Summary: And there they were again, sparing verbally after having challenged the other to demonstrate their finesse on the piano. It was an infinitely fun and stimulating game of foreplay in an endless relationship of unresolved tension and lust.

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All In

Cuddy sighed as she rounded a corner. It had been a long day between Ian and the charity poker match and she was officially ready to leave and head home for her warm bed.

Wilson's voice caught her ear and she paused. He stood over one of the only remaining poker tables, tiredly wishing his companion goodnight. Cuddy watched as he moved out of view, unveiling House, sitting across from where Wilson had been. The man folded a few crumpled bills and shoved them into his back pocket. He stood, glanced briefly down at the disorganized cards but did nothing to pick them up.

She considered speaking then. Her mouth opened and a comment was at the tip of her tongue, but then she stopped. Her eyes followed House's gaze and she noticed that he had spied the grand piano off in the corner. A pianist had sat there most of the night, keeping the mood by playing some background music. She had wondered how long House would resist temptation.

She couldn't help but smile as she saw the way he smirked at the piano. She grinned wider at the way he looked over his shoulder, as if he couldn't bare to ruin his reputation by letting someone actually see him playing. She wondered if anyone knew that he could even play- besides her and Wilson, she didn't think many did. Her smile faltered some, then, when she realized that it had been a very long time since she had heard him play.

He bent at the knees as he sank onto the bench. He shifted some as he tried to regain his posture. She watched as he flexed his hands and she knew that he was considering which of the many tunes in his repertoire he was going to play. And then, with the ease of a natural skill and practice, he started into something. She loved the way his eyes would droop closed and his hands would speed over the keys, playing effortlessly. She loved the way his face would contort every once in a while. Before, it was just cute. But now, it proved that he still had emotions, no matter how deep in him they were buried.

She couldn't help herself. When he finished, she started to clap. His head shot up and she watched as his wide eyes sought out the person clapping. She took a few steps out of the shadows. When he found her, she could have sworn that she saw the shadow of his old smile spread over his face. And, for just a moment, she imagined that they were young and naïve once again and she continued clapping, waiting for him to rise mockingly and take a bow. But the dream vanished and reality settled in and suddenly she was older and more mature and he couldn't stand without a cane and neither of them laughed half as much and so she let her clapping come to a startling halt.

She kept walking forward but House had stopped looking at her. Instead he had set to squaring his shoulders and looking down at his hands, watching them as they settled onto the right keys. Suddenly the hall was overtaken by something lively and giddy; something she vaguely remembered from her past. She couldn't help but smirk as she approached the piano and she let her hand run over the cool, smooth wood. She stopped just at the corner, where the wood took a sudden dip to join with the keys, and stood there, watching his long fingers splay over the keys, his fingers dancing to the jovial tune he was producing. She dared herself to look away when she remembered how they used to be. She would always stand in that exact spot or sit just to the left of him, watching his hands and smiling as the urge to stay there forever nearly overtook her.

He just smirked up at her, his fingers not pausing over the keys. "So Wilson won."

Her eyes hesitated on his hands before pulling themselves up to met his piercing gaze. "Um… Yeah, I heard. He did well."

"Yeah…" She smirked at the way he looked away and sighed. She knew better than to think he was disappointed that he had walked away from the game. She knew better than to think that he would have stayed in long enough to win. He would have gotten bored long before that. "How did you do?"

"I was out after a couple of rounds."

They fell into silence, letting his song speak for him in a way words always failed. The song faded into an ending, the last note vibrating in the stillness of the room. Only once it had gone completely silent did House look up at her, smirking. She smirked back, only because she wondered what his mind had come up with. His head jerked to the side and he scooted to the side, making room for her on the bench. She took the offered seat gratefully.

"It's been a long time since you sat there."

For a moment, her smirk froze on her face. She couldn't fathom what he was talking about, considering that there had never before been a piano sitting in the main entrance of her hospital. But then it struck her and she was smirking again, though it had transformed from amused to reminiscence.

"Not since…"

"Before I met Stacy." She just nodded. He elbowed her, the action shocking her more because for how juvenile it was than in how sudden it had been. He was grinning at her, an awkwardly lopsided and goofy grin and she wondered- worried- what he was thinking. "As I recall, you used to be able to actually play."

"A little," she huffed, staring down at the keys instead of that goofy grin simply to try to keep her blush at bay. "But I probably can't remember a thing any more. It's been a while."

"It's like riding a bike."

"How would you know? You've never stopped playing long enough to forget."

"True… but I imagine it's like riding a bike." She just rolled her eyes. "Fine. I'll play by myself…" She heard the way his voice trailed off and the way he over dramatically sighed at the end.

Her eyes turned towards the ceiling, as if it could give her strength, before she looked back down at the keys, studying them silently as her hands came to rest on a few select ones. "Let's start with something easy."

"Something like what? Bach? Aerosmith?"

"I was thinking something like chopsticks."

"Oh, you're no fun." But even as he was saying it, his fingers were testing the keys, trying to recall such a mundane tune. And then he was smirking her way as he started the tune and she followed him. A frown dropped the edges of her lips and she wished she didn't feel so stupid concentrating so hard on the simple rhythm.

He was kind enough to keep it simple the first time through, but as they neared the end, he started over again and she followed him. But then his fingers started to reach out, adding more keys. She listened, noting that it wasn't anything too complicated or too different to distract her. She even found herself smirking as she glanced at his hands, trying to predict how he might change the tune and copy it.

And then, as they rolled seamlessly into a third time through, she felt a grin of triumph wash over her as she made her own modifications to the tune House had set up for them. And then he was competing with her, spicing up the simple beat in a way that she couldn't hope to beat. So, instead, she continued with what she was doing, trying desperately not to lag behind or loose the beat.

They ended simply- Cuddy choosing to trail off and leave the ending as originally written; House ending with a flourish of the hand and a beautiful mixture of notes.

And she could only smile at him. She was sure it was where their competitiveness had truly evolved. As individuals, they were competitive by nature. But she hadn't known him much before the day she had stood by him at the theatre club's piano and watched as those skilled hands played their intimate dance over the white keys. She had made the mistake of complimenting him and getting his attention. She had made her second mistake when she admitted to playing a little. He had made her sit by them, and off they had gone, playing a duet of some inane little tune that they had both known. And, occasionally, when the urge to play had hit her, they would play together, one trying to outdo the other. He always seemed to win when it came to the piano.

But songs spilled over into banter and banter had become a sort of endless foreplay with them. Competition, more accurately, had become their foreplay.

"You're not too bad, all things considering."

"Oh yeah? And what are those things that you're considering?"

"Well… the fact that you haven't played in a decade and the fact that you were never that good to begin with." She hit him for that- a playful slap on the shoulder.

"Shows what a good teacher you are."

"Everything isn't a reflection of the teacher. Maybe you're just a crappy pupil."

"I doubt that."

And there they were again, sparing verbally after having challenged the other to demonstrate their finesse on the piano. It was an infinitely fun and stimulating game of foreplay in an endless relationship of unresolved tension and lust.

And, for a moment, she could only stare at him and wonder what would happen if she just leaned in and kissed him. She was almost positive that he wouldn't pull away; she wasn't positive that she wouldn't. She didn't doubt that she would like it; she didn't doubt that she would feel guilty and stupid afterward.

And so she just let her eyes linger a little too long, falling into the depths of his blue orbs, as she wondered just how long foreplay could possible last before it was finally interrupted.

The rumbling of the elevator and the stomping of feet pulled her back to reality and she looked away, her eyes searching for nothing in particular. When she looked back, all she saw was House's knowing smirk and the question- or rather statement- bouncing in his eyes. She stood then and he stood with her and she was almost surprised when he offered to walk her to her car without saying anything.

And that was simply another aspect to their relationship. They bantered, but they never spoke of why, or even that there was a why. They challenged each other, but they never mentioned why they did, why they enjoyed it so much. They didn't do serious, because being serious would mean admitting that something was there and sometimes denial was the best place to live.

And so she let the question die from both of their minds as he walked her back to her office and waited for her to grab her things. They spoke briefly about whatever came to mind- inane things, statistics trapped in his mind, the poker tournament, the most recent hospital gossip- until they came to her car, parked only one away from his. And she turned to him, noting that the question had once again sprung into his eyes. But he simply offered a soft smile and a nod of the head. Then he wished her goodnight as she slipped into the driver's seat, smiling and reminding him to drive carefully. And then she was gone and he was left to limp back to his own car. It was how it had always been and, she feared, it was how it would always be.

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Author's Note: This story was originally written as the prequel to another story but they just didn't feel like they messed, so I just decided to post them separately. It still sort of works, so if you have read or plan on reading "The Challenge of Victory", this kind of explains the beginning.

Hope you enjoyed. Hugs, JD.