A/N-I'm continuing my attempt to write a story from each Season. This fic is Season 5. Season 5 was often somber, and there's definitely a contrast in tone between my early Season fics and this one. As some of you know, I'm not much for writing angst, however, this one is more serious than "Reversing." This will also be a short story, I'm guessing somewhere between 6-10 chapters.
-Begins after Simple Explanation (After Kutner's death)-All episodes after that are disregarded. The story begins 3 weeks after Kutner's funeral.
Disclaimer-I don't own the characters of House, MD. This story will include adult content and themes.
When Wilson timidly peaked through her office door shortly after eleven that morning, Cuddy knew instantly that something was wrong with House. No one had seen him. The team tried calling, Wilson went to House's apartment, and checked a third shifter's bar near House's place, but he was nowhere to be found. Cuddy nodded calmly and assured Wilson that she would take care of it. Wilson envisioned her going back to House's apartment or driving around aimlessly, perhaps calling drunk tanks or other hospitals. Wilson had no idea that she already knew where House was.
That morning after yoga and feeding Rachel, she stood in her kitchen, burping the child while she rocked back and forth between her feet, staring at the newspaper on the kitchen counter. She paused on the classifieds because she had to shift Rachel from one shoulder to the other, and when her eyes returned to the paper, they went right to an ad for an apartment: GREAT LOCATION-PLAINSBORO, 1 BR, modern with exposed brick & hardwood. Her eyes flowed over the remainder of the advertisement, which included a price, a phone number and an address that seemed familiar. When she heard House was missing, it seemed obvious that he went back to Kutner's old apartment to search for any remaining answers before a new tenant could sign a lease. Pleased that she had tucked the newspaper under her arm before leaving for work that morning, she plucked it out of her wastepaper basket and removed the single sheet of classified ads that she needed. She traced the address with her finger for a second before folding the paper down to a smaller size and hurrying out the door.
Kutner was in some ways similar to House, reckless, creative in his pursuit of answers, but for some reason, happier. But then again, just a few weeks earlier, she was at Kutner's funeral, a death brought about by the man's own hand. She thought that maybe House should have attended Kutner's funeral, should have allowed himself time to acknowledge the death formally. It would have been a place to grieve, a place to seek and offer solace, a place to accept a death and move on with life. Then again, grieving, receiving comfort and accepting loss did not really seem like House at all, and the funeral did not seem to bring any comfort or reassurance to anyone else on the team.
It was Friday, she had already arranged to leave early, and after work, she actually had some time to herself. Her mother was watching Rachel, and Cuddy just wanted some quiet and a drink…or four. There was not much harm in one evening of indulgence. She had been busy, acclimating herself to life as a mother, acclimating the child to a new home and, strange as it seemed, acclimating House to a new world where she actually had a life outside of work.
But she was not taking time for herself, she was driving to find him, driving to where she knew he would be instead of finishing her day peacefully before she went home for a bottle of wine or even out for a nice, quiet, over-priced dinner with a book. Not that long ago, he was kissing her, then she thought he hated her, then, much to her surprise, he was flirting with her again. He was infuriating, playing games she didn't understand and truthfully didn't even want to play, but yet, there she was again, repeatedly sucked back into whatever he was doing, and much to her irritation, sometimes even liking it. Worse off, she was playing the games too. Part of her rational mind observed this, reminding her of the insanity that she was not only around, but actively involved in, even at some points provoking. No matter what her rational mind said, she was engaging in these behaviors.
Wilson warned her that House was just pulling her pigtails. She acknowledged her part though, realizing that if he was pulling her pigtails, she was putting worms in his shoes. Their attraction, their back and forth, now involved fourth grade attempts at denial of affection to further complicate a relationships that was nothing but complicated.
She did not think he would react well to their relationship post-kiss, but she did not expect how derisively he would act toward her. When he rejected her advances, it hurt in ways she refused to admit. Feeling not only rejected by him, but like he was actually repulsed by her. Then, out of the blue it seemed, he was joking and playful, watching her in ways that made her skin prickle with excitement and orchestrating the delivery of a complicated gift. She sometimes wished that she could hate him, it would make things so much easier. She didn't hate him at all. She desperately clung to the deep, protective barriers they'd built to be impenetrable, and yet he consistently proved that they were not. He stepped right over the barrier, proving to her that he could, and when she tried to tiptoe over it to meet him, he defended the wall like a battle-ready army of one. As soon as she withdrew her attempt to approach the wall, he was back to sneaking over it again.
One of the things that frustrated her the most was the fact that she knew she would not walk away. After everything that happened, after finding a child, after years of mutually complicated interactions, after night upon night of warning herself to just 'let it go and move on,' she could not. She started to wonder if anything could prevent her from caring about him, even though they never really allowed each other to show it. She tried to remember if they ever had a real conversation that wasn't about medicine, and then she began to wonder if it was even possible. House guarded himself perpetually from threats from the outside, but then she was capable of protecting herself as well. They did have a real conversation for a moment, one over tears of loss, and a burst of anger that built up to a climactic moment that could have been something and then turned out to be something worse than nothing. He was there for her at an exact moment when she needed him and then gone. She started to wonder if things could have been different if she had opened up when she tried to adopt before, if she would have gone to him instead of Wilson, or him and Wilson, but she did not. What if she had honestly invited him to be part of Rachel's life, tried to make him part of her life outside of the hospital? Had such an offer been made, she doubted he would have accepted. In the end, that was not the choice she had made, she had chosen to guard herself and her daughter. It was the safer option.
They were marbles, teetering on either end of a see-saw, clinging to the far ends because if one caved too much, they were sure to roll off. The only option that didn't involve falling off was moving toward the center together, and that was an impossibility.
She found Kutner's place easily, silencing the thoughts in her head about the two of them. She looked up Kutner's address when she saw that he had died, curious about where he was living, and wondering why a doctor, living in a decent area, making good money in a job that he seemed to like would want to die. She wondered what secrets could have possibly haunted him, or losses could have plagued him, and just as she found the right city block, she saw House's goddamn car. The sight of it filled her with a combination of feelings: happiness at the realization that she did actually know him; relief that he was not lost in an unknown location; worry at the thought of dealing with whatever would come from their meeting; fear and nausea that perhaps she would find something inside Kutner's apartment that would destroy her. As dysfunctional as they were, she could not imagine a life without House.
She wondered, as she got out of her car, exactly what he needed from that place. Cuddy walked through the outer door of the apartment, it was unlocked, and she felt a chill in the air that was so cold, she wasn't sure if it was psychological or real. As she drew closer to the door, she saw that it was slightly ajar and peered through the opening as best as she could.
The place smelled like fresh paint and polyurethane, and as she walked in, her heels echoed in the cavernously empty and newly renovated apartment. There was nothing left of Kutner there anymore except House, sitting on the floor next to his cane, slumped forward a bit, his back to her. For a split second, she worried that maybe House went there and decided he was done living his life as well. Suicide had always seemed a frighteningly plausible option for House in her mind.
His head lifted a bit and he mumbled through a garbled voice, "I'll be done playing soon, Mommy. I'll go home and go straight to bed."
Her head shook with a startle as she said in a softly shocked and disarmed voice, "You know it's me?"
She saw his shoulders slump with a sigh, "Of course it's you. Who else would it be?"
"Wilson? Cameron? Your team? They care about you."
"They don't care that much, and they don't go everywhere in five-inch heels."
"You shouldn't be in here."
"Kutner's not complaining."
"House," she said as she stepped closer and then paused to look toward the bedroom where she had heard Kutner's body had been found. "Are you alright?"
"Do you think…people know when they're going crazy?" he asked, his chin still tucked to his chest.
"Are we talking about Kutner?"
"If that's more comfortable for you."
"I don't want to feel comfortable, I want the truth. You know that."
"Do I? I don't think you really want that."
"Were you talking about Kutner…or you?" she took two, cautious steps closer, fearing that he may lash out or run away, but with his leg and his obvious weariness, she knew he could not get away too quickly.
House looked over to the wall, and she wondered how much of his disconnected behavior was emotional and how much of it was drug induced. Dropping his head, he finally answered, "Probably both."
"Why do you think you're going crazy?" She asked, taking another tentative step closer to him. They were only about a foot apart.
He turned to her, looking up from the floor, and his expression was an odd combination of shock and relief. She thought maybe part of him wasn't sure if she was really there until he looked at her. Then the look of relief evolved into sadness, he was drinking her in with his eyes, not in the admiring, sexual way he sometimes did, but like he was seeking reassurance through realizing her reality, recognizing that he was not entirely alone, at least for a few minutes. "I know I'm going crazy. I'm losing it," he said softly. "I shouldn't tell you that, should I?"
His look was one of exhausted devastation, his eyes red, his body so tired it almost looked broken, it was certainly weak. "I don't care what you tell me," she answered, "As long as it's the truth."
"Which…is a lie," he answered, looking away.
"No, it isn't."
"It is. You know it's possible I'll say something to hurt you. Something mean about that helpless little girl you're mothering, something insightfully accurate about you that you wish wasn't true."
"You've been hurting me for years," she observed. "I'm one of your favorite punching bags."
"You do it to me too, just in different ways. I'm more direct," he said quickly, then his shoulders sank lower. "Sorry," he whispered, looking away, but seeming remarkably repentant, saying a word that he rarely said.
His apology terrified her, she wanted to return it like it had never been offered. It was the type of thing that felt too much like a way of making peace before saying goodbye. "It's just what I expect from you. I wasn't looking for an apology."
"If you were looking for it, I wouldn't have offered one."
"So what is the truth, House?"
"Depends on who I'm telling."
"Me. It's just me."
"Is it you…or Dr. Cuddy, Dean of Medicine?"
"Like it or not, we're one in the same," she said, with a look of concern and suspicion.
"Then I'm not going to tell you anything."
"Fine," she answered roughly, "I'll call Wilson. You can't be alone."
"Pawning me off on Wilson already? I'm not telling him anything either. Telling Wilson is worse than telling you."
"Because he'll go to you anyway, and tell you that I shouldn't be practicing medicine. And you'll take steps to make it happen. If I tell you directly, there's a chance that you'll be self-righteous enough to think that you could actually help me. You'll offer me options…which will buy me time."
"If I'm self-righteous enough to think that? Offering help is now an indication of self-righteousness? Can't it be an attempt to help you…to help an employee…a colleague?"
"At least you didn't try to pretend it's a personal interest."
"What does that mean?" she asked, hurt and confused.
"It means that I know what your interest in my health is. Part of it's guilt…always has been. Most of it is an interest in keeping the most notable thing at your hospital around to ensure your future financial success."
"How can you think that after…" she shook her head slowly, "forget it. Just forget it. If I do offer you options… maybe one of the options will actually help you."
House huffed, "They'll be crappy options. I don't want your options, I just want the time I can buy if you think I'm taking one of the options, so I can figure something better out."
"You're really showing your hand."
"Which brings us back to my original point…I'm losing my mind."
"How much Vicodin have you taken?"
"I'm well through my daily bottle," he said as he reached into his jacket pocket and took out his Vicodin. He took one pill, dry swallowed it and added, "Thanks for reminding me. Sometimes the constant pain I feel isn't reminder enough."
She smiled, sadly, a look of pity on her face that he refused to acknowledge. "How much?" she asked with a forcefully stern but sympathetic tone.
He looked over, slowly, thoughtfully, then answered, "If I were to die...and you ran a tox screen…you would assume it was a suicide."
"Is it what?"
He breathed, his inhalation moving his entire upper body. "No. It isn't."
"I'm…relieved to hear that," she answered as she knelt on the floor, tucked her feet under her and then sat on them. Her knees were only an inch or two away from him.
"Why are you here?"
"Because I knew you'd be here."
"Why would you want to be in a place where I am?"
"Because I know you aren't dealing with this well. And, honestly, you haven't been completely yourself since...the bus crash. I thought you were OK for a minute, but now, since Kutner's death, it's been obvious, amplified. You are not OK."
"Why do you think he did it?"
"I don't know," Cuddy said, shaking her head. The dejected, empty look on House's face did not provide her with confirmation that he wasn't suicidal, it raised her fears. "Why do you think he did it?"
"Because…the weight of the reasons to die outweighed the weight of the reasons to live. It's simple math."
"Do yours? Do your…reasons to die outweigh your reasons to live?"
"We're talking about Kutner," House deflected.
She could see she was too close. "Kutner's already gone. You're still here. I can't help Kutner. I can help you."
"You can't help me," he said with resignation but not cruelty.
"You haven't let me try."
"Because you haven't tried."
"Bullshit, House," Cuddy said, feeling unmistakable irritation.
"You better run off, little administrator."
"What the hell is that? I'm not the one who…runs away from things."
"You sure? You positive about that?" House asked, more confrontationally, sneering a bit at the end of each question.
"You're…trying to push me into an argument because you're scared to let me help you. You're scared things could be better, that maybe someday you could be happy."
"There's no point in asking you again," he grumbled.
"No point in asking me what?" she responded, dropping her head to the side, waiting for whatever was to come.
"Why do you care that I'm here? Why do you care if I'm happy?"
Her face grew more stoic. "I didn't run from that conversation. You did."
"You ran from it by deflecting, and you just did it again. So you were in the room, but you left the conversation. You wanted to look like you weren't running…but you were."
"You ran from it by running from the room. There's no continuation of a conversation if the other person is literally gone."
"You try so hard to look like you're doing the right thing, rather than just doing the right thing."
"Is that why I'm here?" she asked, still sitting on the ground, but bracing her hands on her knees to help her stand if she needed to get away. Realizing that she was preparing herself to flee, and not wanting to offer him proof that she was prepared to run, she quickly moved her hands. "You think I'm here because it looks like the right thing? Exactly who am I trying to impress?"
He stared for a few minutes, lips tight as he thought. "Maybe me…maybe your conscience. So if something happens, you can claim that you tried. Or maybe you aren't trying to impress anyone. That's why I don't understand what you're doing here. It doesn't make sense. I don't get what you have to gain."
"Pal, how long does it take to decide? Do you want the place or not?" an angry and slightly worried voice came from the door.
House didn't answer. Cuddy turned, a man, maybe a landlord or a super, was standing behind them, his hand in a pocket that she thought probably contained pepper spray.
"We're leaving," Cuddy responded, standing and walking over to the man to ease the situation.
She explained that they were grieving friends and they were getting ready to leave.
The man crossed his arms, "So you don't want the place? After all of this time, you don't even want it?"
"No, we just wanted to say goodbye," Cuddy replied softly, hoping for understanding.
"I'm trying to show an apartment, not do grief counseling. I'll wait right here 'til you go. You have 2 minutes, then I call the cops."
Cuddy crouched down next to House, "We have to go."
He did not respond. She wasn't sure if he didn't care, maybe he wanted to be arrested, but he was not budging.
"I'd rather stay," he said calmly.
"You are going to be arrested."
"I'm…not even sure if I can drive. I'll let them take me down and let me wait it out. Sleep it off without actually sleeping."
Cuddy was horrified, aghast, confused, "What in the hell is wrong with you?"
He turned slowly to face her and leaned closer, they were surprisingly near. "I told you, I'm losing my mind."
Cuddy put a hand on his shoulder, he didn't look at her hand or her, he didn't even react badly to the touch, which took her by surprise. "They'll confiscate your Vicodin. Dose it out themselves after they find someone to confirm that you really need it. Could take hours."
He looked over at her, nervousness in his eyes, and she could see that she got through to him.
"I'll drive you home," Cuddy offered quietly.
"Because I don't want to pick you up from prison later on."
"I'll get Wilson or a cab. I'll pawn myself off on him for you, so you don't even have to be bothered with that," he said as he reached for his cell phone.
"I've had it with this, now you're pissing me off. Stand up," she said firmly. She stood, towering over him and waiting for him to yell, to fight back, to finally push like he was supposed to, like he always did. She immediately missed him. "Maybe I'm the one losing my mind," she said softly.
He looked at her, he seemed to know that she was addressing the concerns in her head. Then he got up, slowly, painfully trying to separate his tall body from the ground and dropping his cane once he was upright. He struggled a bit, refusing the hand that she offered him, but accepting the cane when she lifted it from the ground.
There were steps to leave the building that almost seemed to add insult to injury, and when he got to the bottom, she thought he might fall over on the spot. After he steadied himself, he began walking to his car. She wondered how he could feel anything through all of the narcotics he had likely taken, yet he could still feel the pain. His leg seemed to ache as badly as his mind, the drugs were numbing him, probably killing him, but they did little for the pain. He pulled his keys from his pocket. "Oh, hell no," she yelled. "You just told me that you can't drive. Don't get in that car."
"Don't you have a baby that you can go smother? She's probably much more obedient than I am."
"Cuter and sweeter too," Cuddy said as she grabbed his arm and began pulling him toward her car.
"Apparently you didn't understand," he sneered down at her, "Go control the infant you bought to make it all better."
"Fuck you," she mumbled as she continued to direct his body.
If he wasn't so drugged and unsteady, she wasn't even certain that she could have moved him.
"God…you're an idiot," he said as he leaned against her car while she opened the door, "I'm trying to get you to leave me alone."
"I know that, but I'm not going to let you kill some kid who's out for a walk…or yourself. I'm taking you home." She waited while he got in the car, pushing his legs the remainder of the way in and slamming the door shut. When she got in on the driver's side, she continued, "I'm not trying to be your best friend, you already have one, so drop the attempts to push me away, House. I just want to take you home and I'll leave."
He shifted down in the seat with acquiescence and she was torn between a desire to help and her drive for self-protection. The trip to his apartment was brief. He was left in his thoughts, both irritated and comforted that she was there, that she was helping him. His head was disconnected, so tired that he felt like he had to translate the words that were spoken in his native language. All he felt was dizziness and pain, and then he heard the voice that had been with him for four days.
Glancing in the side mirror of the car, he caught a sneering reflection, "Seriously? We let her boss us around at work, and now we aren't even at work and she's telling us what to do?"
The face leaned between the two front seats, hovering between House and Cuddy. The figure from the back seat stared at Cuddy, almost touching her as she continued to drive, completely unaware of the leering presence next to her. Then he turned to House, smirking. The hallucination was House himself, or an exaggerated shadow of a more confident self. The man in the back seat that Cuddy did not see or hear, was the House of his youth. A strong man, cocky, and brilliant. "What do you think she would do?" young House asked his sickly, tired, older self. "What would she do if she knew? Would she run screaming in horror? Maybe she'd smile sympathetically, tell us she's really flattered and then sneak away to call Wilson so he could deal with us. Are you going to tell her?"
Older House, the House of reality, shook his head.
"Are you OK?" Cuddy asked.
"I'm fine," House answered, scowling momentarily at his hallucination.
Young House leaned forward, "Better quit dicking around. I can practically hear time running out," he said tauntingly, "we're getting old…fast. And now she's got a kid. She's just sitting around, waiting for the perfect daddy and then we're really fucked. Time is not on our side."
House dropped his head back on the headrest, pressing the heels of his hands tightly against his eyes and hoping that the imagined young man behind him would soon disappear.
"So, are you going to tell her? It might be fun. Since she's a mommy, she's probably looking for an insane, crippled drug addict to care for too," young House continued. "Come on…tell her…tell her about how we feel. She'll enjoy it, it'll be good for a laugh." The hallucination waited for a moment, hoping to provoke a response. "We both know she deserves better."
"Go away," House snapped.
He turned and the hallucination of his younger self was gone.
"I didn't even say anything. Even when I'm driving you home you have to be an ass," Cuddy retorted.
"Not you," House mumbled, leaning his forehead on his hand.
"Then who?" she asked as she parked in front of his apartment. She was angry, ready to tell him what a jerk he was being when she was trying to help him, ready to lash out with all of the anger she'd been harboring for weeks, and then she saw the defeated and tired look that he wore like a pall over his entire being. Sitting sideways in the driver's seat, facing him, Cuddy asked calmly, "Would you please talk to me? Tell me what's going on."