Title: Performance Art
Author: smithar
Rating: PG-13
Fandom: House MD
Pairing: Cuddy/Chase, Cuddy/House
Summary: A night out leads to a surprising twist for Cuddy, but House (as always) gets in the way.
Notes: This is just an ickle fantasy fic of mine, taking place before Wilson separates from his wife. Also, danger, Will Robinson! This fic is pretty damn long, by my standards. Yep, un-betaed.

---------------------------

If there was one thing Dr. Lisa Cuddy excelled at, it was making her life as complicated as possible.

It started innocently enough. Her best friend had called to announce that drinks at her place with the rest of their friends were cancelled. Apparently, Denise's parents' flight out of Boston had been delayed by several hours and they needed a place to stay. Considering she only saw her parents once a year otherwise, Cuddy could do nothing more than wish her well and scramble to make other plans for the evening. After all she was Dr. Lisa Cuddy, intelligent, gorgeous, hospital administrator extraordinaire, and social fucking butterfly. Damned if she would be spending a Friday night alone in her living room, watching Sex and the City reruns. She wouldn't know what to do with herself. And besides, she didn't get very many nights off; the hospital was a harsh mistress.

And so she was reduced to calling up colleagues and employees. She ended up calling Dr. Garner and Dr. Neilson for a few drinks at a nearby restaurant. Dr. Neilson was one of the more senior members of the research department (and a sweetheart of a gentleman to boot), while Dr. Garner was the youngest member of the endocrinology department and notoriously intent on moving up the corporate ladder. Garner wouldn't turn down the offer to shmooze. As an afterthought, Cuddy finally dialed Dr. Wilson's office. House and his team were deeply engrossed in another rapidly deteriorating case tonight, so there was an outside chance Wilson would be free to socialize. That was, if he wasn't having another elaborate and formal dinner with Mrs. Wilson. In a stroke of good luck, Wilson conceded that he had no plans with Julie for the evening and would certainly join her and her group.

"Mind if I bring a friend?" Wilson asked, trying far too hard to sound casual.

Cuddy frowned. "Isn't House still with his team working on his latest case… the man with the hives and asbestosis?" That he almost killed. Twice. Today. She didn't say the last part out loud.

"I'm not talking about House." He said. "It's one of the new nuclear medicine technologists. She's had a rough week and I thought it would be a good idea for her to come and relax for awhile."

With great effort, Cuddy resisted the urge to sigh dramatically into the receiver. Remember: it's none of my business. "Sure, invite her to join us." She pretended not to know, but this was the tried and true behaviour of Dr. James Wilson: The Very Friendly Oncologist. It sounded like the title of a disastrously named child entertainer.

Imagine her horror when she found herself saying those very words out loud, mere hours later, with a martini in her right hand.

"I pity the children watching that particular program. I wouldn't wish Wilson, badly strumming an acoustic guitar while singing off-key about emetic drugs and hair falling out, on any child." Cuddy took another large gulp of her drink while Garner laughed obsequiously and Wilson chuckled with amusement, nursing his own beer. Neilson smiled and looked amused at her behaviour. Wilson's friend, Anna SomethingWhatever, smiled self-consciously, despite the fact that she had been matching Cuddy drink for drink all night. And Cuddy had drunk a lot.

It must be her body weight, Cuddy decided. I'm smaller than she is. She also decided that Anna looked a lot like Julie, except that she was a redhead instead of a brunette. And a bit more... filled out.

"The TV network would have a public relations nightmare after all the parents complained about their wee little ones having nightmares." Wilson concluded dryly.

"Better than Dr. House. The children would be scarred for life." Anna said abruptly, with a sidelong glance at Wilson. She was gauging how her company, all of whom exceeded her in the corporate pecking order, would react.

Garner snorted. "House? Doesn't he eat babies for breakfast?"

"Kittens. Babies are for weekends." Wilson replied crisply, turning his attention to the young woman. "Really, Anna. He's not so bad." He paused to take a sip of his beer. "And at least he would be able to play the piano for the children."

"Dr. House plays the piano?" she said incredulously, as if Wilson had just revealed that Satan liked to play with fluffy bunnies on his day off.

Cuddy cleared her throat. "As the almighty administrator of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, I hereby declare that all further talk of Dr. House be banned for the night." She drained the rest of her drink and brought the glass down to the table with a satisfying thunk. There was silence and surprised stares from her audience. She didn't miss Wilson's calculated look. "I want one night to forget about all the things at the hospital that are bothering me, and Dr. House is one of them." She offered as explanation. Still silence. "He nearly killed a patient! Twice! In one day!"

And then Anna began to snicker. "'Babies For Breakfast' would be a great band name." Wilson vainly attempted to hide his laughter and ended up choking on his beer. Neilson merely shook his head as the sight, while Garner began to argue that it was a horrible band name.

This time Cuddy did sigh dramatically. None of my business, none of my business... She stared into her empty glass and decided that another drink was in order.

Eventually, after much gossip and debate, they decided to call it a night. Dr. Neilson offered Anna and Cuddy a ride home, but both declined in favour of a cab. Garner swayed on his feet and looked across the restaurant, distracted and decidedly green. By the time Cuddy said her goodbyes the man had disappeared. She peered across the restaurant, through the classy design and slick amber lighting, wondering what it could have been that caught Dr. Garner's attention.

Maybe he had to go to the restroom. Maybe he wasn't feeling well. Cuddy was already moving through the restaurant to where the restrooms were, her doctor instincts subjugated by inebriation. She mentally berated herself for not watching her alcohol intake closely enough. She wasn't stumbling around like a drunken fool, but walking in her high heels required just enough concentrated effort to annoy Cuddy and her lack of restraint.

She walked around the bar and turned left, heading to the back of the restaurant and the restrooms. There was a long narrow corridor painted in a vibrant rust colour, with generous streaks of indigo and red mixed throughout. The lighting wasn't the tasteful amber found in the eating area, but a weak fluorescent white that cast shadows everywhere. Cuddy was just rounding the corner where the corridor forked when her concentration broke and her heel twisted to the side and forward. She tumbled backwards and was aware that a man had been coming around the corner towards her.

Fortunately for her, the man had quick reflexes and caught her by the elbow before she smashed her head against the floor. Unfortunately, he wasn't very gentle about it. He yanked her arm upwards in order to keep her steady. Her shoulder screamed in pain.

"Motherfucker!" She hissed, unable to contain the curse that escaped from her lips. She closed her eyes and winced.

"Wow. I've never heard you swear before."

She sighed silently. I know that voice very well. So much for not running into anyone from the hospital. Ensuring her balance was secure, Cuddy opened her eyes and slowly detached herself from the young Aussie's grip.

"Dr. Chase. I thought House would be running you and your team ragged tonight." She said pointedly, slowly rotating her shoulder to ease the hurt.

"Yeah, well, he got annoyed by our 'complete inability to do anything right' and told us to go home." He watched as she gingerly moved her arm from side to side. "I'm really sorry about that. You okay?"

"I'm fine, thank you." She brushed off his concern. She would live. "I thought House was the one who nearly killed a patient today. If there's anyone scoring big points in the Complete Inability To Heal The Sick category, it would be him." She turned her attentions away from her arm (the pain had subsided to a dull throb) and it was only then she noticed that Chase had a large, dark stain down the front of his shirt, partially hidden underneath his dark brown jacket. "What, exactly, happened to you?" She asked curiously.

He had the good sense to look chagrined. "Long story. Don't want to talk about it. Let's just say I'm an idiot."

Cuddy smiled instinctively, hoping she looked reassuring. It was important for authority figures to be reassuring to their employees. Even if said authority figure was in a relaxed social setting and not entirely cognizant. "You're not an idiot." She smirked. "At least not all of the time."

He smiled good-naturedly at the insult.

"You haven't by any chance seen Dr. Garner, have you? From endocrinology?" she added for clarification. "He disappeared on our group and I just wanted to make sure he was okay."

A pained expression immediately crossed Chase's face but was quickly replaced by casual disinterest. "I think he's more than okay right now..." He motioned for Cuddy to follow him back out the corridor to the main part of the restaurant. At the entryway they stopped and he nodded towards the bar. Where Garner was sitting on a stool and looking very cozy with a voluptuous blonde woman in a lovely red dress.

"Girlfriend." Chase explained. "I know because I tried to pick her up."

Cuddy turned slowly to face Chase and her eyes narrowed knowingly. "Let me guess: someone assumed you were sullying the honour of fair maiden and threw a drink at you?"

"It's so clichéd, isn't it? Throwing a drink at someone, I mean. I thought it only happened in the movies." Chase shrugged. "I just wish it hadn't been red wine." He was trying hard to be flippant but it was clear this was a bad ending to a long and tiring day.

What the hell, I'm feeling charitable. "You look like you need another drink, Dr. Chase. My treat."

---

Now, there was charitable and then there was charitable. Cuddy wasn't sure if inviting a young, idealistic, and attractive doctor to her house on the offer of removing red wine stains from his dress shirt constituted the former or the latter. Probably the later, considering how things had turned out.

Oh yes, she would concede that Dr. Chase was attractive. She had an eye for beautiful things, after all. And sitting across from him at smaller restaurant they had retreated to (no good would have come from running into Garner again) she watched him talk. He was unconsciously self-conscious in an intriguing sort of way, and she found her mind wandering, fixating on the fact that every time Chase started a new topic he licked his lips. Maybe that's what this was all about, the lure of beauty. Or maybe it was the martinis. Or the beer that followed. There wasn't any point in thinking about it anymore.

She had started it. Plied him with alcohol before she even realized what her intentions were going to be. Unbuttoned his shirt with great determination, mentioning that the washer and dryer were down the hallway, second room on the right.

His eyes had gone impossibly wide, slightly bewildered by the sudden and obvious change in her temperament. Cuddy almost stopped right then and there, as she was once again struck by how young Chase was. Somewhere in the back of her mind she recalled that Dr. Cameron had slept with Chase while under the influence of illegal drugs. Poor boy, to be nothing but a plaything for beautiful women.

"Dr. Cuddy... you're my boss..." he trailed off, unsure of what to say next. Cuddy noted that it was ethics and his job that concerned him, not Cuddy herself.

And why should it concern him? She was, after all, beautiful. And intelligent enough to understand the ramifications of what she was doing. Even intoxicated.

"Actually, Dr. House is your boss. And since he's not the one unbuttoning your shirt I would say that conflict of interests is a moot point." But she did stop unbuttoning his shirt. Instead she held him by his wrists and pulled him backwards towards the bedroom.

"What if I sue you for sexual harassment?" He asked, quite seriously.

She stopped in the frame of the door, a sinking feeling in her stomach, and let go of his wrists. "If you don't want to do this, go." Embarrassment and horniness made for a bad combination. Cuddy guessed her face was horribly flushed.

He didn't move for a moment. But when he did, he stepped towards her instead of away. His body pressed against hers, she resumed unbuttoning his shirt while dragging him backwards. There were only protestations of a different variety for the rest of the night.

---

And so began this "thing" with Chase. Cuddy couldn't call it something else; it was a "thing". Not quite a relationship but more than a casual romantic fling. Not quite an affair either, since both of them were quite single. But they kept it a secret, as if everyone else at the hospital were a spouse to hide the deed from. Cuddy had her reasons, of course. Chase never questioned why she played this game, pretended to be nothing more than his concerned yet distant boss at the hospital, only to open her door hours later and drag him from the stoop to the inside of her house with satisfied grin and an eager kiss.

Chase was a selfish lover. Which made sense because he was a bit selfish in general, just a little too in love with himself and a little heedless of other people's needs. But he was eager to please, which balanced out his borderline narcissism.

She nearly had a heart attack one night when he was staying over. He had got up from the bed and went to the bathroom. She stood up and paced over to her dresser, infinitely satisfied and pleased... until she saw that through the enthusiasm of their activities, the handle of a cane was peeking out ever so slightly from behind her dresser against the opposite wall. Without a word she had tucked it back out of sight (and in such a way that it wouldn't fall back out either); Chase never saw it and it never came back to bother her again.

She really needed to get rid of that cane.

To Goodwill or the Salvation Army, of course. She wasn't a coward by any means, but she wasn't masochistic enough to take on the exchange that would undoubtedly unfold with the cane's original owner if she were to return it to him.

In the end, what they had didn't last. And it was for one reason alone; to be blunt, Chase sucked at keeping secrets. Specifically, he sucked at keeping a poker face. His eyes were as open and expressive as a child's. Then one day, House used it as ammunition during an argument about an unauthorized test he wanted to perform on his Patient Du Jour.

---

"You can't perform this procedure! Clinical trials show a one third chance of success for patients with diabetes or a heart condition. Your guy has a serious ventricular anomaly and gout!

"The gout won't be a problem."

"Oh yeah? I suppose painful crystals forming in his joints will make it easier for him then. They're not healing crystals." The patient's wife was New Age-y and had tried a host of bizarre methods for curing her husband, most of which had fucked the man's system up.

"Fine, I won't do the procedure. Then we can sit back and let his heart fail in the next few days. I'm disappointed in you, Cuddy; I thought you were a humanitarian."

The urge to scowl was almost overwhelming. House knew best how to annoy her with his tedious sarcasm. "I am looking out for your ass, that's what." She retorted. "Some people would call that humanitarian as well."

"Oh, really?" His tone was so scathing that Cuddy knew she wasn't going to like what he was going to say next. "Seems like the only ass you're looking at these days belongs to a sweet young thing with shiny blond hair and daddy issues."

She looked at House with her best 'amused' expression. "Very funny. Your fantastic delusions astound me once again." She smirked and turned heel, effectively closing the conversation. "Get back to me in two hours with an alternative operation for your patient and a better comeback, House."

She walked over to the elevator and realized that the conversation wasn't over yet; House was limping after her, several paces behind. She pressed the elevator button and turned to see him striding up to her determinedly.

He leaned in and spoke with a conspiratorial whisper. "I'm going to assume that putting up with me for so long has stunted your grasp of sincerity, so I'm telling you now; I'm about to be sincere."

Cuddy blinked slowly and refused to look at him. "House, the procedure puts the patient in an extreme amount of danger, we can't-"

"That's not what I'm talking about. You and Chase. I know you two are doing the nasty. How long has this been going on?"

"Are you kidding me?" Cuddy sputtered with a brilliant display of indignation, careful to keep her voice low. "There is nothing going on between myself and Dr. Chase!"

"Fine, deny everything." He whispered with a hint of irritation. "But just to let you know, he's way too obvious. Poor boy can't take his eyes off of you..."

There was something about the way he said it that made Cuddy turn to look at House. His eyes were confident and knowing and she didn't know how to respond. She was vainly struggling to decipher the hidden message in House's words when the elevator doors opened.

He glanced at the doors and stepped back a pace. "I just wanted to make sure he doesn't go running to his sugar mommy the next time I do something horribly cruel and unethical. Bad for business. Bad for me trying to save patients. Which is what we do around here."

As if it were all about work.

Cuddy retreated to the elevator, watching the strange expression on House's face as the doors closed.

House knew. And Cuddy knew that House knew. And Cuddy knew that her flings with Chase had to end quickly and quietly, before the whole hospital knew. She knew from experience that Wilson was a terrible gossip.

---

She could have gotten angry with House and sworn him not to speak of it again; god knew she was creative and intelligent enough to come up with a hundred ways to blackmail the man. She could have silenced House and continued living with the carefree fun that was Chase. But the hospital was her life and she knew she would sacrifice anything to keep it for herself.

Besides, she had long since grown out of harbouring anger at House.

Breaking the news to Chase was bittersweet, and the look on his face had been sad but strong. He was a good man, the young doctor. It was all a shame, really, that things had turned out this way. House had always been good at keeping secrets when he wanted to.

-------------end--------------