A/N-This is a post finale fic (I bit the bullet and decided to accept it).
This is very different from my last one if you've read it. I will not be trying to right the past, or explain away many of the things that happened. This is a grownup fic, with grownup themes, including mentions of sex and drugs. If those themes bother you, you will not like this fic, so you may want to skip it.
This chapter sets the stage. I tried to determine "real" ages…(Or at least very close)…with the help of Bakerstreet Blues and JLCH, who allow me to bother them incessantly with ideas and questions about ages and dates (BS B...we may need to see if we can get you a bigger inbox)…they have MUCH better minds for detail than me… Thanks also to JLCH for your suggestions about Cuddy and draft review.
I like to begin vaguely, and fill in the blanks as we go, so you will find unanswered questions. I will endeavor to keep my Author's Notes brief (after this one) and the updates regular, likely Monday, Wednesday and Friday on most weeks, with an occasional extra one thrown in for good measure.
I hope you enjoy it...
Disclaimer-APPLIES TO THE ENTIRE STORY-I do not own the characters of House, MD.
Lisa Cuddy was not having a good day. Two weeks earlier, she turned 55. She told everyone she didn't mind. She ran, she exercised, she ate well…and it showed. She was chief administrator of a large hospital, tired of the restrictions of a teaching hospital, she went for big money, and easily found it on the west coast. Her job was flexible enough that she could attend almost all of Rachel's functions, and she could be home most evenings. She was confident that she was a good mom.
She was leaving for vacation in a few days. She hadn't taken one in a year or two, and when her sister asked if Rachel wanted to fly back east and spend two weeks at a music camp with Julia's youngest, Cuddy and Rachel agreed. Up until three years earlier, Cuddy was single, her life devoted to work and her daughter, but Rachel was coming to the age where it was embarrassing to be seen in public with her mother, and was increasingly putting distance between them.
Cuddy went to the gym one evening, shortly after her 52nd birthday, and met a personal trainer. Gorgeous, 35, and built like he spent ten hours a day working out…because, as a personal trainer, he did, Paul was an easy fit into her life. He was thoughtful, fun, and drama-free. Although he wasn't the brightest man in the world, he seemed well-meaning. He was great with Rachel, and often the picture of an attentive boyfriend, available for movies and dinners out, the perfect date for hospital functions, or to run Rachel home from after-school activities. He and Cuddy enjoyed an active lifestyle, decent sex, and there was never any real tension between them.
Arriving home from a doctor's appointment, she was irritated that Paul didn't show. It wasn't like him. She needed a ride home from the doctor's office that day, and maybe a bit of moral support, and he didn't show up. After the appointment, she made it home, walked through the front door, and there, on the sofa, was her twelve-year-old daughter, kissing her best friend, a boy from school who lived in the neighborhood. Cuddy felt panic welling, and repeated in her head: Remain calm. Remain calm. She looked the two kids over quickly, they were sitting upright, both were fully clothed, appropriate buttons buttoned, hands where they could be seen, but disconcerting nonetheless.
Rachel shoved the boy away, reflexively, somehow beyond reason, hoping that if she was quick enough, her mother wouldn't notice the activities on the sofa. "Hey, Rach," Cuddy said, nodding, still reminding herself to stay calm. "Hey, Tim," Cuddy said tensely to the boy.
"Hi, Dr. Cuddy," he replied softly. Cuddy made Tim nervous, she made most of Rachel's friends nervous. "I think I should go home…" he said, his voice squeaking a bit.
"OK. You have a nice night," she said, nodding. Cuddy felt anxiety creeping in, surprised to find her daughter in that situation, still imagining that dolls and crayons were more age-appropriate than boys.
When the door closed behind him, Rachel sat on the sofa, looking down at the ground. "Unacceptable," Cuddy said to Rachel, her voice tense, but even.
"Don't freak out, Mom, it was just a kiss. It's no big deal," Rachel said, her tone full of adolescent irritation.
"I'm…not freaking out. I actually thought I was taking this all pretty calmly. But…tonight, you and I need to talk..."
"NO! God, MOM!" Rachel yelled, throwing her hands up over her face in disgust at the concept. "I learned everything I need to know at school, I know about condoms and STD's and everything. I don't need to hear about this from you!"
"The fact that you think the discussion I want to have with you involves condoms and STD's…actually makes me MORE concerned than I was," Cuddy responded, the stress and concern now showing in her voice. "I was going to remind you of some ground rules for when I'm not at home…like…no friends…definitely no boys. That rule…hasn't changed. I can't trust you for an hour after school?"
"You can trust me," Rachel mumbled.
"Well, since you are considering sex…I guess we'll have to include that in our discussion as well," Cuddy said, one arm tightly wrapped around herself, and the hand of the other arm rubbing her forehead.
"NO!" Rachel said, clearly embarrassed and frustrated, and obviously objecting to her mother's involvement. "I'm not thinking about having sex, I swear!"
"You're twelve. I…naively, perhaps…thought I had at least three or four more years before I had to worry about that. Although you really should have known…no boys in this house with you alone. Period."
"I'm not alone. Paul's here," Rachel said, defensively.
"He's here?" Cuddy asked.
"Yeah. He was already here when I got home from school."
Cuddy assumed Paul didn't show up to give her a ride because he had to work late, but he was home. She wondered if he was sick, or if something happened. She focused back on Rachel for a moment. "Tonight, 6:30. You and I are going to get some dinner…alone…we'll talk. Like it or not, you're stuck with your mother for the evening."
"Fine," she heard Rachel agree as she left. Then Cuddy heard Rachel grumble, "You're so controlling," just loudly enough for Cuddy to hear.
Cuddy stopped, and thought about turning around and answering Rachel, mentioning to the girl that her own mother, Arlene, would have probably gone completely ballistic in a similar situation, but she decided to save the discussion for dinner that night, hoping Rachel's embarrassment would fade and they could talk more freely. Rachel was rapidly becoming a teenager, and Cuddy felt entirely unprepared.
Paul wasn't in the kitchen, or out back in the swimming pool. Cuddy went to their bedroom, and found him there, two suitcases open on the bed and a few boxes spread around the room. "Hey, Paul?" she said, confused by the sight. "What's…going on?"
"Lisa, I'm sorry. You know I love Rachel…and you…but this…I can't handle all of this."
"All of what?"
"I'm sorry I missed your appointment. Things…have just gotten…too intense here. I need to step back while you get this all worked out."
"While I get things worked out?"
"Yea, I hope everything is OK for you, really I do. I'll be thinking about you. When you know what's going on, give me a call. We can talk then."
"Not a chance," she said shaking her head, her expression one of shock and disbelief, her arms both tightly crossed in front of her. "If you walk out now when I need you …there's no coming back."
Paul offered a sad smile, and zippered up the full suitcase in front of him. "Sorry, Lisa."
It seemed like only moment later, Paul was gone.
Remain calm. Remain calm. Fuck it. Cuddy was sitting on the floor of her room, crying softly. Her daughter hated her, her boyfriend left her. She was miserable. There was a soft knock on the door, and Rachel peeked in, "Hey, Mom?" she said, the snark gone from her voice.
"Yea, Baby?" Cuddy answered, trying to steady her voice.
"Paul coming back?"
"I'm sorry, Rach…I don't think so," Cuddy answered.
She waited for her daughter's angry response. Rachel liked Paul, and Cuddy figured the already irritated girl was going to blame her for whatever went wrong, and respond angrily. Rachel slipped into the room, quietly walking over to sit down next to Cuddy on the floor, backs leaning against the side of the bed. Rachel put her arm around her mother's shoulders. "What a tool, and I thought I liked him," the girl said, smiling sweetly at her mom.
"I'm really sorry, I know you guys got along really well," Cuddy said.
"Whatever. You don't need him. You can do better," Rachel said, nodding supportively as Cuddy put her head on her daughter's shoulder.
"I love you, Rach," Cuddy said, smiling and appreciating the momentary peace between them.
"I love you too, Mom," Rachel answered.
They sat for a few minutes together before Rachel said, "Any chance I can have Tim over tomorrow after school? I promise I'll behave…"
Cuddy looked at her daughter, realizing that she wasn't looking down to see her little girl anymore, and smiled, "Nice try."
Rachel smiled back and then looked down at her hand, "Can't blame me for giving it a shot…"
Greg House was not having a great day. Many people would truly envy his life. He worked at a resort, an onsite doctor. Most of the cases were sunburns, and since the beach at the resort was topless, lots of the sunburns were on twenty-something year-old breasts. There were other cases, a few STD's, stomach viruses and hangovers, but mostly, he sat. He had a beach front office, which he often could be found in front of, reading, playing video games on a TV he had facing out the window, answering emails for his entrepreneurial venture, and watching women.
He was physically in better shape than in years past, although chronically unhappy in spite of his improved condition. Most days he was almost completely unshaven, a little intoxicated, and occasionally a little bit high, but stayed away from Vicodin. He avoided opiates cautiously, definitely a weak spot for him, but found plenty of other ways to occupy his time. One of those ways was Tina.
Tina was 32, she appeared at the resort almost two years earlier, and got a nasty sunburn on her tight little butt when she switched to a significantly smaller bikini. They weren't in love, but they had an agreement, a simple, uncomplicated relationship. He figured she enjoyed their life, living at a resort, playing in the sun. She worked shifts as a waitress in the resort restaurant a few nights a week for money, and her good looks earned her good tips. She was gorgeous, relaxed, and easy-going, but certainly not the brightest girl on the planet.
On that particular day, he finished his shift early, just because he felt like it. He was entirely sober so far that day, and felt it was time to change that. He spun the sign in his office window with a cardboard clock that said what time he'd return, and went to his apartment, a moderately-sized room at the resort. He figured he'd find Tina, and they'd decide what to do that evening. None of the options were bad, or particularly wonderful. At some point he'd get laid. Apart from that, if they didn't want to do the same thing, eat at the same restaurant, watch the same shows, they would go their separate ways. Things with Tina were simple.
When he opened the door to the apartment, he found Tina right away. He also found two other men, naked, in his bed with Tina. Leaving the front door open for anyone who may walk past to look in, he walked over to the bedside table, whistling casually, popped open the drawer, grabbed a stack of papers, and smiled at the three naked and clearly compromised people in front of him. Six eyes were all popped wide, staring at him, three mouths hanging open in surprise, and three people, holding completely still, perhaps in the hope that if they didn't move, he wouldn't see them.
"I am really glad that, after all this time, I still insisted on condoms," he said to the bunch, adding to the man closest to him, with a warning tone, "Hope you did the same…"
He shoved a few items in a backpack, stopping at the in-room safe, removing the contents, and shoving them in the bag as well. "Buh-bye!" he said cheerily.
"Wait, Greg!" Tina shouted, prying herself away from her shocked partners, and following him out the door wrapped in a sheet. "I'm sorry! I love you…but you can't blame this totally on me!" she shouted.
"I was not the one who was just engaging in a little DP while the other one was working," he responded, matter-of-factly.
"I'm a young, vibrant woman. I need someone who can keep up with me."
"How many times did we have sex yesterday?" he asked skeptically. Doesn't matter.
"Baby, hear me out. I was a little tipsy…and one thing led to another…"
"Baby?" he asked, confused by the pet name. "Umm…I'm guessing they're going to expect you to be out of that room pretty quickly after I quit, so you might want to get back there and finish up with dick one and dick two. I'd say don't call me…but, I'm leaving my phone here, so…call all you want. Have a lovely life."
He went to the front desk, told Pete he was quitting, and placed his keys on the counter. Pete was another ex-pat, the two occasionally hung out and got stoned when Pete wasn't working at the front desk. Pete wasn't a bad guy, but he was a poor substitute for an actual friend. "Now I have to find a new friend," Pete said, rather emotionlessly.
House took a taxi to the airport, and within three hours, he was flying to Los Angeles. It was the first flight he could find away from the resort. He started to consider outgoing flights from there, and possible destinations. He looked over the list and couldn't think of a single place he really wanted to go. When he saw the signs for departing cruises, he realized that a cruise would give him two weeks or so to consider his next move, while scoping out some new places to live. He inquired at the counter, but they didn't have any openings on cruises leaving the same day, they did have a few for the next week. House didn't want to wait.
He slipped into the adjacent bar for a drink to deliberate, trying to ignore the humiliated and angry feeling he had in the pit of his stomach at discovering his girlfriend in bed with two men whose combined ages were less than his own age. Sitting at the bar, there was a couple, newly married, still dressed in their gown and tux. She was screaming at him over infidelity, and House thought about offering his condolences to the bride and discussing his own, very recent brush with such an experience. He decided the last thing he wanted to do was deal with another person, no matter how good looking she was, and said nothing. The groom got up to cancel the trip. He was irate that the cruise line refused him a refund, and House leaned on the counter next to him.
"I'll take your room."
"He has the penthouse cabin, sir. 16 days, through the Panama Canal to New Orleans. It's very expensive. And it leaves in four hours," the young, snobby, cruise line representative said to House, looking at him as if he probably didn't have the money for such a trip.
"I'll take it," House said, casually extending enough cash to cover the fees.