Thank you so much for reading this story and for commenting. Seriously, you guys are such a motivation.
A special thanks goes out to Aya and Meg; to Veronique, who is more than an instigator, but an inspiration; And to Maya, who has impeccable timing and is a very dear friend. ;-)
Disclaimer: Connected with Shore? Really? Absolutely NOT!
It was finally quiet.
Cuddy brushed her fingers along Rachel's cheek relieved she'd finally gotten her to go sleep. Ever since she had gotten home from the hospital, her daughter had been going a mile a minute. She hadn't wanted to leave her mother's side, had wanted to tell her everything, show her everything, do everything. Cuddy had been so happy to be home, happy to be with her daughter, she'd been equally enthusiastic. But it was exhausting. Not the normal exhaustion of a mother chasing her toddler, but a debilitating, aching exhaustion that was a little frightening.
"Come on," House said from behind her.
She jumped, startled by his presence, but then smiled as she took the cup of tea he handed her.
"There's a hot bath ready for you," he said. "And your medication."
She looked at the large pill in his hand and frowned. It was like a horse pill, and it left a terrible metallic aftertaste in her mouth. She would be taking one three times a day for the next two months. Lucky me, she thought.
"Are you pampering me?" She whispered, and took the pill.
"If I play my cards right, I'll get lucky tonight."
She let out an airy chuckle and leaned on him as he led her out of the room, closing the door behind them.
She already felt lucky: lucky to be home. Ten days in that hospital room was too much. She'd been going crazy staring at those walls, watching people put on the quarantine gowns and masks every time they came to see her. Of course, House had been breaking that protocol from day one, disregarding all reminders with an assurance he was already exposed, so it didn't matter. They reminded him the procedures were not just to protect him, but other patients and hospital personnel. He'd remark on the power antibacterial gels and tell them drown in it. As administrator of the hospital, she saw his behavior as careless and intolerable, requiring disciplinary action. As his girlfriend, she was pleased he needed to touch her and didn't want anything between them, even if it was infection control protection.
"It's good to be home," she said as they entered the bathroom.
"It's good you have a House," he said. "See what I did there?"
She smiled as he took the tea from her hand and placed it on the vanity. As he helped her remove her t-shirt and yoga pants, she worried over the weakness that was still so prevalent in her body. It didn't take much for her to lose all energy. After a day like today, she felt the tiredness deep in her bones. She could only hope the bath would rejuvenate her, provide at least a burst of strength to get her through.
"You going to join me?" she asked, stepping into the tub and slipping into the water. She avoided his eyes.
"No," he said. She could feel him watching her, looking over her body with open interest.
"You're just going to stand there and stare?"
"You know, boys invest every penny of their allowance on magazine and internet subscriptions hoping to see nipples floating on the water like that."
Her grin was half-hearted as she shook her head. "You're not a boy."
"Thank God!" He headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Got some things to do," he said over his shoulder as he left. "And you need to prepare for entering the king's chamber."
"Meaning MY chamber," she called.
He poked his head back in the door. "Kinky!"
She laughed as he winked and disappeared again.
Cuddy sank low into the tub, willing the warm water to ease her tense, tired muscles. She began to breathe deep, concentrating on deep inhales and slow exhales. She'd been holding her breath since she'd left the hospital, mentally fortifying her strength, determined not to show weakness or any fear. Pretending had become second nature, and it only left her more exhausted.
How am I ever going to get my strength back?
She was doing physical therapy every day, and tried to do additional exercises as often as she could, but it didn't feel like she was getting anywhere. Her body didn't even feel familiar; it had become an unknown entity, a vessel of symptoms and side effects. At times she felt she was now defined by her condition, by blood cells counts and test results. Her thoughts were often centered on the infection and what it was doing to her: evaluating symptoms and predicting side effects of the medicine. She was losing herself as quickly as she'd lost her health.
She tried to remain motivated, but the weakness was overwhelming. It was amazing how quickly muscles degenerated and how slow they recovered. As a doctor, she knew all of the chemical and biological reasons surrounding the issue, but experiencing it was creating a much greater level of understanding. It was discouraging and disheartening at best.
The only thing worse was the fear. She felt like a coward so overtaken with fears at every turn. She was afraid the pain would return. Every time she put weight on her legs, or worked with resistance on her limbs, every time any muscle contracted in her body, she'd feel the sense of panic deep within. She was afraid she wouldn't have the endurance to regain her level of strength and mobility, afraid she wouldn't be able to fight the physical and emotional demons whittling away at the woman she once knew. She was afraid she'd lose herself and never feel alive again. To make matters worse, she was afraid people would see her fears and would know she was a fraud. She wasn't the strong, independent woman they believed her to be.
She'd always been so proud of her accomplishments, so willing to sacrifice relationships and more personal goals in her quest for position and respect. She'd used her power and prestige, and yes, even her looks, to the fullest advantage in achieving her goals. And yet the ones that mattered most slipped through her fingers.
It had been so important to make her father proud, to have her mother like her. She'd failed at both. Her mother appreciated her skills and abilities, but couldn't stand to be with her. She never made it through a visit without her pointing out Cuddy's faults. Her father had died admiring her position as Dean of Medicine, but ashamed of her as a woman after discovering she'd slept with his best friend. He'd never even let her explain.
She'd waited so long to have a child only to discover she was barren. Now her body was betraying her again. She'd played games and lied to herself for years; it had almost cost her the chance to know real love, and passion, to know the perfection that went beyond what looked good on paper to what felt right in her heart. She was terrified of losing what she'd finally found with House, of breaking what they'd built. She was afraid if it fell apart, it would be her fault.
House had been great. He'd continued to do physical therapy with her, keeping her laughing and motivated, and shocking Leigh with comments that left her wide eyed and nervous. Poor girl. It was hard enough to have the Dean of Medicine as a patient, but she was also dealing with the hospital rebel. There had been times Cuddy wanted to protect her, to shield her from the insanity that was House, until one day she'd seen the awe in the girl's eyes, the light blush in her cheeks. After that, she didn't bother.
House. He'd done everything wrong that she expected, and more right than she'd hoped. It was a dream come true, and yet she couldn't shake the feeling the awakening was going to be painful. She didn't want to anticipate the worst, but it was hard not to. They were each a roller coaster on their own; together they were a runaway train. And now she was sick and barely treading the emotional waters toward recovery.
She felt a chill run through her that signaled it was time to get out of the tub. Cuddy opened her eyes and reached to pull the plug from the drain. That was when she spotted House sitting on the lid of the toilet watching her.
"How long have you been there?"
"How long have you been worried about us?"
She braced her hands on the edge of the tub and started to stand. He quickly came to help steady her.
"I'm not worried about us," she said, avoiding his eyes.
"The amused and aroused smile you were wearing says you were thinking of me," he said. "Or Idris Elba." He slid the towel along her body to dry her. "The frown across your forehead says you are anticipating my next failure, or questioning Wilson's wisdom in serving White Castles at the next board meeting."
He tied the towel around her and held her hand as she stepped out of the tub.
"And the fact you haven't been able to look me in the eye most of the day tells me I've done something very wrong." He frowned and tilted his head as he considered another option. "Or you're keeping something from me. Something you don't want me to know. Something you don't think I can handle."
Cuddy fiercely shook her head. "That's not it," she said, her eyes meeting his. "It's not."
Her hands cupped his jaw and pulled him down for a kiss. Her mouth moved lightly on his lips, gently caressing as her tongue tentatively slipped into his mouth. She explored his mouth. It had been so long since they'd kissed, really kissed, unabashedly, uncensored and uninterrupted.
House moaned and she felt his desire for her. He wouldn't pursue the interrogation.
"Come on," he said, pulling back and taking her hand. "Let's get you in bed."
The bedroom was set-up for seduction. The sheets were turned down and candles were lit throughout the room. He had even placed a bottle of sparkling grape juice and two wine glasses on the bedside table.
He must have noticed when she quirked her brow.
"We wouldn't want any medicine interactions," he explained.
House grinned as he pulled her into his arms; his eyes sparkled with excitement and desire. His lips ran along the line of her neck beneath her ear, grazing the sensitive skin and lightly sucking on the pulse he found. It had always been an erogenous zone for her and he was skilled at using it to his full advantage.
Cuddy felt the towel pulled from her body just before his hands cupped her breast, seeking and finding her nipple. She was aware of his every touch, and the thought of being with him again left her yearning and desperate.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and he lifted her, laying her across the bed as he came to rest at her side. His hands continued to caress and explore; she closed her eyes and focused on his fingers, on his mouth, on his tongue. He was attentive and thorough, and ….
She felt nothing. Well, that wasn't true. She felt tired. She felt miserable. She felt…like an outsider.
She wanted to make love with him, to feel him buried deep within her. She missed that feeling. She did. At least her heart did. Her body was a completely different story. As she became fully aware of exactly how foreign her body had become to her, she felt the familiar grip of fear clenching her gut.
House slid his hand between her thighs and opened her with his probing fingers. She held her breath, stealing herself for discomfort.
Cuddy grimaced and he froze.
She was dry, far from aroused. She wanted to cry. They'd always been able to depend on sex, and now that was being taken away, too.
"I'm sorry," she whispered as he looked at her.
"Sorry?" he asked, confused.
Her eyes unexpectedly filled with tears. She'd been an emotional wreck for days, why would she expect now to be any different? As much as her brain told her this was a completely normal reaction given her health and the medication she was taking, she still felt embarrassed and ashamed and afraid.
His eyes searched hers. House looked down her body, examined it with the intensity of a doctor, not a lover. It made her feel alone.
"Are you in pain?" He asked, frowning in concern. His voice was husky with unmet desire, his body taut with tension.
"No," she rushed to assure him. "I'm not in any pain."
She tried to relax under his gaze, but she felt exposed. Her hands unconsciously gripped the sheets, which of course he immediately noticed.
His face turned ashen and he quickly pulled away to sit at the side of the bed.
"It's okay," he said nervously.
His hand began to rub his thigh and she felt anxiety roll within her. She'd just created a mine field. In her frustration and confusion, she'd given him a very wrong message. As she watched the movement of his hand, she caught a glimpse of his full erection pressing against the zipper of his jeans and became fully aware of how much effort he'd extended to pull away from her.
"I'm sorry," she repeated. "I'm just tired. I'm really tired."
"I understand," he said, standing and turning away from her.
Shit! He was hurt.
She reached out for his hand to stop his retreat.
"Don't," he said through clenched teeth.
"It's not you," she tried to explain. "I can't help it."
He turned to look at her with haunted, tortured eyes that cut right to her heart. "You were just going to lay there?"
"I wanted…" she swallowed and corrected herself. "I want…" How could she even explain what she was feeling? What she wanted and needed? "I don't want to lose what we have."
"What?" He looked at her shocked. "You think this is what I want? For you to fake it? To just lay there miserable while I get my rocks off?"
Now he was angry.
"I can pay for someone to pretend to want me," he snapped.
Cuddy flinched. She felt the blow as if he'd actually hit her.
His mouth twitched when he saw her reaction and his fist tightened at his sides.
The tears slipped from her eyes.
House jerked her gown off the foot of the bed and tossed it to her. "Put that on," he said, and grabbed his cane. She stared wide-eyed as he headed for the door. "And get some sleep."
"House!" She called to him as he stormed out of the room, but she knew it was useless. He was hurt and angry. And he was frustrated.
I can pay for someone to pretend to want me.
His words reverberated in her mind.
What the Hell is wrong with me?
She knew what was wrong with her. It was all textbook, but it felt like a nightmare. It was bad enough she didn't have control over her body, or her emotions, but now she couldn't think either? Why hadn't she just told him she was tired when he first mentioned sex? Why couldn't she just explain what she felt? What she needed? She was always demanding trust, forcing him to open up to her, share his thoughts and feelings with her, but she was hiding from him. Not only that, she was undermining their relationship.
He was with her, by her side every step of the way – at great cost – just as she'd wanted. And she was pulling away. She was drowning in fears both new and old, and in insecurities long denied. Instead of sharing them with him, she was pretending. She was going to lose him. How would she ever survive this alone, when she couldn't trust herself? When she couldn't even find herself?
Cuddy curled up in a ball and cried.
[H] [H] [H] [H] [H]
"I made you some lunch for tomorrow," House said. She turned to look at him on the opposite side of the bed as he began to undress. "You'll just have to warm it up when you're ready to eat."
She didn't know how long he'd been gone, or how long she'd been crying. She did know she was glad he hadn't left her; she was glad he was here.
"Marina will be here to help with Rachel, and I'm sure you mother will be stopping by to remind you I'm a jackass."
Cuddy processed what he was saying. He'd been angry and hurt. He'd been betrayed. And he'd gone to cook for her.
She sat up on the side of the bed and watched him.
He'd lost weight. She couldn't help but notice. Her chest tightened as she acknowledged the stress he'd been under, the toll this was taking on him. In that moment, she desperately needed to hold him.
"Don't put those on," she said, as he picked up his pajama bottoms.
He looked up at her, surprised.
"I want you naked," she said softly.
"No you don't," he said, a scowl creeping along his brow.
Cuddy frowned. This wasn't going to be easy.
"I do," she stated it firmly.
"Don't pretend, Cuddy. There's no need."
He wasn't angry, but matter of fact, and yet she still jerked a little at his words.
"I'm not pretending."
She had been. She'd been pretending she could do this alone. That she was strong enough and brave enough and smart enough…
"Damn it, Cuddy! You think I don't know you feel like shit?" he said. "I should have known you weren't up for it. And you should have told me."
Cuddy tensed as a mix of emotions rushed over her. He looked up at the ceiling as he released a deep sigh.
"You don't have to act like you want me," he said.
"I do want you."
He stared at her blankly.
"I always want you, House," she finally said.
His eyes glazed over and his expression froze. He was processing something. But then his shoulders slumped, his chin dropped and he shook his head in frustration. For the first time Cuddy was afraid of one of his epiphanies.
"I'm just tired. I'm really tired," she reiterated.
"And being naked helps you rest?" His sarcasm came across as biting.
She bowed her head. She had to find a way to explain. "I miss you," she said.
Cuddy stared down at her clasped hands.
"I'm afraid," she said. "I'm afraid of everything. And my body…" She searched for words. "I don't know who I am. I don't know what I'm feeling or what to do. I just want to feel normal again."
She was shaking. Her hands were literally shaking. "I need to be with you."
The seconds passed. They felt like minutes. She was holding her breath.
Cuddy felt the bed sink beside her just before his arms came around her and pulled her back and up the bed with him.
"Grab the covers," he grumbled. "If we're sleeping naked, at least protect Little Greg from becoming a shriveled mass of nothing."
She exhaled, relieved and eagerly following his lead. He had a way reining in chaos through his own brand of insanity.
"As if that's possible," she said, and pulled the covers up over them.
Cuddy snuggled back into him as his arms wrapped around her. She could feel his body along her back and rear, his legs entwined with hers. Her head nestled on his should and she smiled as his fingers automatically began to caress her arm. She breathed him in, seeking that feeling of home, the safety she felt in him.
"You're an idiot," he said.
She froze. Jarred by his sudden outburst, and yet sensing he was about to share something important.
"Do you want to know when I've found you most irresistible?"
Cuddy swallowed, bracing herself against the jaws of fear she felt at his words. She was surprised to discover she actually didn't want to know, she didn't want to hear when he wanted her most.
"When you stood there broken and yet so ready to fight when the adoption fell through."
Cuddy turned her head to look at him, shocked and dismayed.
"When you were furious and fired me," he said. "You were disgusted enough to shut me out for good. But you dropped it all - forgot everything I'd just done – and just hurt with me when you realized I was hallucinating. Like when you held my hand and stayed with me after Amber died."
His eyes were filling with water and Cuddy could hardly breathe.
"When you stood there in my bathroom and told me you love me, knowing that I was about to take vicodin," he said, and a tear escaped his eye. "And that I'd never deserve you."
She didn't know what to say. She felt the fear dissipating, the crushing walls slide away. A weight was being lifted and she was not only breathing, but feeling steady, perhaps even stronger. So many years of flirting and innuendoes, of sexual attraction and lust, and it wasn't even what he carried with him.
House rolled over on his side to face her, naturally guiding her body to do the same.
"You're sick and tired, you don't recognize your body and you're afraid," he said. His fingers brushed her hair away from her temple. "None of that matters. I've never wanted to be with you more."
He looked so tender and shy. And those puppy dog eyes!
She kissed him lightly and curled into him, wrapping her arms around him to hold him tight.
"This doesn't mean I'm going to stop commenting on your ass."
"Just because my body is a nightmare, doesn't mean I can't take care of you," she offered.
"Go to sleep, Cuddy."
He stretched and turned off the bedside lamp.
He rolled her over on her other side and spooned her.
His fingers ran along her arms, tracing an invisible pattern. It felt right.