Title: In Like the Tide
Spoilers: All of BtVS. For House, it's post-Daddy’s Boy.
Disclaimer: House MD and BtVS belong to someone else. I’m not getting paid, just taking them out for a joy ride.
Dedication: To Meri & Pol, who dragged me kicking and screaming into the world of House MD.
He woke to pain and silence, a gnawing hollowness in his gut.
In the inky darkness just before he grabbed for his lifeline—the white-labeled bottle of white pills next to his white pillow—House dragged her and all of her colors into his head, focusing on the last image that sent him to sleep a scant few hours before.
He rolled over with a grunt, fisting the caplets he had set free with one hand.
Briefly, House held out. Postponed. Focused on his memories. For a few more seconds he wanted no other influence on his brain than the thought of touching her, healing her. Because when he did, for extensive fragments of time, he was a whole man again.
His eyes fluttered. Light rushed forward, thrusting its way past his well-fortified line of defenses. His eyes opened wide, and he downed the pills gleefully. Today was the day he had been waiting for. Today, he had the ball so deep in his court she couldn’t possibly reach it.
She would hunt him, try to pin him down like game. She needed him, needed what he could do for her. He could use that.
He itched to see her.
She was the flush in his skin, the tingling at the tips of his fingers, the reflection of his sweetest dreams.
She had no idea.
But why would she know? He’d never mentioned it. Over the years, he’d learned to play the distant, acerbic, professional healer so well he forgot what it felt like to take a risk and win the only woman of his acquaintance he truly wanted.
And he did want Buffy Summers. He wanted all of her, body and soul. But most of all, he wanted her secrets. He wanted her to choose him, confide in him, trust him enough to rip up the miles of confidentiality agreements he had been coerced into signing, just to be in the same exam room with her.
Unfortunately, his desires, mixed with the heady narcotic of Buffy in close proximity, produced nothing except more wanting, and she never seemed to get the hint.
As a result of the rigorous and dangerous ‘work’ she refused to discuss, for nearly 24 months he’d had the privilege of delving into the brambling yards of her broken bones. He pressed his gauze-laden hands against the river of her gashes and scrapes, and plied his needles to her rips, slits, and weeping lacerations. Skimming over the potent, autumn-colored landscape of her burns and bruises, soothing her with the first aid stuffing of his exam room cabinet drawers, he rejoiced in his partnership with the regenerative marvel that was Buffy Summers’ body.
Although obstinate, self-centered, a little too dictatorial, and whatever else she was, Buffy was a loyal patient. It was her loyalty that kept her coming back to him. In like the tide and out she rushed, sweeping him off his feet every time.
And last night fate, or a really lousy, screwed-up plan had provided her with ample reason to seek him out.
After a string of monotonous, empty weeks of waiting, she retreated to the hospital and the reserved patient rooms her ‘company’ provided for her and her associates at Princeton Plainsboro Hospital. She returned to him, broken and torn, but alive. He didn’t understand—couldn’t imagine—why she did it, how she handled it, or how she survived the frequent thrashing she took. But she more than survived. No matter what condition she was in, she seemed ceaselessly brimming with life. Whether she was ill, hurt, weak, dehydrated, exhausted or a combination of those, her outrageously annoying pluck stole into his thoughts and demanded his attention. She startled him, shaking him out of his bouts of self-pity and chronic brooding. Despite his natural tendency to be dubious about every good human trait that crossed his path, sometimes she even shamed him a little.
Typically, she came in late at night.
The next day, she would get back on her feet and return to the fight. Not ‘the fight’ as in the euphemism for a normal person’s life and work, but an actual war, one that was effectively concealed, un-televised and unnoticed by the rest of humanity.
Over time, Buffy had trained all of the hospital staff not to ask her any questions about what she did for a living or how she managed all those minor miracles and miraculous recoveries. She and her friends refused even the most routine tests. Any information the staff needed—their blood types, for example—came from a neatly-printed, laminated card she and the other girls had on them at all times. The acceptance of this stoic silence in response to questions was an unwritten law she had laid down in the beginning, and as a result of the hefty endowment for brain cancer research she had given Princeton Plainsboro, Cuddy made sure everyone understood the ground rules and obeyed. Except, of course, for him, as the very idea of following the rules and missing out on any much-needed Buffy information was absolutely ludicrous.
When she found out that he'd run a tiny, little test or two without her permission, she punished him in the most heinous of ways. She went to Cuddy and asked for a referral to another hospital. Cuddy was not amused. He never knew if she used that referral or not, but she was away from him for four months that time.
Naturally, most staff members she came in contact with had a theory, and for days after her abrupt departures, the hospital was rife with gossip. As to his own theories, House kept those under his hat, holding back due to a lack of sufficient facts in the case. He so hated to be wrong.
The others’ theories were getting a bit ridiculous, though.
Cameron was certain that Buffy was being abused. When House kindly pointed out that her diagnosis didn’t explain the defensive wounds, the pounding her knuckles invariably took, or the wounds of the other young women, Cameron bristled. He went on to state that if Buffy were the only one with wounds, abuse would be likely. But clearly, if abuse was takng place in this situation, it was en masse and not at all one-sided. Foreman speculated that perhaps they were involved in a gambling ring. Maybe they fought challengers for money, or maybe underwent some kind of endurance tests to earn the large amounts of cash they always had on hand. This possibility had crossed House's mind. However, if this were the case, the girls would carry much smaller bills.
One thing was clear, though, Buffy was absolutely convinced that her activities were right and just. She was too cocky. Her confidence was too unshakeable not to be submerged in some really nauseatingly, wholesome moral high-ground—thus disproving Chase’s little mafia hit woman theory. The Aussie twerp was right about one thing, though, Buffy Summers was dangerous.
For example, she didn’t seem to comprehend the meaning of the word ‘walk’.
As a connoisseur of what a normal walk looked like, he had studied the way she moved in some detail. She was terrible at it. She strolled. She stalked. She strutted. Hell, she frickin’ promenaded. But she did not walk.
Just watching her cross the room was a spiritual experience. Devouring the dead space around her as she moved, she forced the sad, stern atmosphere of the hospital to pass through the filter of her vibrant, brutal spirit, until it sparkled with life and color and music in her wake. Despite repeated physical damage that should have killed her, she lived on. After at least two years of being consistently knocked down, she smiled and she laughed. She brightened days and changed lives for the better.
Her mere presence circulated hope, and it unsettled him, because her absence was just as devastating.
The sound, sight, and smell of her crossing the hall with him to check on the women she cared about felt like a hundred artists’ brushes dipped in hot oil stroking his skin, and when she did not come for months on end, his residual cold nature numbed his entire world, burying it in a wasteland of bland and blinding ice.
But even when she was there, the renowned Dr. Gregory House, MD—miserable bastard that he was—could only stand aside and watch the pretty parade walk on by.
Climbing out of bed, he considered the contents of his closet and decided to go with jeans, Converse, a couple of shirts, and a jacket. No need to put on a tie. Might look like he wanted to impress her.
In other words, desperate.
Can’t have that.
Stepping under the shower spray, he was still thinking of her. He couldn’t seem to shake her today, not even long enough to bathe. Thinking. Remembering. Hell.
Almost 16 months prior he’d had a great awakening. At first, he'd volunteered to patch her up because she presented such a challenge, a medical miracle in the flesh, and he wanted every clue he could borrow, beg, or steal--preferably steal--to solve the mystery. But a few months after their first encounter, he realized that it was her
body under his hands. It wasn’t just any anatomically perfect, perky carcass, it was Buffy and she needed him at his absolute best. Not because she required his mystifying diagnostic skills. All of her wounds were trauma-related. Rather, she was worthy of the best he had to give, even if he was doing nothing more complex than setting a bone or realigning a dislocated shoulder.
On that particular occasion nearly a year and a half ago, House had been with her for hours before he realized he’d forgotten something. Sitting on a rolling stool, bent over her lower back, he was intently focused on keeping the stitches small so she wouldn’t scar. There were so many stitches. It was then that he realized he must really like her.
Compared to this realization, the aftershocks of scalding pain and nausea, the shakes, even the shortness of breath, were nothing. His body knew what he needed. His mind rejected the idea of being less than fully present with her.
It was nearly 3 am when it occurred to him that he missed his midnight dose.
She had passed out that night after lecturing him about his crappy bedside manner. She told him he looked like death warmed over--a thing she knew a little something about--and he needed to go home. And by the way, she reminded him, he was way over-qualified to be doing this anyway and that anyone else: any nurse, intern, or orderly he passed in the hall on his way out could be sent back to sew her up. He loved
being dismissed like some wayward child, so he told her to shut up and go to sleep, and he added a heavier dose of morphine to her IV.
Even though she would never know, he was self-conscious about taking his meds in front of her.
Eventually he did take them, right before he checked on her for the last time. But before he gave in, for a series of moments strung together with nothing more in common than her presence in them, he had been her physical equal. Although it was only a one-person contest, he was as strong as she was.
House sighed and clambered out of the shower to dress. With no effort, he could recall a ridiculous number of details about her. Her skin was luminous year round. There were seven different shades of daylight woven through her soft, silky hair, and his favorite of those seven was the color of the first blush of sunset on water. Her eyes perpetually evidenced her strength, will, and a determination to win at all costs. She had the look of someone who has shed many tears over lessons learned in the hardest of ways. And finally, her company was the only thing in life he had to look forward to.
He realized something about himself as well. In her suffering, his hopes resided.
The sickness of this choked him.
And still, the bravest, and simultaneously, the weakest part of him cried out to her, “I’m a wretch. It’s true. Take me anyway.”
Lodging in his throat, his pathetic wail halted before his foolishness found an escape. This mercy and this alone dulled his ever-present, impotent anger at the world, and made him suspect that perhaps there was a divine presence who cared for him a little, after all.
Or at least, there was one who cared for her.
One of her friends had called him at 11:30 the prior evening. By the time he reached the ER, Buffy was there, unconscious from shock and searing pain. According to the log, she was one of ten young women brought in between 11:45 and 12:15 pm. From the look of them, they’d been through the same fiery meat grinder together.
Outrage and fury battled within him as he turned the corner and found her on a gurney in the hallway. True, the ER was busy, but the idiot who had done her IV took no less than 3 tries to get it in her vein. And there was no morphine yet. She had been there only 10 minutes, but she had a burn that melted the silk of her tank top in a complete circle around her chest, under her arms, and across her back. Starting the morphine himself, House disdainfully abused every worthless ER staff member within shouting distance.
Once she was stabilized, he began his examination. Embedded in the burn he found placoid scales; he later learned that they were remarkably similar to those of the broadnose sevengill shark. This was strange, but not all that strange on the Buffy scale of weirdness. He'd given it a '6' out of 10 for obscurity. Foreman and the others were much more impressed. She also had broken ribs, and what looked to be road rash starting from her left hip down to her thigh, as if someone had gripped her with a thick, shark skin rope made of fire, and dragged her a significant distance. She was severely hemorrhaging from a narrow, deep stab wound through her right upper arm, and she’d been bitten by something at the base of her throat. Yellow venom that smelled like a rotting fish oozed from the wound.
When he asked her about these extraordinary wounds, Buffy was nonplussed. She shrugged and indicated that all of it was perfectly normal. For her.
She also mentioned that every woman had the right to hold on to a little mystery if she chose to do so.
Eventually, gentleman that he was, he relented. Temporarily. The scientist in him was dying to know what was going on with her. Instinct told him that she knew the hows and whys of her healing and she could have explained it to him easily at any time. If only she would.
Early on he had outlined her startling abilities and differences on the back of his white board, and it amused Chase to keep adding to the list. House left them up, facing his desk as a tactile reminder of the fascination she provoked, and the smoldering desire she stirred in him.
In his more lucid moments he was thankful for her wall of reserve, for the chilly, thin mental membrane that allowed him to touch her with shaking hands—to feel her silken warmth beneath his fingertips—and not set off her sirens, causing her to withdraw. He was humbled by and thankful for the liquid, elastic film made of inches of air and intelligence and strength of character that kept her hand from his skin as well. If ever she touched him, stroked him, caressing his arm or his back the way she did her sister and the little girls who followed her around like ducklings, he knew he’d be instantly healed.
Or utterly destroyed.
Both eventualities scared the shit out of him. He preferred not to look too closely at either of them.
Having dressed, House dropped into his hard wooden chair and poured himself a bowl of cold cereal and milk. His thoughts turned to his best and only real friend, Wilson.
Buffy’s beauty made Wilson giddy.
Had it involved another woman, watching this might actually be amusing.
It was not.
Instead, for House, it was a constant reminder of the men she no doubt took to her bed in his place. The relaxed, flirty conversations Wilson shared with her, the way he fawned over her and teased her was aggravating as hell. Talking to people, except perhaps when a life was at stake, never came easily to House. Even conveying his thoughts to Stacy had tripped him up from time to time, and he always seemed to communicate so much better with her than with anyone else, at least until the end.
Conversations with Buffy weren’t always a struggle, though admittedly, they were most of the time. If only she didn’t guard the truth so stubbornly.
Who was he kidding? The problem didn’t lie with her. If only he could talk to her with his senses shut off, he might actually stand a chance of befriending her. But his eardrums sipped her voice like sweet honey sucked covetously over his tongue; the range of her highest and lowest notes echoed inside him, pricking his nervous system, pumping adrenaline into his blood.
And then there was the scent of her, so exotic and sweet he was always loath to wash it off his hands before seeing his next patient or leaving for the day. He wondered whether she knew that in ancient Egypt amber was used to anoint babies at birth, and that myrrh was a funereal ointment. Amber and myrrh. Life and death, the beginning and the end floated in the air around her all the time. Did she choose them for that reason? Was it deliberate? Instinctive?
Who was she? What was she? Why did she seem to open up, to bud and flourish in the warm bath of Wilson’s attentive, easy demeanor? Was it because he represented someone else for her--an old friend, or a former lover she longed to be with--or was she truly attracted?
House didn’t want to be taciturn. He didn’t get up in the morning and decide to be a jerk. He simply didn’t know any other way. Why couldn’t he have been born with the ‘plays well with others’ gene? He pretended not to let it bother him, until his friend called him on it. Damn, that conversation with Wilson had been awkward.
About that same time, Buffy started calling Wilson “Jimmy” at the request of the terminally peppy oncologist.
But not him.
No matter how many times or how casually he mentioned his own first name, she seemed to take a perverse pleasure in ignoring him, tormenting him. Either that or she simply didn’t care enough to bother. Even after two years of putting her body back together over and over again, Buffy had never referred to him as anything other than “House”.
He tossed his cereal down the sink and ground his teeth in aggravation.
Of course, Wilson’s marriage du jour was safe, he reflected soberly, relief steeling him against the tide of melancholy that threatened as he made his way toward the door. Buffy would never allow herself to fall for a married man. She was far too wise to entangle herself in someone else’s marriage and Wilson knew it. She was also twelve years younger than Wilson. Not that House liked to focus on the age difference, as that ushered forth the glaring two-decade difference between Buffy and him into his mental spotlight.
But still, she took the need to be secretive a bit too far. Not only did she avoid talking about her work and her injuries, she always paid the hospital in cash before checking out. Damn her sneaky, sexy hide. Reaching into her right front jeans pocket she’d pull out a wad of cash so thick, you’d think it was Monopoly money.
“One thousand, two thousand, three,” she’d count, as she settled her expenses as breezily as a Ivy League coed closing out a bar tab at the end of the night.
Without an insurance middleman, a credit card company, or a payment plan between Buffy and the hospital, she was virtually untraceable. No address on record. No phone number. She disappeared and reappeared outside his door at will.
Her will. Never his.
Sometimes this disturbed him. It smacked of disrespect, like he was just some stray—a wounded mutt she tamed on the street—a lonesome, pathetic creature that might follow her home and disrupt her perfect life.
Naturally, he admitted inwardly, her decision to be secretive had nothing to do with him.
This chaffed more than he wanted to admit.
Climbing onto his Honda, House started the groaning, sawing engine. On the way to and from work, he often fantasized about having her on the back of his bike. She’d love the freedom. He knew she would. Maybe an easy ride along a beach highway would please her, the wind in her hair, her arms squeezing him tight, her body pressed along the length of him.
He shivered. Tensing his muscles, he shoved the images out of his mind.
He wondered if she’d ever ridden a motorcycle. She and her ‘friends’ always arrived at his door by way of shiny black SUVs with out-of-state plates. Different states every time, issued to people who were dead. He'd checked. A man he’d never met—probably her charming, healthy, fit, British lover—typically called him 20-30 minutes in advance of her arrival.
Typically, but not always, so House bribed the ER intake staff to cover the ‘not always’.
Even her ID had a false address. He’d checked on that, too. Twice. Nevertheless, something about him clearly appealed to Buffy. She’d given herself away early. Something about him made her write these words on a little white card she kept with her:
In Case of an Emergency-
Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital,
100 Scudders Mill Road, Plainsboro, NJ 08536.
When he pilfered it from her wallet and realized what he held in his hand, he wanted to shout. When he found the information repeated under the term ‘ICE’ in her cell phone directory, it put a sly grin on his face and a spring in his step for days—well, as springy as his steps got since the infarction.
Sure, she could have put his name on it, to clarify that she wanted to be conveyed to him and only to him. On the other hand, maybe this meant that she was trying to protect him from whoever repeatedly beat her bloody over the past two years. Either way, as long as she kept the card and kept it with her at all times, it reassured him that out of all the other doctors in the region, she chose him to care for her.
And for the first time in a long time, a beautiful woman’s reliance on him made him feel like a million bucks.
She was already in his office when he got there. Passing the long glass wall, the vertical blinds barred him from her in regular intervals like iron fence posts—a barrier—a boundary line between them. His cadence slowed. He’d scale her battlements. Kick in the front gate to her fortified city. True, he wasn’t the man he once was, and even at his best he had never been a sword-swinging barbarian, but he was far more relentless than she gave him credit for.
As usual, someone had brought her clean clothes first thing in the morning. She hated hospital gowns… Hmmm. Silky, lace-y top that looked like underwear. All outerwear, courtesy of Harley Davidson. Must have been the friend of hers who looked like Natalie Wood walking on the wild side. House put his cane in front of him, braced himself, leaned forward on it, and took a good long look.
God, there were no words to express how much he appreciated that Faith girl’s fashion sense.
Buffy sat on the right corner of his desk closest to his chair. She was looking out the window, as if she were sorting through a problem. Stiffening slightly when he entered the room, she didn’t turn look at him. He was intrigued.
“Up and at ‘em, and already peeled all your bandages off?” he said brightly, shuffling into the room. “My, my…what a surprise.”
“House, it’s lunchtime,” she complained. Pushing back her jacket, she lifted her blouse to reveal creamy skin and white bandages over her fiery fish burn. "And no, I didn't take off all of them."
“Only when it comes to you,” she said, then regretted it. “Oh, I mean-”
“I know what you meant.” I wish I didn’t. “What can I do for you?”
“I brought Dawn’s release form for you to sign,” Buffy said, rolling her neck to one side as if it were only a little stiff, as opposed to healing from a wound that should have killed her.
With a breathtaking, lopsided grin, she went on to say, “I want to take her home today.”
“How considerate,” House said with a smirk. He glanced at the white paper next to her. Involuntarily, his hand brushed over his Vicodin pocket. He would not pop pills in front of her. He would not pop pills. He would not. He slid past her and dropped into his seat with a small groan. “Keeping in mind your extensive training and distinguished medical career, Dr. Summers, I’m sure you know what’s best for my patient. Where do I sign?”
Buffy sniffed at him. “So this is your way of telling me I should look for another hospital?”
House smirked and looked down. She was irritable. He could relate. Her meds probably just wore off, too. “I’ll sign her release form, even though she doesn’t heal like you, and needs to stay here at least two more days.”
“And from me… you want?”
Everything. “I want the truth.”
“No. Sorry,” she said, as she tried to move past him.
House’s bad leg shot out, effectively pinning her between him and the wall, “I’ll ask my questions. Answer the ones you can.”
Buffy crossed her arms and nodded begrudgingly. “OK.”
“Have you ever killed anyone?”
Buffy clenched her jaw.
“More than once?”
She held perfectly still, remote. Watching him coolly, she was like a rattlesnake before its alarm goes off.
“Do you think I’m a killer?” she finally asked.
“Could be,” he said, getting to his feet. He reached out to touch her face. “Go to bed with me and I’ll let you know.”
She flinched. “No.”
He put his hand on her cheek despite her silent protest and moved her head to the side, looking over the healing puncture wound in her neck. “Do you believe in God?”
“I believe in Heaven.”
“But not God?”
I’m not sure where Heaven ends and God begins. And I’m not sure where God ends and Heaven begins. You’ve seen a lot of death,” she said, looking at him pointedly. “Maybe you know.”
He focused on the hollow at the base of her throat. “You wear a cross. That’s not a symbol of Heaven.”
“So why do you wear it?”
“Protection? From what? Vampires?” he teased, his eyes widening at the last word.
She shook her head. Her gaze drifted to the door. “Can we just not…”
She looked as though she was about to bolt. He held up a hand to stop her, even though she hadn’t made a move toward the exit. “You were OK on the religion stuff, but your position on vampires is in some way a more troubling question?”
A breath escaped her lips. “No. My position on vampires is perfectly clear. I’m just getting tired of the questions.”
Dubiously, House shook his head. “You were fine until I said the word ‘vampire’. You believe in vampires. Or you’re part of some vampire cult,” he accused vehemently, getting closer. “And your scars—the bite marks on your neck--who did that to you? Did you do that to yourself?”
Her eyes flashed and her hands shook. For a moment, he thought she would give way. Crack. Retaliate. But just as quickly her cool mask was back in place.
“No, no. No and no.”
He sighed. “That’s good. I was worried about the vampire thing. You hear about those weird cults and the things they do to each other…”
“Yeah,” Buffy nodded in acknowledgement, relief flooding her features. “Who gets ‘em?”
“Yeah,” he repeated softly.
For a time he studied her face. She had the greenest eyes—eyes that ravaged him with her trials and her strength; then whispered to him of her power and her despair. Her joy. Fear. Love. Pain. Endurance. Loss. Hope. All of it was there, probably had been all the time. He’d just never bothered to look. Or maybe he hadn’t wanted to know. She watched him, didn’t balk, as he took his time wallowing in the sensory drug that was Buffy Summers. Slowly, he moved nearer, inches at a time, like one might approach a fascinating work of art protected by a pit bull.
She mirrored his movements, backing away as he stepped forward, until she hit the edge of his desk. She began to speak, but he stopped her.
House looked down and shook his head. “It’s just, time and again you come in here like you’re fresh from the battlefield,” he said. His eyes remained lowered until he tilted his head to one side and continued, “I feel like a triage physician on the edge of your war—a war no one but us knows you’re waging.”
He was so close to her now, his clothes brushed hers. “You survive. Keep coming back. But still, I worry about what you might have to face next time. I think maybe someday you won’t get here in time…”
She sighed and it warmed his chest through his clothes. “I don’t-”
House leaned forward, forcing the last bit of physical resistance between them out of the way. Hovering over her lips, he whispered. “Kiss me.”
“Kiss?” she asked dazedly. “We can’t.”
He brushed his mouth across hers. “Too late. We already are.”
“Oh,” she moaned, and he claimed possession of her mouth. Capturing her face in his hands, pulling her against him roughly, he gave himself freely to the moment. A shiver ran through her as his tongue slid between her lips. Her arms stole up, banding around him and jerking him to her. His breath rushed out in a grunt from the force of her embrace. God, he was so turned on; she was so damn good at this. Moving his mouth over hers, he devoured her soft, velvet warmth.
She arched her body against his, her breasts pressing tightly against him. Static crackled in his ears. His hand slid down her sides to her waist and lower.
Buffy pulled back first. “We can’t…” she said, shaking her head. “This can’t… My work is… complicated and I-and I’m your patient-”
“You’re not my patient,” he growled in protest as her arms fell away. “You’ve never been my patient. I’m just the guy who sews you up.”
She looked up at him, searching his face. “I never understood that. Why do you bother?”
“You picked me.”
She exhaled and smiled, gently pushing him back. “Yeah. I guess I did, didn’t I?”
Grudgingly, he released her. Letting her put a few inches between them.
The moment gone, House dipped his head morosely. Shifting his weight back onto his cane, he leaned into her, brushing her body as he signed his name to the form she seemed to have forgotten all about.
“Plenty of fluids and bed rest,” he muttered. “Bring her back in next week and Chase will remove the stitches.”
Turning toward the door, he was on his third step before she stopped him. “Wait. What about my stitches?”
House beamed with joy inwardly and forced indifference on his disloyal, wavering voice and facial expressions. “Brave girl like you… You can take those out yourself, right?”
“Usually Willow does it. But she’s out of town right now, and I might need some help.”
“From me? I don’t think so, Ms Summers,” he protested haughtily. “Not this time. I’m juggling quite a few patients right now. I don’t think I’ll have a single free minute until at least…” he hesitated, glancing down at his watch and then looking at her hopefully. “8:30 tonight.”
She caught on quick. “That’s dinner time.”
“Going once. Going twice.”
“Should I meet you here?”
“No.” He said meaningfully. “My place.”
Worry creased her brow. “Not a good idea. I’m…I’m in the middle of something intense at work right now.”
“What? Intense? No. Not you.” He leaned forward and kissed the last of her pink gloss away at the corner of her mouth. “I’m sure you can deal with whatever comes up.”
She gripped her hands behind her back and looked up at him. “Are you always so determined? No, don’t answer that. Answer this: You’re going to try to seduce me on our very first date, aren’t you?”
“Well…” he replied thoughtfully, ducking his head to press soft kisses and breathy words against her throat. “Since you asked so nicely, I suppose I should have mercy on such a poor, sad, ugly little thing like you.” He huffed softly, almost a sigh, his warm breath pinkening her skin. “OK. You’ve convinced me. I will allow you to pleasure me.”
She moved away and shook her head, clearing it. “On second thought…let’s just…not.” Buffy pushed him back into his chair, a little harder than she needed to in order to escape. After all, she had the element of surprise.
Deftly, she hopped up onto his desk, leapt down, and swept out the door before he could get to his feet.
Swearing in a couple different languages, House hobbled after her. “Buffy!” Heads turned all along the hall as he pursued and she evaded.
At the elevator shaft, she nearly collided with Foreman. Pointing his cane at his intern, House shouted, “Foreman! Stop her.”
As soon as she heard that she spun around. “Don’t you have any shame at all?” she demanded in exasperation. “Anywhere, in any corner of your body?”
“Nope,” he said, catching up to her. Rapidly, he continued, “Why are you always in a rush to get Dawn out of the hospital? How is it that you can heal faster than any other human being I’ve ever heard of, let alone met? Why is it that you and your sister have the exact same DNA, and yet you look nothing alike?”
Buffy tensed and turned, but he caught her arm before she could escape. “Come on Buffy, give me…”
Buffy’s gaze locked with his in silent struggle. He watched and waited as the truth dawned on her. She figured out his real game. She knew. She knew what he craved: a piece of information, any tiny, useless bit information about her that she had lying around—anything he could research, sample, analyze, categorize, and label. House was desperate for a distraction, something that would keep her and his incinerating need for her at bay and allow him to regain his clinical detachment. But most importantly, he wanted a starting point from which he could piece together a history. Her history. Her life.
Suspended over her tiny frame, he waited. Hovering, tethered to her by a hand to her wrist, he watched Buffy process his request. Finally, she reached a decision.
It was a stunner.
“My Mom died when Dawn was 14,” she confessed softly. “The doctors told us that they removed the entire brain tumor, but Mom died anyway. We spent a lot of time at the hospital. Waiting. That's why we hate this and every other hospital. We can't breathe here.”
“How old were you
when it happened?”
Immediately, surprise registered in Buffy’s eyes. She tensed up, winced like he'd struck her, and the change hit him like a sledgehammer. He’d gone too far. She’d offered him something sacred, a little piece of her trust. But his greedy, pea-sized, lump-of-flesh-excuse-for-a-heart offered her insult and injury in exchange for the passageway into her life she’d just opened.
Unseeing eyes slid down his body to the floor.
His leg began to ache.
House exhaled raggedly. Damn it…all to… oh Hell!
The tenuous line of good faith between them rippled, jerked taut, and snapped.
Buffy turned away and resumed her march toward the elevator. She got in and he followed without thought. She was still the most delectable temptation he had ever come across, and trailing after her was much more pleasure than pain. When they arrived in the lobby, the clicking of her unbearably sexy high-heeled boots toyed with his mind and body. Mocked him. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out her sunglasses and slid them in place, firmly shutting him and everyone else out.
“Buffy. I’m sorry,” he began, from two paces behind her. “I screwed up.”
She froze. “It’s OK, House,” she sighed. “I get it. You can’t give me what you don’t have. I understand that. Believe me. I live that. It’s rare that I feel connected-”
Somehow she made letting him off the hook appear so effortless. His tension broke into cold, dizzy fear. Resentment tormented him. Did she really want him, or had it all been a lie? She was a fighter, why was she letting him go without even a little shadowboxing?
House’s brow crinkled. “Right. You’re incredibly isolated and tormented, except for all the time you spend with your gorgeous, perfect boyfriends, your sister, and your little tribe of followers, you mean?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head with a sad smile. “It’s rare that I feel connected to anyone at all.”
He blinked and Buffy was gone.
His body pursued hers just a little farther, out into the parking lot. Despite himself, like the lamest loser of all time, he called out to her again.
She interrupted him. “I’ll send someone for Dawn,” she called back to him curtly. “Make sure she’s ready.”
“Come back when you need-”
Buffy reached up high, released the silver jeweled clip from the crown of her head, and slipped it into her jacket pocket. For what seemed like years, pale ocean waves tumbled and curled down her back. She tossed her decadent hair.
Turning her head, seeking him, over the rim of her sunglasses she rolled her angelic eyes.
He took a deep breath, stealing her delicate scent from the wind.
At last glance, from a distance, she spoke the words he had been waiting for.
“I always do.”