A/N-This takes place about three years after House went to jail. There is no attention paid to season 8 events apart from the fact that he went to jail. It focuses in on the relationship between House and Cuddy, outside of their normal environment.
Rated M now for language and adult themes, later for other things.
Disclaimer-I don't own the characters of House, MD.
(Rev. 3/17/12-Updated for Grammatical Errors)
She couldn't get over the way he looked. All of the horrible things he did to his body, the years of abuse, and yet standing there, leaning forward against the bar, unshaven, hair facing every which way, wearing wrinkled clothes, he still made her heart skip a beat. She was seated strategically between two groups of drunken revelers and just…watched. All of the years she had known him, she never expected to see him on that side of a bar, doling out drinks to customers. He had a stool placed between two large coolers to lean against occasionally, but all of the pacing back there seemed to suit him.
She had imagined this moment several times over the past three years. She'd wondered if he'd look worn and sickly, or drunk and sullen, or even healthy and fit, her mind had considered all possibilities. She had little idea what he'd been up to these last few years and hoped time and again that, against the odds, he would find the motivation to treat himself a bit more kindly. She didn't expect him to look exactly the same.
She watched with great curiosity as a young woman came up, leaning over the bar to offer him an unencumbered look down her shirt, clearly flirting with him. The woman reached her hand out to rest it on his forearm. Cuddy felt that instant revulsion. Everyone knew what a jealous bastard he could be but they probably underestimated the extent of her jealousy. As angry as she was when he lashed out at her in an envious rage, the part of her that she hated to acknowledge even existed, actually understood. She'd always been better at controlling her impulses, but here, watching the woman practically throw herself at him, she felt the swell of irritation. 'Probably a damn hooker,' she thought, always disturbed by his history with prostitutes. There were moments in the last few years when even she had to acknowledge that replacing emotional connections with financial transactions seemed simpler…even if she'd never be able to follow through with such a thing.
He stopped listening to the man he had been talking to and smiled down at the scantily dressed woman. It was then that Cuddy recognized the look on his face. It wasn't a smile, it was a smirk, that cruel condescending face that preceded the types of revelation-style statements he loved to hurl at the people who irritated him. She wished she could hear the words he leaned down to speak, but she knew what would inevitably follow. The woman turned away from the bar, with a look of shocked irritation, fleeing as quickly as she could. She pushed through the crowd and rushed past Cuddy's seat muttering, "What a fucking asshole!"
Cuddy smirked at the familiarity of his actions, admitting in spite of herself that she missed his rude, condescending behavior from time to time. She watched as he took a moment to see the young woman storm off, clearly pleased with his achievement, and then went back to work. Surprisingly there were a number of tips lined along the edge of the bar that he'd occasionally scoop up and shove into his jeans pocket. He looked…comfortable, much as if he belonged there the same way he always seemed to belong sitting behind his desk toying with various items as he thought through his latest puzzle.
A woman emerged from the back room, carrying boxes of liquor and restocking shelves, moving around him effortlessly. When she finished, she took a long pull from a bottle of water, and helped with the crowd that had gathered in front of the bar. He leaned back against his seat after they cleared the lines of waiting patrons and she walked to stand next to him. He took the water from her hand, drank some himself and returned the bottle to her. She was completely unphased by the familiarity of his actions, which caught Cuddy's immediate attention. The woman clearly wasn't his type. She was tall, for a woman, had short dark hair and deep brown eyes. She was dressed…well, much like House, complete with a well-worn printed tee shirt and jeans, although she replaced his usual sneakers with thicker, slip-resistant shoes. The two carried on a private conversation, despite the crowd, one or the other of them handling the patrons as they approached the bar. The woman looked at her watch, handed him her water bottle and headed toward the stage. She belted out a blues piece with a voice strong and sweet and undeniably feminine, despite her androgynous exterior. Cuddy wondered about the exact relationship between House and this woman, with whom he was undeniably familiar but didn't seem to regard with the same lascivious glances he was known for with the women in his life. As she left the small stage she returned to his side, at one point placing a hand on his arm, and leaning in to whisper something to him. What surprised Cuddy even more was his reaction to her touch. He didn't scowl down at the offending hand, swat it away or pull back from her. He merely leaned into her whisper, concentrating on her words and after a few moments, smiled at whatever she had been saying as if it were amusing. He stood, filling the requests of people that signaled from the bar.
"Can I get you a drink?" a deep voice asked from behind Cuddy. She turned, looking over her shoulder to see who was speaking to her. He was young, likely in his mid-twenties, but broad, muscular and unbelievably tall. He was handsome, a fact that he was likely acutely aware of, but he had a kind face and a friendly smile. He sat down on one of the chairs at her table and leaned in closer waiting for an answer.
"Oh, no thanks," she said, forcing a smile, "I was just on my way out."
"You should stay," he smiled, his green eyes glancing along her features.
"I was supposed to meet someone, but actually I think I'm in the wrong place," she said, as she placed her hands flat on the table to leave.
He placed a large hand down over one of hers, "Wait. Hang out, have a drink or two. I'm not a creep, I promise."
"I'm sure you aren't," she replied, offering an obligatory smile through tightly pressed lips. She kept trying to push her seat back from the table and realized the legs of the chair wouldn't slide across the floor. As she tried to free her chair, she saw movement at the table behind her as several people moved around. She looked under her seat, trying to appear calm and completely in control, and get out of the situation without drawing any attention to herself. Her young companion looked behind her, sighed, and said, "I better go, but I'm usually here on the weekends. Come back soon so I can buy you that drink," and left as suddenly as he had appeared.
As he walked away, two large sneaker-clad feet crossed and plopped unceremoniously on the chair next to her. Cuddy looked around confused by what had made the man so quickly back away, until she heard the one voice that could evoke an entire spectrum of emotion in an instant, "I'm pretty sure your being here makes it difficult for me to comply with the restraining order you have against me. Maybe if you are way in that corner over there, and I go to the opposite corner…let me get my yard stick."
She stiffened somewhat, sitting up straighter. "Hey," she said, sounding less confident than she wanted.
His chair was directly behind hers, the rubber stopper of his cane and one of the legs of his chair pinning her firmly in place. She turned slowly to look at him, just glancing over her shoulder as she realized how close he was to her. She saw the faintest smile cross his lips, almost imperceptibly, as he held her gaze for a millisecond and then looked forward. He moved his cane and scooted his chair over just enough to free her if she wanted to escape.
Another band took the stage to perform. Cuddy's attention turned to the band, trying to look as if she were interested in the show while she decided what to do in the next few moments.
"Not bad," House said, nodding toward the stage.
"Quite good," she answered.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, his voice soft and void of malice.
She could barely hear him over the sound of the music and the crowd, but knew what he was asking from his look and diverted gaze. When she didn't answer, he asked a longer, clearly more specific question that she couldn't hear at all. She turned her chair so she was directly facing his side and she leaned in a bit, over her knees and gestured toward her ear so he knew she didn't hear the question.
"What are you doing here?" he repeated.
"I'm traveling, and I heard this place was really…" she trailed off when she caught the incredulous look on his face. "I don't know," she said, her voice becoming hesitant.
He nodded without further question, seemingly understanding her uncertainty.
"You do realize that by you being here, I could go to back to jail," he said, after leaning toward her ear to ensure that she could hear him over the background noise, "I'd prefer not to go back if I can avoid it."
The smell of her overwhelmed him as his eyes traced the curve of her ear, the line of her jaw and her long slender neck, and fought the impulse to bury his face against her and remain there indefinitely.
"That was dissolved months ago, you didn't realize?"
He just shrugged. They listened in silence for a few minutes.
"I thought you'd be a lot angrier," she stated calmly, leaning in toward him.
He didn't answer or acknowledge the question in any way. After several moments he leaned into her ear again, "Is it Rachel, Wilson or…your mother?" he asked, just as the music ended.
He sat back in his chair, loosely crossing his arms over his chest and allowing himself to look at her. She met his gaze, surprised to find subtle evidence of concern. "What?" she asked, shaking her head.
"It's gotta be either Rachel, Wilson, or your mom," he said, his voice certain but expression questioning.
"What about them?"
"I've wondered what circumstances could cause our paths to cross. Now, I think its painfully clear that coincidence didn't bring you here, because you would never just happen to be in this area, and choose this place for a drink, so that means you found out where I was, and came here intentionally. I've also wondered…from time to time…why you'd purposefully seek me out. We both know it's not for you, because you'd never put yourself through having to see me again for your own health. I'm hoping it's not for your mom, I'm guessing it's not. She's too old and near natural death to warrant having to deal with this insufferable bastard. Which leaves Rachel or Wilson. Which one of them has an undiagnosed problem, or…maybe they've been diagnosed but you're looking for someone insane enough to try an unapproved and unbelievably risky treatment?"
She raised her eyebrows in response to his analysis, thinking for a moment, "They aren't sick."
Her brow furrowed briefly as her expression became introspective.
"OK," he said stiffly, "Is it…you?"
"No," she said softly, "I'm not sick, or delusional enough to think that if I were sick you would be there for me," she stopped abruptly at her last comment, "sorry, skip that last part, I'm not here to air my grievances and I'm not here for you to save the day."
He nodded, deciding not to react to the criticism embedded in her statement. "Then…really, why are you here?"