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The Hollow In Your Chest (Old Times Remix)

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She's pretty. That's what the honey-voiced announcer says, a little guy with a shiny suit and thinning hair. He looks like one of the strippers keeps his balls in her pocket. 

"The lovely, very pretty Alisha," and Alisha moves through her short set as the crowd makes its usual boozy cheer. She moves well, like she had ballet lessons once. Almost prim, but with something hard and intelligent underneath. He catches himself wondering if there's something ironic in her eyes, until he realises that he's reading way too much into the look on her face, the swing of her hips. House cheated on Stacy two months ago. He finds it hard to disengage. They had a fight, and it was a stupid thing: walking into a bar and falling into bed with the first woman you talk to. What do you do? I'm a doctor, bam. 

He thought he'd see how far he could stretch it before it would break. Or maybe he didn't think at all.

It didn't break.

Wilson has the right idea. As the stripper sashays over Wilson hoots like a goddamn frat boy and slips a ten dollar note into her bra. She knows her mark, all right. She licks her lips and runs her hands down Wilson's shirt. The fingernails are polished but cut short, neat. He pulls another bill out of his pocket as House takes a long swig on his beer, looking at the girl out of the corner of his eye. She has blue eyes, a cute round face, hair cut into messy bangs. She hasn't had a boob job. Her high heels make her calf muscles stand out. 

She moves over to the next guy, her arms lifted over her head to frame her face, her back arched. There's a small mole at the small of her back. She's enjoying herself, he decides. When her set is over she blows the crowd a kiss and leaves, bending over to pick up the men's shirt she threw off at the beginning of her dance, her movements fluid.

Wilson goes home to his wife, who House doesn't have much time for (probably uncharitably, but what the hell, he gave up on liking Wilson's second wife the day she stood on her living room rug and called him a immature, conniving arsehole, Wilson standing between the two of them with his mouth hanging open, his hands on his hips). House goes home to Stacy, and he doesn't think of the stripper again. He has too much in his life —  Stacy, his ID research, the way his job is hanging by a thread.

A week later he sprains his hamstring running. That's what he thinks happens. When he gets out of bed the next morning it feels odd, kind of awkward. He doesn't think much of it. He doesn't remember anything special about that last day, the last time he ran up the stairs or bounced on the balls of his feet as he took a leak. 

The world turns upside-down when he's on the parking lot of the golf club. His golf bag hits the ground beside him, and he realises that his right leg has buckled beneath him, that the pain has grown teeth. The sun is in his eyes. He can smell sweat and grass, feel acid burning at the back of his throat.

He dislocated his shoulder at fifteen. It happened when his father pushed him across the kitchen: he glanced off the kitchen benchtop and landed awkwardly. That was the most painful thing he's ever experienced, and it's nothing on this. This pain is so fucking all-encompassing that when he hits 2 on speed-dial and puts the phone to his ear, levering himself up so can put his back against the side of his car, when after four endless rings Stacy picks up, he doesn't recognise his own voice. 

Nothing is the same after that. 

Before Stacy leaves — not right before she leaves, he spends most of that day drinking himself into a stupor on the couch while she packs her bags and sniffs — he thinks he can see through her. He thinks he knows the answers. She comes home from work, and he watches her nervously fix her clothes, tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. She comes to the living room door and stares at him, smiling weakly, but she doesn't come any closer. He's in almost dream-like state of drowsiness (he took an extra pill at lunchtime: he's stopped counting). Memory seems close enough to touch, more real than the present. He remembers the bite of steel guitar strings when he hasn't practiced in a while. Smoking weed under a jetty at fifteen. 

He remembers the feel of Stacy's lips, marking a trail down his abdomen. The late afternoon light cuts a shaft across the darkened living room. She steps through it as she turns around and leaves the room.

Something feels different. There's something careful in the way she looks at him. Furtive. Dinner is reheated casserole. Forget hospital pudding and clear soup, it's a freezer full of offerings from mom and friends that fuel his convalescence. They eat so much casserole that he loses his taste for it, a food he'd previously neither liked or hated. 

He stabs his fork into an overdone carrot, and then in the short silence between swallowing and lifting his fork, he says "You fucked Wilson." 

He doesn't raise his voice. He doesn't sound angry, at least to his own mind. He might as well be telling her about the midday movie, which, since he doesn't have a job and can't go out, he knows intimately.

He expects her to offer up some diplomatic lawyer-like excuse, or to scream at him, maybe throw a plate like she did once in the (good) old days. What he doesn't expect her to do is cry. He sits there, dinner cooling on the plate in front of him, and watches as she wipes tears away from the corner of her eyes. He's lost whatever impulse he once had to hold her hand, ask her what's wrong. So they sit in silence, and after five minutes or so she gets up and leaves. He slides the plate away and slowly levers himself up from the table. 

There are pieces of her everywhere in this apartment. He imagines stripping them away one by one: her afghan rug on the couch. Her Klimt print on the bedroom wall. Lying on the living room floor together last fall, letting her pin him down and take the remote away just so he could pull her down and let his hand spread across the small of her back, feeling the flesh tighten with gooseflesh.

He could smooth over the details in his own life, too: the lacrosse cleats lying still muddy on the bottom of the closet. The guitar he hasn't played in six months. He takes a pill and lies back in bed and mentally recites the bones in his fingers, the bones in his hand, the way he did in college. He's gone from the phalanges all the way to the humerus and the shoulderblade, imagining the clavicle turning against the scapula like a key, when he falls asleep.

He wakes up in the early hours of the morning and realises that she slept on the couch, that for once Stacy was the one who didn't come to bed. He knows she'll leave. He's found himself recoiling from her, turning his back in bed, pulling his hand away when she twines her fingers in his. He doesn't know why he does it, exactly, because he still wants her, still wants to wait and heal. He's lived with Stacy for five years, longer than he's lived with anyone.

He's not even sure if she had sex with Wilson or not. It doesn't matter. He convinces himself because he has a lot to hate her for. The last time they tried it didn't work. He was in too much pain. Wilson is nicer. Wilson is unhappy, too. Who wouldn't?

She leaves. 

The first place has a smart black marble floor and abstract prints on the walls. He can blame going there on the whisky. Good single malt. Laphroig, Bowmore, the Macallan. He sits back in a soft leather chair and drinks it neat, served in a thin glass that feels fragile in his hands. 

Stacy had a set of six hand-blown glasses with gold around the rims. They felt like this in his hand, light and old and expensive. She'd take them out on special occasions, make herself a whisky sour, pouring a Maker's Mark for him. And all of a sudden he can't get her out of his mind. Her hands on the back of his, pinning him down and pressing her lips to his. The smell of her.

The taste of whisky.

Years later, when the hurt has faded and hardened into something smaller and more bitter, he will remember the cold bewilderment of these months. He's left people before, been left more often than that. It never felt like this. But now there is just a rushing confusion around him, a deep and unconsolable hurt: the rest of his life.

A woman in a strapless gown sits down in the seat next to him. He moves his eyes lazily from the dark hair falling down to her shoulders to her face, and his dick twitches. He can almost feel her hands at his biceps, her breath on his neck.

The look on Stacy's face when she came underneath him, the way he whimpered and closed his eyes. When the woman (he missed her name) asks if he'd like to go someplace, he gulps the last of his whiskey, dodges around a coffee table bearing a fussy little Scandinavian objet d'art, and goes outside.

His leg hurts and his gut hurts and he wonders if he might vomit. He can't even get drunk any more. The week before it all happened he staggered home with Wilson after throwing down more beers than he could count. Now it's just the slow burn of whisky and a gnawing, deep tiredness that seems to spread from his core.

He lies on his bed and wishes he were drunk enough to just fall asleep. He wishes he could fall asleep for months, even, and wake up when — he doesn't know when. When everything feels different.

He falls into a sort of half-sleep, and awakes with flushed cheeks and a warm tingling in his groin. He dreamt of someone touching him, of the way Stacy whispered in his ear when she was leaving for work and he had a day off. Of a younger, less businesslike Cuddy, pulling her shirt over her head while he fumbled with his belt.

He fixes his eyes on the first thing he sees, the wavering shadows on the ceiling, and then he places a pillow under his right leg and puts his hand around his cock. 

The next place just has Jack Daniels. He's six months older and he's gotten better at a lot of things: not hating Stacy, drinking without vomiting up stomach acid, climbing stairs. 

When she asks for his name he says "James, James Wilson," just for the hell of it. She asks him to meet her out back in ten minutes with two hundred dollars, and because he's already had three drinks on a stomach empty of anything but Vicodin, he agrees. It all happens so quickly — a blow to the stomach, a sickening pain in the back of his head. When he comes to he glances at his watch, listens for the music coming from the bar, guesses that he's been out for five minutes. Any longer and somebody would have found him. When he turns to the side to vomit, he notices his empty wallet beside him. They left the driver's licence, but took the two credit cards and the emergency prescription he had in there. 

Wilson puts a Steri-Strip on the stinging cut to the back of his head and says in his nonchalant voice, the one that tries to say I'm not curious but fails, "Well, you're not concussed. What were you doing?"

"Picking up a pizza," he says, not particularly caring whether he sounds convincing or not.

"Maybe you should order in next time," Wilson says, and House can feel his cold hands on the back of his neck. It feels like so long since he's been touched by anyone. He swallows awkwardly, feeling a deep, tight knot settle in the pit of his stomach.

 …

 He asks the agent for Gloria. Beside a murky airbrushed picture of a woman with arched eyebrows and unconvincing brown hair framing her face there's a small blurb in a fussy little curlicued font. "Buxom beauty," it says. "Fun-loving girl who likes to make you happy."

He sits at the table and stares at a half-measure of Maker's mark in a tumbler. Experience has taught him that it's best not to drink too much. 

Afterwards, a deep, pleasurable half-melancholy fills him. It reminds him of the way he used to feel, lying beside Stacy. It was the only way he could tell her that he loved her.

Gloria sits on the chair opposite the bed. Then, in a gentle yet business-like way, she says "You paid a thousand. I can stay until six."

He forgets himself. He wants to tell her so many things — the way Stacy fell asleep with her arm across him, that he'd never had that before. That a guy from the Lacrosse team pulled him off behind the Phys. Ed building when he was seventeen, that when he's drunk he occasionally wonders how Wilson's hand would feel on his cock. That for the two months after Stacy left he'd wait until he knew she'd gone to work and call her answering machine, hanging up before it started recording. That he still wants Cuddy and that he knows she knows it, that he doesn't know where to go from there.

"Distract me," he says, and by the time she puts her mouth on his dick he's not thinking of anything else.

He came here a year ago with Wilson. He doesn't remember whose idea it was, but he thinks it was probably Wilson, something masochistic, symptomatic of the end of all his marriages. Wilson's marriage is well and truly in ruins now and House only feels slightly guilty about his part in it, the phone calls, the worry, the neediness.

He stands with his back against the stucco wall, a bottle of beer dripping condensation onto the tabletop. Just watching. The first set is good to look at, sure, but it's nothing special. He feels detached. He wants to just sit here and drink and wait for something to happen. 

When he recognises her he drains the last of his beer and moves to the front, smelling sweat and cigarette smoke, hearing the rattle in one of their overloaded subwoofers. There's a drunk guy standing right in front of the stage with a crumpled ten dollar bill in his hand, and House dispatches him quickly enough by leaning on his foot with his cane. 

The hair is different, but it's the same light brown. She's wearing a small black bra and a tiny black thong, thigh-high tights. Her fingernails are still short, but her hands look good as she runs them down her stomach so they rest, fingers splayed, at her hips. She hooks her thumb around the lacy waistband of her thong and pulls it out, just slightly.

He holds out two hundreds and makes sure she gets a good look at his face as he stuffs them down her bra. Of course she doesn't recognise him — why would she? — but he recognises her, and all of a sudden he can see the last year stretching behind him, and all he wants is a clean start. Something to touch. Something to blow away the cobwebs.

She leans forward, a slight smile on her face, and trails her hand up his shirt, her touch light. He tears his eyes away from her rack and says "Meet me out back later?"

"Not if you're a first timer," she says. He smiles, doesn't push it. "What about a second-timer?"

Her last song comes on and she smiles again, half-charming, half-bored. He guesses that this pays better than working a cash register or waiting tables. She's got the body for it, but he can tell by her face and her eyes that she's not supporting a habit. 

"I'll be back," he says, but she's already turned away to a businessman at his left, running her hands down her flat belly as he slips a fifty into her bra. He orders another beer and finds a table just to one side of the stage, and when the next girl comes on he gets up to leave.

She works Fridays and Saturdays. The next Friday he finds his way back, half on purpose. He's downtown picking up a six-pack of Grolsch, and instead of turning for home he takes a sudden left turn and finds the club again, parking out back.

When he takes the same seat by the side of the stage, it's still early. The lights are still on, and he can smell something vaguely disinfectant, like urinal blocks. He orders a beer and a sweaty slice of pizza and settles down to wait, occupying himself by sending lewd messages to Wilson, who is somewhere upstate with his wife at a marriage-counselling camp. He feels more comfortable in his own skin, now: where three months ago everything still felt too new and too wrong, he can now sit at this table and sip cold beer and send gloating messages to Wilson, ask him how the guilt singalong is going.

She's the third to come on. He stands in the same spot, holds out a hundred, waits for the flash of recognition. She's smart, he can see that. She's a little bit scared, too, but this is a good club. She probably tells her mother she's teaching dance classes or working as a waitress. It's only a little lie. He wonders how many start out like this, how easy it is to justify anything in small steps.

"Remember me?" She gives the half-smile, leans forward so he can get a full view. Professional. "Let me out back after your set. Two hundred?" He smiles like he knows she's going to say yes, even though he's half expecting her to call over the bouncer and get him thrown out.

"Sure," she says.

He doesn't even know if it's her, but that's alright, somehow. It's just his sweaty palm against his right thigh, a mouth closing wet and hot around his dick. There's nothing else, nothing else to think about, just a white hot bust of light behind his eyelids and that single point of contact. When he finishes he cries out, thanks her, sticks an extra fifty through the hole.

Hell of a distraction.

He finds himself going back every week. She does a private dance, he tips generously, and then she slips a piece of paper into his hand. A little Xeroxed chit with the club name on it. Underneath it'll say something like Room Six, and her name. The handwriting is neat and rounded, but hurried. She writes a lot, he decides. College student. It fits. She's too young and here too regularly for it to be a kink, something for her husband or for her. And she's too new to have been doing this long.

It's always the same. He'll hear her moving behind the wall, slipping the condom on efficiently. Then her lips close around the head of his penis, her tongue tickling around the end, her hand along the shaft. It's not the best blow job he's ever had (that particular honour goes to a girl he went out with for two weeks in junior year of college), but it's getting there. He doesn't want a relationship, he doesn't even want real contact. Just a rap on the thin wall and her lips closing around his cock. After three visits he's developed a tipping system based on how much he enjoys it, because he can't help but analyse everything. When he forgets about his leg he tips her a hundred. Almost there, a fifty. Sometimes he just leaves.

He doesn't feel bad about it, because he knows that she doesn't either. If they gave out varsity letters in masturbation, House would have left high school with a big M next to his L for lacrosse. Neither of them belong here any more than the next person: he's just here to get off, to be distracted. She's here for the money, because she's good at it, because it pays well, because it's a big step from the neat middle-class house he knows she grew up in. He can tell that. Somewhere in the midwest.

He begins to recognise things: the cool feel of her hands on his shaft as she rolls the condom down with a practiced movement, the quick way she pinches it at the end. Her hands, small and busy. Once, the faint smell of her perfume. 

On a Friday night in late autumn he passes the condom through like always, but says "Turn around." 

"Why?" She sounds surprised. It must be because he doesn't usually talk before the end, before he moans as he comes. Her voice is different, less in control. 

"Just do it," he says, shaking the condom in a way he hopes is insistent and not just desperate. 

"I can't," she says. Her voice drops a little, almost as if she pities him. Christ. "We're not allowed to do any more."

"Who's gonna know?" He tries to keep his voice even. Tries not to sound as if he wants it.

"Everyone," she says, something hard and ironic in her voice. He likes that. This is something different, but she's covering her panic, staying calm.

He smiles, even though she can't see it, and he says "I am that good," in the same voice he uses when he boasts to Cuddy about hookers, although here he doesn't have the pleasure of watching her try to figure out if he's telling the truth or not.

There's a pause, and then she speaks again, her voice soft but insistent, "The walls are very thin." She's good at what she does. And she needs the money. But not that much. 

He lets himself grunt. God, he wants this. He puts on a mocking, Elmer Fuddish kind of voice and says "Then you'll have to be vewy, vewy quiet." Wabbits, he thinks. His mind comes up with the strangest stuff.

A short sigh, a rustle as she shifts to her feet behind the barrier. "I could get fired. I-"

He leaves, slamming the door over the rest of her sentence. 

When he gets home he summons the feeling of her mouth, the way the lights on the stage wash out her already-pale skin. Twenty seconds after he climaxes he's asleep, still wearing his shirt and jacket.

It's easy to tell which car is hers. There are only a few left in the lot after closing time, and only one is a) usually there on both Friday and Saturday night and b) shitty enough to belong to a college student who doesn't ever change her own oil. He leans his cane against the side, crosses his arms and watches his breath ghost above him. 

It's times like this he wishes he was still a smoker. He gave up for Stacy, not long after they moved in together. It was crazy for a doctor to smoke, she said, and he didn't tell her that he knew plenty of doctors who did worse things. He supposes he could start again, since he knows instinctively that his lifespan has been shortened, but he doesn't, maybe because he promised Stacy once, maybe because that would be giving in somehow, acknowledging decay. Maybe because it's just a stupid idea. He taps his fingers instead, picking out the left hand of a song he's half forgotten.

When she approaches, her handbag over her arm, wearing a pair of jeans that look just as good on her as her usual outfit does, he waits until he knows she's seen him and says "Do you want a job?"

She doesn't hesitate. "I have a job."

He doesn't stop himself in time, even though it's a cheap shot. 

"As jobs go, it's not a bad one. If you want to make a living as a stripper giving head in the back room." He likes the way it rolls off his tongue, his lips numb in the cold. Giving head. It's one of those phrases you think more than say, like jerk off.

He watches as that hits home. She pushes past him and fumbles her keys out with a gloveless hand. She's probably got a can of mace in her bag, and if she were to call out the bouncer would be out here in twenty seconds. But she doesn't. She drops her keys, purses her lips. She's wiped the lipstick off.

"Oh, but you don't want to be a stripper," he says. This is his territory. Analysis. It's been so long since he had to figure something like this out. She's a puzzle. And a highly stimulating one at that. 

"You've got aspirations. You want to do something bigger." He turns around to face her, and she bends to get her keys, hardly taking her eyes off his. She's wearing a fleecy sweater, zipped up. He realises after she rises quickly that she's afraid he might do something to her, and that almost makes him laugh. 

One kick to his right leg and she could incapacitate him. Her eyes flick to his cane. He couldn't hurt her if he tried. For a second a familiar wounded-puppy look of compassion flicks in her eyes. She's complex, this one. She's ready to knock him over, but she pities him as well.

"No, I don't want to be a stripper."

Of course not. She's a college student. And he knows what she does now, too. There's a copy of Harrison's on the back seat of her car, bristling with little sticky Post-It notes. She's a med student. He could have picked it a mile off — the compassion, the drive. The way she knew right away never to touch his leg.

"Answer the question. Do you want a job?"

She lets something more amused work its way into her voice. "Working for you? Hardly."

It's not derisive. It's more like half-amused exasperation he hears in Cuddy's voice when she denies him an MRI (or a Slushee machine in the doctor's lounge).

"You don't even know what I do," he says.

She savagely sticks the key in her driver's side door. She looks tired. He wonders if she's going home to study now. Diligent. Alone. 

"You go to strip clubs and stuff dollar bills down women's underwear."

She gives as good as she gets. He's only slightly offended — he'd never be that cheap. Ten bucks minimum.

"One of many things," he says, and he walks away, very conscious of how stiff his leg is after standing for so long in the cold. 

"Look me up when you change your mind," he says, this last over his shoulder. He wonders if she'll figure it out. She probably won't. The game is over for him, anyway.

He tells Wilson that he's hiring her because it's like having a nice piece of art in the lobby, and he's so blustery and appalled that he never even considers that there might be another reason. 

She doesn't recognise him, and why should she. Six months, almost ten years ago. Her hair has changed. The way she moves hasn't. The way she sighs theatrically when she doesn't get her way, the way she cups her chin in her hand.

One day he calls her back after a differential. Chase and Foreman rush out the door, almost racing each other in their haste to administer a useless antibiotic to their patient. 

"Cameron," he says, and she turns around at the door of the conference room, stares at him with her hands on her hips. He wonders how much she lets herself remember of those days. He knows more of it now, a few more pieces in the puzzle of her life. That she married a dying man. That she wanted to be a vet. 

He wonders how many people know how she used to support herself. If she looks upon it as a juvenile fling, the same as working delivering pizzas or pouring drinks. It's all a service, right?

"Yes, House?" Her voice almost flat, with just a small edge in it. He wraps his fingers around the marble apothecary's pestle he keeps on his desk. Feels it roll down his fingers, heavy and cold. 

"Make me a coffee," he says, and then goes to sit in the Eames chair in his office. He listens carefully behind him as he walks. She hasn't moved. He imagines the look on her face, that same old sharp edge she usually keeps hidden behind a slight smile, raised eyebrows.

After he's settled himself down, snapped on the television, she stalks over to the door, her voice raised slightly.

"I am not your slave, House. Make your own damn coffee. What do you want?"

Then slowly, theatrically, he takes his wallet from his left back pocket and draws a fifty dollar bill out of it.

"There's a tip in it for you if you do," he says, and he watches as her face blanches, as the annoyance falls away into a look of naked surprise that she can't conceal.

Bingo.

The Project Runway re-run is over and he's bored. It's summer, too hot to do anything but sit under the ceiling fan and drink beer. But he gets into his car and drives over to her place, then finds her number in his phone. When he rolls down the window he can smell a light summery smell, hot shrubbery and bitumen.

"You bastard," she says. He wasn't expecting that. Maybe a prim little Allison Cameron, or a tired hello. It takes him a few seconds to get his bearings.

"Wow, I call for a consult and that's how you greet me?" He's already solved the case. That's why he's bored. But she doesn't know that. She's smart, but not smart. He likes his fellows. But he knows they don't think the same way he does. He doesn't think many people do, and he's too old to bother with not being conceited about it.

He hears a sharp intake of breath at the end of the phone. Away from the office she can say things she usually wouldn't. That's why he called her. He remembers the sharpness that crept into her laugh. She's stronger than she seems.

"You knew who I was when you got my CV." That's a cute little explanation. House knows who Wilson is, who Cuddy is, who Stacy is. He knows who Cameron is, too. He also knows that she used to take her clothes off for money. That for more money, probably because she was good at it and knew it, she gave great head. He knows what she did.

He grunts into the phone. She's gearing herself up to say more.

"You didn't hire me because I was pretty and smart. You hired me to try to get what I wouldn't give you that night at the club." 

He feels like that should hurt, but it doesn't. They're in a precarious position, the both of them. He knows what she used to do, and she knows that the hooker stories aren't stories. 

"No," he says, and he rushes headlong into a conversation he doesn't really want to have. But it's so hot. And he's bored.

  "I hired you because you went outside the norm. You are pretty and you are smart and one of those could've gotten you an easy life. You chose to go against that. It made you interesting. And that's why I hired you."

He didn't just hire her because of that. He hired her because of the memory, because he remembers those empty months, empty of all physical contact but fingers brushing across his palm as a cashier gave him change, and the brief, fucked-up thing he had with her.

There follows a stupid bit of business when he tries to convince her that he's called her about a diagnosis. She's smart enough to think that he wouldn't call her to ask about a rash. He'd call and wake up the on-call derm resident. And by the time he's tapdanced around the reason why he's called her, he's at her door. 

"Cameron," he says. "Open the door." And the most fucked-up thing about the whole situation is not that he hired her, not that he's turned up outside her house at a quarter to midnight. It's that she lets him in. She lets him in, in all his manipulative, emotionally retarded glory. 

Sure, she leaves the chain hooked and looks through the gap first, as if she half-expects him to be standing in her twee condo hallway with a battering ram. But then she opens the door. They stand in the hallway, underneath some sort of print from MoMA, something that looks as if it should have an epilepsy warning. It's awkward.

"You're an idiot," he says. He faintly realises that it's kind of conceited to call someone an idiot for not wanting to work with him, but it's true. If you want a Diagnostics fellowship, PPTH is the place. And she's already suffered through being discovered. She's shrewd. She knows that he won't say anything. If he did, she'd be able to say more. She'd tell people that he paid her to suck him off through a wall. That even through the thin plasterboard he could hear him say somebody else's name as he came. No. She's above that.

"Fine," she says, crossing her arms. "Why am I an idiot?"

"Because you left."

She puts her hands on her hips and puts on her indignant face. "Upholding my principles makes me an idiot?"

Christ. Principles. There are no principles. Cuddy doesn't keep him on the payroll because she has principles. Wilson didn't keep writing him prescriptions because of principles. Power, greed, ambition: these are explanations. House hates the Yankees but that doesn't mean he wants to take out a hit on Derek Jeter. Why bother? Principles don't explain anything.

"You're not being unprincipled," he says, tightening his hand on the handle of his cane. "You're running away."

"And you're not here because I'm a coward," she says, and there it is. He relaxes, smiles a little, a little more when he sees the puzzled look on her face.

"I've taught you well." She's trying to read him. Read the things he can't say.

She throws her phone down on a coffee table next to an honest-to-God bowl of pot pourri. He didn't know anyone under the age of sixty had pot pourri. He steps a little further into the living room. She doesn't move back.

"I want you to admit that you were wrong to leave."

She stares at him, straight on. She crosses her arms again. "No." She taps the fingers of one hand on the elbow of the other. "I wasn't wrong to leave and nothing is going to convince me otherwise."

He can't think of anything to say, so he steps forward and draws her toward him and kisses her. She moans a little against her mouth, so he puts his hand under her shirt, running his hand up the small of her back, warm, slightly sticky with sweat. He's just starting to get hard when he pulls away and says "Not here. Okay?" Into the bedroom.

There's no question in her eyes, just something approximating his own hunger. He wonders if she realises how much he hurts, how for every touch there is another side of him that wants to pull away. He even considers it now, for a moment — leaving, pulling away. But he doesn't.

"You were wrong," he says. Then he feels a smug grin spreading all over his face, and he can't help it. He wants her, and he knows she wants him, too. 

It won't work. She'll want to fix him. But right now, that doesn't matter. He'll pull off her shirt and kiss her, touch all the places he couldn't touch before. They'll lie together, trying to get cool, a warm breeze coming in through the open window, carrying traffic noise from the street below.

They'll both have what they want, for a while at least. A warm body in the night. A sense of touch, of light, and more detail, something to complete the picture.