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Elegy

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1. Memento mori

She gets the call at home as she's putting Rachel to bed. They are having their usual argument: Mommy-I'm-not-tired-yet and Rachel-yes-you-are-you're-yawning-and-it's-a-school-night. She barely catches the phone, ducking out of Rachel's room to talk. It's Taub, of all people, and he barely gets through it when the phone slips out of her hand, her muscles feeling as if they'd suddenly atrophied. Cuddy pulls it together, holds it together enough to settle Rachel in for the night, and heads straight to her room where she stays up, haunted every time she tries to close her eyes.

It's an understatement to say that she's surprised by this response. And it's not like she didn't have time to prepare for this. He'd been sick for months, suddenly and swiftly at first, but then time began to stretch. She thought they'd have longer with him, but she had been wrong. If she allows herself to wander down this path, she figures she is wrong most of the time - at least when it matters.

She wishes she could say that his death is not just his death - that it makes her reflect on her own mortality, her own life, her daughter. She wishes she could say that if she is grieving so painfully, she's also grieving for herself, and what she's left undone, and what wishes have gone un-wished.

All of this is true, but it's not the whole truth. It's him. (It's always him.) His death. House's death. Irreplaceable, frustrating, wonderful, unkind, complicated House. The only man to ever really get under her skin and devastate her, to make her so undeniably sad and happy - sometimes in the same moment.

She has sleepless nights. And when she does sleep, she dreams of being chased.

She spends the better part of an afternoon trying to catalogue every horrible comment she ever made to him - justified or not, intentional or not. Later on, in bed, she recalls their handful of nights spent together. It makes her warm then hot then wet but ultimately sad and filled with longing.

The last time she saw him she'd brought a cactus and a venus fly trap. 'For your bedside. Violent plants for a disturbed man.' She didn't think she'd ever delighted him that much before while clothed. Wilson shooed her out before long and she took long, wistful glances around the loft.

'Get over it, Cuddy, it's been years. I have to make dinner.' She pressed a kiss to his cheek and left, two healthy legs carrying her relatively health body away from the sickness, doom and gloom.

In a few weeks' time, she ventures back, there to grab a suit and some stuff for Wilson before the funeral; she volunteered quickly for the task and left him zombie-like with the New York Times in his lap, barely reading it at all. She wanders through the rooms and it feels like a museum - maddeningly quiet, old, and reverent. She picks a charcoal grey suit, a sedate tie, and a pink shirt because she thinks House might approve. She thinks he would have approved. While hunting for socks - and not snooping - she comes across a startlingly large bottle of lubricant and quickly slams the drawer shut. It's not like she didn't know, but there was something about the context of their bedroom and a big bottle of lube, half-used.

She tries to imagine this, the logistics, and ends up squinting at the bed. When she sufficiently weirds herself out enough, she grabs Wilson's requests and spirits for the door, half-noticing an enormous "A Chorus Line" framed poster leaning against their bedroom wall.

In the car, as an afterthought, she realizes she's forgotten his socks. "Fuck," she mutters. It's then that she lays her forehead on the steering wheel, allowing herself a truly indulgent moment, and she cries - for him, for her, for all of the moments before, and those still to come.

2. The roof of your mouth

They had a fight about this, her going down to Princeton. The last words they said to each other before she got in the car:

"I'm not saying you shouldn't grieve, I just don't want you to go."

"Mark, if I wanted your permission I would have asked."

Backing out of the driveway and onto the street, she says, "Fuck," in an even tone. Then, "Congratulations, Greg," because from the grave he's still able to mess with her life. She chides herself; like it's really his fault that she and Mark aren't the right fit. That she shouldn't have married him.

Maybe that last one is his fault.

During the car ride, her brain scans over her memories of him and with him. That last time they made love. The day she was fired from her firm and he got her good and drunk. The day they met and that dinner they'd had, her body sore from paint ball - then later from him. His surgery. His pain. Her pain.

But mainly she keeps thinking about one random snowy day. He walked to work because the roads were atrocious.

"I wish you wouldn't. It's dangerous."

He shrugged. "I'm a doctor. People are still sick even though you can play hooky."

She held up her laptop and with it lifted the long dial-up cord snaking its way over furniture and around the apartment. "What does this look like to you?"

He cocked his head to the side. "Looks like you're able to fuck people over from home. Cool."

She shook her head, about 73% amused. "I'm a constitutional lawyer!"

"Yes, and the Framers never fucked anyone ov-"

"Oh, for heaven's sake," she muttered, interrupting him. "Just shut up and let me finish this amicus brief in peace."

Later, when he got home, they ate beef stew and roasted marshmallows in the fire, and went to bed. A normal day, a rather unremarkable day, but one she cannot shake - and not for lack of trying.

Somehow she finds herself in the PPTH parking lot in a space far from the building. She hears the roar of a motorcycle and is released from her reverie, flipping the visor mirror down, correcting her eyeliner with the edge of her fingertip. She adjusts the cross around her neck, then the swoosh of the bangs against her forehead, and she feels so unabashedly shitty. She sighs and climbs out of the car.

She's a little early, on purpose, and she wanders the halls until she ends up on the roof. The last time she was here she wanted to throw him off of it. Now? Now things are different. She misses him, and lately she'd been missing him fiercely. She knows he's been laid up for months, but she kept seeing "him" in line at the post office, at the Short Hills Mall, everywhere. She'd been fantasizing about what she'd do if she bumped into him somewhere. She thought about that clandestine day she'd spent with him, ready to leave Mark, thinking in her own head that she'd finally fixed things, only to learn that she was painfully wrong.

It still hurts to think about it, like a scar that still aches and itches where the skin healed. She diverts her river of thought back to their trip to Peru and Machu Picchu.

She looks out onto Princeton, gorgeously green and sunny today, and is almost lulled into a relaxed state until her BlackBerry buzzes with a message from a fellow partner. It's then that she makes a rash, ridiculous choice and throws it over the side of the building, a decision she regrets as soon as the device is out of her hand. She ducks, hoping no one will see, and she starts laughing, hysterical at first until it dies away.

He'd be so proud.

 

3. My four walls transformed

She dons a lab coat for the occasion - better to acquaint him - and rushes for the door, stopping short of opening it. She can hear him walk up to the door and she briefly notes the absence of a thumping cane, and then throws the door open.

"Amber."

A wide smile spreads on her face. "Don't mind the wet suit." They both look down. "I just got back from scuba diving. Never got the chance when I was alive, so I take advantage now. Pretty much every morning. Can I make you some tea?" She gestures over her shoulder for him to follow her. "I have, well, almost everything."

He stares at her until his eyes wander around the kitchen. "Scotch."

"Coming right up." She gets out a perfect glass for it, curious because she doesn't really drink now, and reaches into another cabinet to pull out a full bottle of scotch. Like a good hostess, she pours him a glass, and like a good guest, he swallows it down immediately. "More?" He nods and she pours it again, three times in total, in succession.

When he comes up for air, he sets the glass down heavily. "Why does this look like your old apartment?"

"They should've gone over that in your orientation."

"I wasn't paying attention."

She stares at him, disbelieving. "Right." She squirms in her wet suit, suddenly in need of a change. She goes to her room and shuts the door, eyes shutting too, just for a second. She peels out of her suit, grabbing for jeans and a sweatshirt and stuffing her surfing garb into a backpack.

"Why does this look like your old apartment?" He asks again, muffled, through the door.

"Because it's where I was happiest," she mumbles, her voice edged with embarrassment. She opens the door and his eyes drop to her sweatshirt.

"And wearing what made you happiest?"

Her hand runs over the printed word, McGill, and she turns away slightly, protectively. She collects shoes and a water bottle, and over her shoulder says, "Can't believe it was cancer, especially considering all of your dangerous predilections. And all of the people who want to kill you. Still, you look good."

"I've spent months on my deathbed, and I look good?" He spits out. She looks straight into his eyes and can only smile. She drags him over to a mirror and he sees himself for the first time, frozen in his early fifties - with wrinkles and age, to be sure, but he has color like he's been out in the sun, and his face is full and healthy. He looks down in disbelief to his caneless hand and firm, steady, healthy legs.

She pats his shoulder and slings her backpack on. "Let's get you to your place. I hear it's the loft?"

They leave the apartment and he almost smiles, attempting feverishly to cover it. "Really? I'm surprised it's not the VIP room of Tattletales."

She ignores him. "You know, once James is here, we'll have to work out another custody situation."

"Do you know - about..."

"What, the uninhibited sex you two have been having?" They turn the corner. "He's great, isn't he. So attentive. And creative." House looks like someone whose balls are being squeezed just a touch too tightly. "Stop being such a Puritan. I know everything. Who cares?"

He squints and looks like he's working on a good comeback, something pithy and sexually aggressive, but she shuts him down, turning him towards the building. "Here's your stop. You should go settle in. I have to go - surfing competition in a little while. Lunch later?" He nods, looking lost. She leans forward to kiss him on the cheek, and something clicks in her. Her lips stray to his and they both lean away, surprised. "Moment of - something. Sorry. Lunch later, you decide what. I'm partial to fluffernut sandwiches, but whatever you want will be great."

She's walking away and hears from behind, "Stuffed green peppers." She smiles and continues walking.

4. Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun

The hospital chapel is standing room only. Wilson, still medicated, shuffles to the lectern with a handful of marked up scrap paper. He lifts his head and looks out onto the crowded space - quiet, and waiting for him to begin speaking. He looks down at the random notes he's made, the preparation so different than for any other speaking occasion. He catches himself in a self-conscious gesture, a hand at the back of his neck, and he drops it. He clears his throat.

"I have to begin by expressing my utter shock. Thank you for coming. I want to follow up by saying that in his will, he explicitly demanded that there be no service. Frankly, I was surprised that he'd finally succumbed to my nagging, to put something to paper, but not surprised or moved enough to honor his wish. So. Here we are.

"In addition to not wanting a service, here are some other items on his list with which I've mostly complied: 'no crying, no eulogies, no W.H. Auden, and Wilson, that pertains to you specifically.' To be fair, I haven't cried. Check. Let's not call this a eulogy. Check. And no Auden, because I don't know 'Stop all the clocks' by heart."

He heaves a deep sigh and looks to the right flank of the chapel. Cuddy is trying to hold back a deluge of tears and looks terrible, but who is he to judge? He hasn't had the courage to look in a mirror in days. He doesn't know how he ended up in this suit.

"I'm not sure why you're all here. Perhaps House was a colleague. He probably wasn't a friend. He probably did something to piss you off at least once; most likely more than once. Maybe he stole something from you. Maybe he saved your life.

To me he was a colleague and friend; he pissed me off more than once a day; and he stole from me all the time. And he was - is - the love of my life."

Even in his drug-induced haze he feels a sob threatening to tear from his throat. He swallows it, presses his lips firmly together, and his head drops, chin to chest.

Later tonight, he picks up a woman at a bar. He's a little rusty at it. After all, it's been a while since he was on the market. Jenny is a librarian, 'not really looking to meet somebody,' but her eyes turn to liquid when he says what he doesn't mean to say: 'My best friend died.' He omits the other things that House is, was, will always be. He omits the fact that House died of what Wilson is supposed to be able to detect and treat. She takes him to bed. When he climaxes, his thoughts are predictably filled with him.

But that's later. Now, he wraps up his remarks so he can go mix some alcohol with the drugs already in his system - because he's reckless, stupid, looking for release from this pain. He tries not to see any irony or anything poignant in that and lifts his head.

"I don't know about all of you, but I'm going to miss him terribly. I'm going to miss that infantile lunatic every day."

He stands there for a beat too long, feeling morose and sorry for himself; Stacy is the one to come to the lectern, guide him out, hug him too tight.

He starts by accepting the hug, and will accept everything else in time.

/end.