He always kept the lights off. That was how she knew cruising past his apartment: if the lights were on; then Wilson was there or something was happening, but if it was dark, she could use her key and slip in. It had bothered her at first. There was a clandestine feel to it this way, not just secrets but shame and the danger of stubbing her toes in the dark and what if House was sleeping? God knew he could use some rest, but she went in all the same, sure and quick through the rooms on her bare feet. He was never sleeping. She hadn't really expected him to be. There was a point when a good doctor gave up on hoping for healing and just prayed for a sustainable pain. Maybe she was part of his pain management. All she knew was how routine it had become to open the door, toe her shoes off in the foyer, and wait for him to find her. She came in dazzled by the streetlights and he always surprised her, the sudden presence of him and the strength of his arms wrapping her up.
After they had been sleeping together for a few months, Cuddy found that she was conditioned to find the dark erotic, which was a problem when they dimmed the lights to watch presentations or videos during board meetings and her breath rate increased as her body began to respond. All through powerpoints about hospital statistics, she shifted in her chair against the prickle of desire and the usually unnoticed weight of her breasts. She half expected House's hand to curl over the bone of her hip as she listened to the presenters drone on, even though they had meeting after meeting and House was never present. She could feel the flush rising in her face and the heat drifting from her low neckline, but when the lights came back up, no one ever seemed to notice but Wilson, who gave her a puzzled look each time.
She and House never spoke, a silent agreement not to make this anything real or important. They made plenty of noise, but it was never words, nothing that could pass for sophisticated communication. No long term fixes, no what can I do to improve your life, just the urgency of what will improve your pleasure this moment and the vibration of vocal cords. "Greg," she said once, and he kissed her to stop her mouth.
Good, she thought, that was how it should be. She shouldn't be fucking one of her doctors, much less falling in love with one of her doctors, and House had a way with words. She didn't have the time or the energy. At least if they weren't talking, he would never slip and call her Stacy. Without words to interpret, she would never be tempted to make more of the late nights. They were nothing. Just the dark and the sex and the drive home afterwards with her toes curling so that she left her shoes in the floorboards, breaking laws and trying not to think about it. And through it all, the curious absence of guilt.
It was winter. It was his birthday and she was celebrating quietly in her head the way she always did. Another year, though he had almost died again, and she prayed every day giving thanks that he was alive. The car drifted through the streets that were scummed with snow like the foam left in the sink after shaving. She was going to see him and she wouldn't talk about his birthday. She wouldn't talk at all. But it was harder today of all days not to admit that she was glad of him in her life. The dark was all around the car, seeping into her bones and filling the marrow spaces with desire, and her body was yearning for his weight. She parked on the road. There was a snowbank under her car, apparently, because when she stepped out, she sank into slush up to her ankle, grainy bits of ice inside her high heel. She swore, loudly and fluently, and limped to the little apartment, hobbled by the chill under the arch of her left foot. Through the window she could hear the sound of the piano, faint like the falling of icicles far away.
The music pulled at her as she fished for his key in her purse. He was playing a sonata that kept almost turning into jazz. The key turned easily the way it always did and she slipped in and kicked off her shoes, blind with the dim and her desire for him, the sole of her left foot cold and damp on the hardwood floor. He kept playing there in the dark. She moved across the room, wet foot right foot, unerring in her navigation of the furniture. Every other step was chilly and the cool air on her wet skin prickled like anticipation She was aware of exactly how her body moved through the space between them, an acute kinesthesia, and equally aware of him, so that when she reached the piano and made the remembered shape of his head in the air between her palms, he was really there, the tender rims of his ears under her fingers. She ran her thumb around the inside of his ear, too tender a caress for daylight, but sweetness was allowed as long as there weren't words.
He leaned into her touch. The music moved through him and into her and her body began to hum. Her breasts felt heavy through the layers of her clothing, wool and silk and lace and finally skin. Heat floated away from her and caught in the narrowing space between their bodies. He played on as she moved her hands over his head. Her fingertips traced the slope of his nose, the curve of his lips. She touched the delicate skin of his eyelids and her nails raked softly through the growth of stubble in the hollows of his cheeks. His mouth moved against the side of her hand, just barely a kiss, and desire jolted in her stomach. She leaned forward to rest her breasts against his shoulders, her cheek pressed against his neck where the scar was, and she let her hands drift down to his chest. He wore a t-shirt despite the chill in the room and the familiar pattern of his scar was perceptible through the thin fabric. She shivered. He had almost died, but here he was, whole if not sound of body, music rolling out from under his fingers, real and warm and touched with cologne and antiseptic.
She knew him better in the dark, she thought. His body gave up his secrets. She divined his pain from the shapes of muscles and scars under her palm and from the way his body moved against her. He was always hurting, always lonely. There were a thousand words she wanted to say to him (be here with me, let go of your isolation, House, Greg, let me be a refuge), but they dissolved in the hot wash of need so that her desire was liquid, a little bitter, and it seeped into all her bones and made them ache with coupled loneliness and regret, hers and his. His hands, his mouth, the trembling of desire through him told her things he would never admit in the light.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark, but she could still only see vague shapes of things. He had heavy curtains that kept the room in gloomy shadow despite the efforts of the streetlight, and the only other illumination came from the pale green panel of a nightlight in the bathroom. She could see the curve of the piano and the shipwreck bulk of the couch and then the opaque length of House's thigh against the faint gleam of the piano bench where the streetlight managed to leave a pale wash of feeble light. He turned his head and kissed her, no false starts or fumbling despite the dark. She splayed her hands over his chest and leaned into the kiss, curling her toes against the draft against her left foot that threw into sharp relief the growing heat of the rest of her. The kisses were long, slow, deliberate. With anyone but House, she would have said romantic, the way he pulled her down to the bench and almost into his lap, the way one of his hands cupped her cheekbone as the fingers of his other hand twined into her hair. The room was still full of music even though he wasn't playing anymore: she could hear it as a resonance, all the beautiful structures left in the air filled with the space between the notes the way her bones echoed with the space between wanting and having.
Need, she said against his lips, soundless, opening herself to him. He cradled her head between his warm hands as if the rest of their bodies didn't exist and they were only this kiss. His tongue moved against hers, soft and hot, and his lips were tender despite the growth of stubble around them. She breathed in the breaths he exhaled. No alcohol, only the faint trace of Vicodin. She had thought he would have been drinking. He was never drunk, but often drinking, and it usually took alcohol to get to this kind of easy, absorbed kissing, but there was nothing on his lips. She sighed into his mouth and he stroked the side of her throat with the tips of the fingers tangled in her hair. He kissed her as if it were the only thing in the world worth doing. He took his time about it. Her palm was pressed over his hear and she could feel his pulse thudding in time with hers, a little fast, and her heart was brimming over with warmth that spilled into her stomach and slowly filled her whole body until she was glowing like a coal except for the five cold toes of her left foot.
Their long exchanged breath ran out of oxygen and he broke the kiss gently, his lips grazing hers as if he couldn't stand to move away. He rested his forehead against hers, their noses crowding comfortably together. She thought her heart was breaking at the sweetness of it. He kissed her again, a long peck, and then again as if he hadn't meant to but couldn't help himself, and then he started to get up slowly, his right hand reaching behind her for his cane and his left still wrapped around with her curls. She took the cane and helped him up, kissing away the wry smirk she couldn't see but knew was there, and she supported him as they made their way to his bedroom.
They sat on the edge of the bed like shy teenagers and he kissed her for another ten minutes before he started to take her clothes off. Her stomach clenched with the force of wanting him, the fuck or flight response. She had one hand over his thigh and the familiarity of the scar where the muscle had been anchored her. The part of her brain that wasn't melted reassured her that he didn't seem to be in pain: no tremors in the muscle, no abnormal tension. She was always his doctor, even when she was his lover, and he could tell when she started thinking too much. He pushed his hands under the hem of her sweater and lifted it slowly, still kissing her, and when the sweater had to come over her head, he dipped his face under the rumble of fabric to kiss her throat and collarbones. The blouse was buttondown: he undid one button every few minutes and devoted his attention to the new area of skin exposed. She let her toes curl and she squeezed hard on a fistful of his comforter to avoid mangling his thigh.
House's lips brushed over her sternum, her ribs, the ticklish place underneath the front clasp of her bra. The silk of the shirt cooled quickly as he moved it away from her skin, and when the fabric brushed her again, she shivered. He pushed her gently back onto the bed and kissed her. They stayed that way a long time, his hand at the small of her back under the loose tails of her shirt and her hand against the skin of his stomach so that his t-shirt rucked up over her wrist.
If they had been speaking, she would have said please. She would have said, I love you. Instead she sighed again as he rubbed tiny circles on her back and he kissed her like he meant it. In the dark, there were no lies.
She eased him out of his jeans and his boxerbriefs, doing her best to kiss him while she did it, using her calves to slide the denim and cotton down his legs, though it was difficult to lift her leg to his hip while she was wearing a skirt. He struggled a bit and she took most of his weight onto herself so that he could lift his hips. While he sat up and stripped off his t-shirt, she took off her pantyhose and slid out of her skirt. There was a single candle burning on his nightstand, infusing the room with the scent of firewood and just enough light that she could see he was watching her. He tugged the comforter over them as they lay back down and she wedged her cold foot between his calves. So much of their skin was touching as he pulled her against him for another long kiss, and oh, there was such a drought of contact in her life aside from this sex without speaking, and she was full beyond measure with words, and she wanted the long evenings of talking. But God, House was eloquent without ever saying a word.
He kissed his way down her body under the covers. She had left her panties on because she knew how much he liked undressing her, and he lingered over her thighs, working at the lace with his teeth, teasing her with his tongue and his breath until she reached down and shimmied out of the panties. She wanted to beg, but he knew, and he slid back up her body more slowly than she thought possible until she could sling her leg over his hip and urge him in. It was slow going this way, both of them on their sides, but he could lean on his left leg instead of trying to support himself on his arms. She could feel the whole length of him inside her, an exquisite friction. He was gentle. He kept kissing her. She wished her first time had been like this, because even with no words, there was love in the act.
When she came, it was gentle, long waves of pleasure and stars around the edges of her vision, and he kissed her forehead as he thrust a little faster and joined her in the afterglow. She wanted to cry as the tension left her, just for the sheer release of it, and for the way they would never talk. She lay curled against his chest afterward and listened to his heartbeat. After a long while, when she heard his breath settle into a slow even rhythm, she shifted and began to slip out from under the covers. She gasped when he caught her wrist.