Fate or Folly 4/5

Fate or Folly
Written June 2006
Rated PG-13
Synopsis: House interferes when Cuddy meets a man on a dating website.

Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Heel & Toe, Shore Z. Productions, Bad Hat Harry Productions, and other corporations. No infringement is intended.


Week Three

Cuddy ignored her email inbox the entire weekend and all of Monday morning. Instead, she dove into her work, clearing pile after pile of medical forms off her desk. She was pleased with her progress and the fact that it kept her mind off of Steve.

Until House walked into her office at noon, holding three sheets of paper. “Uh, did somebody forget to check her email this morning?”

“Nope.”

He held the paper in front of him. “‘Dear Lisa: I’m sure you were upset when you got my email that I couldn’t make our dinner date, but it wasn’t intentional. Let me make things right.'” He switched to the next page. “‘Dear Lisa: I hope your lack of response is on account of you being very busy and not because you’re still angry with me. If you are angry, I wouldn’t blame you, but I don’t know any other way to tell you how sorry I am. If I could change what happened, I would. Please write back, even if it’s just to tell me to go to hell.'” House flipped to the final page. “‘Hey baby, I’m wet and horny and waiting for you.’ Oh, wait, that’s not yours.”

She shook her head. “Why do you do this to me?”

“Fine, don’t reply to the guy.” He put the papers in the center of the desk, and she continued to ignore them. After a moment, he nudged them toward her with his cane.

“House–” She sighed in defeat. There was no point in arguing with him. He wasn’t going to let her have her way, even if it meant wallpapering her office with printouts of Steve’s emails. “Okay, fine, you win. I will speak to him tonight. But please, please stop reading my email.”

“Sorry, can’t. Somebody has to make sure you don’t screw this up.”

“Oh, my guardian angel.”

He wrinkled his nose at the comparison before leaving, and she smiled at how accurate it was.

***

She was not ready for this.

A glass of wine on the desk beside her, already half gone to calm her quivering nerves, Cuddy logged into DocDate.com. She had left Steve an email, telling him that she’d be online after seven and to meet her there. He was waiting.

McSteve: Hi, Lisa.

LisaMD: Hi.

McSteve: I’m sure you’re tired of hearing apologies, but that doesn’t make them any less true. For simplicity’s sake, this will be the last one. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it on Friday night.

She tapped her nails lightly on the keys, trying to think of what to say. Did she really want to continue this? Yes, he had hurt her, but it hadn’t been intentional, and he seemed genuinely sorry. Like House had said, something was bound to come up eventually. They were both doctors; it would be irrational for her to think that they’d be able to keep every dinner reservation, make every date.

SherlockHouse: Did you talk to LOVERBOY yet??

The second private message box surprised her, until she read the message and the user name. There was no doubt as to who it was. She shook her head with a chuckle.

LisaMD: GO AWAY.

McSteve: I see. I wish things had gone differently.

She frowned at Steve’s message then realized that she had send her ‘GO AWAY’ retort to him by mistake.

LisaMD: Wait!

He hadn’t logged off yet, so she typed her next message quickly.

LisaMD: That was supposed to go to the other person who had sent me a message, not you. Sorry.

McSteve: You’ve been busy.

LisaMD: No, not like that. He’s…

What was he anyway? Well, she knew what he was, but she didn’t know whether it was safe to admit it. Oh, what the hell. She took a breath and continued her thought.

LisaMD: …the best friend I’ve got, which is kind of funny since all we do is fight. He’s helped me through some rough times. Looks out for me, in his own little way, but he’ll deny it if you point it out. He was there for me Friday night. And he seems to think I should give you another chance.

McSteve: Sounds like a smart man. Obviously not too smart, or else he would’ve made the moves on you long ago. Why hasn’t he?

She laughed aloud.

LisaMD: You’d have to ask him that.

McSteve: Why don’t you? Assuming he’s still lingering in the other chat window.

LisaMD: Does it matter?

McSteve: I want to see if I have any competition.

She smirked. Steve sounded confident in his abilities to win her over, and she couldn’t help but notice that he was a lot like House in that respect. Maybe that’s why her bond with Steve had been so strong initially. She clicked in House’s message box and typed.

LisaMD: I would LOVE to see the look on your face when I ask this, but Steve wants to know why you haven’t “made the moves” on me and if he has any competition from you.

SherlockHouse: You reeeeeeally want to get laid, don’t you? I can be at your place in like 20 minutes.

She rolled her eyes and returned to her conversation with Steve.

LisaMD: No, no competition.

***

“Who’s McSteve?”

House nearly jumped out of his chair, closing the browser window and spinning around. Chase looked almost as startled as he did and backed away.

“Sorry. I thought you heard me.” Chase paused, and a wicked smirk appeared on his face. “Was that a dating website you were on?”

“No.”

“DocDate.com. Sounds like a dating website to me. And McSteve sounds like a man. Something you’re not telling us?”

“I’m spying on Wilson’s wife,” House answered. “McSteve is her online paramour.” At least it sounded better than, ‘I’m toying with Cuddy’s destiny, do you have a problem with that?’ “Wilson doesn’t know, so keep it on the DL.”

“What don’t I know?” Wilson asked, walking into House’s office with a cafeteria tray full of food.

“That House has a heart of gold,” Chase replied, sounding disappointed. He dropped a file folder on the desk. “Got this fax from Dr. Sarma. Update on Tom Hopkins, the Q fever guy.  He’s recovering well.”

Wilson waited until Chase had left before passing a Reuben sandwich to his friend. “Actually, I knew that you had a heart of gold, just that it’s severely tarnished.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Apparently though, you did a bit of polishing and really pulled through for Cuddy when she needed it.”

“That woman is always looking for ways to ruin my reputation.”

“Yes, what will the hospital think when they find out you’re actually human?”

“Gotta stop her from spreading rumors. You distract her, I’ll hit her over the head with something heavy. You got a shovel in your office?”

Wilson smiled at him. “I have to say, I’m impressed.”

“Ugh.” He made a face. “Can we skip your need to tell me what a good person I am and talk about something else, like kung fu movies?”

“I’ll admit, I was worried when I found out you were spying on Cuddy, but it makes sense now.”

“I saw this really awesome kung fu movie on TV last night.”

“You just wanted to make sure she was okay.”

“Horrible dubbing to English though.”

“I’m not sure she would’ve been, though, if you hadn’t intercepted that email.”

“Who do you think would win a fight: Jackie Chan or Chuck Norris?”

“House.”

“Well, I know I would, but I meant between Jackie and Chuck.” The look on Wilson’s face meant he wasn’t going to drop the subject. He relented with a groan. Might as well get it over with. “What was I supposed to do? Let her get blacklisted by all the fancy restaurants in the area?” Wilson quirked an eyebrow. “Don’t look at me with that tone of voice.”

“You paid for dinner.”

“What did you two do, have a slumber party, do each other’s nails, and gossip about me all night? Your cuticles look great, by the way.”

“You never buy me dinner.”

“You don’t look nearly as good in a dress.”

***

Cuddy was wearing a pink jacket to his leather one, and House had flashbacks to the movie Grease. “Why are you following me?” he asked, sliding his helmet on and straddling his bike.

“I wasn’t.”

“Need a ride?” Not that she would, but he liked seeing her wrinkle her nose when he asked.

“Not on your life.”

“Then what are you doing?”

Cuddy stared at him for a moment. “Steve wants to buy me a drink Friday night.”

“Okay.”

“But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

He feigned innocence. “How could I possibly know?”

“Because you neglected to check ‘mark as unread’ after you opened the email.”

“Damn.”

“I don’t know what I should do.”

“Well, I prefer punishment of the handcuffed variety.”

“No. I mean about drinks with Steve.”

He rolled her eyes, and while he envisioned starting up the bike and riding away from her internal dilemma, it was easier — and safer, career-wise — to humor her. “What’s the problem?”

“I’m afraid of him standing me up again.”

“He won’t.”

“How do you know that?”

He revved up the engine. “I know.”

Her eyes widened. “You didn’t send him a message, did you? House?”

This time, he did ride off and leave her standing in the parking lot. He didn’t have to look in his side mirror to know exactly what she was doing: staring after him with a look that could freeze Hell. She needed to relax, go with the flow. Steve wasn’t going to stand her up, not this time.

***

The most recent email, the one sent this morning, was the last correspondence she had received from Steve. I’ll be there at 9, not a minute later, and I’ll bring a white rose like I promised before. Thank you for the second chance. I’ll make this one count.

Cuddy slipped her phone into her purse, preparing for the worst. No condoms this time, old or new. Panties of the granny variety, or at least as granny as her collection got. She didn’t care how apologetic, witty, charming, or handsome Steve was; she wasn’t going to sleep with him.

She had always been demanding: demanding on herself, her family, her friends. Her life was full, busy, with never a moment’s rest. Yet she was lonely, as much as she hated to admit it. She wanted a relationship with someone who understood her, who didn’t expect her to change. Was that even possible with her schedule? Would she have to pencil him in and possibly cancel?

She smiled to herself as she thought about what House would say about that. Probably come to Steve’s defense again, since he’d penciled her in and cancelled. She would never understand men and why they banded together even when they’d never met.

This was it. The last chance. If House hadn’t intervened, last time would’ve been the last chance. She detested tardiness, hated absence even more. If she let her hospital run like that, there would be chaos. Steve had one shot at this.

Cuddy climbed into her car and took a deep breath. “You can do this,” she said aloud, starting the engine. Then she closed her eyes and sighed. “Please be there this time.”

***

He put the tie on, then took it off. Put it on again, took it off again. Put it on, ripped it off, then kicked it across the room. It got tangled on his shoe, and he struggled to remove it, nearly tripping and banging his head against the wall.

This was not going well.

Okay, so wearing a tie was out. House straightened his shirt collar and checked himself out again. The bar was a little on the fancy side, not nearly as bad as Sorrento, but he couldn’t go in wearing Nikes and jeans. Slacks and a nice white shirt was the standard. “Doesn’t look right without a tie,” he muttered then hunted through the pile of clothing on the floor.

A knock at the door interrupted his search, and he answered it. Wilson stood on the other side, duffel bag slung over his shoulder. “Hey, you look nice. Going somewhere?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Didn’t you check your answering machine?” he asked, pushing past him. The light on the machine was blinking, and Wilson pressed the button. His recorded voice filled the air. Hey, it’s me. I hate to do this to you, but Julie kicked me out … again. Mind if I stay over Friday night? Or at least until I get my bearings … again. Yeah, I know what you said the last time. Sorry. The beep signaled the end of the message. “Does my voice really sound like that?”

“Usually worse.” He returned to his bedroom and the seemingly impossible task of finding his tie.

“Sorry, I thought you got the message. I didn’t mean to interrupt whatever it is you’re doing. What are you doing anyway?”

“Getting dressed, going out.”

“Where?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well, you’re not leaving me here by myself, are you?”

House sighed, shook his head. “Nirvana.”

He grinned broadly. “That is an excellent choice, better than your usual selection. Which makes me wonder why we’re going there.”

No point in hiding it now. “That’s where Cuddy is meeting Steve for drinks.”

There was a long pause. “So … you’re stalking her now?”

“No, I just want to make sure things go okay.”

“Really?”

“No.”

Wilson wandered to the kitchen, and House tossed a pile of clothing onto his bed, pawing through it. Where did that tie go? He didn’t kick it far; it had been wrapped around his ankle too much. He finally found it, underneath a pair of slacks that didn’t fit right, and shook it out.

“Uh … House?” came Wilson’s voice from a far corner of the apartment.

“What?”

“Why do you have roses in your refrigerator?”

He finished the knot around his neck and looked at his reflection in the mirror.

“Did you hear me?” Wilson was standing in the bedroom doorway. “The roses in your fridge. One’s all wilted, but the other one looks pretty good. White too. Very classy.”

“Science experiment.” He took the tie off again, bunching it up in his fist.

This was not going well at all.

***

“No, I’m fine, thanks.” Cuddy waited until the bartender continued making his rounds before sliding her smart phone out of her purse and checking her mail. Nothing. It was 9:02, and Steve said not a minute late. What was keeping him?

The door opened, and she glanced in that direction briefly. Two guys, one of them with a cane. She did a double take and shook her head. Why was she not surprised? House muttered something to Wilson before coming toward her. She offered a half smile. “So let me guess. You’re here by pure coincidence.”

“Wilson’s the one with taste, not me. Speaking of taste…” He eyed her outfit from top to bottom — twice — and made a low sound in his throat.

“I’m glad I received your growl of approval.” It was her favorite dress, one she rarely wore because she liked to reserve it for special occasions. It was Vera Wang, a black satin cocktail dress with chiffon inserts in the skirt so that it danced around her knees. Cost her a fortune. And she was probably going to have to throw it out because so far it had only brought her heartbreak. “He’s late.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Guess I shouldn’t be surprised.” She showed him her phone. “No emailed apology either.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, averting his gaze.

“It’s not your fault.”

“Not this time.”

She frowned and opened her mouth to ask him what he meant, but Wilson interrupted. “Hey, Cuddy.”

“Hi, Wilson.”

“You look nice. I hope your date goes well.”

“If it goes.”

“Oh.” He looked at House with a frown. “I see. Well, I guess we’ll be going — uh, if you want us to. You can join us if you…”

She waved her hand at him. “No, don’t worry about me. I’ll see you later.”

They returned to their table, which was near the door, and drank their beers. House kept his stare fixed on Cuddy, bouncing his leg continuously. Wilson tried to engage him in conversation, but his words went mostly ignored.

“Are you just going to stare at her all night?” he asked finally. “Why don’t we have her sit with us? It’s obvious that Steve stood her up again. She could probably use the company.”

House watched as she left some money at the bar and walked to the exit. She caught his gaze and nodded, trying to smile but unable to make an effort.

“Or we could just let her leave and…” House ignored him, standing up and going out after her. “Or you could follow her. That’s a great idea.”

***

“Cuddy!” She was walking fast, and he couldn’t blame her, except it made her harder to catch.

She finally stopped, a few feet short of her car, and turned around. Invisible tears streamed down her cheeks, as real as if she’d actually been crying. But she would never cry. “Did you come out here to change my mind again? Because it’s not gonna work. Not this time.”

“He’s a jerk, Cuddy. You deserve better than that.”

“You know, I really thought that…” She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter.”

“What?”

“I thought he…” She struggled with her words, opening and closing her mouth to force them out. Then she laughed, but there was no humor to her tone. “I thought he liked me. We were so in sync, had so much in common. I told him he was my male alter ego. I don’t generally bond with people, but I bonded with him. And I don’t understand why he didn’t show up.” She took a breath and looked at him. Her eyes were glistening in the moonlight. “I don’t want to be alone anymore. And every time I think I’m close, it turns out to be another dream, another joke. Maybe I’m just destined to be alone.”

“Alone? That’s not destiny; that’s choice. Trust me.”

“I didn’t choose for him to lead me on, I didn’t choose to fall for him.”

“You were falling for him?” he asked softly.

She ducked her head with a shy laugh. “Yeah. For a while, I was. Stupid, huh?”

He stared at her like he had something he wanted to say but couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She could see him struggle, start, stop again. Whatever he wanted to tell her, it wasn’t going to come easily, and knowing him, it may not come at all.

“I know you hate this, but…” She took a breath then hugged him quickly. He didn’t embrace her in return, but she hadn’t expected him to. “You’re a good friend, House, even when I doubt your intentions.”

Emotions tumbled in his eyes, ones she couldn’t recognize, ones that probably puzzled him too. She meant what she said and knew the feeling was mutual. The words they never said aloud were now out in the open, and she felt a little better. At least there was still something in her life that was good.

“I’ll see you on Monday, okay?”

All he did was nod, so she slid into her vehicle. As she pulled out of her parking space, she could still see him standing on the sidewalk, watching her, and she wondered what he had been so hesitant to say.

End of Part 4

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