And here it is, the sure to disappoint you all second and final part to my story. As I said yesterday on Twitter: The advantage to my short attention span: Two fics a week! The disadvantage: I don't often have the patience to develop an idea. So to those who think SURVIVING should be a much longer fic. I feel your pain. But think of all the pretty new fics I'll write! xo, atd
It could all just be a weird coincidence, right? A guy who looked a bit like House, first name Greg, who happened to be a genius, who happened to be working on a program in the very field that had defined—and haunted—his entire middle-aged life, who happened to spend his Saturday afternoons staring at her through a window across the street from the park.
Absolutely. Just a coincidence.
She had almost managed to convince herself of this fact when a man appeared in the doorway of the diner. He was on time. She had been early. (Somehow, she felt a need to be seated when "Greg Overleve" re-entered her life.)
It was really him.
Less hair, a few more lines on his face, eyes as impossibly infinite and blue as ever, no cane, as Rose had said. He looked older, but strangely somehow more. . . robust? He actually looked quite well.
He saw her, swallowed hard, and sat across from her. She noticed that he wasn't limping at all.
He looked at her cautiously, still not sure where they stood.
"You fucking piece of shit," Cuddy said.
So that answered that.
"Nice to see you, too, Cuddy," he said.
"I thought you were dead."
"I am dead, technically. The Artist Formerly Known as Gregory House no longer exists."
"I mourned you, you asshole."
"But not enough to come to my funeral, apparently," he said.
"Fuck you," she said. Her eyes flashed. "Fuck you. You don't get to tell me how much I mourned you."
"I'm sorry," he said, chastened a bit.
"So spill it, House. I need to know how you went from being a dead guy to sitting across from me in a diner in Portland."
He studied her face—seemingly marveling over her presence.
"How are you?" he said quietly.
"No," Cuddy said, a bit angrily. "We don't get to exchange niceties until you fill me in on the last year and a half of your life. Talk."
"I don't know where to begin," he said, honestly.
"Start with your death," she said. Then shook her head over the absurdity of that sentence.
"A ruse to avoid jail time—long story. And then Wilson and I took off on a road trip."
"You went on a road trip with a man dying of cancer?"
"A last hurrah of sorts," House said. "It was great. We were like a couple of outlaws. How would you live if you truly weren't guaranteed a tomorrow? Wilson crammed 10 years worth of living in those four months. And then. . ."
"He got too sick."
"Yeah," House said, looking at his hands. "I dropped him off at his parents' house to die. But before he died he did two things. He gave me a shitload of money—seriously, a shitload. And he. . ." House looked up at her. "Made me promise I wouldn't off myself."
Cuddy nodded, understanding.
Just then, Rose appeared at their table.
"Hiya Greg," she said to House, flirtatiously.
"Hiya Rose," he said back, charmingly.
"I'm nothing if not a creature of habit," House said.
Then she turned to Cuddy. "So you found him, huh?"
"I found him," Cuddy said.
"Just coffee and whole wheat toast," Cuddy said.
Like all good waitresses, Rose was good at divining the mood of the table. She saw that something heavy was going down.
"I'll be right back with your order," she said, and scampered away.
"Go on," Cuddy said. Her voice was still somewhat cold, which seemed a little harsh, in light of the death of his best friend. But House had ruined her life—twice (first by crashing his car into her house; then by "dying" before they could even make peace with each other.) He deserved a touch of coldness.
"So, there I was, with all this money. And no identity. And no medical license. And no friends. And no. . . girl." He looked up to see if that got a reaction from her. Nothing. "So I started thinking about what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life. And I wanted to kill myself, believe me I did. But a promise is a promise, right? So that's when I started thinking about my leg."
"About amputation?" she said.
"Not necessarily," House said. "Not yet. I was thinking about how much my leg hurt, actually. My vicodin supply was running out. And then I thought, fix yourself, you asshole. Or, if I couldn't fix myself, I figured maybe at least I could help some other poor schmuck in the future. So I started looking into programs that were doing stem cell research. I was still thinking regeneration, not amputation. And then I found out about the Portland Applied Physics Lab that was doing a lot of work with robotics and prosthetics."
"Just coincidentally where I had been living for the past three years."
"Not strictly a coincidence," House admitted. "More like a happy accident. Let's just say it was an. . .incentive."
Rose returned to the table, carrying a tray.
"Here you go, honey," she said, placing a stack of pancakes and a side of bacon in front of House.
Cuddy almost smiled. She used to make him turkey bacon when they were dating, much to his loud objections. He called it a "desecration of nature."
She spread some strawberry jam on her toast, admittedly enrapt by his story.
"So. . .I went to the lab. I lied and said I was a researcher from an online science magazine. They were all too happy to show off their progress. I started asking a lot of questions. They liked my questions. I began spending more time there. Eventually, they started asking me questions. They liked my answers. At some point, it was clear that I was taking a lead role in the research. And I guess they kind of . . . hired me." He shrugged.
"But what made you decide to amputate your leg, House? That was always the thing in this life you feared most."
He played with his food, not really eating it.
"I was curious," he said. "I wanted to see if the brain implant really worked."
She shook her head. In the end, the scientist in him won out over the man who feared so many things, most significantly change.
"And now look at you," she said. "I'd never know you only had one leg. Not in a million years."
"You ain't seen nothing," House said, with a tiny smile. "You should see me play basketball."
"Shut up!" Cuddy said loudly, despite herself.
"No, it's true. Wednesday night pick-up games with a couple of guys from the lab at the 9th Street Y. You should come watch one day."
His enthusiasm was touching.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Cuddy said.
"I have a few more questions, if you don't mind," she said.
"Just a few?" he cracked.
Somehow, the lighter tone to their conversation had improved his appetite. He wolfed down a large bite of his pancakes.
"How'd you get the new name, the new identity?"
"Greg Overleve," House said. "From the Danish for. . . "
"To survive," Cuddy said.
House looked at her, impressed.
"Just a little joke to amuse myself," he said. "Anyway, I managed to get a driver's license, a passport, even a credit card. They're not that hard to get, if you've got a little money and you're willing to—"
"I don't want to know," Cuddy interrupted.
"Probably for the best," he agreed.
"And what do you do on Tuesdays and Thursdays?"
"Wow. You have done your homework."
"They told me at the lab that you had a second job."
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he said.
He made eye contact.
"I volunteer at the Northeast Free Clinic."
"Now I know you're lying."
"It's true," he said, laughing at her shock.
"But doing what? You didn't buy a black market medical degree, did you?"
"No," House said. "Let's just say I'm working off the grid."
"But how can you even write prescriptions?"
"A very understanding colleague of mine loans me his prescription pad," House said. "Which is a much less risky proposition these days, now that I'm off drugs."
Cuddy shook her head in amazement.
"But clinic patients are boring. It's all runny noses and venereal disease. You hate clinic patients!"
"Turns out I missed being a doctor," he said, almost embarrassed by the disclosure. "Go figure."
Cuddy shook her head.
"Last question . . .for now at least," she said. "How long have you been spying on me? And do you know how creepy that is?"
He sighed, scratched his head a bit.
"About a year," he said. "And yes."
"So why do it?"
"I needed to see you. To make sure you and Rachel were okay. And to . . . remind myself of things."
"Who I was, what I lost—how badly I had fucked up my former life."
She nodded sadly.
"Not everyone gets a second chance, Cuddy. I'm lucky. I want to make sure I don't make the same mistakes twice."
She was quiet for a while, allowing herself to process everything he had said.
"You've changed," she said finally.
"Really? How so?"
"You have two things you never used to have: Humility and. . . optimism."
"I'm humble because I hit rock bottom and had no place to go but up. I'm optimistic because you're sitting across from me at this table."
"I honestly don't know how I feel about any of this, but I'm glad you're alive, House," Cuddy said.
He blinked at her gratefully.
"You look so beautiful," he said.
"No," she said, sternly. "Not what I meant."
"I'm not hitting on you," he said.
"Then what are you doing?"
"Marveling over my dumb luck. You're in front of me. You're talking to me. We're sitting here—together."
"For now," she said.
"Whatever you give me, it's more than I deserve," he said.
They were both quiet for a minute.
"I need to process," she said.
"Of course," he said. "Take as long as you want. I'm not going anywhere."
"How can I be sure?" Cuddy said.
"Be sure of what?"
"That you're not going anywhere? You have nothing to anchor you here."
He looked at her.
"Of course I do."
Three weeks later, she was compelled by medical curiosity (or so she told herself) to attend one of his Wednesday night pick up games.
It was a bunch of guys—most younger than House, a few she recognized from her visit to the lab: All pale as ghosts, knock-kneed, hardly awe-inspiring physical specimens.
She sat alone in the bleachers, watching him before he noticed her.
He was wearing his prosthetic—you could see it was not real flesh. It was hairless, for one thing—and didn't reflect the light the way his real leg did. But that was only because she was looking closely. For all intents and purposes, he looked like he had two good legs. In fact, depite his advanced age and disability, he was the only real athlete in the group. He moved, ironically, with more fluidity than the rest of them—he could run, he could pivot, he could jump.
She was reminded, suddenly, of watching him play lacrosse back at Michigan. She would sit in the bleachers then, too—lusting after him. She would marvel over his ropy muscles, his ease in motion, the way he ran like a gazelle.
She was having this thought when House looked up and noticed her. His face broke into a huge, almost goofy grin, then he stole the ball from an unsuspecting player and galloped down the court for an uncontested lay-up.
For a second, her happiness for him almost overwhelmed her. For more than 20 years, his body had been a cage. Now, he was finally set free.
She hoped that he couldn't see she was crying.
House played the rest of the night like a man possessed—swatting balls out of mid-air, running all over the court, shooting long-range three pointers. He was playing so hard and so well that he was getting on the nerves of his opponents—it was a friendly game, after all, they never got super competitive.
"What the hell is up with you, Overleve?" one of the players said.
And Barry, the guy from the lab, gestured toward Cuddy in the stands.
"He's showing off for his lady," he said.
After the game, she waited for him in the parking lot.
"You're still here!" he said.
He approached her happily. He was wearing a white button-down shirt and a pair of jeans. He smelled clean, of soap and shampoo.
"That was amazing, House," she said.
"You should probably call me Greg from now on," he said quietly. "Just to avoid confusion."
"That's gonna be tough."
"But still probably easier than Overleve," he said.
He looked at her.
"So. . .you enjoyed the game?"
"It was incredible. What you've invented. What you've done. It's going to change lives."
"I know it's changed mine," he said.
"You're still a good athlete," she said. "I'd forgotten."
"I'm the Michael Jordan of pencil-necked geeks," he said.
And they beamed at each other. They had been slowly moving toward each other as they spoke. They were now standing mere inches apart.
"Nice game, asshole," someone said. It was one of his opponents leaving the gym. He swatted House playfully on the ass with a towel.
Then a teammate came out.
"You going to kiss her, Overleve, or what?" he said.
Suddenly self-conscious, House stepped away from Cuddy. He looked down, semi-bashfully.
The players all filed out and the parking lot cleared and then House and Cuddy were standing there alone.
"I should probably. . ." Cuddy said, cocking her head toward her car.
"You want to, um, maybe go for a drink?" House asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.
She was more tempted than she was willing to admit.
"No," she said. "It's getting late. Rachel's over at the neighbors."
"Okay," House said. "Thanks for coming. It meant a lot to me."
"House, I'm happy for you."
"I'm happy for me, too."
And she reached up and gave him a hug. It was meant to be casual, maybe the start of a new kind of uncomplicated friendship between them, but suddenly, inexorably her mouth found his and she was giving him a soft, lingering kiss.
She wasn't exactly sure why she had done it: A heady mix of the nostalgia from seeing him play, genuine relief that he was alive—thriving even—and, of course, the same reason she always kissed Gregory House: Because she couldn't help herself.
He stared at her dumbly. His mouth was open.
"I'll be in touch," she said, getting into her car. "Don't come looking for me, okay? I'll find you."
"Okay," he managed to choke out.
"Why do you keep looking at that diner?" Peg said.
They were sitting in the park a few Saturdays later, watching Rachel and Posie play on the monkey bars.
Cuddy turned back to her, hastily.
"I. . .wasn't," she said. (There was no figure in the window this time. House had heeded her words. He hadn't tried to contact her.)
"If you want another ice cream sundae, I'm sure the girls wouldn't object," Peg cracked.
Cuddy smiled, then grew thoughtful.
"Peg, do you think people are capable of change?'
"Of course they are!" Peg said, as though it were a silly question.
"You seem pretty confident about that. I know someone who's equally confident that the opposite is true."
"That's a pretty cynical point of view."
"He's a pretty cynical guy. Or at least, used to be. Ironically enough, he's the one I think might've changed."
Peg peered at her.
"Who are we talking about here? An ex?"
Cuddy started a bit.
"How did you know?"
"Your whole demeanor changed when you were talking about him. What's the story?"
"He's living here in Portland. I just found out."
"And. . .I've been thinking about him. A lot."
"Is that bad?"
"I don't know. He was the one, Peg. The love of my life and it's not even close."
"I don't see the problem here."
"It ended badly, to put it mildly," Cuddy said dryly.
"As in: Cheated on you?"
Cuddy gave an ironic chuckle.
"I wish it were that simple. Let's just say he hurt and betrayed me—more than I've ever been betrayed."
"Physically hurt you?" Peg said, concerned.
Cuddy looked down.
"Not quite. But he almost did. He was out of control, on drugs. . .He's clean now."
"And you really think he's changed?"
"I don't know, Peg. Maybe I just want to think he's changed."
"If you love him that much, maybe it's worth finding out."
"At this clinic we practice something called triage," House was saying. "That means, I don't treat in the order that you came, but in the order of how sick you are."
It was a Tuesday at the Northeast Clinic and House was working the morning shift.
He surveyed the room, stopping in front of each patient.
"You have allergies."
"You have a really unfortunate looking rash."
"You . . ." He looked again. "Are faking it. Go to school."
"You have a toothache and should probably be at the dentist's, but I'll give you some painkillers before you leave."
"You. . ."—a pretty, teenage girl—"I actually have no idea what you have?"
"The, uh, condom broke," the girl said.
"Ahhh, Planned Parenthood. Take the No. 8 bus."
"And you. . ." A middle-aged gentleman. "Cough!"
The man gave a phlegmy, loud cough.
"I don't like the sound of that. Congratulations, you're in second place. Tooth boy is first. Follow me, Gummy."
"You run a tight ship, doctor."
House looked up. It was Cuddy. She had been standing in the doorway, watching the whole performance.
"Cuddy!" he said. "I didn't see you there. Hi!"
"Hi," she said back. "You need a hand?"
She rolled up her sleeves.
"Yeah, turns out you're not the only one who misses being a doctor. We administrators never get to lance a boil or take a stool sample or have any fun."
He looked at her adoringly. A man in love. Still. Always.
"Take Bronchitis Bill," he said, gesturing toward the hacking guy.
"Imagine that: You and me doing clinic duty together," Cuddy marveled. "Feels just like old times."
"Yeah," House said happily. "Just like old times."