"Out of the Ashes"

Chapter Nine - "Reaching the Pinnacle"

As soon as the elevator doors opened, House walked out and scanned the area for Lydia; he spotted her standing near the left front window in the lobby. He felt the corners of his mouth upturn as he made his way over to her. So, this is what it feels like to have some measure of happiness. He had felt it once or twice before in the past; he certainly had it with Stacy, and he had imagined it with Cuddy. But this… was different. He wasn't sure if it was the culmination of all he had been through in recent years, if it had changed his perspective, or if it was something special about Lydia herself. People don't change had always been his mantra. Yet Lydia had a good point; what he'd been through with his leg had made him harder, more bitter, more cynical; it changed him. What's to say he couldn't change again? After all, Pavlov worked with his dog and changed its response to a certain stimulus. Yet, when all was said and done, the dog still lifted his leg to pee and licked himself… well because he could. Bottom line… it was still a dog. House arrived where Lydia was standing and reached out to touch her arm.

“Hey. You got any used cell phones?” he joked. But his humor quickly faded as Lydia turned to him. She was clearly upset, on the verge of tears. Startled, House quickly said, “What wrong?” She shook her head back and forth.

“Nothing. I'm being stupid, I'm being a fool. Here's your phone.” She handed the phone to him and stood there with her head down refusing to look at him. House was looking back and forth between the phone and Lydia, completely confused.

“Look, I'm really out of practice with this whole boyfriend thing and I don't know that I was even very good at it when I was dealing with it on a regular basis. The problem is, the manual guys get about women is written in Ancient Mesopotamian Hieroglyphics and the ink has run. So, if you could clue me in, I'd be grateful.” Lydia couldn't help but laugh, yet it also set off a flow of tears.

“You had a call while I had the phone. I looked at the caller ID because I thought it was you looking for the phone. I didn't answer it.” House nodded and looked at the phone. “I...I have to go,” said Lydia rushing past House and heading out the door. House quickly looked up from his phone to call out for her, but the name on the screen caught his eye; Bambi Forest. The woman he had an 'appointment' with tonight. House didn't know why she was calling; he had already left her a message cancelling the arrangement. He looked up and realized that Lydia was almost to her car; she had parked in House's spot once again. He walked as fast as he could and caught up with her as she was opening the car door.

“She's not a girlfriend. You're the only one on a short list of candidates willing to put up with me; the other being Wilson.” Once again, Lydia couldn't help but laugh.

“I told you… I'm just being stupid,” she said as she wiped her eyes. House shook his head.

“Except for falling in love with the guy voted least likely to have a successful personal relationship, I can't imagine anything you'd be stupid about.” House tried to get her to look at him, but she avoided his gaze. “There are some benches round the side of the building; they’re a little more private than out here. It's going to take some time for my team to get test results. And when they do get them, they can call me,” said House holding up his phone. Lydia glanced at House and nodded.

“Alright; the realtor pushed our appointment back to six-thirty, so I have some time.” Lydia let House take her hand to lead her to the benches. House noticed that while he held her hand firmly, she did not return the gesture. He let out a small sigh. Uncharted territory usually intrigued House; this actually scared him. They sat down on the bench; Lydia stared down at her hands, silent except for deep breaths she let out to control her emotions.

“I'm good at figuring out puzzles… I mean really good,” said House. “But I need a few pieces to start things off.”

“Well, I figured out the name on the phone is not your mother,” she said wryly. House tried to smile and reached over for her hand. Lydia raised her eyes to meet his. “She's a prostitute, isn't she? Those things you told me about from your coma, about the hookers… they were real experiences or fantasies of yours, weren't they?” She spoke accusingly, something that took House by surprise. “You are obviously accustomed to a certain type of woman and I…I can't even begin to compete with that.” He sat there, shaking his head back and forth with his mouth hanging open.

“Look… I've been seeing a girl who is a massage therapist… with benefits. It started two months before the accident. I got some relief from the pain with her; from which part of the therapy, I don't know. I called her after I saw you this morning and I left her a message that I didn't need her services anymore.” House looked at Lydia; even with her eyes red from crying and smears of mascara under them, she still looked beautiful. She took a deep breath to steady herself before she began to speak.

“These women, they do what they do for a living and they're very good at it. I… ” She shuddered as she tried to not cry. “It was never real for me, anywhere in here,” she said pointing at herself. “Until I was with you.”

“What are you saying? I think the Anglo-Kraut thing is rearing its ugly head again.” he said. Lydia wiped away tears with the back of her hand.

“My parents were very strict with me. They… kept me on a very short leash, I guess you'd say. Being a part of the diplomatic corps, security was very tight, so there was very little chance to slip away and be a wild child. I lived at home when I went to college, even though it was almost a half an hour's trip one way. And of course, I was always driven. I was only allowed to stay after classes for activities that involved the pre-med honor society; but even then, there was always a car waiting for me when the meetings were over.”

“Couldn't you say you were going to the meeting and then gone off to work on your good-time girl persona?” House asked. Lydia shook her head.

“My father's best friend had a son who was also a pre-med student at Hopkins. He was a year older than me and always kept his eye on… ”

“Wait!” interrupted House. “Did you say Hopkins… as in Johns Hopkins University Pre-Med program?” Lydia managed a little smile.

“Yes. I was about to start my last semester, and I was accepted to the Hopkins medical school when my parents had a car accident. It was one of the few times I wasn't in the car with them.” House stared at her blankly.

“You went to Hopkins pre-med and were about to start med school there. I'm impressed.”

“Thank you. When I was trying to find you on the internet, I read some information that said you went there for a time also. Although I think it was several years before me.”

“Yeah, a few. You know, this isn't really fair. You obviously know my age, but I don't know yours. I know it's rude to ask a woman, but I think it's considered fair sport if I suggest that you tell me. A slight difference, but it absolves me from committing a social faux pas.” Lydia bit her lip as she smiled, and looked at House. He put his arm around her and gave her a kiss. “Are you OK?” Lydia nodded.

“Yes. I'm sorry. I hadn't planned on talking to you about this just yet and it's caught me by surprise.” Lydia looked at House. “By the way, I'm forty-two.”

“Damn, I'm good,” said House. “Hit it right on the head. So, you were kept prisoner by your parents and they had a wing man lurking in every dark corner.”

“It seemed that way. I suppose in later years if I had looked hard enough, I could have found a way out. But with my parents being so badly injured, I had to oversee their care. Even though my father was in the diplomatic corps, it was still basic medical coverage, nothing special. Walter, the boy from school kept coming around in the name of being helpful, but I found out that my father had asked his friend to have Walter take care of me and hoped that it would lead to marriage.”

“Did it?”

“No, but he hung around for three years. He…he was… "

“Your first.” finished House. Lydia nodded.

"Yes. My first boyfriend, and… ” Lydia looked uncomfortable. “My first attempt at physical contact with a member of the opposite sex. The problem was Walter was gay, but never had the nerve to come out to his parents or anyone else; I was the only one who knew and he only told me after a few failed attempts at sex. I was very grateful to him, as a friend, for trying to help with my parents and he was very sweet; but even if he wasn’t gay, there was no real emotional sparks between us. I broke it off with him after my father died; I felt it wasn’t fair to him to live a lie anymore. I took care of my mother for four years after that with some help from healthcare aides and Annie, God bless her.” Lydia looked at House. “I could never leave my mother alone at night or even for an extended time during the day. I found work doing medical coding and transcriptions at home to keep me sane. I had no social life; she complained if I had company over. It was horrible.” They had both been sitting forward on the bench, but now House gently leaned Lydia backward and rested her back against him. He could feel her shaking from the release of the torrents of frustration, anger, hurt and pain. Leaning down, House softly kissed the top of her head several times.

“I never would have it in me to do what you did. I'm not that selfless,” House said. “How long after your mother died did Annie zip her lip?”

“Seven months. I was still trying to settle my mother's estate when… everything came crashing down. I lost my father, my mother and it seemed like I lost my best friend.”

“And then you and you ex-husband started to hook up?” Lydia shrugged.

“A little less than a year after Annie had to be institutionalized, we just started spending so much time together that things flowed one into another.” She spread her hands apart. “The next thing, we were engaged and then married. I never felt anything toward him in a romantic way. He was important to Annie, so I always cared about him; I wished him well, but…. I felt nothing.” House could see that Lydia was trying to hold back tears. “This is so hard for me to say, I sound so… ” She looked at House. “I needed a glass of wine or two to relax before I could… participate in having sex. I didn’t get drunk by any means, but I needed it to numb me. I didn't want him to touch me like that, but… ” House closed his eyes. The puzzle pieces were starting to fall into place.

“You must have run up quite a tab at the local liquor store.” House said.

“I didn't. He wasn't very… demanding as far as sex went; I guess because it was as distasteful for him as it was for me. Plus, he had women on the side both here and in Arizona.” Lydia looked at House and didn't how to gauge the look in his eyes. He began to shake his head.

“You know, you're making this really difficult for me,” House said. “This guy was obviously a mindless jerk; it negates my right to subject him to some form of ancient Chinese torture. And I know quite a few from the time I spent there.” Lydia tried not to laugh, but it was useless. She leaned toward him and placed her head on House's shoulder. He twirled his cane in one hand, staring at the handle. “So boyfriend/lover number one proves to be an unsuccessful venture; relationship number two crashes and burns in the same manner as the Hindenburg. An appropriate analogy given who's involved and where this is taking place.” He looked at Lydia and saw she had a slight smile. “And then there's bachelor number three, yours truly. Wow, you really know how to pick 'em. You're probably going to say something like you've never been happier, but given the past, I don't have a hell of a lot to try to live up to.” He knew what he was going to say next would hurt, but it had to be brought out in the open. “The whole thing bothering you about the prostitutes goes back in your family history.” Lydia picked her head up and looked at House. “And since you wouldn't care whether your boyfriend or your ex dabbled with Lady Marmalades, I'm going to say it goes back to your father.” Lydia was shocked.

“My God, you are good at puzzles.”

“It wasn't hard to figure out. You had no great love in your life that would have wounded you; the only other male who had any influence over you was your dad. He dominated and oversaw all your actions and activities through your childhood and adulthood, although at the end, it was literally by accident. He was in a position of power and he made use of that position.” House looked at Lydia. “Either your mother finally caught on and confronted him or she dealt with it as long as she could and just exploded.” Lydia looked away from House.

“She knew and just dealt with it. But, then one girl became a favorite for whatever reason and my mother found out. They had a horrible fight in the living room late one night. She begged him to give up hookers, but he refused. He said they did things for him that he wouldn't expect her to do.” Lydia started to fumble in her purse for a tissue to clean up her face. “I believe it's called Madonna/Whore Syndrome.” She pulled out a Kleenex and began to dab at her eyes. House looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Madonna/Whore Syndrome. Wasn't that the name of her last concert tour?” Lydia chuckled and shook her head. She snuggled up against House and buried her face in his neck.

"Please be serious," she begged. House nodded his assent.

“OK. I know what Madonna/Whore Syndrome is. A guy idealizes his wife so much, he can't get it on with her, but has no problem with some one less than perfect like a hooker.” He could feel Lydia nodded her head against him. “And when you saw the name on my phone and realized it wasn't my Great-Aunt Sophie, it not only brought back bad memories, but you were afraid I had some hang-up about hookers like your father did.” He looked down at the top of her head. “And you're afraid since you haven't had a slew of lovers in the past that you're going to somehow pale in comparison to these hookers.” She again nodded.

“I'm…I'm just afraid… ” Lydia began to say.

“Don't be. Hookers are paid by guys to moan and groan at the right times, say words that the guy wants to hear and make a man think he's more of a man than he really is able to be.” House was staring at the ground. The hand that wasn't holding Lydia had dropped down to his leg “You know damn well, it's all a lie that you bought and paid for and for those few moments, you're made to think that on some level, you've managed to make a woman happy.” Lydia pulled her head away from House's neck and looked up at him.

“I have no complaints.” House looked at her with gratitude.

“You had a few minutes in a dimly lit room on a chair. Give it more time and a bigger workspace like a bed or on the floor in front of a roaring fire and you'll can expect Cirque de Solei.” Lydia let out a little laugh. “A hooker strokes a guy's ego as long as there's a nice crisp hundred involved. They come. They go. No attachments. I will admit, there were many times I had them come by just for company, just to have someone to talk to.” He looked around. “You’ve… managed to change the way I think about myself. I always said I was better off alone, but I was wrong; I'm better with you.” Lydia had tears in her eyes as she reached up and slowly brushed he fingers down the length of House's face. “I don’t believe in the religious concept of a soul; but for lack of a better word, you’ve convinced me that I actually may have one.” The tears started gently rolling down Lydia's face.

“I just want us to be together. I know you're concerned that something's going to get screwed up. I understand that. We are two broken people in need of a lot of fixing. But, you can't fix things by yourself; you need another person, another perspective, no matter how solitary your nature may be.” Her fingers continued down his neck to the open collar of his shirt. “We can make this work. We have enough in common that we are comfortable with each other; and we have just enough differences to keep things interesting.” House smiled.

“I can go with that line of thinking.” House pulled Lydia to him and gave her a long kiss. He was about to go back in for another, when Lydia's phone rang. She quickly pulled away; he gave her a disappointed look.

“It might be the realtor,” she explained.

“You don't need them; move in with me,” House said. Lydia looked at him skeptically.

“With my two children and Annie?” she asked. House hesitated.

“Answer the phone,” he said. It turned out to be perfect timing, for a second later, House's phone began to ring. He pulled it out of his pocket and saw it was Taub. He stood up and walked several feet away from the bench.

“What have you got, oh short and impotent one?”

“Immunoglobulin G levels are sky high. Hypercoaguable studies were at the high end of normal. It's shingles without a rash.”

“Why do you still sound so surprised?” asked House. “I told you a second or third year med student could figure that out.” House looked over at Lydia with admiration. He got so caught up in watching Lydia’s reaction to what her caller was saying, that he ignored Taub for a moment.

“House? Are you there?” House took the phone away from his ear and scowled at it.

“No,” House shouted into the phone. “I have been kidnapped by aliens and am currently on my way to Andelusia-153 in a galaxy far, far away. However, I can leave you the following instructions. Keep the patient on the previous dosages of Neurontin and acyclovir. Start the patient on clear liquids and note tolerance for same on the chart. I will be returning to my home galaxy shortly. Night Tripper, out.” House ended the call, and dropped the phone back into his pocket. He looked over at Lydia and saw that she was staring at him with her arms folded; she was laughing.

“What was that?” she asked. House walked back over to the bench and sat down.

“A needless interruption from a mindless individual.”

“A member of your team giving you test results.” House nodded.

“Same difference.” Lydia smiled. He was about to ask if her call was from the realtor, when his phone rang again. This time, it was Wilson. He rolled his eyes and picked up the call.

“Yes, I have my phone back,” said House. “No, I am not in the cafeteria. Yes, everything is fine with Lydia, and no, I do not want to get Chinese for dinner tonight.” There was silence for a moment on the other end.

“Wow… wow. Well, I guess that about covers everything then. You do know you have unlimited minutes and didn’t have to use such brevity,” said Wilson.

“Yes, except when I'm talking to you. Then I try to keep things as abbreviated as possible.” Lydia looked at House disapprovingly.

“Be nice to James,” she said.

“I am. You should hear how I talk to him when I'm not being nice.”

“Is Lydia there with you now?” Wilson asked. House shook his head.

“No, it's my other girlfriend with a German accent.”

“Tell her I said hello. Oh… Kyle James is asking for you.”

“Can't you just tell him that I suddenly became aphasic?” House heard Wilson sigh.

“House, please just go talk to him and be civil about it. I have enough headaches right now. Please?” House made a face.

“OK; I'll go against my true nature and be nice.” Wilson breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you.” House ended the call and looked at Lydia.

“See what I have to put up with from him? He asks me to do these horrible and degrading things like be nice. What kind of friend asks you to do that?” Lydia shook her head.

“You should go inside and talk to your patient. Maybe she just needs some reassurance.”

“It's not the patient; it's her husband who wants to talk. This is not going to be fun.” Lydia stood up and held her hand out to him. He reluctantly took a hold of her outstretched palm, stood up, and began to walk.

“You know, you really should be a little kinder to James. He seems very nice and he's a very good friend,” Lydia said.

“The problem is that Wilson's too nice. That's why he has three ex-wives. He has the wrong type of personality to be a doctor, never mind an oncologist.”

“I was wondering what his specialty was. I think it suits him very well.” House smirked.

“Only if you're a masochist.” House turned to Lydia. “What was your specialty going to be?” She smiled.

“Diagnostics.” House gave a little laugh.

“No, seriously.”

“I am serious,” she said as they arrived at her car. “I was considering cardiology or endocrinology; but then I attended a lecture this young doctor was giving at Georgetown Medical School about the benefits of deduction and puzzle solving in reference to difficult patient cases. He said that you have to look beyond the obvious and make connections with deeper things. I believe he said something about looking for zebras.” Lydia smiled as she twirled her keys in between her fingers. The look on House's face was priceless.

“I gave that lecture because I was trying to make the case to several hospitals that they needed a Diagnostics department. Of course, none of them listened.”

“Eventually one did,” Lydia said looking at the hospital. “And I know that many hospitals have them now.” House looked at her.

“I can't believe you saw me at Georgetown.”

“I not only saw you, I spoke to you.” House's eyes widened. “I approached you after you spoke and asked you a few questions about the concept of a differential diagnosis. And then you asked me out for a drink. I was about to say yes and work on my good-time girl persona with you, but my father pulled me away. When I saw you at Mayfield, I couldn't believe it. I wanted to tell you that we had met before, but I didn't think it was appropriate.” House was stunned.

“I… I remember you now; you were the only one who asked anything intelligent after I spoke. And you were the prettiest one in the place.”

“You remember me? Really?” House smirked.

“Let’s face it… there are a limited number of redheads in this world, never mind one that combines brains and beauty. And no offense,” he said. “But I really hate your dad right now; I could have been your first.” Lydia smiled and moved closer toward House until their bodies were touching.

“It's OK. As long as you're my last.” House rested his cane against the car and wrapped Lydia in his arms and kissed her gently.

“I've got to be careful,” he said, pulling back away from her slightly.

“Why? Afraid James may see us?”

“Nope. Afraid I'll start something I can't finish right now.”

“Hmm. You have to see your patient's husband.” House winced.

“Ouch. That just ruined the lovely mood.” He saw the sparkle back in Lydia's eyes and had to smile. "I usually have a lot of trouble saying this, never mind as frequently as I’ve done in the past few hours, but you make it seem so natural, so easy; I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Lydia replied. She opened the car door, sat down and began buckling her seat belt. “I'll give you a call later so we can pick up your motorcycle and get something to eat.”

“And other things,” said House as he closed the door. Lydia started the car and put the window down.

“I'm not going to be able to leave unless you move that.” She pointed to House's cane which he rested against the car.

“Ah, you've caught on to my nefarious and secret plan,” House said resting his hands on the open window frame.

“Greg, I have to leave.”

“Yeah… I guess you need to find a place you can call home.” Lydia placed her hand on his.

“I already have.” House smiled, leaned in and gave her a kiss. He grabbed his cane, let her back the car out of the spot and pull away. House turned, and headed for the doors of the building. He paused to press a button on his phone. He put it to his ear, and finally heard the party he called pick up.

“Bambi? This is Night Tripper. Yeah. Do me a favor. Lose my number. Permanently. Yeah… I'm really sure.”

House ended the call, then pressed a series of buttons, ending with “delete.” He put the phone in his pocket, and with a smile, went to go see Kyle James.

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