A/N: Time setting is not especially important in this story, but I have stolen the clinic patient House sees in "Maternity", season one. That doesn't mean much because after that, it veers firmly away into my own little world. And I have also messed with the timeline to suit my own plot which only the very astute will notice. Old team, because I like writing them better. Hope you enjoy.
"Have I ever told you how much I hate weddings?"
"What, other than the three times you told me as my future wife was walking down the aisle towards us?"
"Yes, other than that."
"Actually, apart from my own, I don't think I've seen you at any weddings."
"Exactly. I hate weddings. I'm only at this one because you're too pathetic to be able to bring a woman as your date."
"I'm here alone because Paul is my colleague and it's Julie's parents' anniversary," Wilson corrected sharply. "And you're at this wedding because you were invited, House. All the senior staff at the hospital were, as well as half the staff from every other hospital in the city." He smiled. "Maybe I pay Paul too much."
House grumbled and took a sip of his beer.
"What's this I hear about you becoming an OB?" Wilson asked, changing the subject.
"I was told that you'd taken on a clinic patient for prenatal care and delivery."
"Oh, that. Yeah. Have you seen the plasma screen those guys have in their lounge?"
Wilson shook his head. "I knew there was an ulterior motive, I just didn't realise it would be as pathetic as a big-screen TV."
House ignored Wilson and instead pointed with his chin to a group of women on the far side of the bar. "Who's that?" he asked.
The wedding guests were in that awkward part of the celebrations, after the ceremony but before the reception, when the bride and groom were whisked away to strike model poses in front of some striking architecture, or industrial machinery, or something similarly arty, and the guests all had to pretend to be having fun paying for their own drinks and mingling with people they didn't know while waiting for the free stuff to commence.
"Who's who?" Wilson asked. House's random gesture could have been meant for any one of a dozen people on the other side of the room.
"The brunette. In the red dress."
"Nice pick," Wilson said admiringly. "But I have no idea. Must be one of the bride's friends."
They both watched for a while before the group shifted, and the brunette was hidden behind another gaggle of women at the bar.
"I don't mind the bridesmaid she was talking to," Wilson said casually. "The blonde."
"Have you ever been to a wedding and not get laid?" House asked, unaccountably annoyed by Wilson's apparent ease with the whole thing.
"Actually," Wilson began thoughtfully, "my second marriage – on the wedding night we didn't—"
"No, no, no, no." House screwed up his eyes as if by doing so he could block out what Wilson was saying. He so didn't want to hear about his sex life – or lack thereof – with any of his wives.
"—weddings are tiring, you know," Wilson finished.
"Well, that'll teach you not to have so many," House replied flippantly as his phone rang and he pulled it out of his jacket pocket to peer at the screen. It was Chase, calling about the current patient no doubt, causing House to sigh. He wondered if the call might just get him out of the reception.
"House." He walked a few steps away from Wilson, over to the bar, leaning against it as he listened to Chase give a rundown on their current patient's status.
". . . and so far all the tests are negative."
"And?" House asked, irritated by their lack of progress.
Chase began going through options and House leaned more heavily on the bar, only half paying attention to Chase's commentary. His eyes scanned the room and he discovered that the brunette he'd noticed earlier was looking at him. When their eyes met she smiled shyly. House held her gaze, even as he began to issue instructions to Chase on the phone. The woman quirked her eyebrows and gave him a quick, but dazzling grin, then looked away. House was left in no doubt that they'd had a "moment".
"So are you going to come in?" Chase asked.
House took in a deep breath. Suddenly he wasn't in quite so much of a hurry to get out of the rest of the wedding. "Nah, call me back when you've done the MRI."
"Have I ever told you how much I hate weddings?" Lara complained. Her face was twisted into a scowl, but she kept her voice quiet so her comment wouldn't be overheard.
"I guess it's a good thing you're not going to be having one then."
Lara gave her friend a disbelieving look, although she wasn't really shocked by the comment. Janet was like that.
"Oh, Lara, I'm sorry, but it is time to get over it. It's been three months and it's not like you lost any deposits," Janet shrugged. "I'm your friend, I can say stuff like that, and I never liked Josh by the way. Just be thankful you're not a bridesmaid." She squirmed in her teal satin sheath dress awkwardly. It was an ugly dress, but Janet's blonde hair and green eyes actually managed to make it work, even though she was obviously uncomfortable. "I love Larissa," she continued, "but what is it that happens to normally sensible, intelligent women when they become brides? Where does their taste go?"
Lara had to give a quick grin, not least at the irony of Janet's words. She still remembered Janet's own wedding and the baby pink frou frou she'd been forced to wear. Wisely, she didn't mention it. "Trust me, I've been counting my blessings ever since I came to that first fitting for moral support."
"I still don't know how you got out of it," Janet muttered. "Get me a champagne," She ordered, pointing at the bar. "It's the least you can do."
Lara chuckled but did as she'd been told and hurried over to the bar to order them both drinks. While she was waiting to be served she noticed the guy she'd shared a smile with a few moments earlier. The crowd around the bar hid her from him, but she was able to observe him talking to another guy who was also very good looking. Lara considered them both for a moment before deciding it was the first guy who really caught her eye. He was tall, and carrying a cane, but it was black with a silver cap and she wasn't sure if he needed it for walking or if it was just an affectation. His tuxedo fit him perfectly and he had just the kind of build Lara liked: tall and rangy, but broad-shouldered and – going by the slight stretch in the sleeves of his suit – had nice, solid-looking arms. She also had to admit that she loved the contradiction of the unshaven face and messy hair with the neat, beautifully tailored tuxedo. Something about it made her want to know more about him.
The bartender served her quickly, and although Lara would have liked to have hung around for a while longer watching, waiting to see if he'd smile at her again, she had to return to her friend.
When she returned, she found Janet had been joined by their friend Melinda. The three of them – plus the bride, Larissa – had been friends since high school. They used to call themselves the four musketeers, but as the years had gone on, friendship ties had faded. Melinda had moved interstate and inevitably drifted away from the group – now they usually only saw her at special occasions like this. Janet was married with two children and therefore had a totally different life to Lara, but they still caught up regularly. Lara and Larissa had remained best friends, had even both been engaged about the same time and joked about a double wedding – although Lara always made it very clear that it was a joke. But then things just hadn't turned out the way she'd expected.
"Melinda!" Lara greeted her friend warmly. "Long time no see!"
"Lara!" The two women hugged, Lara carefully still holding the two glasses.
"We're going to have the best fun tonight," Melinda said, giggling. "I've already had three champagnes."
Janet rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you two get to have fun while I have to sit on the bridal table, next to Paul's brother. I get one night away from the kids and this is how I have to spend it. How can Paul be a doctor while his brother looks like he just got out of jail? Do you think he's adopted?"
All three women laughed and Lara sent a quick prayer of thanks to the powers that be for the wonderful female friends she had in her life.
"Well I think, Janet, the only way to deal with it is to catch up with Melinda," Lara encouraged and handed Janet a glass. "I'm sure he'll look better after a few of these."
Janet had only taken one sip of her drink when a guy holding an expensive-looking camera walked over, looking cranky.
"You're the missing bridesmaid!"
Janet didn't flinch. "Am I?"
"We've been looking for you for half an hour. You're needed for the photos."
Janet rolled her eyes again, a withering, disdainful look that Lara felt she had perfected. She swallowed her entire drink in one gulp and then pressed the empty glass into Lara's hand.
"Gotta go do my duty." Janet took a deep breath and with a quick, cheeky grin, followed the photographer through the crowd.
"Good luck!" Melinda called out before turning to Lara. "I'm so glad you got out of bridesmaid duty, I really thought I was going to be on my own here." Melinda linked her arm through Lara's and leant in confidentially. "We're going to have fun tonight – we'll dance to the cheesiest songs, drink too much champagne and kiss someone really inappropriate. There's a room full of doctors, who knows, maybe we'll bag ourselves a husband."
Lara shook her head. "I don't want a husband."
Melinda's face fell and she looked contrite. "Oh, Lara, I'm sorry. That was insensitive of me. Have you heard from Josh?"
"Not since I gave back the ring. About three months ago."
"Well in that case it's definitely time for us to get out there and kiss boys. I think you should kiss two, to make up for lost time with that stupid ass who obviously didn't know a good thing when he had it."
Lara smiled, but her heart twisted painfully. She didn't need reminding of her appalling taste in men. But she shook away the feeling, determined not to let Josh once again spoil her fun. "You're on," she said to Melinda, clinking her glass in cheers. "Maybe this will be the night that will change my ideas about weddings." Lara quickly drained her champagne as a way to stop herself from saying what she was thinking: but I seriously doubt it.
Later, at the reception, when the guests were milling around waiting for the bride and groom to arrive, House strategically positioned himself near the striking brunette he'd noticed at the bar. He stood behind her, close enough to smell her perfume, but that was acceptable, because everyone was pushing forward, all keen – for reasons House did not understand – to watch as the bride and groom entered the ballroom of the five-star hotel where the reception was being held.
"Introducing, Dr Paul and Mrs Larissa Kimble!" The MC's voice boomed around the room, but was quickly drowned out by shouts and cheers.
The brunette in front of him made a disgusted noise and leant over to a friend standing next to her.
"Ugh, Larissa changed her name."
"What's wrong with Kimble?" House asked amiably, seeing a way to start a conversation, and causing both women to turn to him.
The brunette's friend gave him a suspicious look, but she smiled warmly. "Nothing, I guess," she said with a shrug. "It's more the whole giving up your identity thing. She's a forty-year old successful businesswoman. It's a dumb choice."
House decided that kicking things off with his take on feminism would not enhance his chances of getting laid at any point in the near future, so for once, he bit his tongue.
"My name's Greg," he said instead, switching his cane to his left hand and holding out his right to shake.
"Lara," she answered, shaking his hand. Her hand was warm, but not sweaty, and very, very soft. House was immediately filled with ideas about places other than his palm that he'd like to feel it.
"Melinda," her friend interjected, and House shook hands with her too, although she was too short, too blonde and her figure too boyish for House's taste. In contrast, Lara's dress, cut deeply low in front, revealed the swells of breasts that he could tell would overflow even his large hands. Yummy.
Wilson appeared at his side carrying flutes of champagne in each hand.
"Two glasses of champagne and two lovely ladies, what a nice coincidence!"
House rolled his eyes, but couldn't help noticing that despite the cheesy line, both women were going all gooey and giving Wilson appreciative glances as they each accepted a glass from him.
"I'll be right back."
Sure enough, before House had been able to choke out something banal about the "lovely ceremony" – he was fully aware that he sucked at small talk – Wilson was back with two more glasses of champagne and handed one to House. House didn't really enjoy champagne – there were far better beverages when it came to getting drunk fast – but for the sake of the evening he accepted the flute and tried to sip slowly, letting Wilson continue to work his charm on the two women. House stayed mostly quiet, just cutting in with the occasional remark when the conversation seemed to be veering into maudlin, gushy, overly romantic comments about the wedding, and he noticed that Lara kept giving him glances, blushing once when he caught her out.
It turned out the four of them had been seated on the same table and House thanked his lucky stars for that. A quick glance told him every other person around the table would be an interminable bore, so, even if things didn't go well with Lara, at least he'd have something to look at.
Then Lara made a crack about putting all the lonely singletons and weirdos in the far corner so as not to spoil the view for the happy couple and House laughed genuinely, amused by her joke and pleased to know she was single. He noted that Wilson didn't do anything to correct that assumption, just giving Melinda a broad grin. Sure enough, Wilson and Melinda were getting on like a house on fire and as soon as the plates were cleared, they were on the dance floor. House had seen his friend in operation on a few occasions and he had to admit Wilson was very smooth. Just a few bars into the first song, Melinda's arms wound around his waist and then they were grinding their way through all the cheesy eighties hits being rolled out by the DJ.
Dancing had never been House's strong suit, but when it came to seducing a woman, a socially legitimate excuse to press bodies together had its advantages. Only now, because of his leg, he was left without that avenue as a possibility. The thought made him slump further in his chair and think about faking a 911 call from Chase. Lara had been talking earnestly to another guy at the table since Wilson and Melinda had left for the dance floor and House realised he'd managed to down three glasses of champagne in the past ten minutes. He was telling himself it had been ridiculous to get his hopes up anyway – Lara was very attractive, a less perfect version of Catherine Zeta Jones, and she'd been the subject of many admiring glances through the night. The idea that she'd be interested in him was probably laughable.
Only he didn't really feel like laughing.
"Would you like to get some air?"
Lara's voice cut into his depressing thoughts and House sat up straighter, realising as he did that he was quite a bit drunker than he'd thought. Fresh air was probably a good idea. "Sure."
Once they were out on a sparsely occupied balcony, Lara downed the flute of champagne in her hand in two long gulps. "Thank God!" she said, putting the glass down and walking on wobbly legs over to the railing.
House cocked a questioning eyebrow and downed his own champagne before following to lean on the rail next to her, close enough for their arms to be touching.
"Jeez I hate weddings," she said quietly, her voice almost lost in the night air.
"I thought women were genetically predisposed to love weddings. You know, together, forever, all the romance." He shuddered as he said the word.
Lara gave a short laugh. "Yeah, yeah. All that crap's fine. It's the having to make pleasant conversation with people you'd never usually talk to in a million years that gets me. I think that guy next to me is possibly the most boring person on earth."
"I thought you two seemed to be hitting it off," House said, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
"I'm a good liar," Lara said with a grin.
"Oh, so you're a lawyer then?"
Lara giggled. "No, worse, I'm a publicist."
"What's that? Lying to journalists for money?"
"What is it that you lie about?"
"Books. I'm a publicist for a publishing company. I lie about how charming and easy-going authors are and I lie about how good their books are."
House smiled. "Sounds like fun."
"Yeah, mostly it is." She shrugged. "What do you do?"
"I'm a doctor."
Lara rolled her eyes. "Of course you are. I should have known – the room is full of doctors. So, much lying involved in your line of work? I would guess it would be more truth-telling oriented."
"Oh, you'd be surprised."
Lara shivered. Despite the mild September day the bride and groom had enjoyed for their wedding, night had brought a cool breeze that held an icy hint of winter. House knew he should offer her his jacket, but he wasn't going to deliberately subject himself to discomfort until he knew whether or not there'd be anything in it for him.
"Are you a friend of Paul's or a friend of Larissa's?" Lara asked. It could have been House's imagination, but he thought she moved slightly closer to him.
"Paul's. Although 'friend' is definitely overstating it. We happen to work at the same place and Kimble is a brown-noser who invited every senior doctor on the staff. You?"
"Larissa is my best friend."
House frowned. "Why aren't you a bridesmaid?"
"Because Larissa is a good friend."
"Ah, I get it." House chuckled. "You got out of wearing one of those hideous green dresses."
Lara smiled, and looked up him from beneath hooded eyes and bit her bottom lip, considering him. "So, are you staying at the hotel tonight?" she said eventually. "I have a room here."
House stood up straighter, leant his cane against the balcony railing and began shrugging off his jacket. "Here, you look cold."