For the millionth time, Cuddy cursed the paperwork that had built up over the past few days and placed her pen quite roughly down on the table. Normally, she would have been done by now and be at home watching TV or eating dinner. Normally, she wouldn't be stuck in her office this late.
This past week had been far from normal, though.
An unexpected sponsor had offered a considerably large sum of money to go towards the oncology department of the hospital. Sure, that was great. It was awesome, in fact. But there was so much paperwork! She was dying, trying to get it all done and was beginning to wonder if it was worth it. It probably was, but it had yet to actually feel like it was worthwhile.
Leaning back in her chair, she rubbed at her eyes. She really, really needed a break. A snack would be good, too. Maybe some frozen yogurt…
Making up her mind, she straightened the papers on her desk, grabbed her bag and stood up. The paperwork could wait for a few minutes. With that thought in mind, she headed for the door and made her way to the bathroom to freshen up.
She immediately went to the sink, splashing a little water on her face and combing her fingers through her hair. Those simple actions helped clear her mind and refresh her more than she could say. She almost felt ready to go back to work. Done there, she slowly walked towards the cafeteria.
When she entered, the last person whom she expected to run into - quite literally - was House. In a wheelchair he'd stolen from a disabled person's room, he was going at a rather fast pace when he collided with her. She managed to pull back so as not to be hurt too much, but her leg was definitely going to bruise. She bent over, grabbed it and tried not to swear loudly. She'd done enough to entertain House without adding swearing to the list.
House cringed and came to an abrupt stop, watching her. He said nothing.
"What," she said, "the hell." She gritted her teeth to avoid screaming in pain. "Are you doing?"
He continued to stare up at her with his big, blue, far from innocent eyes.
He shrugged and finally spoke. "How's your leg?" He nodded at where she was still holding it.
She shifted her grip slightly and immediately grimaced in pain. "It's just perfect. No thanks to you."
Something that resembled sympathy crossed his face. He awkwardly rolled the wheelchair closer to her and leant forward. His hand found her leg and his fingertips felt it for breaks. He let his hand linger longer than was required and tore his eyes from her leg to meet hers. "You're going to bruise," he said simply.
"Oh, really?" Sarcastic.
"Really, really," House replied, ignoring the sarcasm.
She shook her head in annoyance and fixed him with a stare. "What are you doing here, House? It's late. You're usually gone before anyone else."
He nodded off to the side and for the first time, she noticed they weren't alone. Four men sat around a table, poker game set out before them. One of them looked vaguely familiar but the rest she didn't recognise.
"You're playing poker? Here? Now?"
"That's what it looks like."
"Right. Of course. My night has been hell so far, so you figured you'd make it that little bit worse." She sighed in exasperation. "House, I'm really not in the mood. Pack up your things and go. Take your cronies with you."
"They're not my cronies," House snarked. "Cuddy, meet Laundromat guy, guy from street and I believe you've already met our lovely janitor here at the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Am I right?"
She narrowed her eyes at him. Of course. The guy who looked familiar was the janitor. She hadn't been able to place where she'd seen him before. She didn't let any of that show in her expression. "I hired him. Of course I know him."
"Am I right or am I right?"
"You didn't answer my question." Mock hurt.
"Who's the fourth guy?"
House glanced around and his eyes darted over the crowd of men at the table. He focused on the last one. "Oh, him. I don't know actually. He was wandering the hospital earlier singing about how he lost his keys while he was on holiday with his pet tiger. What can I say? I found it endearing and invited him along."
"You invited a psych patient to your poker game?" She glared at him. "Why am I not surprised?"
"He was lonely. We needed a fifth."
"Fine. Whatever. You and your fellow poker players have to leave now. Tell them to go home."
"Even psych guy? I don't think he has a home. Nobody wants an old loony guy running around their place. While amusing for the first hour, after that it's just plain annoying." He leant in close and whispered, "we were just about to kick him out of the game."
"I'll take care of him." She left House to join the guys at the table.
They all smiled at her, one of them – the Laundromat guy, she believed – asked her if she wanted to join in. Apparently psych guy had stolen some of his chips. House had been right. They all wanted him out. She'd be his replacement if she were so inclined.
She smiled sweetly back at them and then in her best authoritative voice, said, "it's time to go home, boys."
They immediately scowled at her and guy from street muttered some choice swear words under his breath that Cuddy made note of to use later when she was yelling at House. She nodded towards the door and then one at a time, gave them piercing looks that she hoped would send icy shards through their hearts. "Now."
Scurrying away, they left the poker game as it was. She shook her head in frustration and waved House over. "Put away your game. I expect it to be gone by the time I pass by here again." She made her way to the door to head back to her office.
House's cane rapped on the floor several times and she glanced back as she neared the doorway. He was following her.
"You want to know why I was really here this late?" he asked.
She quirked an eyebrow. "I already know why. You were playing poker."
"Well, yes, but there's more to it than that."
He looked at her, seemingly contemplating his next words. "I thought you might like some company," he finally said. "You looked like you could do with it when I saw you earlier."
"Ha! Funny," she threw back. "You expect me to believe that? You're just trying to get out of the clinic hours you'll be doing as punishment for this little prank."
"Am I? Really?"
She stared into the depth of his eyes, searching for the truth in them. He stared back at her.
Blue. So very blue.
No. She was mad. She wasn't going to drown in House's eyes. She wasn't.
So beautiful a blue, like the ocean on a clear day.
"You're staring at me."
"It helps thinking up a suitable punishment." At his disbelieving look she added, "clinic hours, of course, won't be enough."
He hung his head. Frustrated.
Good. He should be frustrated. For all the pain he'd given her, it was about time he was dealt some back. Even if it was only a small amount.
She smiled as she abruptly left him and headed back to her office. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad night, after all.