Man has no choice but to love. For when he does not, he finds his alternatives lie in loneliness, destruction and despair - Robert Fritz
"… Come in," she'd said. Simple enough request but he froze. All these months of trying to slither into her life and here he was, invited, and he froze. Caught between the hope of something more than coffee and the chance to end the evening without a cock up – although, literally that wouldn't be true. But like a moth to a flame he couldn't resist. He followed her in.
He lurked in the hallway while she dismissed the babysitter unsure what to do with himself. Sure the 'Come in' was related to the 'I need to tell you something' but was this a long conversation or a short conversation? Should he be sitting down for either conversation or should he be as close to the door as possible for a quick get away? Whatever conversation it was… whatever Cuddy felt compelled to share, if he didn't have a ready response… He was going to mess up. Perhaps he should go. But if he went… he would mess up… sigh. Why did human interactions have to be so complicated?
"Go sit in the living room. I'll bring some coffee through," said Cuddy. Right. Living room. He limped in and looked around as if he'd never seen the place. He looked for anything new but there was nothing noteworthy. He sat on the edge of the couch, cane between his legs as he spun it backwards and forwards. He really wanted to bounce it up and down but suspected that the noise would annoy Cuddy. And, for once, he didn't want to annoy Cuddy. It might even wake the baby which would have him scolded from two sides and he'd be making a swift exit.
And although a swift exit strategy was good and needed as a general policy for making progress with Cuddy, one not of his own volition by waking Cuddy junior was not a good plan. Keeping his mouth shut was a good strategy but may well be misinterpreted. Sitting here perched on the edge of the couch was also not a good strategy – it made him look nervous, keen to go, uncomfortable with his surroundings. This was where he wanted to be after all. Well, he'd prefer to be closer to the bedroom… on the bed would be even better, in the bed naked better still. The addition of a naked Cuddy would be perfect… although he'd settle for mostly naked. He sat back and stretched his arms along the back trying… not to look cocky but comfortable and at his ease. Coffee with Cuddy or was that Cuddy with coffee arrived, blessedly interrupting his thought processes. If he was sipping his coffee it was an excuse not to speak, right?
Cuddy sipped her coffee from the chair opposite. Then sighed. She put her coffee down. Then twiddled with her earring. This was not looking good. He was going to lose patience any minute now. He fidgeted on the couch. She sighed again.
"Is this supposed to be a companionable silence?" he ventured. It was at least sufficient to poke Cuddy's mind out of whatever loop it had been in.
"I know I told you that Llyn cheated…"
"With the local tart," he butted in. Then grimaced. Keep mouth shut. Keep mouth shut, he repeated in a mantra. She looked at him surprised.
"No. You told me that, too," he replied. She looked astounded.
"I told you?" He nodded in response
"You were pretty thorough in your telling. So no need to go through the emotional stress of telling me again." She looked sceptical. "What surprised me was your complete lack of vindictiveness… you were just… disappointed and resigned." Now she began to look angrily suspicious.
"You questioned me while I was stoned?" she asked, an edge to her voice.
"No, you volunteered it." Oh look! The astounded look again. "You were pointing out that all men are lying, cheating, idle bastards and that I am a particularly shining example of the stereotype which is why you'd never date me but I was okay to have sex with as a one time thing. Except, you were trying for a two time thing at the time…"
"I… I," she stressed the I, "volunteered the… details?" He nodded, cautiously… there was something about her tone of voice. "What exactly did I tell you?"
"Is this a trick question? You shared with me privately, and I wasn't to tell."
"Now is not the time for circumspection. Now may be the time for circumcision if you don't stop messing about."
"See, with me vindictiveness. How come he got off so lightly?" She glared at him. He smirked and shrugged. "Okay, you asked for it. But you're not going to like it. Llyn Vyvyan Jones… a name like that he was bound to be a loser. Used to know a bloke who employed a guy called Vyvyan but refused to call him that because his wife's name was Vivian – he gave him the choice of being called 'Taff 'or 'Darling'. He chose…"
"Get on with it!" She interrupted him with a glare. Perhaps he could short cut this without upsetting her with the gory details. Not that the gory details bothered him but they obviously bothered her and he didn't want to be the shot messenger.
"He brought you a glass of wine in the garden afterwards," he tried.
"Are you going to do this backwards?" She was unimpressed. Now it was his turn to sigh.
"Do we really have to do this? You'll only get mad."
"Fine. You got off work early one day, decided to cook a nice meal, bought stuff on the way home including a nice bottle of wine. Got home, saw Llyn's car on the drive, thought yippee our lucky day, we can make the most of the weekend, starting with a romantic evening. He didn't greet you at the door to help you carry the shopping in. You drop the stuff in the kitchen. The house is surprisingly quiet but suspicion far from your mind you wander through to the bedroom thinking maybe he's not well and gone to bed. Slightly disappointed, you enter the bedroom quietly trying not to disturb him sleeping only to be met by the sight of great humping buttocks – you catch him in flagrante delicato with the local tart or desperate housewife from number six- however you like to think of her. Surprisingly, you don't castrate him on the spot. You walk back downstairs, out into the garden and sit staring blankly at the flowers. Some time later a hand appears over your shoulder offering a glass of wine and a sorry. Again surprisingly, you drank the wine and he lived to tell the tale… not surprisingly, you now have trust issues."
"Shut up. You're right. You'll be pleased to know you're right. I'm mad. Why did I tell you?"
"I told you, you were trying to talk me into sex. You were feeling a little mellow at the time – even towards me. I know, almost unbelievable. Anyway, I think you were explaining how I'm an unreliable, unfaithful dog and you won't be caught like that again… although strictly speaking it wasn't you that was caught. I refuted…"
"How could you refute?" she asked, flabbergasted. "You've dated more than one woman at once…"
"You've dated more than one man at once!"
"But…" Ha! That stalled her.
"But what? That was different? They all knew about each other? I've never double dated… when it counted. I'm King Whathisname – I make sure I've knocked the current one off before proceeding to the next."
"But he ended up with the one wife." Wife! Danger, danger Will Robinson. Wife? Where had that come from? Cuddy probably dreamed about a happy little family, but awake, she was far too pragmatic to think that way… surely? Actually, maybe not. Then again, maybe he was being oversensitive. Perhaps that had just been a throw away comment. He snorted to himself. No, this was Cuddy laying emotional land mines again. If he wasn't careful she'd be setting them up to fail before they even started.
"That he did - in happy ever after land."
"And you don't believe in happy ever after?"
"No. Maybe occasionally less miserable land." Well, a man could hope, even if it did make him a sissie. Here, he was hoping that he'd said enough to stop Cuddy laying that particular mine.
"So, you're trying to tell me you're a reliable, faithful and loyal hound who doesn't chew the furniture or pee in corners?"
"Don't want you going round thinking all men are two-timing, unfaithful, sweet talking love machines. Some are one-timing, faithful, sharp-tongued love machines. Is it easier when someone else relates it back?"
"Yes." She thought for a few moments. "Why have you not mentioned this before?"
"Why would I have done?" She snorted.
"Why wouldn't you have done?"
"I... err… didn't come by the information… honestly."
"You don't come by any of your information honestly!" But it seems different when I haven't ferreted it out, he thought.
"Admittedly, I'm not above taking advantage of someone's stoned state. But, I don't use all the information I gather immediately. Sometimes I hoard it in case it comes in useful later."
She was lost in thought. He tried not to fidget but after a few minutes of what felt like hours he couldn't stand it any longer.
"Is that it?" he asked, moving to get off the couch.
"No," she said firmly. He sat back down. "It wasn't just the cheating. It was the lies."
"Everybody lies," he shrugged.
"You know he tried to sue me… I've forgotten what for exactly… loss of earnings or loss of expectation. He was expecting to be a kept man. It was rather salutary. The man had just been after my lifestyle to which he wished to become accustomed."
"Ouch! That's low!"
"You lie all the time – especially to me."
"Not all the time. And, not especially to you!"
"Is that a lie?"
"I only lie to you when I have to."
"No, you don't."
"Mostly when I have to," he hedged.
"House…" She paused. "I… I don't want to find that I'm living my life as a lie."
"Are we getting philosophical?"
"So you want an open relationship where you can see other people as long as it's up front?" he asked, cagily.
"No!" That's a relief. Not that he was against open relationships in theory but he couldn't do it in practice with her. He was far too possessive.
"Oh. You want a relationship where you're never lied to? That's just ridiculous."
"Are you sure you'd never want not to be lied to? There'd be no surprises."
"You know that's not what I'm asking."
How did he answer this? Knowing Cuddy, if he answered the question to her satisfaction she'd leap forwards and have them career into a relationship with happy ever after into old age as her goal. If she envisioned them having cross words it would be about him filing his clothes on the floor. She'd look askance, he'd immediately see the error of his ways, leap (to the best of his leapiness) to put them in the laundry basket and all would be sweetness and light. If he said what she didn't want to hear, that would no doubt have Cuddy slamming the door on the possibility of ever having a relationship with him. But how could he in all honesty say he'd never cheat… no, that's not what she was after, that he would never lie if he did cheat? It would be a preservation instinct to lie.
"I don't want to give you the wrong impression. You know me - even if I promised not to lie, I probably would, even if that was not what I intended."
"Can you make promises you can keep, House?"
"Yes. But I don't have a problem breaking some either. It depends on what I'm promising."
"Promise that if you do cheat you won't lie." House did a guppy impression. "I know you'll lie. I know you'll manipulate. I know you'll be a complete ass. I know you're emotionally stunted. I'm just asking this one thing. The rest I won't like but you can work on… as in not doing it to me – we'll leave the rest of the world for now – no point aiming for something you'll never accomplish in one lifetime. That doesn't mean I won't be upset if you lie or cheat. In fact, I might even remove another pound of flesh… actually, no, I won't be greedy, a few ounces will do."
She gave a wavery smile at the end but House knew she was trying to lighten what for her was a deadly serious issue.
His hands gripped his cane and he stared straight ahead. A solemn promise… he didn't like to rush into these things. He'd known something like this was coming but when it came to the crunch… He didn't want to glibly give her what she wanted then fudge passed it at a later date. Apart from the fact Cuddy could, sometimes, be amazing astute, he wanted to give her what she wanted. He wanted to make her happy.
Right now, looking at her in that dress it would be very easy to say what she wanted to hear and then make them both happy but that road lead to temporary… very temporary. And he didn't want very temporary. He didn't even want temporary but he was realistic. He also knew Cuddy. She might say that it was just the one thing but, if she came to trust him, philandering would be a deal breaker too. Still, he didn't intend to cheat. If she was his it would be extremely unlikely that he would cheat, so lying if he did cheat shouldn't ever be a problem. The question was… would she really be his or would she only give part of herself?
"Do you think it would work?" he asked, finally.
"It? You mean would we work?" He nodded.
"I don't know. I'm trying to find out whether it's worth starting," she said, impatiently. She was probably feeling a little exposed.
"Is this a friends with benefits arrangement?"
"See, I knew you wanted the whole caboodle."
"And you don't?" She continued to gaze at him enquiringly. His eyes dropped to her cleavage. He sighed. He stared somewhere over her left shoulder.
"I… er umm… I wouldn't… if we started anything… I wouldn't… provided you didn't hold out on me… I wouldn't cheat on you ergo I wouldn't lie to you about it." He mumbled the last as if it was some embarrassing confession. She grinned. Her lack of verbal response had him snapping his eyes back to look at her.
"You're… smiling." She nodded. "That's a good smile?" She nodded again. "How good?"
"Maybe ten brownie points worth." The penny finally dropped and he almost broke out into a smile. Part of him was elated. The other part was terrified. Result… he did nothing.
"The holding out part, though… will be entirely dependant on how much you annoy me and how frequently."
"But that's not work related annoying, is it?"
"It might be."
"That's going to be awkward. If you can't compartmentalize…"
"House, if you do something at work that gives me a headache, then I'm going to have a headache when I get home. Therefore, I'm not going to feel like sex."
"But sex is good for headaches - it releases endorphins, gets the blood flowing, eases tension."
"I'm not saying you're not welcome to try. I'm sure, with practice, you'll get better at not annoying me." She smiled gently. It was doing funny things to his chest… and his trousers. She looked at him expectantly. What did he do now? He needed to just do and not think. Bedroom, naked, sex, not necessarily in that order but were they ready? Was he ready? Was she ready for the right reason? He couldn't decide. He couldn't articulate what he wanted. He stood up intending to leave. She looked expectant and then exasperated when she saw his face. She stood up and blocked his exit.
"You are an idiot," she said. Huh? Me? "You spend months on the chase, enjoying the challenge but then when you're about to pounce you suddenly wonder will it work, do you deserve it, will she say the magic words, can I say the right words? There's probably a dozen other who, what, whys and wherefores that I can't be bothered listing right now. For an erudite man of action you're amazingly gauche when out of your comfort zone. For someone who dodges administrative tasks as if they were toxic you seem penned in by a maze of your own bureaucracy. Piles of complications here, walls of dos and don'ts there, pillars of rejections there, bins full of regrets to trip the unwary, a small folder of successes hidden at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard' which you need a flashlight to read. And, having walled yourself into your own tower of bureaucracy you have no idea how to get out. You've spent so long dodging you've clueless how to deal with it when that's no longer an option."
"I'm in a tower?" As far as he was concerned, she'd been the one walled into her own fortress.
"Oh yes! Fortunately, if there is one thing I know about it is bureaucracy, though you rate such skills lowly. Sometimes…" She laid her hand on his chest. He looked down then up quickly. His heart speeded up. "You just have to cut through it." She smiled, wickedly, then pushed. House was startled. His arms flailed but gravity prevailed and the immovable object gave way to the irresistible force. House fell backwards… onto the couch. He blinked.
"Why did you…" he started, as he looked up at her. She was coming towards him hitching up her skirt. She put one knee one side of his and one knee to the other side straddling his lap. Her hands on his shoulders, she gave him a questioning look. He swallowed, licked his lips but was speechless.
She saw him glance at her lips. She smiled and leaned forward… and kissed him, gently but encouragingly, touching her tongue to his lips. He was too stunned to react. She pulled away. For one awful moment he was paralysed. He could see that she thought she had misjudged, that he wasn't going to respond. She dropped her eyes as she hid the hurt and started to move away. He grabbed her elbows.
"No! I mean yes… I mean… this." He pulled her to him and kissed her back. She responded deepening the kiss.
The dam burst. It was fast. It was furious. It was a pyroclastic explosion. Not a stitch of clothing was taken off - although stitching on seams succumbed to the strain. Buttons were sent flying and material was torn in their efforts to see, touch, taste and penetrate. She wanted to run her hands over his chest, he wanted to run his tongue over her breasts – everything else was niceties and could wait.
The only other nicety was to push her thong out of the way and pull him out of his boxers and they were off, or on, or up, or in… and rocketing towards the stratosphere. Before they knew it, they were head to head, gasping for breathe, before the clock struck midnight.
Oh, God! They'd done it now. Neither of them knew whether to laugh or cry or cheer. Pushed up and dragged down, Cuddy's dress was bunched around her waist. He stroked her back with his fingers tips in awe that he was finally allowed to touch but also to savour the feel of her skin – there was every possibility that Cuddy would panic, do a U-turn and declare him the last man she'd ever have sex with again.
Actions during the afterglow were important – he knew this. He'd read it. This was the time oxytocin came into play. The longer he could keep Cuddy in skin contact the more likely she was to bond. The more she bonded, the more likely he was to have her like this again. Well, not quite like this. Less clothes would be good. And something a little slower would also be good. Not that he was complaining. There'd been no opportunity for either of them to over think, over analyse, or lose their nerve. However, now they had to deal with that.
Oh God! She was raising her head, lifting her eyes to his. There it was, the quirk of the eyebrow. She needed him to say something. She expected him to say something. He'd have to go on instinct. He opened his mouth hoping something appropriate would come out.
"Is it a bit late to mention safe sex?" She smiled wryly shaking her head.
"Have you engaged in any risky activities since your last blood work?" she asked in return.
"Insulted a few people in the clinic, insulted that male nurse…"
"House?" He smirked and shook his head. They stared at each other for a few moments before she continued. "Is that the sum total of your after sex conversation?"
"You put out," he grinned.
"So did you," she returned.
"Fucking amazing!" he said. She gave a tenderly, exasperated smile.
"Have you got anything you want to add to that?"
"Swing boat don't forget, your turn."
"Chicken!" He pulled a confused face.
"Fucking amazing chicken? Is that really what you're thinking about now?"
"House!" He squirmed under her gaze.
"I might be able to elaborate on my points if we retire to your bedroom and get naked…"
Rachel's wails were heard over the baby monitor. They gave each other a wry smile.
"Saved by the wail, again."