Member No.: 220
Joined: 18-December 05
So, I've been busy on exams. But I'm not so busy now, and I thought I'd post this here. I wrote it very quickly to celebrate having a break. Thanks to Nomad for the great beta work.
House/Cuddy, mentions House/Stacy.
Not everyone knows what they pass up for something else, but she knew.
Cuddy-centric character study that throws a bit of House into the mix as well.
House is owned by Fox.
Thanks for reading! Comments appreciated.
If you’re free, you gotta gamble everything for love
Ben Lee – Gamble Everything for Love.
It didn’t sneak up on her.
Cuddy didn’t wake up one day in her mid-thirties and realise that an entire facet of life seemed to have passed her by, sailed by her as she toiled away with her back turned towards the shore, oblivious as it happened to other people. No, she knew. Not everyone knows what they pass up for something else, but she knew. She knew the cost, the emotional toll she had wilfully exacted on herself.
Some long-term runners call their habit a ‘positive addiction’. They’re addicted to endorphins and sweat and exercise, every impulse and sensation associated with it, but at the same time they aren’t reliant on drugs, they don’t habitually drink or gamble or cheat. They embrace a good addiction to stand in the way of a bad one.
A slight imbalance to tip the scales, but only a little. Something to keep everything just wavering on edge. Something you can choose to rush at headlong while everything else crumbles. Something that keeps you sane when everything else tries to drive you mad, yet something that doesn’t send you over the brink in itself. Choice of hobby can tell you a lot about a person.
Cuddy has never considered herself a workaholic, as such. Rather, she is hopelessly addicted to success, to being on top and in control, to winning, to getting what she wants because she knows just what to work for.
She knew. Just as someone who smokes realises, as they rip the cellophane off another pack of cigarettes, that they are slowly, inexorably turning into a smoker; more hooked with every breath, habit transforming into definition. She knew, but she didn’t stop. She knew she was too focused, too fixated on success to make any time for romance, love, even lust. She saw it coming, but she was young and stupid. She didn’t care. She had all the time in the world to change her mind.
She had two boyfriends as an undergrad. One lasted two months, the other a month. There was a single one-night stand that didn’t work out, fallout from Mr Two Months and the stress and freedom of living out on her own for the first time.
People she knew in med school, and later at the hospital, could commiserate when she talked about pompous professors and cryptic lessons, and the mind games that they all played with each other to intimidate and win. Yet none of those relationships would ever stick, either. After all, she was building a career, not a social life.
In residency she spent eight months wildly in love with a funny, smart, occasionally unpredictable arty Master’s student. She was always tired and half-crazy, but he was always there to hear her war stories, to watch over her nodding asleep over some notes at the tiny kitchen table in the house where she lived with some other med students. They had similar taste in movies. He read a lot. He had a funny smile, sort of flat and slow, never showing his teeth. The sex was great. But in the end, she didn’t know what she wanted, really.
She could never work out how it ended. He wanted to get a place together, rent an apartment, and something held her back from wholeheartedly committing. She was too tied up in medicine. She had vascular charts tacked next to the bathroom mirror, note cards and tabbed books stacked neatly on the bedside table. He was always thinking up ideas for children’s books and only half following up on them. Sometimes he played music late at night, if she was sleeping at his place, and usually she didn’t like to be kept up. If she was working, she had to be there before he was usually even out of bed. Maybe she didn’t listen enough. She was too busy, or something like that. Something she couldn’t explain.
She loved, and it was over, and part of her enjoyed being able to throw absolutely everything back into the hospital, into interviewing patients, into meeting with superiors and writing reports, into things that she’d always wanted to know.
She lived in dorms, and later, shared housing. The older she got, the more transient they seemed. She’d tried to make the place that she was living her own, because she had realised as the first lonely rotation wore by that she had a lot of coming home late to a student’s apartment in her future. As the relationship ended, it mattered more and more. She liked to have to have a place where she would work hard and try not to feel guilty about relaxing occasionally. A place she could fill with the stuff she liked. Somewhere she could be.
She scattered a multicoloured throw rug that her grandmother had crocheted over a chair. She hung museum prints on the walls in her room.
She never watched television at home, only in the tiny break room at the hospital, or in the cafeteria at the university, students standing huddled around coffee and staring at a tiny screen, always Wheel of Fortune or General Hospital or Days of Our Lives. Doctors watch crappy television.
She read, late at night, mostly in bed, as much fiction as she could. She missed it. Often she’d fall asleep with a book on her face and wake an hour or two later, smelling the print, forgetting what she was reading about.
House. She can never ignore the fact that he was there as well.
Maybe she might have done it, while they were both at Michigan. They were not yet friends (to be counted among House’s friends is a rare and peculiar honour), yet something more than acquaintances. She doesn’t know how House classifies the people he knows. Perhaps into categories according to their usefulness to him, or the degree of interest he holds in them. She has no doubt that his friendships are not accidental.
He was rude and dismissive and arrogant, yet hands-down one of the most brilliant people she had ever met. That’s what she remembers of House at Michigan: The concept of his genius, actual genius, dawning on her like turning a page. She’d never ever met anyone who could regurgitate an entire chapter’s worth of condensed medical information between bites of a sandwich, someone who could draw the most tangential and beautiful connections out of what seemed to be thin air, with such finesse. She wasn’t jealous like other people were, but she was certainly fascinated. Intrigued.
She also remembers the spring day she, stir-crazy with the heat, excited about playing tennis with someone in her med-school network, flippantly made fun of his Hopkins sweater. They were both standing over one of the photocopiers in the med school admin building. The moment that he looked up at her, shocked or wounded, before he raised his eyebrows and fashioned a witty comment apropos her low-cut top, she noticed, where she hadn’t before, that he had the most amazing blue eyes, and something like anger or sadness beneath the bravado plain on his face. She was young. She was interested. She didn’t do anything about it.
In his twenties House was skinny and tall, with very messy hair, tanned forearms, and a long stride. He already had that ability to deflect, to distract, so she thinks in hindsight that this protectiveness must have been embedded in him already by adolescence or late childhood. When you really noticed him, though, he was always interesting; if not entertaining or repellent. He was always running out of money, asking people for loans, having to apply for a scholarship advance. He dressed badly most of the time, and didn’t seem to care. There was a rumour getting around that he’d slept with one of the undergrads that worked in the library so he didn’t have to pay a hundred-dollar overdue fine. Cuddy believed it. There was also a rumour that House had stood up in one of Old Man Hardy’s quarterly lectures, a professor famed on campus for being incredibly pedantic and incredibly long-winded, and declared that a) he was bored and b ) Professor Hardy was full of shit. Cuddy believed that because she was there. The look on the Old Man’s face was priceless, transforming from school principal to spluttering disbelief in a second. No one could touch House, no one. No authority figure, no student, no peer.
No one could touch House in a way that mattered. In hindsight she also realises that the very reason he was so notorious, such a legend, is because he was so skilled at hiding the things that would have made it easier for people to get at him. He entered no relationships, he never talked about his family, and he had the perfect poker face.
She was too young then, and too shy.
A whole career after that, after everything, she hired him. She told the board it was because House was, and is, a great medical mind, and that a great medical mind would be good for the hospital. Everyone had read House’s articles or knew of his exploits, so that part wasn’t hard.
On the other hand came the huge, gaping grey area House had trailed behind him as long as he had practiced medicine, and perhaps longer. Not everyone had employed House, or worked with him, but it never takes many people to tell of assault charges, bruised egos and illegalities.
All these things exist on another, somewhat inferior, plane to the art of medicine, as House sees it. It sounds trite and tired and cliché, but the way he diagnoses and sees things is tantamount to art. House is the best damn doctor the hospital will have, and she hired him because she knows he only sees the disease.
She knows this because she knows House.
She would never, ever, have been able to say no.
Maybe it might have happened when they were working in the same place, at PPTH. But he was always hard to approach, and it was too easy to settle into the groove of banter and irritation. Every frank conversation she has ever had with House is overwhelmed by nine other exchanges in which he bullshits and obfuscates and shoots his mouth off. And again, the urge to climb the ladder was too great.
When she moved to Princeton and started making money, paying off loans, she purchased a nice house in a nice part of town. Fine wooden floors, an open bedroom, a living room that she gauged would fill with the afternoon light. She began to fill it up with her stuff, and have people around, and learned to clumsily cook her grandmother’s recipes.
House came around once and drank three quarters of a bottle of her wine because one of his patients had died, and he still didn’t know why. Ostensibly, he wanted to know if it was a hormonal thing he’d missed. It wasn’t. She learned that he was an impressive lightweight, and that he was too drunk to work out that he was too drunk to solve the puzzle. She paused for a second as she saw him out the door, mostly because he seemed to find turning the doorknob and deadlock at the same time to be a hugely complicated undertaking, and all of a sudden his cold hand was on the side of her face, his mouth was on hers, and he was kissing her. She kissed back. Up close he smelled like cheap Laundromat detergent and soap. He was good. As he pulled away he smiled slowly. She stood at her door long after he stumbled down her stairs, chuckling to himself, and wondered why on Earth she’d let him drive home wasted, why on Earth she hadn’t just screwed him. She was still afraid, afraid of entering a relationship. Maybe it was because it was House, but maybe not. Maybe she didn’t want anything.
She was jealous when Stacy came along. It was such a chance, something she’d thought that House would never have. Wilson told her that House had hooked up with a lawyer friend of his at a paintball tournament and taken her back to a bar for a couple of drinks, and all of a sudden he was bumping into Wilson in the cafeteria with a mix of boyish delight and fear on his face. Stacy had moved in. The eternal adolescent had a proper girlfriend.
House was almost happy. Almost content. He was the happiest Cuddy had ever seen him for any length of time, the eighteen months that they were going strong at first, the bad months, the hurried apologies, the reunions. Months turned into years. Four years. House and Stacy had fantastic arguments and vocal disagreements, and yet she’d still find them sheepishly emerging from her office, or pressed up against his car in the parking garage.
House was fit, too. He lit cigarettes to set off fire sprinklers and sprinted away when the water started. He wrestled a fleeing patient to the ground. He played sports. He put a golf ball through the ceiling of his office.
House lost everything, all of this, and yet it was something that Cuddy had never had.
Cuddy was named Dean of Medicine. The second youngest ever. In her first month she rearranged the surgery department, brought in a new intern program, and re-hired House. It would have been in the first week, but, as always, he was hard to talk to.
Afterwards, after his leg, after Stacy left, it did happen.
He was thin and white, and the angry, sad thing in his eyes was there again as he apologised for having to shift his leg, his back rounded as he sat on the edge of her bed.
He gripped her shoulders so hard that she bruised. He stifled a cry. He was fierce, and harsh, and he hurt. He was still a good kisser. It was good. It was a pity fuck, and she felt bad for that in ways that she couldn’t explain, but it was good. After, he collapsed against her like a wet towel, spent, his neck flushed, sweaty. She listened to his heart beating, steadily, the blood pumping through arteries and capillaries, tendons working against muscles, muscles pulling on bone. Thump, thump, thump.
She doesn’t know what she’d give to see him in his prime, just once. To see what he was like before all of that stuff happened.
She’s never sorry that she saved the life of one of the foremost medical minds of her generation. She’s never sorry that she saved the life of the guy she’d known for more than ten years, the thinker, the joker, the asshole, the adolescent, the lover, the musician, the crazy bastard.
Yet she can’t help but wonder what else she might have killed. They all wonder, every one of them: Stacy, Wilson, Cuddy. They say that House was the same asshole before, but that isn’t the whole answer. Just like Cuddy can say that she knew, but that isn’t the whole answer, either.
Friedrich Nietzsche? You stopped talking because of Friedrich Nietzsche? Far out.
-- Little Miss Sunshine