Written by Artemis of Ephesus
House stands in front of the doors leading into the office of Dr Lisa Cuddy, Dean of Medicine . She is sitting at her desk, laptop still open in front of her, sorting papers into the in-trays on her desk, organising herself for the next day. It is late, and yet she is still here, only getting ready to leave now that everyone – other than the night staff – has quit for the day. She is always still there. And he is always watching her.
The face reflected back at him in the glass is slightly haggard, a little rough around the edges. The pride and snark usually evident in its subtle lines are lost, for the moment. This is not the face of a man who will do anything and everything he wants to prove his point, a man who believes in what he thinks – knows – to be true so fiercely, who is utterly confident in his abilities to solve the puzzles he immerses himself in. This is the face of a man, broken. A man who has realised that all the times he has lied, manipulated and cheated, he has hurt. And that he, also, is affected by consequence.
No mere mortal can stand in the fire and not be consumed.
He isn't God. He can't pick and choose who to let live and who to let die. He learnt that with Esther. With Amber. With Dibala, even. And he can't hurt without being hurt himself. He realises that now.
The medical conference. Him, Cuddy, the dance. The conversation. Her leaving. Him offering to look after Rachel. Pushing past Cuddy in the doorway of her hotel room to find Lucas. The sharp echo of something breaking.
How can words be simultaneously the cause and the healing of pain? He still doesn't know whether what they have told him is true. He has always denied that apologies can solve problems, heal hurts. And yet Nolan has told him, Wilson has told him, that he needs to move on.
Apologise, and move on.
He's tried. He talked to his old classmate. He's apologised for switching papers with him so many years ago. He's even felt something like remorse for the man. But what had it brought? He had done the right thing, but there was no cartharsis afterwards, no release. Maybe Wilson had been right, that morning. That it had been too easy, too far away from his life. Of no consequence anymore.
- Of all the people to go the extra mile for, why this guy? Why not Cuddy? You never apologised for the fact that you defaced her photo.
- Maybe because I recognize that sending someone to the poor house is a little more serious than editing a snapshot.
- No, it's because Cuddy actually means something to you, which makes it much harder to apologise. She was in love with you, and all she got in return was abuse.
Was that it? Was apologising to Wibberley so easy because of the distance between them? He had hardly known the man. He still doesn't. But he knows Cuddy. And he knows that Wilson is right in this one. If to anyone, he should be apologising to Cuddy. Because she does mean something to him.
Oh God, how much she means to him.
It had taken him a long time to admit that. Nolan had helped, the time at Mayfield had helped. He had learned that somewhere, it was still possible for him to feel, to connect to someone in a real, meaningful way, and to accept that, to work with it without rationalising or pushing people away. But he had also learned that he needed to start from scratch with the people he had done just that to.
The fingertips of one hand come to rest on cool glass, trying to gather up the courage that is needed to do what he wants to do. What he needs to do, even if he knows that the chances of getting what he wants are slim to none. But this isn't a game anymore. He's not doing it to get into Cuddy's pants or to annoy the crap out of Lucas or to play with her emotions. Hell, he doesn't even know if he's doing it for himself anymore. If Freedom Rider and Wibberley taught him anything about this sort of thing, it was not to expect anything for yourself afterwards.
But he can live with that.
His palm meets the glass and the door slowly swings open. House finds his legs working, dragging themselves across the carpet with the help of his cane. Coming to a rest in front of Cuddy's desk, uncomfortably waiting in the quiet murmurs of the evening hospital.
She looks up from her packing and sorting and organising, and an expression crosses her face that House knows all too well. A mixture of annoyance, weariness and perhaps a tiny amount of curiosity.
He stands there, frozen, unable to pick the right words out of the jumble of thoughts and feelings swirling around his brain. She sighs, closing her eyes for a brief second, composing herself before she once again meets his gaze.
“House, it's late, I've been here since five in the morning and Rachel's not feeling well. I want to go home. Just tell me what insane treatment or request you want make so that I can say no, you can do it anyway, and I can go home.” Her voice is strained and he almost feels like turning around and limping out of her office again.
But he doesn't. He is still frozen. A memory of the last time he stood here like this is fresh in his mind. He can still sense her creeping into the frame, her breath warm and vicious against his ear.
So. This is the story you made up about who you are.
She's becoming impatient. “House, I don't know what your game is, but either you tell me what you want, now , or you leave. I'm not in the mood for blackmail, or whatever it is you're trying to achieve by just standing there.”
God, why am I finding it this hard to formulate a simple sentence comprised of only two words?
There. As soon as the words have left his mouth he realises how pathetic he must sound, how pathetic he must be for believing even for a second that he could possibly fix something between himself and Lisa Cuddy.
She doesn't answer, but continues to watch him with that same, weary expression.
“If it's about the photo, forget it. You were right, House. I was being sentimental and I can probably go into any photo shop and have it fixed. Just forget about it. And now, if you'd care to leave my office, I'd like to go home to my family.”
The words hit House like a brick wall at fifty miles an hour. She gathers up her things and walks past him, making to open the doors and leave.
He's not finished, not yet. And he needs to do this now. Not tomorrow, not the day after. Now.
“I wasn't right. And you weren't being sentimental. But I'm not apologising for the photo.”
She turns in the doorway, trying her best to keep her face unreadable, but he can see the surprise flicker across her face. “You're actually admitting that you were wrong? Well done, House. Looks like you are finally growing up.”
Ouch . He wonders whether she meant that to come out as harsh as it did. He was usually the cruel one.
She tries again, for the third time, her voice a little more gentle. Obviously she is wondering the same thing. “If it's not about the photo, what is it about, House?”
You can see that she's tired, House. Forget about this stupid idea, let her go home, and drown yourself in scotch again. Just like every other time.
“I... I'm sorry...” God, this is hard. How can it be so hard to just say a couple of words?
“I'm sorry for being such an ass.”
He sees her eyebrow rise a fraction of a millimeter. “Right. Should I be shutting down the hospital this very moment or do I have until morning before I have to call the legal team together?”
For a moment, he almost feels tempted to smile. He should have known she would think along those lines, that he'd once again built chaos and gotten the hospital sued. Or worse. Just keep going.
“I'm sorry for what I said about you and Rachel, that you were a crappy mother. For... for forcing you back to work rather than being able to stay at home with your... family.” He feels something at the back of his throat constricting. A hard, painful lump.
She is still standing there, watching him closely, though she has taken a step back from the door and lowered her briefcase to the floor. He sinks his gaze, not being able to meet hers.
“I'm sorry for trying to break up you and Lucas. For announcing to everyone that I slept with you last summer. It... It hurt. But it still didn't justify what I did. For...toying... with you at every opportunity just because I couldn't admit to myself that I... felt something for you. Something... real.” His voice becomes hoarser as he tried to reign in his emotions. “I'm sorry.”
There. He's said it. There was no way she could misunderstand those words.
“House...” Her voice trails off, unsure of what to say. His eyes manage to leave the floor and look upwards towards hers, sure he is going to find anger there, or annoyance, or even ridicule. But as they meet he sees something new. No anger, no contempt, no derision. Just something else, something new and precious, even though he still has trouble reading exactly what it is.
Acceptance. A delicate trace of happiness. And perhaps, just the tiniest glimmer of hope.
For him, or for them?
She steps closer to him, her hand reaches up to caress his cheek. This time, it is no hallucination, no story being enacted by a mind crawling with drugs. This time, the delicate stroke of her fingers across the stubble on his jaw is real.
“Thank you, House.” Her voice is little more than a whisper, a breath of warm air on his cheek. “And I'm sorry, too.” He feels a tremor run through him as her lips gently brush his, lingering only for a moment. A ghost of a kiss. And then, she turns, picks up her briefcase, and walks out the door.
He doesn't move as he watches her leave. He can still feel the burning lump lodged in his throat, the touch of her lips on his, her stroke of her cool fingers on his skin. He can still feel the hurt, the guilt. But he can live with that. Because he has hope for himself, too. And maybe, just maybe, he will find forgiveness.
As she glances back over her shoulder, there are tears in both their eyes.