Dead Ends
by Pun

Notes: This was written for the House Rareathon challenge on Live Journal. Thanks go to Jacyn and Lenore for beta.

Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things.
The honest thief, the tender murderer,
The superstitious atheist.
- Robert Browning

The conference was one of those events that sapped Cuddy's spirit and left her feeling forlorn and disoriented, wondering how she'd gotten from the little girl who longed to be a doctor to the woman who spent her days looking at files and sitting on panels. She was surrounded by hospital administrators from all over the country. All of them so focused on cutting costs and lowering liability and who had won the most prestigious grants, and somewhere in there weren't they supposed to be trying to cure the sick and heal the injured?

Wilson was there in his capacity as a board member rather than as an oncologist, and somehow that had helped to make what happened seem less wrong. The whole experience had an air of unreality. Like this was a space apart from their real lives where it wouldn't count if they had too much wine at dinner, and if she let him walk her back to her room. There was a moment when Dr. Cuddy could still have wished her colleague Dr. Wilson a prim and professional goodnight, but instead Lisa invited James in for a nightcap.

James was good at this. (He'd had plenty of practice her mind whispered.) He wasn't presumptuous or overly aggressive, but he didn't make fools of them by pretending he didn't know what was happening either.

They began with a few kisses, but they were only a gesture, a formality that had to be fulfilled before they could proceed. She forgot what his mouth felt like as soon as it was gone.

He was giving in bed, and she was happy to take, losing her self-doubt in physical sensation, moaning and clenching around the two fingers inside of her, she came before either of them had even touched his cock.

After they'd finished he stroked her back for a few minutes before he returned to his room to shower and sleep. The next morning he looked her in the eye at breakfast, nodded, smiled.

They shared a cab to the airport and sat next to each other on the plane making small talk until she closed her eyes and pretended to nap. The closer they got to New Jersey the harder it was to ignore that the man she'd had sex with last night was both married and a colleague, a subordinate, even, and she resolved that it would never happen again.

She resolved to forget how good sex with James had felt and was relieved to discover how quickly she could. They slipped easily back into their normal lives, and the memories of their night together became indistinct and detached. As if it really had happened to two other people. She saw Wilson at board meetings and around the clinic, and took no more notice of him than she ever did.

Until one night, stuck late at her desk, she looked up to discover Wilson standing in the open door to her office. He had already removed his jacket and was holding it slung over one shoulder. His sleeves were rolled part way up his arms, an unusual baring of skin, and suddenly she couldn't ignore the fact that she had seen him naked. The shock of attraction that shot through her was startlingly strong. A spark of lust fueled by the memory of the dexterity of his hands.

"You're here awfully late," he said.

"You would not believe the amount of paperwork his latest stunt has generated." House was always just a pronoun between them, and sometimes she imagined it capitalized, biblical style. The omniscient, omnipresent being that pervaded their lives.

"The Anderson case?" Wilson's expression looked like a private smile that he was trying to pretend was a sympathetic wince.

"Yes. Is he still here? I'd like to go throttle him."

Wilson took a deep breath. "No," he said on the exhalation. His left hand, the hand where his wedding ring would be if he wore one, came up to rub his eyes. "He went home early. His leg was acting up something awful."

She knew that was Wilson's version of events. If she asked House she'd probably get some story about a hooker and a hangover. She also knew that if she checked the clinic records she'd discover that Wilson had covered for House. Or gotten one of the kids to do it.

"Have you eaten?" he asked. So casual and yet so loaded. She meant to say that she had and that she was just about to head home. But the words got caught in her throat, and instead she heard herself accepting his invitation to go grab a bite. Once they were at the restaurant, away from the hospital it was like they were those other selves again. Their actions felt inevitable and slightly detached, as if they were following a script written for other people.

She jumped him the minute her front door closed. Kissing him hard and pulling the already loosened tie from his neck.

They were on her bed naked within minutes. She hadn't had sex with anyone else in the intervening months. She was hungry, and he was accommodating. He got her off quickly with his mouth, and then again with his fingers on her clit while he was inside of her.

She rolled away from him, feeling guilty but admitting to herself this time that she would do it again. When James appeared in her doorway a few weeks later she didn't hesitate to shut down her computer and follow him out to his car. The next few times she went looking for him.

Usually instead of her place they would go to a motel a few miles down the turnpike. The sheets were tinged gray but clean, and the bed had a headboard that clacked against the wall as he thrust into her. She liked to close her eyes and pretend she was someone else.

Sometimes Lisa wondered what he was getting out of it, but she suspected a similar sensation of escape. Certainly she harbored no illusions about where his affections truly lay. She only had to glance out her office window on any given day to see the pair of them coming down the hall together, the floppy eared puppy and the three-legged cur. Or at least, those were the images they wanted to present to the world. But puppies have surprisingly sharp teeth, and the cur was more fragile than his menacing growl would indicate. One sharp kick could shatter his ribs. Honestly, she was more afraid of him finding out than Julie.

Her friends didn't approve of course. "Married," her best friend Maureen clucked when she spilled the whole story one night over margaritas and chocolate. "That's a dead end, you know."

Lisa thought that the dead end was possibly the best part. She'd spent years going to mixers for "single professionals," going on blind dates and J dates, and reading the "missed connections" ads in the Princeton Mirror, with nothing to show for it. For once she wasn't wondering where this was going or why he never called. She didn't have to hope that he was falling in love with her or fear that he was falling out of it. For the first time in her life she was just enjoying the sex without the burden of her half-confessed dreams of something bigger.  

Eventually, they were meeting most nights that he wasn't working late, or out with House, or making a rare command appearance at Julie's dinner parties, and she imagined that it must be exhausting for him to juggle all three of them. Sometimes he would slip up and make reference to a conversation that he seemed to think he had with her, but really must have had with one of them, and it would stick with her for days like a grain of sand in the sheets. Not because it hurt her feelings, but because it didn't.

This pattern might have continued on indefinitely except that one night afterwards he looked at her, sighed and said, "Kailee Church's parents are refusing further treatment." He snapped his mouth shut as if he was as surprised as she was by this breach of their tacit agreement. "Sorry," he muttered, but it was too late. The hospital was there between them. Cuddy reached down and pulled the sheet up to her armpits.

"So the intrathecal chemo—" She broke off, closed her eyes, opened them again.

"They say they want to let her die with dignity."

The words made her remember a recent clash with House when one of his patients had wanted to stop treatment. "Death is never dignified," he had snarled. "We need to eradicate this ridiculous notion that giving up is courageous. Refusing to keep going doesn't mean you're noble; it means you're tired. What's so brave about that?"

She looked at Wilson propped up in the bed next to her, his hands folded in his lap. He hadn't taken off his watch, which drew her eyes to the bones of his wrist, the muscles on his forearms. She felt a surge of disgust, for him and his multiple sabotaged marriages and for herself for being a part of it. She had taken advantage of his failings.

"I think we should stop seeing each other."

He agreed with no apparent emotion other than resignation. The thought occurred to her that resignation was perhaps the defining characteristic in the way Wilson lived his life.

She let him touch her cheek and kiss her goodbye, knowing he needed it to play into his fantasy of being the nice guy.

When Cuddy got home that night she called Maureen. "So tell me about that actuary you wanted to set me up with," she said. "Is he cute?"


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