Summary: "Guess you don't know me as well as you claim to." Better, he wants to say. House/Cuddy
Setting: Season 3
Disclaimer: lyrics belong to Kings of Leon, my second-favorite band.
A/N: not quite sure about this one or where it's going, but I needed to write it. Let me know if I should continue?
That taste all I ever needed
All I ever wanted
too drunk to surrender.
His hands are cold.
House taps his fingers against the wood of the balcony and revels in the fact that he can hardly feel a thing. (Actually, he thinks he passed that point about an hour ago.) He's not sure if it's because of the cold or the booze but he thinks he's becoming dependent on the numbness.
This should be a good enough reason for him to put the drink down, take a step back, and go home, forget about this night and everything involved.
He doesn't. Instead, he takes another sip.
"Hiding out?" Her voice surprises him, but true to form, he pretends that it doesn't, tries to pretend that she has no effect on him (although, lately, it's getting harder and harder to pull that one off).
"I don't hide," he corrects her, "I brood. Much sexier."
She smirks, keeps her eyes on his as she moves toward him. "Self-pity is not a good look on you."
"But I wear it so well," he insists mockingly. Cuddy leans against the balcony, her forearms flat, hands resting on top of one another. She's very careful about keeping a certain amount of distance between them, he notices, though the satisfaction of knowledge is not as great as he thought it would be.
He appraises her in the dim moonlight: simple black dress (he remembers unzipping that one, remembers how much his hands shook until they finally met her skin), teardrop pearl earrings, a necklace that looks impossibly familiar, stilettos that give him the wonderful illusion that her legs go on forever (she let him do his own exploring, once, and he wasn't disappointed to find that they are, in fact, softer than they look).
"You look good," he says, but the phrasing feels awkward, somehow the words aren't enough. He surprises himself (and her) with the admission, but decides to let it remain where it is, between the two of them, untouched by his usual cynicism.
A whole truth, for once.
"Thank you." She slides the drink from between his hands (this time, he doesn't fight her) and takes a sip. Her lipstick smudges the spot where his lips have left an imprint of their own, and he stares at it for a while, the simple act holding too much meaning, some metaphor that he can't pull apart.
(And he wishes he could kiss her now, directly, without the aid of inanimate objects, the obstacle of another man waiting for her to return.)
"You shaved," she points out. Her hand reaches up and, for a moment, he thinks she's going to touch him but at the last second she changes paths, and rests her hand beside his instead. He covers up his disappointment by taking back his drink.
"It's an important night. I should support my colleagues in any way that I can." He repeats her words from a few days ago and she smirks. "Or so someone told me once."
"You didn't have to come to this, you know."
"And miss the show, and the open opportunity for mocking?" He scoffs. "It's what I live for."
After a momentary silence, he hears her murmur, "It's cold." She crosses her arms at her waist and leans into him, even though, he assures himself, she doesn't mean to. It's not deliberate, not an action that indicates want. Just a reflex.
"Go back inside, then."
"I came out here to—"
"I'm fine," he cuts her off coldly. "Just because you bring some loser to a ball I'm supposed to fall to pieces? You're good, but not that good."
"To check," she continues, glaring at him, "to make sure you weren't trying to escape. I know how you can get all maudlin at holiday parties."
"What am I going to do? Throw myself off a ledge?"
"If you're desperate."
"You underestimate me. I'm insulted."
"I'm sure you'll get over it." She runs her thumb across her ring finger and he can't resist the comment that makes the leap to his tongue.
"Thank you," she is quick and swift with her response, as if hoping to cut off whatever else he has planned to say. Not a chance.
"I'm assuming you said..."
"It's just a gift," she insists. He wonders if she really believes that.
"He couldn't have gone bigger, then? That thing looks like a pity gift. A crackerjack prize would have been more impressive," he snarks.
"He could have. I didn't want him to."
"Please. What kind of woman doesn't?"
"Well, I guess you don't know me as well as you claim to."
Better, he wants to say, but she seems to be satisfied with believing that particular lie; he guesses it comforts her, and he lets her have it (for a moment).
"Right." In between the silence that stretches around them, time passes and his hand finds its way to the small of her back. And he feels her shiver underneath his palm, just like he knew she would.
It's a little unnerving, knowing someone as well as he knows her; he knows it's within his grasp and power to use that to his advantage but, for some odd reason at this moment, he'd rather not. (He thinks he'd rather just have her stay with him.)
"Don't." Her voice is soft, but not quite pleading and there is very little force behind the request. She wants to mean it, but she can't, not really. He isn't sure yet how he feels about that.
"You know what. Don't." His hand seems to have a mind of its own, his fingers making a light trail along the bumps of her spine. In spite of her protests, she's leaning into him, not away from him, her hands gripping his forearms.
"What? You said you were cold."
"Yes, and look how you've conveniently used that to your advantage."
He narrows his eyes, focusing his gaze on her while she tries to avoid his. "Why did you really come out here?"
"I already told you that—"
"No, you gave me an excuse, not the reason."
"What's the difference?"
"A very thin line."
She shakes her head, puts her hand out in what he's sure was, initially, an attempt to stop him but only comes to rest on the lapels of his jacket. "House, we can't-"
He knows the speech she's about to make, has familiarized himself with her meaning and intonation, and could probably recite it word for word from memory if asked. But he's not at all interested in hearing it again. Not tonight.
He's not quite sure how it's possible, but he thinks her lips are softer than he remembers. And he wants to convince himself that she has never fit so perfectly against him, and that she probably never will again. Too good to be true.
Nothing changes, he realizes.
She shakes her head again as she pulls back from him, lips brushing against his as she says, "I should go back inside…"
"Right. The Boyfriend's waiting. Wouldn't want him getting suspicious."
"Don't do that," she orders, forcefully this time, and lets go of him. He backs down, takes a step back, removing himself from her personal space and trying to ignore how cold he feels again.
"What?" he snaps, harsher than he intended. He doesn't recognize the change of light that occurred in her eyes until it's gone.
"Forget it," she murmurs. She steps off the balcony, leaving him alone with his drink.