AN: This is my offical fix fic. Some of the finale events have been changed, because domestic violence is NOT okay, and I don't think House is capable of that. So instead of going with a car crash, I used what was rumored to be the original finale plan (you'll see what I mean shortly, if you're not as obsessive as I am). Oh, and I love reviews, they're almost as good as beer.
"She wants her hairbrush back," House said.
"Okay," Wilson replied. He waited to see where this would go – it always did end up somewhere with House, even if it took a while.
"She asked me to drop it off at her place tonight," he said, as if this was something out of the ordinary.
"Okay," Wilson repeated, still not sure why his best friend was obsessing over this.
"The first time she asked for her stuff back, she had me give it to her here," House said. "Which begs the question, why does she want me to come over to her place?"
"I thought you already returned Cuddy's stuff," Wilson stated.
"Me too," House said. "I guess Dominika thought it was hers," he added on; but Wilson was finding it pretty hard to believe that a woman who had just been married wouldn't have noticed another woman's hairbrush lying around her husband's apartment. "She probably wants to talk about the break-up. Like there's something to talk about," House continued, more to himself than Wilson.
Suddenly, realization flashed behind Wilson's eyes.
"You did it on purpose, didn't you?" Wilson asked.
"She probably thinks that meeting at her house gives her an escape route," House continued, not even bothering to deflect. "But it also means she'll have to kick me out if things get nasty, and we all know how good she is at telling me what to do."
"You left that brush behind when Cuddy asked you to return your things so that she would have another reason to talk to you," Wilson continued. He was determined to make House address this. It was too important not to.
"And if I go late enough, she won't be able to yell at me without waking up Rachel," House said, as he continued feigning deafness.
"You're not over her," Wilson accused.
House's sudden silence confirmed Wilson's theory.
"Okay, so you have to go over to her house, which means you have to talk to her. This is a good thing. Well, I mean, you should have just talked to her, but this is a good thing," Wilson continued. "You need to talk to her, especially since this might be your last chance. You should-"
"What do you mean, last chance?" House asked. He looked up at Wilson. Wilson looked resigned, and a little bit scared.
"Listen, House, don't freak out," Wilson said, clearly not doing a very good job of taking his own advice. "Today is Cuddy's last day. She got an offer to take the position of dean up at NYU Medical. She told the board two weeks ago and made us all sign confidentiality agreements. I would have told you, I swear, but I didn't know how you were going to react, and I couldn't figure out-"
House stood up suddenly and walked over to the door.
"That's fine, Wilson," he said calmly. But it was an eerie sort of calm, and all Wilson could do was bury his face in his hands and wait for the storm to blow over.
She had really wanted to meet him at her house. It would have been easier, safer. But it was late, she was tired, and she wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.
As soon as she knocked on the door of 221B, she sensed that something was off. It was too quiet – there was no music or talking or even the sound of a TV going on behind the closed door – but the lights were on and House's bike was parked in the driveway. Cuddy turned the handle – the door was unlocked.
She was about to call out his name when she saw him standing in the middle of his living room.
It looked like a bomb had hit. His bookshelves were bare, the books spread all over the floor. The couch had been stripped of its cushions, and they were scattered haphazardly around the room. Sheet music had been taken from the piano bench and was strewn over every empty surface. One of the curtain rods had been torn from the wall. The glass top of the coffee table was shattered. Cuddy glanced around House to the kitchen, and could see broken dishes and cutlery on the floor and counters.
"What the hell happened?" Cuddy asked, for lack of anything else to say.
"I couldn't find your brush," he said, as he handed it over.
She took it slowly. Had it always been this heavy?
"Why?" she asked tiredly.
One look at her told him everything. He knew exactly what she was asking, and that she already knew the answer.
"I could ask you the same thing," he replied.
She hated how he could do this to her. How he could hold up a mirror and force her to consider herself in ways she never had before. It was uncomfortable; more often than not, she had a hard time recognizing her own reflection.
Why? She thought she'd known the answer to that question. She was running from him. Running from him because she still loved him with an intensity that scared her. She had known that. She had known also that there was no room for emotion of this magnitude in her well-organized life. Being with him made her happy, but it also made her a little bit reckless. And that was a side of herself she did everything in her power to keep under control. And Lisa Cuddy could never allow herself to be out of control. Why that was, she had no clue.
"I don't know," Cuddy said. And for the first time in a long time, she was being completely honest with herself.
She wanted more than anything to melt into him again, and feel his arms, solid and warm surround her. She wanted to feel his lips trace the outline of her neck and her collarbone. She wanted to surrender herself to him, to forget everything for a moment and just be. She wanted to crawl inside him and stay there forever.
But all she allowed herself was a hard, deliberate kiss to his lips. She felt the pulse in his neck racing beneath her fingertips as she opened her mouth to capture his bottom lip. Every nerve in her body told her to keep going, to deepen the kiss further, but, as usual, her brain stopped her. When she pulled away, she had tears in her eyes.
They stood there, the two of them, eyes locked, surrounded by the wreck that House's apartment had become. It was too much and not enough, a perfect encapsulation of their relationship. It felt almost like it did a year ago, when she found him surrounded by broken glass and smashed dry-wall. Almost, but not quite.
House cradled her face in his hands, gently stroking her cheek, as if to keep her from leaving, but she turned her head and stepped backwards, releasing herself from his grip.
She gave him a small, sad smile and left his apartment, leaving him standing alone in the rubble.
Holidays were better on autopilot. Or so thought Lisa Cuddy, sandwiched between her sister and her mother at the dinner table. She nodded at the appropriate times, smiled when they looked around expectantly, and made sure her wine glass was always full. She had strategically offered to host: when she wasn't being complimented on her ability to put together a lovely dinner party, she could avoid their more probing questions by rushing off to the kitchen to do dishes, or to pull something out of the oven. The automatic responses and polite small talk she was subjecting her family to felt a lot like what she did to potential donors, but Cuddy couldn't bring herself to be bothered by that fact.
"Lisa, there you are. I feel like I've hardly talked to you all evening," said her mother, as she walked into the kitchen.
"Sorry, Mom, I've been busy," Cuddy replied.
"Are you feeling okay?" Arlene asked.
"I'm fine, Mom. Why do you ask?"
"You just smiled and nodded when Julia started prattling on about Becca's grades. Generally, you only let her talk about that for around thirty seconds before you try to change the subject."
"I've been a little tired, lately, I'm sorry. The commute is affecting me more than I thought it would," Cuddy admitted. "Once I figure it out, I should be fine."
"So tired you've been running eight miles a day?"
"It's good stress relief," Cuddy said, before pausing. "Wait. How the hell do you know that?"
"I looked at your running log."
"So now you're going through my computer?"
"You left it open," Arlene shrugged. Sometimes her mother reminded her so much of House it made Cuddy want to scream. That bastard had a sneaky way of popping up at the most unexpected times.
"Great, Mom. How far back did you go in my inbox?"
"Lisa, I'm worried about you."
"Well, don't be. I'm fine. I'm more than fine, actually. I have an amazing job, a beautiful new house, Rachel is going to one of the top pre-schools in the state, and you're about to leave," Cuddy said, turning back to the sink to violently scrub an already clean pan.
"You're clearly not. You've barely said a word all night, you've lost at least ten pounds since the last time I saw you, and you haven't had a date in six months. You left your calendar open, as well," Arlene added, responding to Cuddy's exasperated question before she had a chance to ask it. "What happened to you, Lisa?"
Lisa Cuddy, superwoman, was tired. Not physically; she felt the same way she'd been feeling for the past five years, in that respect. And not mentally, either; her job was difficult, but she loved the challenge. Emotionally, Cuddy was drained. She had been trying so damn hard to do what she was supposed to do, to move on, for the past six months. And then her mother waltzed glibly into her kitchen and undid it all in less than five minutes.
"Gee, Mom, I don't know. This past year has just been so fantastic. I spent a week thinking I had terminal cancer, I dumped the man who may, potentially, have been my last chance, because he started taking vicodin again. And then that same man broke my heart by getting married to a mail-order bride. I quit running a hospital that I had to spend fifteen years proving I was capable enough to run. I moved to a new town, got a job that forces me to make an hour commute, both ways, every day, and I, apparently, can't sustain an adult relationship," Cuddy said. She turned around forcefully at the end, cleaned the butcher's knives, and tried not to cry.
Luckily, Arlene Cuddy wasn't the type to dole out pity. She let her daughter finish scouring the utensils before trying to speak again.
"You miss him," she said, as she watched the younger Cuddy dry her hands.
"Don't start with this, please. I was-"
"I know, I know," Arlene said, waving her hand dismissively. "The huge raise, the impressive hospital, the opportunity of a lifetime...
"Lisa, you were always the smart one, the motivated one. I knew from very early on that you would do incredible things," she stated. From the tone of her voice, it didn't sound like one, but this was the closest thing to a compliment Cuddy had ever received from her mother. "But, sweetie, for all of your intelligence and dedication and focus; you've never been very in touch with yourself."
"Look, Cuddy, I'm just making a suggestion. I really think you ought to visit him. That's all. Just a quick visit. He lost his job three months ago, he's been on a downward spiral ever since, he's been staying at a motel near the beach, and he hasn't been communicating with anyone."
Cuddy made sure her next response to James Wilson's latest request would be a bit more measured than the last. Manipulating the emotions of others was in his job description – she needed to keep hers in check. She closed her eyes and envisioned herself in a hot bubble bath. With a glass of red wine. Or maybe, at this point, the whole bottle. She pinched the bridge of her nose, grateful he couldn't see her rolling her eyes over the phone lines.
"Wilson, I have responsibilities. I run a hospital that needs me. I have a daughter who barely sees me as it is. I can't take an hour off for myself, much less an entire day for an ex boyfriend," Cuddy said. "And don't you dare try to make me feel guilty about this. I don't owe him anything."
"Definitely not. You only dated the man for a year. And employed him for about eight years before that," Wilson said.
"Wilson, we're done. Since you seem to have forgotten, let me remind you that I don't have personal or professional obligations to Greg House any more. After the break up, he made it abundantly clear that he wanted to make both of those aspects of my life miserable."
"Cuddy, you've known House for a long time. You should know him well enough to know that he was only doing those things to push you away. He thought that you'd be better off without him," Wilson replied.
"Well, he got that right," Cuddy said, her voice dropping dangerously.
She added some lilac-scented candles and chocolate to the bathroom in her head.
"Are you sure about that?"
"If you're that concerned about him," Cuddy said tiredly, "you can visit him yourself. Aren't you supposed to be his best friend?"
"Yeah. But I'm not the one who was stubborn enough to keep the man employed for almost a decade," Wilson said. Or stupid enough, he added silently.
And there it was. Wilson was officially assigning the blame to her for House's recent meltdown. Cuddy had figured that being aware of what Wilson was doing would have assuaged some of the guilt he was trying to make her feel. Apparently not. She could feel the gnawing start in some tiny corner of her stomach. Logically, she knew, that House's unemployed status had nothing to do with her and everything to do with his inability to not be an ass for five minutes. But somehow, when Wilson started talking about it, it didn't feel that way.
"You want me to give him a job," said Cuddy. "Well I have news for you Wilson, I am done saving House from himself. And do you honestly expect me to do that after all the shit he's put me through?"
Wilson wasn't trying to blame Cuddy for the most recent House meltdown – not really, anyway. But she had to have realized that after she left, it was inevitable that House would be leaving PPTH as well. Sure, she had tried to manipulate the board into keeping him on the hospital payroll, but it had taken them a mere three months to find a workaround; and with Lisa Cuddy being the only dean on earth willing to put up with him, House had been a marked man since the day she announced her resignation.
"Fine, then don't do it for him. Do it for me," Wilson said. "I'm worried about him, Cuddy. I've tried to contact him every day since he was fired, and he's only responded once. He could be self-destructing right now; in fact, I would put money on it. He's not going to talk to me, and you're the only person who has something to offer him.
"I can tell you where he's staying; go for dinner, get him to sign the papers, assign him a supervisor, and I promise, you'll barely see him."
Cuddy laughed. It was absurd, really, that anything that had to do with House could ever be that simple. Wilson either thought she was stupid, or was getting really desperate.
"It's not gonna happen, Wilson," Cuddy said,.
He paused, allowing for a temporary concession. Before hanging up, he said, "he still loves you, Cuddy. Be careful."
In the moments after James Wilson hung up the phone, Cuddy thought her anger might buy her just enough time to defuse his latest guilt-bomb.
She looked like she'd shrunk, even from across the beach. Every muscle in her legs was visible beneath the skin, her collarbones jutted out, and her breasts were significantly smaller – and if anyone could say that with certitude, it was House. When she got closer, he saw that there were dark circles etched deep under her eyes and her cheekbones were more prominent than ever. When they locked eyes, he thought that even they looked different.
Cuddy hadn't been able to predict how she would feel when she first saw House again; but she never would have guessed that she wouldn't know how she felt. She had figured a reunion with him would prompt in her a dramatic reaction of some sort. But instead, everything felt dulled, as if her emotional responses weren't responding to the visual stimuli in front of her. Because he was there – solid and real, his skin a bit darker than usual and his stubble verging on the edge of a beard – but the neurons responsible for processing how she felt about the whole thing didn't seem to be firing. It was like she was on the set of a not too terribly compelling drama about someone else's life.
She crossed the shabby little beach bar to where he was sitting.
"House," she said, and it came out sounding surprised, almost as if she couldn't believe she was standing in front of him. "Hi."
"Hey, Cuddy," he responded, and it sounded unhurried and confident, as if he had been waiting for her the whole time.
"You talked to Wilson."
"Yes," she admitted.
"And Wilson guilted you," he stated.
"No," she said, before realizing that he had already intuited his way to the end of this chain of events, and lying would be fruitless. "Yes."
"The James Wilson guilt trip," he said, apparently relishing his best friend's manipulative skills. Some people wondered how these two could be friends – the Crankiest Asshole Ever and the Nicest Man on Earth. Not Lisa Cuddy. "You were putty in his hands.
"How much will I be making?" he asked, apropos of nothing. He knew that Wilson would have been dropping copious hints about his current employment status, and that Cuddy would have felt too bad to ignore them.
"Same as you made at Princeton Plainsboro," Cuddy replied.
"I want a raise," he challenged.
"Salary negotiations go through the board, but I'm sure I can make it happen."
"And a corner office."
"Fine," Cuddy said, neglecting to mention that all department heads got corner offices.
"I also want a bigger team. Bigger hospital, bigger budget, means more patients. Ergo, I need a bigger team," said House, drawing out their staged negotiations.
"I have your contract drawn up already, and you get to hire five minions," Cuddy said.
"Oh, and I want a secretary."
"I'll see what I can do," Cuddy said, though she doubted there were any secretaries in the tri-state area willing to take on House.
"I was thinking someone young, blonde, nice legs, big-"
"House, don't push it," Cuddy said. She punctuated her warning by neatly finishing off her margarita. She had a feeling she was going to need it.
"Thanks for meeting with me; I think you're really going to like NYU," said Cuddy, as she stood to leave. "See you in a week?"
"You're not driving home," said House.
"House, I'm perfectly capable of driving home right now," she replied. She couldn't help but smile as she turned her back on him to leave the restaurant. He'd always been protective of her, and that protectiveness tended to manifest itself in the most bizarre ways. She could now add preventing her from driving home after two margaritas to that list.
"No you're not. Stay the night," he insisted.
Cuddy raised an incredulous eyebrow. "You really think I'm suddenly gonna jump into your bed again just because I knocked back a few too many?"
"Please, Cuddy, I have two double beds. Although, now that you've brought it up..."
"As much as I'd love to," Cuddy said sarcastically, "I have a daughter to get home to, and a babysitter to pay. I'm going. I'll see you next Monday."
"Fine, then just have a cup of coffee," he said.
That, Cuddy knew, was the best offer she was getting. She sighed. "One cup of coffee. And then I'm leaving."
He had kept his tiny motel room surprisingly neat for a man allegedly in crisis. He hadn't lied about the two double beds either.
Cuddy watched House make coffee with the small, hotel-provided set. His movements were careful (as they always were – everything about the man was meticulous), even though he was brewing a crappy cup of coffee in a crappy hotel room on the Jersey shore.
House could feel her eyes on him. They weren't measuring him up, no, he thought, she was past caring about that sort of thing. They were just drinking him in. He turned around suddenly, and she looked surprised, like someone caught staring at something they shouldn't be.
"You can go outside. I'm right on the beach. Put your feet in the sand or something," he said. "Considering you haven't been on vacation in about ten years, you probably need to remember what that feels like."
"House, it's March, and it's forty degrees out there. I think I'll stay right here," she said, as she sat down on his spare bed. "How's the wife?" she asked, in a vain attempt to sound casual.
"She went back to Poland," he responded, without looking at her. "Her mother died."
He shrugged and presented her with a cup of piping hot coffee before sitting down next to her.
"Thanks for giving me a job," he said.
"Don't mention it," she said. "The board was itching for me to hire you since they saw your patient mortality rate. Apparently they didn't look too closely at your malpractice suits."
He was sitting a little too close. It was nothing that could be construed as inappropriate, but they didn't look precisely like co-workers either.
The silence between them was palpable. House could tell that something was bothering Cuddy – something she'd wanted to say all evening. She was just a little too fitful, a little too unsure of her words. So he waited, knowing that the silence would extract whatever she had been trying to say since she'd arrived.
He nodded at her to continue, as if she were some sort of rare bird he didn't want to frighten away.
"Wilson said that you still loved me. Is that true?" she said in a rush.
He should have seen that one coming from a mile away.
"Wilson says a lot of things. Not all of them are true."
"But is this?" she asked.
Cuddy wasn't entirely sure why she was doing this to herself. It wasn't like House telling her that he loved her was some magic cure-all. Prior experience had taught her that lesson all too well. Yet there was a small, insatiable part of her that needed to hear it. Of course, her rational brain told her that it didn't matter – they couldn't really be together anyway. But somehow, when it came to House, at least, her rational brain took a backseat.
"Would it change anything if it was?" he asked.
"I might be inclined to throw in a few more square feet of office space," Cuddy joked; but it fell flat and she lapsed into an awkward pause before assuming a more sober tone. "House, with you... I'm happy. When I'm with you, I don't feel like I always have to be right or in control or on top of everything. I can just... be.
"I loved you more than I've loved any other man I've ever been with. But that doesn't mean we can be together. Because I have to be right and in control and on top of everything, all the time. That's what my job as a dean and as a mother entails.
"I'm offering you this job, because you're the best damn doctor I know. I can make some professional sacrifices, because in the long run, it'll be better for the hospital. But, House, I owe it to Rachel to be the best mother I can be. I don't know if I can do that and be with you at the same time. I'm sorry."
He sat there for a moment, and allowed himself to process her little speech. Truth be told, he hadn't been expecting that much honesty from her. And perhaps it was that that led him to his confession.
It wasn't something he had intended to admit, but all of the sudden, it was spilling out, almost unbidden.
"Wilson was right," he said. "I do."
She looked over at him – it was, House noted briefly, the first time they had made eye contact since he had sat down on the bed – and he could see that there were tears in her eyes, threatening to spill over.
"Me too," she said, before returning her gaze to the mug in front of her.
It had been a week. Just a week, and already Cuddy's life had swung back into chaos. She had already negotiated her way out of two lawsuits, replaced the head of the nursing staff after the first stormed off after a particularly nasty argument in the ER, cajoled her secretary into coming back to work, and approved countless procedures that lacked somewhat in the ethics department. No patient, however, that had passed through the diagnostics department that week had died.
Say what you would about the man, but employing Greg House was never dull.
Nor were his entrances. Apparently he hadn't managed to shake the habit of throwing open her doors unannounced in the months they'd been apart.
"You're going out to dinner tonight," he announced.
"Are you my secretary now?" she asked. "Yes, I'm going to dinner at Ai Fiori, it's not a date, I'm taking some of our most important donors out, and you had better not show up."
"No you're not," he shot back.
Great. Her crises had actually been manageable today. Fixing whatever House had done to her donors was not going to be easy – as the Cantors's generosity and patience seemed to be inversely proportional.
"What," she said, lowering her voice to a dangerous decibel, "did you do to my donors?"
"Relax. I got your secretary to reschedule for next week. You have a seven-thirty reservation for Tuesday night at Per Se," he said, as he put his feet on her desk and leaned back.
Cuddy didn't even bother trying to remove his feet from the stack of papers they were resting on; all she could do at the moment was try to keep her jaw from hitting the floor. "How the hell did you manage to get those reservations?" she asked, before brief thoughts that had something to do with asking questions you didn't want the answers to flitted through her head. "Never mind. I don't think I want to know. Thank you for giving me the night off. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a train to catch."
Best not to look a gift horse – especially one given by House – in the mouth, Cuddy thought as she stood to leave. If she ran, she could catch the five twenty-six.
But House, it seemed, had other plans.
"I wasn't finished," he said, as he moved over to bar the exit.
"Oh really?" Cuddy asked. "You're so good at this, do you want to replace my secretary yourself after you scare this one off for a second time?"
"You have a six o'clock dinner at Eleven Madison Park tonight," he continued on, without acknowledging her comment.
"With who?" she replied tiredly. So he wanted to play a game with her. Well, let him, Cuddy thought. He was clearly new to the wrath of the commuter running late during rush hour at Penn Station.
"Oh, no. No. House-" Cuddy began, but House cut her off before she could start ranting.
"Come on. You were going to be here any way. Why waste a babysitter?"
"Well in the face of that infallible logic..." she said, trailing off at the end. She sighed before continuing, "you know that's not what this is about."
"Two co-workers can't have dinner together?" he asked her.
"We could never just be co-workers."
"Then why don't you give in to the inevitable?" he said softly.
And then, all of the sudden, he was crowding her, and Cuddy had to crane her neck to look into his eyes.
"Fine," she said. "But you're paying. And I'm only going because of the food."
House stared at her backside as she strutted down the hallway in front of him, her hips swinging with that signature Cuddy shimmy. He smirked. They both knew they were playing with fire.
She woke up as soon as he pulled into her driveway.
He cut the engine, and for a moment, they just sat there, staring at each other. It was a comfortable kind of silence, and really he could have stayed there for much longer, but after a few seconds, Cuddy spoke.
"Thank you for dinner," she said, smiling.
"Don't get used to it," he shot back, before getting out of car and crossing over to the passenger-side seat.
Cuddy grabbed House's hand and hauled herself to her feet. She steadied herself – heels and gravel never did seem to work out too well – before shutting the car door and turning her head up to meet House's eyes and deliver her snarky reply. But as soon as she opened her mouth, she realized that she was still holding his hand. Cuddy looked down. He was tracing circles with his thumb over her knuckles.
She looked back into his eyes. And then he brought his lips crashing down onto hers. She opened her mouth and he deepened the kiss, bringing his hands around the back of her head to tangle his fingers in her hair. She gave a little gasp when he shoved her against the side of his car, and responded by tugging on the lapels of his jacket, bringing him infinitesimally closer to her. And then the rest of the world fell away and it was just his lips on hers and nothing else mattered.
He was pulling up the hem of her skirt when the porch light went on.
"Um, Dr. Cuddy?"
House looked up. There was a tall, young, red-headed girl standing there, looking very much like a deer in the headlights. Cuddy slid out from under House's arms and straightened her skirt. She snapped into administrative mode, and, House noted, she didn't look the least bit flustered. He supposed he had conditioned her well.
"Jessica," Cuddy said. "How was Rachel?"
"She was fine. She went right to bed," the girl said, clearly flustered.
"Thank you so much," Cuddy said, handing her a wad of bills from her purse. "Get home safe, okay?"
The girl nodded, and then practically ran to her car.
After she had peeled out of the driveway, Cuddy turned around and walked back to House, now leaning on his car. "Thank you, again," she said, wrapping her arms around his waist. "Now go home. You have to get up early tomorrow so you can take me to get my car."
"It would be easier if I stayed," he said hopefully.
"House, I have a lot to think about tonight. Can we just take this one day at a time?"
"Okay," he said, nodding.
Cuddy smiled. "I love you," she said.
He pinched her on the butt. "You too," he said, before turning around to get in the car.
She laughed and swatted him on the rear.
As she watched his taillights disappear down her street, she realized that she already knew what she wanted. And though she had been down this road before, it felt as though she was forging a new path. And she refused to let herself worry about it – at least for now.