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28 January 2010 @ 11:46 pm
HOUSE FIC: For Another Time, R  
Title: For Another Time
Author: Julie S
Rated: R
Characters: House/Cuddy, Wilson
Summary: "I couldn’t wait because it’s been ten years since the last time you gave me a chance to tell you that I love you."
Disclaimer: Do not own, only play.
Notes: Title and subtitles are taken from When I Go, by Slow Club.
Originally posted here.

('Cause you've got your family, and I've got mine./The love that we share is for another time.)




If we're both not married by twenty-two, could I be so bold and ask you?

House’s side of the desk is piled with books both open and closed, his papers equally scattered. (Lisa’s books are in a neat stack, only one of them open beside her.) He’s been reading the same chapter over and over for an hour; when the words on the page begin to swim in front of his eyes, he quietly lowers his text and turns to see what she’s doing.

It’s the end of a Michigan April; the weather is wet, and their first exams looming, the stress palpable. They share a library desk at three past midnight, just as they’ve been sharing a desk in their endocrinology lectures; he thinks neither of them will sleep until tomorrow’s exams have been written.

She looks remarkably calm, though he can tell it’s a charade for herself as much as anyone. Most of the girls he’s observed in the library today wore sweatpants, t-shirts, jeans, their hair out of the way in ponytails or braids. Lisa’s curls fall on her neck, unusually tame somehow, and she’s wearing a neatly pleated skirt with a clingy blue sweater.

He appreciates it. A lot. Even if it doesn’t make an ounce of difference to how much he’d like to pin her against a wall right now.

He’s seen Lisa burst into the lecture hall breathless, having woken up just in time to run across campus in a university sweatshirt over jeans (and she looked so comfortable and rumpled that every time, he had to fight the urge to take her back to her room and throw her back to the bed). He watched her on a dance floor once, on the rare occasion her girlfriends had persuaded her to stop studying; the humidity in the room had sent her hair everywhere before she grudgingly produced a scrunchy from somewhere and tamed it (he’d been fighting the urge to join her on the floor and slide his hands into those curls before that point).

It’s appropriate, somehow, that the class they share deals in the study of hormones, he thinks.

She highlights a header and underlines it neatly when he rolls his eyes and sighs in exasperation. “Are you really this obsessive compulsive about notes you’ll never use again in your life?”

“Ssh, you’re in a library,” she admonishes, not looking up. “I might use them later. Endocrine system’s kind of an important one.”

He stretches his arms and cracks his knuckles above his head. “Yeah, that’s why there are these things called textbooks dedicated to it. Also, if you’d looked up from that book at all in the past hour and a half you’d know we’re alone.”

She looks up and glances around. “Unless the library’s haunted, there’s someone right there.” She gestures in the direction of a desk at the other end of the room with her pen.

“Lisa,” he says quietly, until she looks at him. “There’s no one there.” His eyes widen theatrically.

She smirks and jabs him in the ribs with her elbow.

“Fine,” he concedes. “One other person, and he’s asleep. Least I think it’s a he,” he adds, trying to examine the figure more closely. “Maybe it’s a she with really short hair and broad shoulders.”

She looks up again and examines the figure as well. “All the more reason to whisper.”

He sighs. “Okay. I’m going to smuggle in more coffee,” he announces, not lowering his volume. “If I don’t come back, I’ve either lapsed into a coma or dropped out and hopped on a train home.”

She grins and puts her pen down on her notebook. “You’ll drop out during finals to avoid your immunology exam?”

He stands up. “Anything to avoid reading another paragraph about lupus.”

She stands as well. “I’m going to the bathroom, then.” She walks away, and warns over her shoulder: “Don’t draw genitals on my notes.”

He watches her walk around the corner before he sits back down, for a moment tempted to do just what she warned against, over her neatly highlighted header. But he gives up the idea: too predictable. And probably not so funny the fourth time. (It’s a lie; he knows it’ll be hilarious, at least to him, but her stress levels radiate through her skin despite her demeanour and somewhere in the pit of his stomach there’s a sort of compassion. Her neat notes are part of a ritual to keep sane this week and even he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable messing with them.)

He picks up his abandoned book instead, trying to find the place where he stopped reading, and finds that none of the words on the page look familiar. He flips a few pages before shutting it, and, rising to his feet, he throws it to the desk.

He won’t be able to read another word at this rate, and he wonders if she feels the same – if she even sees the words as she copies them. It takes him a minute, but he follows her to the bathroom and waits outside the single stall.

Whether or not this is a good idea, he doesn’t know, but it doesn’t stop him.

He listens to her wash her hands - close the faucet - take a step towards the door. When it opens, he catches her waist and plucks the surprised gasp from her lips with a kiss.

She’s too surprised to react for a few seconds, taking a sharp breath in through her nose, but then her arm goes around his neck, and she stands on tiptoe to kiss him back with her other hand in his hair.

He pushes her back inside, kicks the door, and reaches for the lock behind him, finding it after some fumbling. He pins her to the tiled wall and for a few minutes, they kiss, exploring, touching-but-not-touching. Her mouth is warm and her lips soft; her small hands on his shoulders and neck make his spine tingle.

She breaks the kiss eventually but doesn’t say anything, and he supplies words instead: “Wanted to do this for months now.”

She lifts her gaze from where she was staring at the collar of his shirt and says, “Me too,” in a way that shoots right down to his groin.

He kisses her again and his hand goes under her sweater to caress a breast lightly through the thin bra; her hand is over his, urging him not to be so gentle. He’s surprised that she’s the one who reaches for his pants, pressing her hand to his erection before going for the button; surprised that she’s this cooperative, but it’s great; he pulls a foil packet out of his pocket, tears it with his teeth and she helps him roll the condom on before he picks her up and pins her to the wall.

“Do it,” she commands in a breathy whisper, and it’s a completely new, unexpectedly hot side of Lisa, but he doesn’t move.

“Is this your first time?” he asks.

She laughs breathlessly. “Do you really think I’m that innocent and pure?”

Her words send more heat to his groin. He grins. “Clearly not, since it would have meant your first time was in a public bathroom.”

She’s about to say something else but he’s already sliding aside her damp panties and moving into her, and a moan escapes her throat instead. He kisses the skin over it as she leans her head against the wall.

He sets a slow, steady rhythm at first, but it doesn’t last as she urges him on with her hips against his, nips to his neck and jaw and her little moans that he wants to memorise forever. He can’t believe how many times this year they didn’t do this, how many times he didn’t take her to her room after a lecture, how many missed opportunities because this is good, this is amazing and in fact he does wonder just how sound-proof these walls can be. He’s sure they’ve woken the sleeping student by now, which somehow amuses him.

She’s inexperienced if not completely innocent, and it’s sweeter somehow.

“Damn it,” he mutters when he can’t reach her breasts. He wraps one arm around her waist, holding her tight, wondering if she’ll bruise, and sends his free arm under her sweater again to tweak the nipple he hadn’t touched. It’s not slow or tender, not romantic in the least, except when she kisses him on the mouth again.

Her nails dig into his shoulders and he thinks her knuckles are probably white. He’s so close but he holds back before he can feel her start to contract around him, nails hurting him just right, her head against the wall again. She gasps loudly, and he lets go then, riding it out with her. She doesn’t open her eyes or ease her grip until they’ve stopped moving and he leans into her, kisses her again.

His legs feel like jelly. He sets her down on her feet and she wobbles slightly as well, supporting herself with a hand splayed against the wall.

“That was… good,” she says, breathless. Her hair is wilder than ten minutes ago, which satisfies him to see.

He smiles, kisses her wordlessly and leaves the bathroom first, after disposing of the condom and zipping his jeans back up, to give her a moment of privacy.

He smirks when he sits back down at their desk and sees that their potential witness is gone. House wonders if it’s a coincidence or if the poor guy is taking a cold shower right about now.

Lisa joins him a minute later, not looking at him, and picks up her pen. “Still want coffee?”

He shakes his head. “Oddly enough, I’m suddenly wide awake.”

They both ace their exams that day.

The next year they’re both back at Michigan, and they’re still friends: they share study notes and library desks and sly remarks about professors, but they don’t sleep together again and they don’t talk about what happened that April.

* * *

If we're both not married by twenty-three, will you make my year, ask me?

The second time is at a medical conference seven years later. She waits for him outside the banquet hall where guests are already mingling, taking their seats.

She doesn’t think he knows she’s on the guest list, but House has made enough of a name for himself since Michigan that someone had casually mentioned his promised presence to her, without ever realising what it meant.

She hasn’t seen him in six years, not since he finished medical school and left. She sent Christmas cards and birthday cards (even received a few), but the only picture she has of him is an old Polaroid of the two of them where his face is barely visible and she’s curious to see if she remembers him right, and how he’s changed.

After she’s waited half an hour and the keynote speaker starts testing the microphone, she thinks he won’t come. But before she turns to walk inside and take her seat, he’s there: walking through the wide lobby in a tux that must feel hot – it’s July – and he doesn’t see her right away. He looks pensive.

When he finally sees her, he doesn’t recognise her right away, but she grins at him and she can see the moment when he realises. He doesn’t smile back but his smiles were never easily dealt. He does quirk his eyebrows familiarly and stride towards her, doesn’t stop until he’s three inches in front of her.

“Hi, House,” she says when he doesn’t say anything.

“I think I know you from somewhere,” he says, but his tone is mocking. “Did we sit together in endocrinology at Michigan?”

She laughs. “If you’re covering for not being able to recall my name, I’m not going to put you out of your misery, because you’re a jerk.”

He smiles slightly at that. “Lisa.”

“Haven’t you heard? It’s Doctor Cuddy now.”

“Congratulations.” He sounds impressed, as though he expected her to still be an undergrad – as though he expected time to stand still. “Where are you doing your residency?”

“Seattle.”

“Mercy or Grace?”

“Grace.”

He nods in approval. “Good program.”

“I know.” She takes him arm boldly and leads him in then. “What table are you sitting at?”

He takes a folded piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolds, and scans the page. “Table nine.”

“Oh. I’m at table four.”

He slips out of her grip. “That can be rearranged.”

She narrows her eyes. “What are you going to do, make someone go without dinner? The tables are full and the seating is all pre-arranged.” But he’s already walking away, doesn’t stop, and she follows him.

From the doors, she watches him offer a student in the seat next to hers – the only seat still free at the table – a bill of indeterminate denomination. She holds her breath. The student frowns but takes it. She watches him cross to what she guesses is table nine.

She laughs when he sits in the student’s chair and winks at her. She makes her way to him and sits down at his side just as an older man in a tux taps the microphone and announces, “Good evening!”

By the time the speeches are done, they’ve fallen into the old habit of whispering sly remarks about the speakers. He always was a bad influence on her. The last speaker is particularly painful, and when he finally steps away from the microphone, she grabs House’s hand. “Get ready to make a run for it,” she whispers.

He protests. “I just willingly sat through a million hours of institutionalised torture. I’m hungry and I want my reward.”

“We’ll order room service,” she says and tugs as his wrist again. “I’m escaping while I have a window.”

They’re the first on their feet. He walks silently alongside her through the lobby.

“Well, you can stay if you’re just going to sulk about it, I’m not your mom,” she snaps eventually when they’re about to enter the hotel’s elevators.

He walks in after her and lets the doors shut before he leans close to her ear, and says, “I’m not sulking. I’m just imagining all the things I’m going to do to you once we’re in a hotel room.”

A shiver runs through her and she feels that throb in the pit of her stomach, that ache that she doesn’t have time to quell nearly as often as she’d like, that senior year of college when she’d fancied herself in love with him. She doesn’t say another word until they’re behind the locked doors.

They remember to order room service only two hours later.

* * *

Three years later, they meet at another conference, and House introduces her to his girlfriend and calls her Doctor Cuddy.

She puts on a smile but sleeps with a surgery resident from New York that night, and feels ridiculous about it as she slips out of his hotel room to get back to hers.

She doesn’t see House for another three years.

* * *

If we're both not married by twenty-four, will you pass me those knee pads and I'll get on the floor?

In 1999 she’s the Dean of Medicine of her own hospital, and she’s proud of what’s she’s built in her year at Princeton-Plainsboro. She looks at the building fondly from the parking lot, thinking and planning, when a hand on her shoulder startles her.

She turns around, expecting to see one of her employees (the idea sends a shiver of satisfaction through her). Instead, House is standing in front of her. “Hi,” she says. “What are you doing here?”

He looks at her for a while, not saying anything. “You know I live in Princeton. You’ve been here for how long without looking me up?”

She raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t know, because you never call or write to me. You could have gotten a job and moved anywhere over the last million years.”

“I like it here.”

“You’ve been here for how long without looking me up?”

He doesn’t say anything, instead squinting at the sun above his head. She knows this is how he looks guilty. She wants him to look guilty, because she feels guilty, and she did know, and she’s somehow convinced herself that her lack of contact hasn’t been because of Stacy.

“I heard you have a job opening in Diagnostics.” He’s still not looking at her.

She nods. “You interested?”

“No,” he says viciously, “I’m asking because I like to confirm rumours.”

She shakes her head. “You’re a jerk.”

He catches her arm before she can walk away. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap. Yes, I’m interested.”

“Bring by a resume,” she replies with a tilt of the head. He looks at her intently and she hopes with breath held that he’ll kiss her, even though she knows he won’t cheat.

Instead, he leans in and hugs her. “It’s good to see you, Lisa.”

She wraps her arms around him, her briefcase dangling at his back. “You too.”

* * *

He never calls her Lisa again after the infarction. It’s his way of condemning her to guilt, because she knew how angry he would be, she knew how violated he would feel and she knew how much he would hate her before she told Stacy about the middle-ground surgery – but she couldn’t, she couldn’t give him what he’d asked for, because the fear he might die was a cold grip on her heart from the moment he was admitted.

He takes a few weeks off while starting physiotherapy. He’s in a wheelchair for some time until he can use a cane, and she has a feeling that it’s premature when he does stand, that he’s in pain, but he needs to walk under his own steam. She needs to see him walk and ease her conscience.

If he’s in pain, he doesn’t tell her about it. Only the Vicodin prescriptions in Wilson’s name, on the pharmacy’s log, are evidence.

She lets him be cold – she lets him be distant even though he kills her a little bit every day, because she wants him to forgive her so badly that she doesn’t know how to ask for it, and because she doesn’t want him to forgive her (she’ll never forgive herself, not completely). It’s less painful if it’s an omission rather than a rejection.

He lashes out and skips clinic hours, but she can’t fire him, not after she ruined his life.

She wonders if Wilson tells him when she asks after him. She doesn’t know what she’d prefer the answer to be; she hopes House knows she cares about him – she hopes he doesn’t know because his coldness hurts less that way.

She puts on a cold front and uses her best sarcasm against him because it’s better than self-pity.

* * *

If we're both not married by twenty-five, I hope that there's some childish spark still alive

Five months after the surgery, Stacy leaves. Cuddy finds out through Wilson. House looks miserable when she watches him through the glass of his office (she means to go in and say something supportive but she never does) and she’s heart-broken for him, even if she’s not completely sorry.

She comes by his apartment that night when she can’t sleep for thinking about him. He opens the door and lets her in wordlessly, which reassures her only mildly.

“I heard Stacy left,” she says when she’s sitting on the couch. “I’m sorry.”

He makes his way towards her, supported on his cane, leaning heavily. “Yeah.”

“Are you okay?”

“Peachy,” he says as he sinks into an armchair.

She looks away from him because his expression is unreadable. “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“Oh. In that case, you’re free to leave now that I’ve told you I’m peachy.”

“House!” she cries, shaking her head and turning to look at him. “Don’t be sarcastic!”

“What do you want me to say?” he asks. “That I’ll be fine? That I don’t miss her? You want me to reassure you that I don’t miss being able to walk without a cane and that my leg doesn’t hurt every single day?”

She doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t look away from him this time.

“Consider it said,” he says with a sigh.

“Tell me the truth.”

He shakes his head, not looking at her now. “If you came here for a pity fuck, I can’t fuck you against a wall anymore.”

She sighs exasperatedly. “You’re an idiot. You don’t need to insult me because you don’t want me to pity you. I’m here because I’m trying to be a friend.”

“Really? Or are you here for absolution?” He tosses the cane to the couch and it lands against her thigh. “You never did apologise.”

She fingers the handle. “You could’ve died. You were suicidal enough to take that risk and we cared too much to let you. I was the only one who suggested the middle-ground so you can keep your leg!”

“I wanted to keep my leg functional!” he shouts, standing, supported on the armrest.

“Well, you can’t always get what you want, as you keep telling me!” she replies, and stands too. “How come it’s okay when it’s one of your patients but not when you’re the statistic?”

He lets out a breath and reaches for the cane she left lying on the couch. She doesn’t help him retrieve it. “Go home, Cuddy.”

“My name is Lisa.”

“I’m well aware,” he says, looking at the door.

She sighs and starts to walk past him to the door. “Have it your way. You’ve sunk so low into self-pity that you’ve alienated me and Stacy, and Wilson will be next.”

She hears the cane hit the floor when her back is to him and she’s startled for a moment, thinking he’s fallen, until he catches her around the waist with one arm and kisses her hard, punishingly, unrelentingly.

It’s not what she’s wanted but she’ll take it, she thinks as she begins to kiss back with equal fervour, her hands in his hair pulling him closer. They’re not in college anymore, not so young, but there is life yet, hope yet, dreams yet.

They don’t make it past the couch, not gracing this with foreplay as they pull on each other’s clothes just enough so he can push her into the cushions, leveraged on his left leg and thrust home unceremoniously. It hurts a little, she wasn’t quite ready, but it feels good anyway, oh it’s good and in seconds the pain is gone. His leg might be damaged but he still knows what he’s doing as he pushes her blouse and bra up, sucks a nipple into his mouth and grazes it with his teeth. His rhythm isn’t slow, it’s fiery building anger which she can feel won’t last long.

“Oh, god,” she says with a gasp and follows it up with a series of moans which he stifles with his lips again, his fingers going to where they’re joined to help her along. He increases his pace, bites on her lower lip hard and she sees stars, she’s over the precipice and she’s falling, throwing her head back on the sofa cushion as he races for his own completion. His face is in the crook of her neck when he thrusts one final time, hard, and a few more times erratically, then stops, breathing hard.

It’s a palpable silence. Neither of them moves or says anything for a few seconds, and then he kisses her on the mouth again, softer this time. She thinks she can feel tears in her eyes because she can feel something in him of the old House, something not completely gone in the way he held her those few seconds.

He sits up with difficulty, righting his clothes. She does the same.

“I don’t hate you, but this doesn’t absolve you,” he says, not looking at her.

She nods though he doesn’t see it. “I can live with that.”

She walks out of the apartment and closes the door behind her.

* * *

If I get to thirty and I don't have a wife I'll ask you nicely but I won't ask twice

Cuddy imagines House sitting at home and watching something black and white on TV. Perhaps an infomercial. It’s one o’clock in the morning and he’s never asleep that early.

It’s zero degrees outside, and it’s been snowing almost ceaselessly since yesterday (the day before yesterday, she concedes when she realises midnight has passed). She knocks, then crosses her arms to try to contain a little bit of warmth.

He opens the door and his expression is surprised.

She knows she’s visibly soaked through and shivering, ice in her hair, probably the picture of stupidity for being outside at all.

“Did you walk here?” he asks incredulously.

“Y-yes,” she says through chattering teeth.

“Get inside,” he commands.

She takes a few steps past him.

“Sit down.” He leaves the room.

She sits.

He comes back a minute later and hands her a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants. “Go to the bathroom, take a hot shower and change before you die of hypothermia.”

“’M fine,” she manages to say, and sets the clothes he handed to her on the sofa’s armrest. She sheds her jacket.

“You’re not fine,” he insists, but she rises to her feet to make her point.

“Wilson said you told Stacy to leave with Mark.” She moves to stand in front of him and searches his eyes. She’s starting to feel the warmth, her shivers less violent.

“I did,” he replies to her question flatly. “Touch your pinky to your thumb.”

She lifts her left hand and does as she’d told, albeit with a difficulty she knows he won’t miss. “I know I shouldn’t be here – I know this is stupid –“

“Amazingly stupid,” he interjects. “You don’t just walk through a snow blizzard unless you’re suicidal.”

She shakes her head and looks at her shoes. “Roads are too icy to drive. I couldn’t wait because it’s been ten years since the last time you gave me a chance to tell you that I love you.”

He doesn’t answer.

“You don’t have to say it back.”

He still doesn’t answer. When she finally dares look up at him, he looks dumbstruck, which is unusual.

She shakes her head again. “Doesn’t matter.” She turns on her heel but he catches her wrist.

“What do you mean, ten years? I’ve been working for you for seven years.”

She sighs. “Well, I wasn’t going to tell you that when you were with Stacy. And then you hated me for six years.”

“I didn’t hate you – I never hated you and I told you that then,” he says and his grip on her wrist tightens.

“Fine,” she concedes. “But you resented me.”

“I resented anyone who could walk.” He pulls her towards him and she goes. “You saved my life. I forgave you years ago.”

She bows her head. “Is this absolution, then?”

He tucks a finger under her chin, tilts her face upward, and presses a soft kiss to her lips. “Go take a shower, Cuddy. You’re still shivering.”

She nods slowly and takes the garments he handed her from the sofa, and pushes past him. She waits until the hot water’s running loudly, hitting her hard, before she cries tears of relief.

She comes out of the shower warm and dry except for her wet curls which soak the sweatshirt with warm water. House waits for her outside the bathroom. “Do you have a - a bag I can put these in?” she asks, holding a neatly folded pile of wet clothes.

“I have a washing machine,” he tells her, before taking it from her hands and disappearing. When he comes out she can hear the machine going.

Then he takes a look at her. “Have you been crying?” he asks with a frown.

She shakes her head. “No, people’s faces sometimes get wet in the shower.” Her voice is slightly hoarse and she known him well enough to know she can’t fool him (and if her voice won’t give her away then surely her tone of voice has), but it doesn’t mean she can’t try.

He sets his jaw. “You’re pathetic,” he says, but without bite. He flattens a palm on the small of her back and pushed her along. “You need to get some sleep.”

She doesn’t protest. He leads her to his bed and as she lies down and lets him pull the blanket over her, she realises how exhausted she is. Her eyes are closed when she feels a dip in the mattress and House’s arm around her. The thud of the washing machine and his breathing carry her to sleep.

* * *

House bursts into Wilson’s office without knocking. “She told me she loves me,” he announces.

Wilson raises an eyebrow. He’s perusing a patient file, a pencil tucked behind his ear, but the file is laid down on the desk, held gingerly by the edges. “Stacy? Yes, and you –“

“Not Stacy, Cuddy,” House cuts him off.

Wilson’s face is the picture of surprise and under different circumstances House would have found it hilarious.

He lets go of the file. “Are you serious?”

“Do I look like I’m joking?”

“What can I say?” Wilson says, shrugging. “You’ve conditioned me to assume your default position is to screw with me.”

“She came to my house Friday night. She walked through the snowstorm which means she was hypothermic when she said it.” House sits down on the chair across from Wilson.

“Did she seem coherent?”

He nods. “She was speaking clearly. She didn’t take it back after I made her shower. Anterograde amnesia from a head trauma would explain that… and also why she was outside in zero degree weather…”

Wilson waves a hand. “Don’t try to diagnose this, House. You would have taken her to an ER if you really believed she had head trauma.”

House nods wordlessly.

“Did you sleep with her?”

“Not last night.”

Wilson’s eyes narrow. “That implies you have in the past.”

House looks around uncomfortably. “Once in college, once before I met Stacy and once right after Stacy left.”

“Well,” he says, sounding impressed, “that certainly explains why she hasn’t fired you yet. And why she hired you. And why she ran Vogler off for you.”

“Thanks, that’s helpful,” House says dryly.

Wilson straightens and leans forward. “House, she can’t be your rebound from Stacy. She deserves more than that. It’s not fair, it’s cruel, and it’s going to interfere with your work.”

House looks Wilson in the eye, his head tilted towards his feet. “She won’t be.”

* * *

If I get to forty and I don't have a spouse, I'll fashion you a letter and I'll send it to your house

It seems they’re destined to communicate by late-night visits, House thinks.

The temperatures are in the thirties, but the snow hasn’t melted yet. She hasn’t sprinkled any snow. He tries not to slip as he carefully makes his way up the footpath to Cuddy’s house.

There’s a dim light still on inside, and she isn’t the type to leave a light on while she sleeps. He’s about to knock, but his hand lands at his side instead, nerve lost.

He bends down, moves the planter to his left aside, and picks up the metal key he knew he’d find there. He wipes it carefully on his jacket. The key slides easily into the lock, undamaged by rust.

When he opens the door and steps through, he’s surprised she isn’t immediately in front of him. It’s so completely silent that she would have heard him.

He goes to look for her in the bedroom, and smiles softly when he finds her on the bed, asleep with a book folded over her abdomen. He picks up the cane and limps closer to her without its aid, not wanting to wake her up. It’s a well-worn paperback he is momentarily tempted to remove – to replace with his fingers.

“I love you too,” he says softly without thinking, and holds his breath for a moment to see if she’ll wake.

She doesn’t.

He bows his head with a sigh, relieved (disappointed), and walks out of her house as quietly as he can. He leaves the key under the planter.

* * *

Cuddy looks up from her notes when the door to her office opens.

House walks in, but doesn’t make it all the way to her desk. Instead, he sinks to the armchair closest to the door.

She frowns when he doesn’t start to speak. “Was there something you wanted?”

He shakes his head. “Nope,” he says. “Just hiding from my team. Last place they’d look.”

“Not unless I call and tell on you,” she replies dryly and returns her attention to her notes.

“But you wouldn’t do that,” he says, lifting his cane to lean it against the small table.

“Mind if I ask why you’re hiding?” she asks, not looking up.

“Because I want the kids to spend as much time as possible with the big swollen tongue,” he says. “Chase needs to learn to be less squeamish. And it’s not funny anymore, just annoying.”

She lifts her gaze at him. “Ordinarily I’d tell you to get back to your patient but your excuse is so lame you’re clearly lying, which begs the question, why won’t you tell me the real reason you’re here?”

He tilts his head and narrows his eyes. “Why aren’t you telling me to leave you alone and not waste your time?”

“I’m curious by nature,” she says, spreading her hands. “It’s a fault.”

He shakes his head. “No, you’re not. Not that curious. That’s my fault.”

She lays down her papers, stands and circles her desk to sit on it. “Curious to know if I’m right.”

He picks up his cane and stands. “Your reasoning is flawed. You think I’m lying because –“

“Because Chase is not squeamish and because you never talk to patients anyway.”

“Damn. I knew I should’ve said Cameron.”

“Want a sample of brilliant deductive reasoning?” she offers.

He raises an eyebrow. “Sure.”

“About a month ago, I woke up and my front door was unlocked.” She takes a step towards him.

His expression doesn’t change.

“There was snow on the ground, so I could tell my planter had been moved. The planter under which I keep my key.”

“Your key was stolen?” he asks, and takes a step forward. “Was anything taken from your house? Might want to replace your locks.”

She shakes her head and smiles. “Key was still there. Nothing stolen from my house.”

“Lucky break.”

“There were footprints in the snow. Accompanied by what I can only assume were cane marks.” Another step. “Am I wrong?”

He doesn’t reply, and the silence is broken by the opening door.

She doesn’t recognise the person in the doorway, a man dressed in a suit, and for a moment she panics, hoping there isn’t an appointment she’s forgotten about. “Can I help you?” she asks.

“I was told Doctor House was down here,” he says.

House nods. “Well, then, now that you’ve found her, I’ll leave you two alone.” He moves to leave, but the man shakes his head.

“I’ve met Doctor Cuddy before. I was a patient here once.”

“Oh,” House says and stops. “Guess I’m busted, then.”

Her blood chills and she’s paralysed for a moment when the man produces a gun from his pocket; she doesn’t hear the gunshot, only sees House fall to the floor with a gasp. She sinks to the carpet after him. She doesn’t hear the shooter’s words, doesn’t hear or feel the second gunshot as she presses her hands to his abdomen to stop the blood.

“House, stay with me,” she says firmly, applying pressure.

“I love you,” he says, looking her in the eye. “I love you.”

Then he closes his eyes, and the cold grip on her heart is the same dread she felt when he had his infarction. And, oh god, blood pools around her though she can’t see where it’s coming from – an exit wound in his back, maybe –

A nurse sits at his other side and moves Cuddy’s hands, applies her own pressure, while other doctors and nurses she didn’t see come in gather to check his vital signs, check his pulse, his breathing. A strong arm pulls her back, lays her down on the floor. She struggles against the hands that start to examine her, hold her leg down: “I’m fine! House is the one who was shot!”

Colours start to swim in front of her eyes and the last thing she hears is Wilson’s voice: “Lisa, you’re bleeding.”

* * *

Cos there are so many lessons that I just never get to learn

The hardest part about waking up after surgery is that no one will tell her how he is. She threatens to fire every nurse and doctor who steps through her room, and still no one speaks.

He’s not dead, she tells herself. He can’t do this to her. He can’t tell her he loves her and die.

Wilson acts as Dean of Medicine, they tell her, though she’s still in the hospital. Things look so different from a patient’s eye.

Cameron and Wilson come to see her hours after she’s woken up.

“We referred our patient to New York Mercy,” Cameron says. “They’ll keep us updated while you recover.”

While House and I recover,, she doesn’t say. He’s still here and he has to recover. “Okay,” she says instead. “How’s House?”

“He’s in a coma,” Cameron says.

She closes her eyes, part relief and part worry.

Wilson sits on the chair against the wall of her private room. “He’s still in ICU. He woke up right before they wheeled him into the OR and asked for ketamine.”

She rests her head back on the pillows and looks at the ceiling. “Experimental chronic pain treatment.”

“Yeah,” he says.

“How did his surgery go?”

Wilson narrows his eyes. “Has it occurred to you that you’ve asked about House a million times but you haven’t yet asked about your condition?”

She rolls her eyes. “Cameron - you, Chase and Foreman are on clinic today.”

Cameron nods and walks out of the room.

When they’re alone, she says, “Well, women talk, so I guess I shouldn’t be mad that men talk, too. Only reason I can think of that you wouldn’t just assume I’ve already spoken to my attending.”

“I have no advice or lecture to give you, Cuddy.”

“Good, because I don’t want advice. I just wanted to know how House was doing.”

“You were shot in the right thigh.”

“So my doctors told me,” she says flatly. “I also deduced this when I woke up with my leg in a three-inch thick bandage. And in case you think I’m too doped up on morphine to recognise the irony in this - I’m not.”

“He’s going to be okay,” Wilson says, and she must be pathetic if even he can tell she’s sick with worry. “It’s a chemically induced coma. The bullet wounds were repaired.”

She looks up at the ceiling. “What did House tell you, exactly, about us?”

Wilson pauses, and she can imagine his expression as he carefully considers his words. “He said you slept together a few times. He said you told him you loved him a few months ago.”

She nods. “And I was okay with him not saying it back – I wasn’t expecting it anyway – but when he was shot, before he closed his eyes, he said I love you.” She looks at Wilson again. His gaze doesn’t waver. “And I keep replaying it in my head now. Did he mean it or was it the shock, maybe delirium from blood loss?” She closes her eyes. “I’m pathetic.”

“I’m not surprised he said it – he aggravates you the way he does because you don’t wear your hair in pigtails, Cuddy,” Wilson says.

“I can’t even be at his bedside.”

“Nor can he be at yours,” he replies, and his tone is incredulous. “You can’t seriously feel guilty for that.”

“He got shot in my hospital,” she says, shaking her head. “How can I not feel guilty when my security failed so badly?”

“Do you propose metal detectors in the entrances, then?”

She shakes her head again. “I don’t know, maybe. He could have been killed.”

You could have been killed. Stop wallowing in guilt. He should wake up by tomorrow, and your doctor might let you see him in a wheelchair.”

“I should be happier right now, shouldn’t I?” she says, trying to read Wilson’s expression, and she knows she must sound like a child from his pitying gaze. “I don’t even know why I love him sometimes, but I can’t stop. And he tells me he loves me and I’m miserable. This isn’t normal.”

“It’s normal to be emotionally unstable after you get shot and then pumped full of drugs. There’s nothing neurologically wrong with you. You’re tired.”

“Let me know when he wakes up,” she asks, and he nods.

* * *

And there are so many questions that still burn

Wilson takes her to House’s room in a wheelchair. Though he belongs in ICU, Cuddy pulls strings for him.

He’s hooked up to what looks like a million tubes, and she’s a doctor and she knows what each of them is – just oxygen, just saline, just some broad-spectrum antibiotics and the stat monitor.

But seeing them around House – seeing him so pale – she’s glad she’s sitting down because her knees may not have held her up.

“Your leg,” House says when he sees her.

“I’ll be fine,” she replies. “How are you feeling?”

“Hopped up on morphine, so – excellent.”

She cracks a smile.

“Well, I’ve got a patient,” Wilson says awkwardly from behind her. “I’ll just – leave you two alone.”

Neither House nor Cuddy spare him a look as he slips out of the room.

She awkwardly manoeuvres her wheelchair closer to him.

“I had a hallucination,” he starts, and that’s one thing she didn’t expect him to say.

“Oh?”

“Between getting shot and the ER. That you gave me ketamine and I could walk again.”

She frowns slightly in confusion. “You dreamed I gave you ketamine, as in, without asking you first?”

He smiles lightly. “Your conscience bleeds freely when it comes to my leg. Maybe now you messed up yours you can calm down about it.”

“My leg will be fine,” she says, her hand resting on her thigh.

“Mine might be fine too now.”

“They said it was a lucky shot.”

He snorts. “Yeah, thank your lucky stars the moron who shot you in your own office happened to not cripple you.”

She stifles a grin. “They haven’t caught him yet. I told Wilson to hire more security until they do.”

He doesn’t reply, but speaks a few seconds later. “I had this hallucination and when I woke up I wasn’t sure if what I remembered was real or not.”

Her heart starts to beat faster. “What do you remember?”

“I remember I went down, and he told you to get away from me. I remember you didn’t and then another gunshot.”

“I didn’t even feel it at first.”

“You’re an idiot,” he says, but takes her hand. “I’m not worth getting shot for.”

You’re an idiot,” she replies.

“Did I tell you – did I say ‘I love you’?”

She nods, looking at her hand in his.

“I meant it,” he says.

She looks up sharply and meets his gaze, so sure and blue that she damns the leg, the wheelchair, the stitches (his and hers) and the IV lines (his and hers) because she wants to kiss him so badly.

“You better not be thinking about standing up off that chair to kiss me,” he warns and she laughs.

Instead, he leans towards her and she meets him halfway in a soft kiss.

* * *

House helps her begin to walk days later, before either of them has been discharged. He holds her up without his cane, and she doesn’t know if it’s endorphins or her own strength that make it so easy to get up from the wheelchair.

But she takes it slow, and he understands.

He’s meant to be discharged a week after her, but she pulls strings again and swears up and down to his doctors that she’ll look after him before she takes him home with her.

* * *

It’s the best summer of their lives.

* * *

When his stitches are gone, Cuddy finally lets him ride the motorcycle, and he makes her come along for a drive because it’s tragic, to him, that she doesn’t understand what it means to have nothing between you and the wind.

He only has one helmet between the two of them and she protests about laws at first, but puts it on and gets on the back of the bike anyway. Her arms circle his waist and she grips his shirt.

He can tell she’s nervous, so he revs the engine a few times and laughs at the noises she makes.

He takes them outside the city, to a stretch of road flanked by lawns and trees and dandelions beginning to turn white. Cuddy’s eased her death grip; she laughs behind him and the sound is as fresh as all that greenery. He parks in the shadow of some maples and waits for her to step off before dismounting the bike himself.

She takes the helmet off and sets it on the seat of the motorcycle, smiling, her hair wild around her. “I’m not ready to recant calling this thing a death trap, but I can’t say I hated that,” she says.

“I love your hair when it’s a mess,” he replies.

She laughs and he kisses her against the tree.

* * *

She jogs with him every day until he can’t jog anymore.

* * *

Will you hold my hand when I go?

He gives her a ring when she’s on the phone, in her office. It’s slightly amusing to watch her stutter apologies as she stares at the satin-lined box in the middle of her desk, before she hangs up and turns her stare at him.

There’s a pause at first, before she thinks of something to say. “What’s that?” she asks, and she sounds more curious than confrontational.

“An engagement ring,” he replies, and his heart beats a little faster.

“Why?”

He takes a deep breath, then picks up the box, closing it in the same motion, because maybe if he leaves now they can pretend later that this never happened. But she halts his movement with her hand on his wrist.

“I didn’t say no.”

He puts it back on the desk and thinks about explaining. “It’s an engagement ring, because I want you to marry me.”

“Okay,” she says, her hand still on his wrist and her eyes on the box, but it’s a hesitant reply.

“Okay?” He narrows his eyes, unsure.

“Okay,” she repeats, raising her eyes. “Yes.”

His leg hurts but he bends across her desk anyway, and kisses her fiercely. Then he sinks to the chair beside him. “Good.”

She leans back in her chair, holding the closed box still in the middle of the desk. No one says anything for a few seconds but she’s smiling, and eventually she asks, “Going to put that on me?”

He smiles too. He opens the box again, picks up the ring carefully, and slides it gently on the finger of her outstretched hand. He looks at it for a few more seconds before letting it go and deciding he likes the way her hand looks with it; he likes the way Cuddy looks with it - like she’s his.

She’s looking at her hand as she asks, “So how’s this going to work? You going to convert to Judaism?”

He tilts his head. “You going to convert to the Church of Latter Day Atheists?”

She laughs. “Don’t worry. Frankly, I’d be scared if you had any other response.”

“But you said yes anyway.”

“Yeah.”

“I love you,” he says.

* * *