By The Madhatter
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Never will.
Pairing: House/Cuddy friendship
Spoilers: 3x15 Half-Wit
A/N: Here's something a little more serious after the little ridiculous piece I posted earlier.
The straining sounds of a piano echoed dimly off the walls as Cuddy walked down one of the surprisingly empty corridors as a shortcut to get back to her office. She paused, trying to deduce the location of the source, but the music stopped and she shrugged it off as her imagination. As she took one step, the garbled, off-key sound of frustration banged loudly through the door on her left. She didn't remember a piano being there. It was one of those rarely used classrooms, tucked away from the rest, that served as a storage facility every once in a while. A piano wasn't on the list as far as she remembered.
Quietly, she approached the door as the soft chords started again in a soothing melody that spoke of melancholy. Her hand paused, hovering above the handle, debating whether she should intrude on the moment. Then, her administrator side kicked in. No one should be in there, especially one of the students. It was hazardous, and she sure as hell didn't need another lawsuit to add to the growing mountain on her desk. Her fingers closed around the cool metal handle and turned it, swinging the door slowly.
Amidst all the dusty boxes and desks, House sat at the piano in the middle of the room, fingers flowing over the keys. Cuddy shut the door softly behind her as she slowly approached the hidden musician. The melody slowed down as she came closer, but she stopped about three feet away, not sure if she should intrude even more.
"What brings you to the dark side, Cuddy?" House asked, as his fingers continued their graceful dance.
"How did you find this place? And the piano? I don't remember seeing that listed as being in storage."
"Ah," he said with a knowing smile, "a musician always knows where to find his music."
"What are you doing here?" she asked, not knowing what else to say.
"I'm not scheduled for clinic and I don't have any cases. What else would I be doing? Just bumming around? That'd be useless."
Cuddy smiled as she moved closer to him. "Sounds about right. Why the piano? GameBoy not doing it for you anymore?"
"Nah. Just ran out of good games."
"What were you playing just now? I didn't recognize it." As she reached him, she noticed his eyes were closed as he continued playing the same refrain over and over again, as if trying to memorize it.
House opened his eyes and peered up at her, hands moving onto another song. "Just a little something I made up in my free time. The GameBoy can only do so much."
"Your hemispherectomy patient inspire this change of pace?"
He slid over on the bench to make room for her to sit. "Maybe." He rattled off a few scales. "What's with all the questions? And why are you here? No one walks this corridor these days."
"Shortcut," she replied easily. "Gets me from Peds to my office faster."
"Ah. Trying to hide from all those nosy little parasites with oozing orifices? Not that I blame you or anything. They're like the walking dead." He shivered. "Eek."
Cuddy glared at him. "House…"
"Ever play?" he asked suddenly, blue eyes transfixed on hers.
She shook her head. "When I was kid I had a few lessons, years and years ago."
"And years and years… yeah, yeah, yeah." House grinned. "You're not that old. C'mon, Cuddy. You've got a great bod, fabulous bouncy hair, luscious blue eyes, a wicked sense of humor, and an evil streak to rival Satan himself. What's so old about that?"
She rolled her eyes. "Thanks. I guess that's better than you, Mr. Over the Hill."
"I haven't gotten there yet! Got a few more years to go, missy. Can't you add? Maybe you are getting old. Basic math skills are pretty hard to forget. Or maybe it's because—"
"Show me what you've got." House stopped playing and nudged her. "I wanna see those fingers in action!"
Cuddy positioned her fingers over the ivories and pushed down, producing the beginnings of "Mary Had A Little Lamb."
"I know you can do better than that. Those babies up in NICU can play that. Show me what you've really got."
She smiled and started the first few bars of "Fur Elise" before House stopped her again. "Not bad for an old woman with foggy memory." He grinned down at her, a twinkle in his eye. "Wanna learn something cool? Here."
House positioned her fingers over the keys and placed his on top of hers. "I'll go slow for your aging brain." He pushed down the first notes of the song that she first heard in the corridor, the melancholy tune. He continued to do that over and over again until he was sure she had it and let her fly solo. "Not bad for an old lady."
She ignored him and concentrated on the new piece he gave to her, not taking her eyes off the keyboard. She was so absorbed in the music that when House joined in to form a duet, she nearly hit the wrong key. They continued playing until it was obvious House was in his own world as his fingers danced across the keys and she moved her hands away.
Cuddy watched in fascination and awe as his hands performed complicated notes she could only imagine when she was a child. She noted the long piano fingers tap each ivory delicately, the fine bones outlining the back of his hand, the small scars that dotted his skin and wondered briefly what caused those. His graceful movements both moved and shocked her. House was definitely the opposite of grace by the way he carried himself, the sharp words that erupted from his mouth, but the way his hands moved and the music flowed spoke a different tune. The harsh lines of pain disappeared from his face, replaced by the tenderness of his music and the shadowed dimple hidden in his beard. His eyes were closed, eyebrows lifted up as if they were trying to find a higher note to reach, causing the lines on his forehead to appear. Cuddy wanted to reach up and smooth them, but knew better than to disturb him in his moment. It was probably the only time he ever felt truly at peace. And, she admitted to herself, the look suited him.
She let the music surround her, the deep somber tones speaking of depressing moments, probably ones of doubt and fear and pain; to the lighter happier notes of spring, jokes and laughter, times where he could be free. She wondered just what exactly what went through House's mind as he played his fantastic piece and where it came from. In the happier moments, she could imagine him running through the green parks pain-free and content, a smile on his face as the yellow sun beat down on his lean form, darkening his fair skin and producing the sweat stains she hadn't seen in years. The music changed to a more melancholy feel, a steady beat to it that sounded vaguely familiar… almost like the way his cane tapped alternately in time with his footsteps. The mood shifted to a darker theme, the rich bass filling the room along with the confusion and despair that went with it. The frantic pace reminded her of how he reacted when she took his pills away and the pain consumed him into a darker pit she hoped didn't exist, almost to the point of no return. A shiver ran down her spine, goosebumps lining her arms at the memory of hearing Wilson's strangled voice over the phone Christmas Eve… The music shifted once again into a more content manner, not exactly as depressing but not exactly as cheerful – a neutral tone with a hidden urgency behind it that described House's demeanor as of late. Cuddy closed her eyes, letting the emotions of the last few months wash over her as House's fingers painted his story.
Cuddy thought House didn't needed to be an eloquent speaker or needed wear his emotions on his sleeve to describe his feelings thoroughly. He spoke enough through his actions and his music and she realized in this moment the reason why no one knew this softer side of him. He didn't want people to know him under his callous exterior in fear of getting hurt or betrayed, or they simply wouldn't understand. Cuddy knew there was no possible way to understand every layer of this complex man beside her, but sitting here, listening to him, some of the mysterious fog that swirled around him dissipated just a little.
The music slowed down, coming to an end, finishing with the piece that she learned just a few moments earlier. He let his fingers rest lightly on top of the keys and his head hung low, eyes closed, almost like a reverent posture. Cuddy held her breath, not wanting to break the moment, but also, she couldn't find the right words to say. Somehow telling him that it was beautiful didn't do his piece justice, so she waited for him to make the first move.
He let out a deep sigh that seemed to release some of the tension in his chest and let his hands rest in his lap. "I… I don't know what that was."
Cuddy wanted nothing more than to rest her hand on his shoulder, but she refrained, fearing he would see it as pity. "What do you mean?"
House looked down at his knees. "I wrote the part that I taught you when I was in Junior High, but I couldn't figure out what came next. I wanted to see what Patrick would do with it and he came up with the ending. This part." He replayed it a few times, drifting off in his own thoughts.
"House." This time she did reach over and touched his shoulder and rubbed it, enjoying the feeling of the wool beneath her fingers.
He shook his head. "For years I've tried to come up with something, but I just couldn't… I don't know what happened just now."
"You found some inspiration," she replied with a shrug, trying not to get too personal, fearing he would close up and regret it later. "Happens to the best of us."
"Yeah, I guess…"
"What, are you mad that Patrick beat you to it?" Cuddy teased, trying to lighten the mood and get him out of his haze-like state.
House didn't reply, just went back to the piano, pulling out a jazzy tune. At least he looks better, Cuddy thought. She stood up, smoothing her skirt, falling on her administrator persona again.
"Where are you going?" he asked, eyes completely focused on her. "Not gonna stay for the rest of the free concert?"
"Staying in here is a hazard, Doctor House. I'd suggest you find a safer place to be in and a more productive area than an empty classroom."
"But it's boring everywhere else," he whined. "I like being in this dark classroom with the boss. Makes me feel all naughty inside."
"I don't want to know how I star in any of your fantasies, House," she said dryly.
"If you only knew…" he trailed off seductively and winked.
"When you're done here, there are files that need to be charted. You're behind again."
"That's what Foreman's for!"
"You abuse your staff."
"I'm nothing compared to you. Your low-cut tops, do-me pumps, and silky, sexy hair are enough to give any living man a heart attack."
Cuddy gave him a smile that she knew would last in his fantasies for at least a week. "It's what I do best." Then she left just as quietly as she came.
House smirked and watched her leave as he continued playing whatever came to his fingers. He wasn't mad that Patrick could figure out the rest of the song before he could; no, House was more impressed with what that neurological phenomenon could do. The music changed to something more thoughtful as his line of thinking did too. As far as inspiration went, he had no idea where it came from or how it happened. One minute he was frustrated that he couldn't come up with a single note, then Cuddy appeared and suddenly everything became clearer and the music took over. All the emotions, the frustrations of the last few months swept him off into a different world and flowed out through the tips of his fingers. He wondered if Cuddy picked up on it, but knew better than to mention it. Sometimes, Cuddy knew him better than he thought she did and he found himself slightly relieved by that fact. She always knew when to push him, when to shove sometimes, and when to pull back.
In that moment, he realized the one constant in his life was Cuddy, just like he was in hers, or so he assumed anyway. Wilson was there for him and he sacrificed a lot to stick with House, but not to the extent Cuddy did and she was there longer. His world tilted and shifted slightly as all the pieces fell into place. The weight of his declaration of need to her hit him with a startling revelation that never meant so much before. He didn't need her like his every breath, but he depended on her strength and relied on her wit to get him through each and every day. A small smile crept through the shadows and lit up his face. The barbs around his heart loosened just a bit as something free and relieving flowed through his veins. He hadn't felt this light, this good in months and he welcomed it. He knew she would always be there no matter what. He would be safe with her.
In the stillness, he played something strong yet soft and tender for her.