Title: The Boss
Rating: Very tame, definitely nothing above PG
Disclaimer: I own nothing of these characters or the show they originated on. Please, not to be suing.
Summary: Cuddy gets to snoop in House's apartment, only in her case because they're seeing each other, and because he invited her. What else can she uncover about the man she thinks she knows so well?
Spoilers: Nothing specific in terms of timescale or relating to a particular episode. Assumes that House and Cuddy have been 'together' for around a month, in the early stages of a relationship.
Cuddy had been reluctant to agree to spending the night at House's place. Not that she hadn't visited often enough, but taking herself out of her comfort zone, away from her own possessions and routines was enough to set her on edge at the best of times.
Still, when you've been sleeping with someone every other night for a month, it's only polite to make the effort. Part of her was curious to be allowed wandering privileges; it would be a rare experience indeed to be within these four walls without being essentially chased out.
House was humming to himself in the kitchen, the dull popping of a cork suggested she would be offered something a little better than a cold Bud when he emerged. Excited by her newfound freedom in the secret lair of Greg House, Cuddy made a beeline for the solid wooden shelves that filled most of the room. The books were mostly what she expected: countless medical texts, hardbacks in more languages than she thought he spoke, but knowing him he probably learned a new one whenever he had a slow week. Snooping into his spare room, she was taken aback at the sheer magnitude of his music collection. A full wall of vinyl, seemingly organized, though not alphabetically or in any way that was obvious to her. The CDs took up the remaining wall space, they almost appeared to be floating on their lightweight shelves. Predictably, Cuddy hadn't heard of most of the artists whose names lined the spines of the cases, though every so often there would be a Miles Davis or a Smiths album that she recognized from her own collection. She almost laughed aloud when she stumbled across the Immaculate Collection, sure that House had been more interested in Madonna's sexploitative style than these songs that still made Cuddy sing along to the radio.
So engrossed was she that she didn't hear him padding up behind her on bare feet. Apparently he was happier not to use the cane at home, comfortable to let her see his limp more pronounced; it certainly made it easier to handle the two oversized wine glasses he had brought. Having kicked off her own heels on arrival, Cuddy noted that he still loomed pleasantly over her, his height a pleasant indicator of the masculinity that got under her skin so effectively. She took a moment to drink in the sight of him, somehow elegant in his worn jeans and faded Clash t-shirt. His face seemed softer to her, whether because of the low light in this private room, or perhaps a sign of the relaxation she had been coming to expect on evenings like these.
"Want me to put something on for you?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah, crack out your secret Barry Manilow stash for me" she joked, accepting the glass of Rioja he was offering.
"Do not mock the Manilow. At least he writes his own songs. Writes just well enough to have half the women in American chasing his decidedly aged ass." His tone was entirely insincere, just his usual contrary self trying to confound expectation, picking a half-hearted argument for the sake of it.
Sticking her tongue out, a gesture borne of all her 41 years of maturity, Cuddy turned from him to scan the multitude of plastic cases once more. Something familiar caught her eye and she reached for it.
"This Springsteen one is new. I saw it in the Record Exchange the other day, when I went to get that DVD for my nephew?" she couldn't keep the bemused tone from her voice.
"You have a problem with the Boss? Or was there some 'no shopping once we're sleeping together rule' that I wasn't made aware of?" he snarked back. Defenses up at the first sign of challenge, she knew she had better tread carefully.
"Bruce and I are just fine with each other. You, on the other hand, are rarely seen without an iPod in your hand, and I happen to know that you spend a serious amount of time downloading music for it. Why would you still be shelling out for CDs, when you jump at anything that requires less effort?"
House's response was a derisive snort, and taking the album from her grasp, he slowly limped out of the room, no doubt making a beeline for the stereo.
Determined to get an answer out of him, Cuddy followed him back along the cool floors and into the crowded space of his living room. Before she could question him further, the opening chords of the first track interrupted her. At least the volume seemed to have stayed well below obnoxious for once.
Upon seeing her folded arms and cocked eyebrow, House rubbed at his face wearily with one large hand before resorting to a fortifying slug of wine from his glass, making no effort to keep his fingerprints from smudging all over it.
"Well, first of all, there's the issue of audio quality, not that I expect your pretty little head to get to grips with something technical like that…" he aimed for patronizing, but was clearly kidding.
This earned him an eye roll from Cuddy as he joined her on the comfortable expanse of his well-worn sofa. They placed their glasses on the coffee table, and Cuddy noted the countless scuffs and dents from the aching leg frequently propped on it.
"I'm just curious is all, House. For you to effectively be buying twice as much music, not to mention making an effort to drag yourself around somewhere crowded and full of opinionated idiots, well it's not like you to take anything other than the most convenient option."
Hesitating a moment to drink in the closeness of her, House was almost at a loss for words. Shutting him up was no mean feat, but these honest, incidental conversations were so much more difficult for him to participate in than his usual superficial antics at the hospital. He hadn't analyzed his own purchasing habits, but now that she had asked, he felt compelled to provide a reason for her. After years of fighting even the simplest request from Cuddy, he now found that he actively wanted to provide the words or deed that would satisfy her. These past four weeks she had seemed increasingly satisfied with him, with this, and it terrified him more than he would ever admit.
"I like having something to look at. When you play you're involved, but it's hard to switch off and just listen. Sure, you might already know the names of the twelve songs, but it's nice to stare at them anyway, along with whatever lame attempt at artwork has been stuck in there as an afterthought."
That would have been enough to get her off his back, but House felt words rising up and spilling out before he could stop them.
"There's just so much in life that you can't just reach out and touch, you know? Even the important things, like a tumor that's lurking in some kid's brain. It's getting that there's even less we really use our hands for – look at the procedures we perfected in med school, as interns, half of which can be done by robots now. The kind of robots you want to fill the hospital with, that make you run around batting your eyelashes at anyone with a healthy bank balance and a desire to be commemorated on a plaque."
Cuddy leaned in to smack him smartly on the bicep and somehow forgot to reduce the distance between them when she was done defending her own honor. This nearness, this immediacy was shaping up to be one of her favorite parts of this new whatever-it-was between them.
"Music shouldn't just be background noise, you should be part of it. If you're not the one playing, it's sort of reassuring to have something there… something tangible. Also, if I stop buying new CDs, how else will all the hot chicks I bring back here be able to make snap judgments about me?"
This earned him another swift slap, but the softness in Cuddy's eyes betrayed that she was glad he had shared this with her. Stupid and insignificant maybe, but for House to tell her the real reason for anything was like the most pleasant kind of parallel universe. When she replied, it was with affection.
"I had better be the only 'chick' checking out your latest haul from Tower Records."
House smirked at that, pulling her in for a kiss. It deepened instantly, the newness of their situation transforming each moment of physical contact into a frantic need to get naked – a development that was forcing them to avoid each other at work for fear of losing control somewhere entirely inappropriate.
Breaking contact for a moment, House turned the full force of his sharp blue eyes on his boss, a serious expression domination his rugged features.
"You know you're the only one, right?"
Cuddy nodded, cautious of interrupting this moment that seemed suspiciously like House expressing a feeling.
"I l… I like that you're tangible too. If I couldn't reach out and grope you, I'm not sure I would believe this was happening."
Suddenly overwhelmed by the surge of emotion she felt for this man, Cuddy had to remind herself of the appropriate method of breathing. Inhale, exhale, don't get hypoxic, that sort of thing. How to express it to House, a friend for twenty years, and her sparring partner for, well, all twenty of them? Cuddy opted for the safer ground of putting her response into the sort of hungry kiss that left them both giddy, a perfect meshing of lips and tongue and unadulterated need.
"Touch all you want, House, I'm not going anywhere. Except into the bedroom."
When she stood and offered him a hand, their touch lingered the few extra seconds that told them both that this was no longer a simple case of friends with benefits, and surprisingly that suited them both just fine.