repeated against his lips. Like a secret she'd been so afraid to utter, it became freeing to say it over and over. As though she were suddenly unbound from her own fear, she couldn't help but revel in the truth she was whispering.
She loved him.
It was terrifying, but Cuddy couldn't deny what every cell in her being wanted, craved.
Her hips met his thrust, and she said the words again, "I love you."
He didn't respond, but she didn't need him to. Her heart was so full from finally having what she wanted that she didn't need his words. Language gave voice to her deepest desires, but there was nothing he could say that would make her happier than she already was. Sentences and sentiments could not compete, and she didn't want it to. The sweat gliding between their heated bodies and the wetness pooling between her legs spoke louder than anything either one of them could say.
And as he brought her to orgasm multiple times, she could only think in the back of her head how desperately she needed this relationship to work.
This love for him would ruin her for anyone else….
That thought was what jerked her awake.
Consciousness rushing in quickly, she had to gasp for air. Oxygen burned in her lungs, her throat rasping as she eagerly inhaled.
Beads of sweat clung to her body, despite the fact that the weather had been unusually cool for summer. Her cheeks burned as though she'd been running. Her underwear stuck uncomfortably to her slicked folds, and she knew that whatever heat she was feeling was of her own mind's creation.
And that made her feel sick to her stomach.
What the hell was wrong with her?
He'd tried to kill her.
And she was still dreaming about him.
She still wanted him.
And though she had tried her hardest not to give into temptation, she did cry then.
Uncontrollable sobs gripped her body. Everything that had happened came rushing back to her, replaying over and over in her mind. The way he'd grabbed her in the hospital, the sound his car had made as it crashed her home and destroyed her things, the cold look in his eyes as he walked away – it hit her suddenly and with force, the totality of events, and tears fell before she could even begin to fight them.
Helpless, she could only try to manage the feeling. Quickly she rolled over and pressed a palm to her lips to muffle the sounds she was making. Lying in bed sobbing with her daughter sleeping next to her was the last thing Cuddy wanted, but as usual, House got his way.
He'd wanted to hurt her, to make her feel as much pain as she had caused him by dumping him. And though she had fought hard, in the end, he was doing just that: hurting her, succeeding in making her feel awful.
As she cried into her hand, she told herself that she was giving him exactly what he wanted. When he'd run his car through her home, this had been his aim.
To make her like this.
But she found that that wasn't enough to calm her down. Her resolve broken, she was unable to rebuild it. The proverbial floodgates had opened, and there was no closing them now. No matter how much she'd tried to guard herself from it, House had pressed the right buttons (as he always did), and she couldn't help but react.
That didn't make her feel better though. If anything, it was just a reminder of how much she really was at his mercy. Never mind that he'd destroyed her home. It was the fact that he could hurt her like no one else ever had. It was the fact that she had let him do this to her.
She'd taken so much of his crap, and what had she gotten for it? What did she have to show?
And then, she didn't cry because she hated him. She cried because, thanks to his choices, she now hated herself.
As she pressed her tear-slicked cheeks into her pillow, Cuddy could only think that she couldn't see him again until she was sure this wouldn't happen once more.
He had done this.
But there was no reason he ever had to know it.
The second they'd arrived on the Yasawa Islands, Cuddy had understood why her mother had been so upset about not being able to come. White sands were surrounded by bright water so blue and clear it burned your eyes to look at it. Verdant mountains hid the volcanoes that had created this little stretch of paradise. It was quite possibly the most beautiful piece of land Cuddy had ever laid eyes on, and it didn't hurt that she was living in an equally gorgeous home.
The honeymoon suite Arlene had rented was not so much a room as it was a private retreat separate from the rest of the resort. Alone on its own section of deserted beach, the small house had a private pool that overlooked the horizon. And in the three days since they'd been there, Cuddy's biggest decision had been deciding whether to use the pool or the ocean – both of which were mere feet away.
She almost felt bad for enjoying so much. When her mother had suggested she take the vacation herself, Cuddy had been… reluctant to say yes. The morning after House's dabble with attempted murder, she'd been unable to deny that she wanted an escape, but it had been so hard to give into the temptation. Having lost all control the night before, she'd been so determined to maintain some semblance of poise that it had evolved into an obsession. And the very idea of taking a trip had made her feel like she was waving the white flag of defeat, like she was screaming to the world (and specifically to House) that she was running away from what had happened. But on the other hand, the idea of not taking a trip because of how someone would perceive her behavior had seemed even worse, and eventually she'd relented. Still, she couldn't help but feel a little guilty for enjoying this as much as she was while her mother sat at home.
However, Cuddy refused to let her remorse prevent her from making the most of her vacation. As terrible as it was for her mother, Cuddy knew with every fiber of her being that she had needed this.
The sheer distance from Princeton to Fiji had allowed her to realize just how unhealthy it would have been for her to stay there after what House had done. At home, she would have forced herself to fixate on work, on getting back to normal. Publicly, she would seem strong; privately she would be consumed with making sure House didn't win.
Here though… she realized she didn't care what House thought. Or maybe that was overstating it, because it was hard to not care when her life had been intertwined with his for years. But she understood that allowing herself to be concerned either way with what he thought was simply not worth her time. Because since she'd been here, every time she accidentally thought about him or what he would think about her being here, she felt guilty, ashamed. And when she focused on peeling fresh papaya for Rachel to eat or swimming, Cuddy found that the vice around her heart seemed to loosen.
When her mind wasn't consumed with House, she was okay.
She was happier.
And that was precisely why she knew she needed to cut him out completely. Years ago, she'd told him that he'd made everyone worse for being around him, but she'd never comprehended how true that was until now. Now she could see that he was a cancer in her life. He made her miserable. Even when he wasn't around, he made her unhappy, and considering just how little regard he had for her, she couldn't see a single reason to keep him in her life, in her mind, in her heart.
Realistically, Cuddy knew that it was easier said than done, to cut him out completely. But being away from the hospital, her destroyed home, and every other reminder of him helped. And eventually she understood that she wouldn't need to avoid him to forget him. She just would instinctively not think of him.
Maybe that was already happening. As the days wore on, it was becoming easier to focus on Rachel and what was in front of her. Memories of what had happened would hit her at odd times, and then she would be swept away with all-consuming anger, betrayal, sadness… pain. But those plaguing moments were reducing slowly, and perhaps it was just the beauty of her surroundings causing this, but she was optimistic that this was a good sign.
She hadn't even really thought about him at all today. There were a few moments here and there, but for the most part, Cuddy found herself focused on Rachel.
And though she couldn't be aware of what had happened, Rachel had made it incredibly easy for Cuddy to do that. For the past three days, Rachel had simply been happy to be with her mother. Cuddy had assumed she would be a terror on the plane, but in reality, she'd been pleasant. There'd been a moment when they'd first boarded where Rachel had cried for Peepers, the stuffed duck Cuddy kept in her car and always took when they were traveling. But aside from that, Rachel had been easy to handle. As though she was just glad to have some time to her mother alone, she'd been more than affable; she'd been nothing short of a dream come true.
Until today that was.
Curiosity had finally gotten to Rachel. Swimming in the pool and making sand angels on the beach had been fun for the first few days, but now she clearly wanted to explore beyond the boundaries Cuddy had set for her. She didn't want to go in the pool or on the beach surrounding them. She didn't want to eat any more of the complimentary chocolate chip cookies or take a nap. She didn't know what she wanted, which only meant that she wanted to do something new.
And Cuddy could sympathize. As nice as it was to be here, she too felt the urge to seek out something different. Of course, the resort was known for its seclusion, which limited what they could do. There was a daycare or something along those lines in the main area of the hotel, but that didn't appeal to her. She doubted Rachel would like being stuck indoors either.
So really, the only choice available to them was to travel to the market nearby. The desk clerk had told Cuddy about when she'd checked in. In truth, she hadn't expected to want to leave. After House and the plane ride, she'd planned on staying holed up in her little bungalow for the entire vacation. But things had changed, and that tidbit of information was going to be put to good use.
And none too soon, Cuddy thought the second they got there. Rachel was obviously so excited to be out and about; she could barely contain her energy, bouncing up and down, walking backwards, skipping, and running about. Cuddy did her best to keep a hand on her, but Rachel was like a golden retriever puppy set free from its cage.
It didn't matter how many times Cuddy told her, "You need to stay next to Mommy. Stop running off." Rachel just seemed determined to get lost among the tourists and booths around them.
Granted, there wasn't much here. There were a handful of merchants selling things and a few more people looking to buy things, but it was hardly crowded. So truth be told, it would have been difficult for Rachel to go missing.
Cuddy, however, was not willing to chance it. It might have been hard for Rachel to disappear, but surely that possibility became more likely when Cuddy was shopping. All it would take was for her to be distracted for a few minutes, and then who knew where Rachel might end up?
For her part, Rachel seemed determined to find out the answer to that question.
Catching her by the hem of her dress, Cuddy pulled her daughter back toward her once more. "Rachel."
As Cuddy hoisted her onto her hip, she tried to escape again. "No," she whined. "I wanna play."
"You need to stay with me," Cuddy told her firmly.
But her words went right over Rachel's head. "Down!" She squirmed with as much force as she could muster.
"I'll put you down when I know you won't run off again."
Predictably she pretended not to hear any of this and kept fighting to be set down.
"If I let you go, are you going to stay with Mommy?"
It was a pointless question, Cuddy knew. No matter what Rachel said, it was guaranteed that she would run off the second she could. She'd clearly been cooped up for too long. Or if not restless from boredom, then she was at least far too interested in investigating all of the strange sights around her before returning to the things she was familiar with in Princeton to behave. And that could only mean that, no matter what she promised, she would bolt the second Cuddy gave her an opportunity. Which was why, even though Rachel nodded her head, Cuddy kept hold of one of her hands.
Rachel hated that, of course. "Let me go," she whined.
Obviously that wasn't going to happen. However, Cuddy decided that, at that moment, there was no point in saying it. She could do that, but then Rachel would just whine some more. And listening to her child complain was decidedly not something Cuddy wanted to listen to. So rather than respond to Rachel's whining, Cuddy changed the subject.
As though she hadn't even heard Rachel's pleas, she said conversationally, "You know, I think we need to find something to bring back to Nana. Why don't you help me pick something out?"
It was hardly exciting. Cuddy realized as much. Especially for a two and a half year old, looking at the various wares didn't exactly make for a fun adventure. But in this, Rachel didn't have a choice. Cuddy did her best to make it seem like she did, but the whole while, she kept her grip on her daughter firm. And Rachel might have wanted to run off again, but she clearly understood that that wasn't going to be happening.
"No," she muttered, though her heart wasn't really into it. Obviously she didn't want to help, but she had already realized she had no choice but to.
"How about a necklace?" Cuddy suggested, pulling an unwilling Rachel along.
"No? But Nana will like it."
"No she won't."
Secretly Cuddy knew Rachel was right. There was no souvenir here that her mother would like. Personally Cuddy thought that everything around her was beautiful, obviously done by hand and with care. But that wouldn't matter to someone like her mother. Arlene would see the gift and automatically think of how she had been the one to book the trip, how she had been the one who had nearly made it here. It wouldn't matter that it had also been her suggestion for Cuddy to take her place once Jesus had cancelled. Her mother would be upset and resentful anyway.
Of course, on the other hand, Cuddy knew she couldn't come home empty-handed. If her mother would be displeased about receiving a gift, she would be even more unhappy to get nothing in return.
Given the reasons Cuddy had decided to take a vacation, she thought that her mother wouldn't lay on the guilt too thickly. She wouldn't be able to help herself obviously; she would have to make Cuddy feel bad to some degree, but she would try to hold back. And yet the end result would be the same for Cuddy: her mother would make it clear that she thought her daughter was ungrateful. As Cuddy was not lacking in gratitude, she decided then that for all concerned, a gift was better than no gift.
"Then how about a bracelet?" Cuddy suggested, as she dragged Rachel up to one of the bamboo-and-leaf-thatched stands in the market.
Rachel didn't respond. Her big eyes were too busy scanning her surroundings, as though she were trying to decide where she would run off to next. But Cuddy knew that as long as she had a hold of her, there was no danger of that happening. So she didn't have a problem focusing on the handcrafted jewelry on display in front of her.
It went without saying that absolutely none of it was to her mother's tastes. Pendants made of coral and woodcarvings were pretty and clearly carefully done, but it didn't fit with Arlene's overt air of waspiness. She would hate being described that way, particularly after all she had gone through to convert to Judaism. However, some things couldn't be helped; her mother's overwhelming sense of Protestantism was one of them. And there was nothing here that would fit in with that.
Then again, it didn't need to. Her mother wasn't going to wear whatever Cuddy bought her. She'd say something sarcastic and demeaning about it and then put it in a drawer to be forgotten about. She'd never wear it, never even think about it again, and the next time Cuddy would see it would be when she and Julia were cleaning out their mother's home after she died.
It was a morbid thought. But there was something freeing about it as well. If nothing was going to please her mother, then there was no point in fretting over it. Cuddy might as well just choose whatever she liked since it would make no difference to Arlene.
Settling on a coral necklace, Cuddy dropped Rachel's hand. Surprisingly, Rachel didn't sprint away. "Just a few more minutes," Cuddy told her daughter encouragingly. "Then we can get a snack and go play on the beach."
The merchant went about wrapping up the jewelry as she reached into her purse for some cash.
And that was when it happened.
She was so intent on counting her money that she didn't see the excitement cross Rachel's features. Her hands trapped in her purse, she was unable to grab Rachel when she took off.
Cuddy opened her mouth to yell for Rachel to get back here, but she didn't have the chance to say anything. Before the words came out of her mouth, Rachel shouted something instead.
Dread and disbelief spread through Cuddy in a chilling wave of emotion. Part of her, a desperate part, whispered inside that he couldn't possibly be here, he couldn't possibly know where she was, even though the whole of her being knew that all bets were off when it came to him.
Fear spun her around on her heels. Her wild eyes searched for her daughter, for a threat that suddenly seemed to loom over them both.
It didn't matter that, for months now, Rachel had missed House so much that she'd thought she saw him everywhere she went. It didn't matter that any tall man could be House in her eyes. That thought was unable to penetrate Cuddy's frantic energy.
And for good reason.
As Cuddy's gaze settled on her daughter, not twenty feet from where she was, she could see that this was no false alarm. Because it wasn't a stranger in front of Rachel. It wasn't some random man she she'd seen and wanted to be House.
No, twenty feet away from Cuddy was her daughter standing in front of someone very familiar.
It was House.
No amount of incredulity or wanting could change that fact. Cuddy squeezed her eyes shut tightly; silently she prayed that it was all a bad dream, but it didn't work. When she gazed upon her daughter once more, it was clear that nothing had changed.
Not twenty feet away from Cuddy was House.
Was the man who had tried to kill her.
To be continued