Okay, so I'm posting it (finished it weeks ago). Meep. Those on my flist who are not fans of House, or of fanfic...don't feel required to read it, okay? I won't love you any less. :-)
Rating: PG - 13 maybe?
Spoilers: for S6 finale (post-ep)
Word Count: 3,380
Disclaimer: For my own amusement. I'm not half so clever as to actually own them.
Author's Note: So...this is my first attempt at fanfiction, barring a couple of lame drabbles in another fandom. It's likely not all that original, although I avoided reading any other post-ep fic while writing this. There's no clever hook, no lyrics, no lines of poetry. It's just a simple post-ep...what might have happened. Fairly fluffy, I guess. Many thanks to my first readers, lauriestein and olsonm_raymond , who gave me confidence, and whose suggestions improved it quite a bit. Any remaining oddities or errors are my own. Feedback would be fab...honesty is valued, as it can only assist improvement. Just please be gentle?
Please no archiving without permission.
~Equilibrium: the condition of a system in which competing influences are balanced.~
Cuddy broke off the kiss with a gentle touch to House’s face.
“Let’s get you cleaned up. I want to take another look at that bandage”.
House leaned to rest his forehead against hers.
“I don’t want to let go”, he said, with a squeeze of their interlaced fingers.
“Me either”, she whispered. “But you taste like cement”, she smiled, “and the last thing you need is an infection. Here, sit down”, she said, guiding him toward the closed toilet seat and reaching for a washcloth to wet. A small shiver ran up her spine as Cuddy turned on the tap and let the cool water warm over her fingers. She could feel House’s eyes on her, she thought, as she twisted the cloth, but when she turned, she found instead that his gaze was trained on the discarded tablets on the floor.
At her movement, House looked up with a swallow. His lips parted to speak, but before he could, she stepped forward and began gently stroking the warm cloth over his face, across his brows, and past the roughened scrape on his cheekbone. His eyes closed, and he sighed instead. “I don’t….” Cuddy paused, her thumb caressing his jaw. Her eyes met his as they opened, taking in the mixture of emotions displayed there.
“Shhh. Later.” She ran her thumb softly across his lower lip, and huffed. “This isn’t going to work.”
At the rise of his panicked expression, Cuddy’s eyes flew open wide, and she said “no, the washcloth. This cement dust is more stubborn than I’d anticipated. Like someone else I could name.” She smiled affectionately and squeezed his hand, then glanced over at the shattered remains of the mirror in the tub. “Let me just start cleaning up this glass so you can shower. Trash bags under the sink?” she questioned with a raise of her eyebrow.
House nodded, nearly breathless with relief. It was almost too much to handle, the roller-coaster of adrenaline and cortisol that had been rushing through his system for the last few hours. The crash was going to be a bitch. This reprieve, as unexpected and exhilarating as it was, only provided another temporary spike, he knew. The letdown would be unavoidable.
He took a deep breath, sagging back and leaning his head against the coolness of the tiles. It felt good. It felt good just to breathe, truth be told. He hadn’t been doing enough of that lately. His life had become overstretched like a balloon, the last molecules of air forced out of his lungs and into the stressed rubber globe, headed for an explosion. That he could, instead, simply let go of the balloon hadn’t occurred to him. In his mind, he watched the scrap of latex drift away, propelled by the breath of released stress and worry.
House quietly listened to Cuddy rummaging through his kitchen cupboards. It was a surprisingly soothing sound. He raised his head as the tone of the sound changed, small, sneakered feet padding down the hallway.
“Here,” Cuddy said, reaching towards House with a glass of water and the bottle of ibuprofen she’d found.
“I’m okay,” he said instinctively, his words at odds with his actions as he reached to take them without thinking.
“Yes, now; but you’ll feel it later. Don’t be a fool.”
“Little late for that.” House’s mouth twisted slightly. He knew she was right though – he would feel it later, crashing through his body like a freight train as soon as the hormones coursing through his system wore off. Might as well head it off at the pass.
“True.” Cuddy sighed as the memory of the recent unpleasant hours refreshed itself in her mind. “Makes two of us, though.” She wiped her hand across her eyes as she exhaled, then shook her head to clear it. “Shower.”
House narrowed his eyes as Cuddy opened the trash bag she’d found and knelt to reach for the splintered wooden frame. “How’d he take it?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She stopped and looked at House with large dark eyes, her shoulders sagging. “We’re exhausted, and it’s not important right at this minute.”
House sniffed and wrinkled his nose. “I’m coming back to it.”
“Fair enough.” She reached for the largest shards.
“Stop. I think one set of stitches is enough for the night, don’t you? I’ll get it.”
“You’re – “
“I told you, I’m fine.” Cuddy dropped her head to the side and let her gaze skim over House’s dusty form, clearly unimpressed with his protests. “For now,” he admitted.
He settled himself back onto the floor and reached into the tub, carefully scooping needle-sharp glass into the bag that Cuddy held open. They worked silently for a few minutes until the tub was clear.
Running the washcloth over the enameled surface to be sure the final sharp specks had been removed, Cuddy said, “I need to make a phone call. Rinse yourself off and I’ll get a fresh bandage ready.”
House nodded shortly, shifting awkwardly to let his jacket fall from his shoulders. Cuddy stood and reached out towards House’s upturned face, two thin fingers gently tracing the rough stubble on his cheek. He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch, wrapping his hand around her calf and squeezing slightly. “Don’t go far.”
Cuddy exited and shut the bathroom door, pressing her back against it as she listened to House raise himself to the tub’s edge, turn on the water, and begin to strip off his filthy and battered clothing. She hadn’t really had a phone call to make – she’d called the nanny two hours earlier to come look after a still-sleeping Rachel, offering a apologetic excuse and a nice bonus for the obnoxiously early request – but she felt the need to give House the privacy he might find it difficult to ask for, and to take a little for herself as well. She didn’t know if she was doing the right thing. She had been more than honest when House asked if she thought he could fix himself – she really didn’t know.
This had all been the most impulsive and sudden of actions on her part – if you could call the shifting of a fault line ‘sudden’. The pressure had been building for months – years, really. Something had to give. She was just dismayed that she had put another person in harm’s way, leading him to believe that the danger of earthquakes had passed. Two people, actually, if you counted her daughter. Cuddy pressed her knuckles to her lips. All of that had been entirely her own fault. Whatever shortcomings Lucas had, he hadn’t deserved this – this blindsiding. Backtracking. Retraction of promises.
What kind of person did that, she thought; insisted on constructing an entire life with someone, in order to hide from someone else?
She’d gone straight home from the accident site. There was no point in waiting. Once the course of action was clear, once the decision had been made, the best thing to do was to make the cut as quickly and cleanly as possible.
Cuddy had known as soon as the words had left her mouth that they weren’t true – not even close to it. “I don’t love you”. She’d wanted them to be true. She’d needed them to be true. If she was going to marry Lucas, they had to be true. But as she watched House get into the ambulance after showing a kind of bravery that had moved and astonished her – she knew those words would never be true.
She’d paused outside her front door, searching for her new key and gathering her strength for the task ahead. Cuddy walked into the bedroom where Lucas was still sleeping, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey”, he said, blinking. “You’re home. And you look serious…is everything okay?”
“We need to talk.”
Cuddy’s head was starting to pound. She remembered the bottle of ibuprofen on the other side of the bathroom door. Some medicinal therapy was beginning to sound delightful.
Just then, the sound of the water ceased. Cuddy tried to remember– had there been a towel within reach? Not that it mattered, she supposed – nothing she hadn’t seen before. Her mouth quirked up at the thought.
She slid her hand to the knob and turned, releasing the catch with a ‘pop’. The door opened slowly. Cuddy peeked through the gap, disappointed to find that House had indeed found a towel, and had already wrapped it around himself. She sighed internally, shaking away the mental image that had started to form. Plenty of time for that later, she thought. Right now, she needed to replace the bandage that House had removed.
She worked quickly, taping a fresh pad of gauze over her emergency stitch job. The wound was still seeping, though it had slowed considerably.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she placed the last strip of tape.
House looked up at her with questioning eyes. “For what, exactly?”
“For what I said. Earlier. It was – “
“No, you’re not,” House cut her off.
“What?” Cuddy said incredulously.
“You’re not. Don’t say you are.”
Cuddy sighed. “I’m trying to –“
“Was it not the truth?”
Cuddy’s eyes widened. “The part about not loving you?”
House paused, his mouth twisting in acquiescence. “Okay, the part after that. You were right,” he said quietly. “Don’t back down now.”
“I was harsh.”
“You had to be. I didn’t give you any choice.” He rubbed his thumb across his eyebrow. “I’m the one who should be apologizing.” House looked up at Cuddy nervously. “I notice you’re not arguing with me.”
“You should know by now that’s something I stop doing once you’ve convinced me that you’re right,” she said affectionately.
“I don’t even know where to start, Cuddy.”
“Look,” she said softly. “This night has been incredibly draining. We’re both exhausted.” She cupped his cheek in her hand. “Let’s talk about it later.” House looked up contritely and nodded. “You need to rest.”
Cuddy was about to fall over, herself. It wasn’t so much the simply being up for over 24 hours, it was more due to the emotional extremes she’d encountered over the past 48. As much as she would eventually love to hear a veritable laundry list of apologies from House, she didn’t want to start tonight. This morning. Whatever it was.
Her mind was already starting to race through everything she would soon need to do. She just wanted to turn it off for a few hours, fall into whatever bit of oblivion might be available to her.
Cuddy moved aside as House stood and awkwardly lurched toward the bedroom door. He put his hand on the doorframe and turned, his face falling as a thought occurred to him. “What about Rachel?”
Great, Cuddy thought. If she wasn’t prepared to discuss Lucas or apologies, she was certainly in no mood to have a conversation about how her eighteen-month-old daughter was going to throw a crimp into House’s style. She sighed and closed her eyes. “What about her?” she asked wearily.
“Do you, I don’t know, need to get home to her, or anything?” he said, unable to conceal the apprehension in his voice.
Now it was Cuddy’s turn to feel apologetic. She opened her eyes, grey meeting pale blue. She smiled. “No. I called the nanny hours ago.” Her smile faded somewhat. “I could hardly expect Lucas to stay, with what I had to tell him.” She took two steps forward and reached for House’s hand, squeezing it gently. “You’re my priority right now.”
Without breaking eye contact, House increased the tension linking them, pulling Cuddy the last few inches toward him. He brushed the hair off her forehead and trailed his fingers down past her ear, lifting her jaw gently until her lips met his. She slid her free hand over his uninjured shoulder and up into the still-damp hair at the back of his neck and pulled softly, opening her mouth until his tongue pressed forward to meet hers. House thrilled at the contact, his heart beating a little faster as the pace of her breathing increased. They deepened the kiss further, touching and tasting, as Cuddy’s fingertips slid down past his collarbone and through the moisture lingering in the center of his chest. The fresh taste of cinnamon on his tongue reminded her that she was less than fresh herself. She stopped and inhaled as she dropped her head. “Hold that thought. Can I get a quick shower?” she asked ruefully.
House buried his nose behind her ear and sighed. This night was getting longer and longer. “I’ll get you a towel,” he mumbled into her skin.
He limped around the corner into the bedroom as Cuddy started the water once more. He unearthed a clean towel and after a moment of consideration, pulled a pale yellow t-shirt from a drawer and laid it on top. He re-entered the bathroom with the stack of fabric just as the shower curtain sailed closed with a zing.
“Couldn’t wait for a cripple?” he whined.
“Oh god, this feels amazing,” Cuddy moaned from under the spray. “I may never come out.”
“That would be a disappointment.”
Cuddy laughed with a warm, throaty sound.
House set the items on the edge of the sink, within reach of the shower. Now what, he thought, as he moved back into the brightening bedroom. He wasn’t sure if they were going to pick up where they’d left off, or if the moment had passed. Should he put on some pajamas? Would that seem disinterested? On the other hand, would remaining in the towel seem too eager? It was still a little damp, and getting uncomfortable. He rolled his eyes at his own dithering and yanked open a drawer.
As House sat on the bed and pulled on the pajama bottoms, a thought occurred to him. He stood up and began moving around the bed as quickly as his leg would allow, stripping off the week-old sheets. He had just managed to throw the wadded mass towards the laundry basket when he heard the water stop. Panicking a bit, he opened a drawer with a thump and found a fresh set. As he tossed the elasticized sheet across the mattress, the door behind him opened.
“What’cha doin’?” Cuddy drawled curiously, smirking and tipping her shoulder against the doorframe.
“Tuesday. Laundry day,” House chirped innocently.
“It’s Wednesday,” she replied blandly, though she couldn’t quite prevent her lips from curving up.
“Well yes, nowww,” he strung out, rolling his eyes with feigned exasperation. His eyes widened and breath left him as he took in her appearance – hair twisted high in the towel, t-shirt draping to just below the curve of her ass, smooth legs stretching all the way to the floor.
“Let me help you with that,” she suggested, and reached for the nearest corner, tucking it expertly around the mattress.
House blinked and gulped. Belatedly, he reached for the half of the sheet in front of him and fastened it, then picked up the top sheet to spread.
“You know….,” Cuddy started slowly, securing the last bit of the fabric, “maybe I should just crash on the couch. We really need to sleep, and you need room to stretch out--”
House groaned as his head dropped back in frustration.
“Yeah.” House met her eyes. “No, it’s…I’m all beat up….and you’ve just been…” He fluttered his hand in the air between them. “It’s a little frying pan into the fire, I guess,” he huffed.
“A little,” she murmured, her lips pulling into a small smile. “I –“
“You don’t have to explain,” House cut in, his eyes pleading with her to shut up. He really didn’t want to hear another word about Lucas and what had transpired the previous night. His imagination was tormenting him enough; it didn’t need any assistance.
Cuddy nodded, the wound-up towel shifting from her hair as she moved. House reached across the bed as she tugged it loose. “Here – give me that, and I’ll get you a blanket. You can take this pillow,” he said, dragging it down from the head of the bed and exchanging it for the damp towel. She took it slowly, and with a look of apology, slipped quietly into the hallway.
House shuffled back into the bathroom and paused. The amber plastic prescription vials were still visible, having only been nudged under the sink in the focus to clean up the glass. He slowly reached down and picked them up, bouncing them in his palm just slightly out of habit. He took a deep breath, letting it out with closed eyes, then flipped the lids and poured the remaining tablets into his palm. His fist closed in a sudden flash of anger, and he flung the bottles into the trash can with force, making a satisfying clanging sound against the metal. He lurched to the toilet and lifted the lid, letting the pills spill from his hand into the water, then scooped up the discarded tablets and flung them in as well. House pressed the lever with a flooding sense of relief as they vanished with the rushing water.
He limped into the hallway. The aches were beginning to set in again, and he rubbed at his leg as he concentrated on keeping his balance, his gaze focused towards his feet. As he reached the closet door, he lifted his head to find Cuddy standing in the passage, her hand resting on the back of the couch. There was sympathy and compassion in her eyes, lucent in the morning light. She met him silently, caressed her palm tenderly over his cheek, then slid her arms gently around his chest, her ear over his heart.
They remained that way for a minute, House’s fingers tentatively pulling at the ends of Cuddy’s hair. With a sigh, he released her and reached for the closet knob. “Sleep,” he grumbled good-naturedly. He pulled a blanket off the shelf and pressed it into the couch, turning the corner back with a flourish.
“Are you going to tuck me in?” she asked in amusement.
“Let it never be said that I am an inattentive host,” he replied magniloquently as she slipped between the layers, adjusting the pillow comfortably under her head. He leaned over and brushed his thumb over her temple, then kissed her softly on the lips as she smiled.
While Cuddy snuggled in, House turned and made his way slowly back to the bedroom, pausing to pull on a t-shirt to protect the bandage on his shoulder. He tugged the thick curtains closed, covering the room in a near-twilight, then sank gratefully into the mattress, closing his eyes and willing the remaining dregs of adrenaline from his body. His breathing had begun to slow when he heard sounds of restless shuffling coming from the living room.
“House?” Cuddy called.
“Yeeees?” he rumbled.
“I can’t sleep,” she said sheepishly. “It’s too light.”
“It’s rather dark in here,” he answered.
“Get in here,” he commanded.
She appeared in the doorway, trailing her pillow. “This is silly, huh? We’re both adults.”
“Speak for yourself,” House replied cheerfully, patting the empty space next to him.
Cuddy grinned and stepped around the bed, pulled the covers back and slid in.
House turned over to face her with a grunt, grimacing a bit.
“Are you getting stiff?” she asked with concern.
“Not as stiff as I’m gonna be,” he replied with a wolfish gleam.
Cuddy balled up her fist and pouting playfully, slowly made contact with his shoulder.
“Oh, and the abuse begins!” he crowed.
House chuckled as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close into his warmth. He breathed in her scent with a contented sigh as she curled into the space below his collarbone, taking care to avoid the stitches.
“This is better,” she mumbled, yawning.
“Yes,” he agreed quietly.
The sun continued to rise, pressing thin rays of light past the curtain’s edges and faintly illuminating the corners of the darkened room.
“I love you too, Cuddy,” he whispered.
She traced her fingers softly down his arm and held him a little tighter.