Author's Notes: Split into two parts for length (this is just an amuse bouche), and because it gives me a day or so to continue thinking about part 2! Thanks to elynittria, who was made to read both parts in one go – actions above and beyond the call of duty.
Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me, but Cuddy's desk is a lot like mine.
Some days, Lisa Cuddy looked at her desk and wanted to scream. Every time she thought she had it neatly organized, the paperwork multiplied, spreading across the desktop like an untreated rash. She would finish with one file and two more would appear in its place, seemingly out of nowhere.
If it wasn't paperwork, it was an inbox of emails that never seemed to diminish, or a phone that didn't stop ringing. By the end of the week, it felt like she was further behind than when she began. It was a rare weekend she spent away from the office. Sometimes she wondered why she even had a home.
Friday afternoon. She glanced at her watch. She had a meeting in less than fifteen minutes about funding for a new clinical trial in pediatric oncology and she still hadn't finished reading the background report. She sighed and opened the next file.
Just before two, James Wilson knocked on her door and stuck his head into the office, his own stack of files tucked under his arm. "Ready for me?" He looked nearly as tired as she felt, which wasn't surprising. A large percentage of the paperwork that had made its way to her desk this week had been generated from oncology.
"You've been busy," she said, gesturing for him to take a seat. "House must be leaving you alone." Wilson's productivity tended to wax and wane based on House's demands. It was one of the administrative compromises that made employing the brilliant diagnostician possible.
Wilson grinned. "Everything's relative." He pulled a chair closer to Cuddy's desk and arranged his files carefully in his lap. "He found a mistake in methodology in an article in this week's Lancet and is happily drafting a scathing rebuttal. Hasn't been in my office except to scam food all week."
That explained the rest of the paperwork – requests from half a dozen department heads for her to keep House out of their way. It was typical of House to bother everyone except the one person who would willingly help him. "Well, let's take advantage of his inattention and get this paperwork finished." Sometimes she thought she underestimated House. He always seemed to know exactly when Wilson had a looming deadline and found alternate ways of entertaining himself. Unfortunately, those ways weren't always pleasant for the rest of the hospital.
They worked their way through a grant application and a reorganization of existing resources, finally deciding that they'd done as much as they could for the day. Cuddy smiled apologetically when her phone rang and she recognized the extension of another department head. "We'll pick this up Monday."
Wilson gathered his papers together with an understanding nod, rolling his eyes when she mouthed "House" at him.
Cuddy swivelled her chair away from the desk, assuring the irate caller that House had obviously been joking when he referred to him as an incompetent boob. It only took a moment to calm him down, and when she turned back, Wilson was still standing in front of her desk, shifting nervously from side to side like a truant schoolboy facing the principal. "Did you need something else?" she asked, both amused and annoyed by the continued interruption.
Wilson shifted again, and his gaze circled the area around Cuddy, not quite resting on her. He looked as uncomfortable as he had at the bondage art exhibition, and Cuddy felt a little surge of affection. She much preferred Wilson when he wasn't self-assured and scheming either to control or support House.
"I was wondering," Wilson reached back to rub his neck. "Are you doing anything on Sunday?"
"Are you asking me on a date?" Cuddy asked, hoping to fluster him even more. She hadn't become the first woman Chief of Medicine in the country without enjoying power more than a little.
Wilson eyes widened in pretend panic. "Shh," he warned. "House has his hearing tuned to pick up that word from ten floors away." He relaxed and gave her a crooked smile. "Not a date. A favour."
Cuddy settled back in her chair, the self-replicating paperwork temporarily forgotten. "Which means it's about House. You never ask favours for yourself."
Now Wilson looked more surprised than uncomfortable. "It's for both of us, I guess." He shifted again. "I can come back later if you're busy."
Now she really was intrigued. Wilson was a lot of things, but tentative was not one of them. Anyone who had survived more than a decade's worth of friendship with Gregory House had to have some strength of will. "Not at all," she said. "If you can keep House out of trouble for the rest of the day, I'll owe you more than a favour."
Just then, the door burst open, and House stalked in. Cuddy wondered if he'd bugged the office. "Have you asked her yet?" House demanded, looking disapprovingly at his reluctant partner in crime.
Wilson raised an eyebrow. "See? You said the 'd' word. It's like a summoning charm." But his mouth quirked in an affectionate smile. "I thought I told you to wait in your office," he said to House.
Ah, Cuddy thought. Scheming, after all.
"Oh, please. I leave you two alone long enough and Cuddy will trick you into proposing." He tapped his cane impatiently on the floor. "Wilson and I are coming over on Sunday. You can be there if you want, but I know where you keep your spare key, so it's not necessary."
Wilson palmed his face, and Cuddy almost smiled. She didn't bother telling House that she'd moved the key and changed the locks not long after his last break-and-enter. "What do you want with my house?"
"Not your house, so much as your backyard. Though Wilson will need your kitchen."
Wilson cleared his throat and glared at House. "You can't just..." He looked at Cuddy apologetically. "House and I were wondering if we could have a barbecue at your place on Sunday." His cheeks were flushed high with embarrassed colour, but he kept talking. "I'll bring everything and do all the work. I'd host it myself, but..."
"...the HoJo frowns on in-suite hibachis," House interrupted. "It's summer. I want steak slathered in HP sauce and corn on the cob. I overlooked Wilson's failure to provide me with a backyard to drink beer in last summer, but a man can only be so patient."
"So you expect me to let you invade my home, just because you have a hankering for burned meat?" Cuddy snapped, but paused at the look of disappointment on Wilson's face. "Fine," she sighed. It wasn't as though she had anything other than paperwork planned for Sunday. And she couldn't remember the last time she'd drank beer in her own backyard. "Don't worry about bringing anything. I can defrost some steaks and order some salads from the deli."
But Wilson still looked disappointed. "If we're invading your home," he said, "the least we can do is provide the food."
Cuddy suspected House's only involvement with the food would be eating it, but she didn't challenge Wilson on that point. It wasn't as though she wanted House anywhere near her kitchen. "If you insist," she said, wondering just what she was getting into. She had a sense of what constituted bachelor cooking, so she made a mental note to avoid protein for the next few days. "I have some errands to run during the day," she said, wondering if she could book an extra visit from her cleaning service on short notice. "How about any time after five?"
Wilson brightened immediately. "Perfect. We'll see you then." She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him smile so unguardedly. She even saw the shadow of a pleased smile on House's face before he turned away to herd Wilson towards the door.
"Not so fast," she called out to House. "Since you're here, you can explain to me why I had five different department heads complaining about you when you don't even have a case. And then you can explain to me why you don't have a case."
Wilson gave House a sympathetic grimace and slipped away before he could get caught in the fallout.
"What was that all about?" Cuddy demanded as soon as she and House were alone.
House shrugged. "You're always telling me I should be a better friend to him."
"This is your idea of being a good friend? Making him cook for you?"
"Hey, I'm making him cook for you, too. You should be grateful." He glanced down, looking nearly as embarrassed as Wilson had earlier. "Wilson hasn't barbecued since Columbus Day. He's starting to get twitchy."
It wasn't always easy to follow House's twisted paths of logic, but sometimes the destination was worth the painful journey. "Wilson wants to do this? He's not just satisfying one of your random whims?"
House rolled his eyes. "Do you really think hanging out in your backyard is my idea of a good time? I'll lose my street cred if I'm caught fraternizing with The Man."
"So this is an act of altruism on your part?" she said, not bothering to hide her scepticism. Altruism and House were two words she rarely associated with each other. It wasn't that she doubted his ability to act selflessly; it was that she didn't think he'd waste the effort on something as unremarkable as a summer barbecue.
House seemed to find the idea just as ridiculous. "You wouldn't ask that if you'd ever tasted his cooking. I guess he wasn't lying when he said you hadn't slept together." He peered around the side of her desk. "I should have known. Your ass couldn't take a week of Wilson's cooking."
She ignored that in favour of a more interesting question. "Is that why you let him stay with you last year?" She had thought that, at least, had been an uncomplicated gesture of friendship, but she should have known better. Nothing with House was uncomplicated.
"A clean house and a full stomach go a long way towards making up for lack of sleep and privacy," House replied. "Wilson would make the perfect wife. His problem is he's been trying to be a husband all these years."
Cuddy had to smother a giggle when she imagined Wilson in a frilly apron, holding a feather duster. "For my own sanity, I'm going to try and forget you said that. And you're going to find a case first thing Monday or I'll be dragging you in here for real."
"Is that a promise?" he replied, giving her one last leer for good measure, and then sauntered off before she could think of a cutting reply.
It occurred to her that she had just agreed to open her home to House, giving him a tacit invitation to poke and prod and prowl through her belongings to his heart's content. Fortunately, she had two days to hide anything incriminating or embarrassing. She looked at her desk, once again overrun with papers and files, and tackled the infestation with renewed vigour. It looked as though she wouldn't be working all weekend after all.