Cuddy's heart began to skip and jump as she took a few slow, amazed paces into the huge office before her. The sun streamed through the windows, brightening the dark wood panelling with a glossy sheen, and it struck her for the first time that she'd made it. This was now hers.
God, that felt good.
The man took her hand and shook it warmly. "I was hoping you'd get the job."
"That makes two of us," Cuddy smiled.
"Dr. Winter, the previous Dean of Medicine, has offered his services as guide for your first week, but something about you tells me you're going to decline."
"Oh, I couldn't do that to him. The man's in a wheelchair -"
"You'd get very well-acquainted with the elevators," Dr. Kye joked, his crinkled eyes twinkling. "I'm sure you'll find your way by yourself just fine."
"I hope so. It's a smaller hospital than my last one."
"Not hard to be. Then again, nothing beats the endocrinology ward at Henry Ford - finding a particular room's like going on a pilgrimage."
"Agreed!" Cuddy laughed, feeling the nervousness knotting in her stomach melt away a little more. "The place was like a labyrinth."
"It's said that two interns a year set off to find syringes and never return..."
They both stood there laughing for a minute or so, the easy chemistry between Cuddy and her old teacher making the room seem somehow warmer. "Bill?"
"Thank you so much." She didn't even have to say for what - he'd just been there, from when she was a wide-eyed freshman at the University of Michigan who kept getting 'paracrines' and 'pancreas' mixed up, to a hurt young woman recovering from relationships that never seemed to stick by burying herself in paperwork, to now. Beautiful now, tentatively hopeful and glimmering with potential, like a flower bud encased in dewdrops.
"Tell you what," Kye replied, "how's about you thank me by buying me a crappy sandwich in the cafeteria?"
"Sounds great." Cuddy swiftly turned, holding open the door for him - after all, he was 70 now, and his knees were wizened and clicked as he walked - and strode confidently out into the clinic, before freezing.
"What is it?"
"I - I have no idea where the cafeteria is."
It would occasionally strike her how beautiful her hospital was.
Okay, not classically. To the untrained eye, it looked like any other bog-standard hospital. But when every corner, every panel and flexed line is constantly there for scrutiny, when the place is the centre of your existence, any beauty that's there quickly floats to the surface. The way the artificial lighting bounces off the paintwork. Cool, clear glass that underscores the corridors and makes the framework somehow lighter, more aesthetic. The rhythm of frenzied paces down the corridors, booming through ceilings and doors...Everything just came together in a symphony of life and pain and mundanity.
It was brilliant.
Of course, beauty was not something she spent much time on now; the 'holy crap I'm Dean of Medicine' afterglow had worn off abruptly and she'd settled into the intricacies of the job, becoming so engrossed in all its nooks and crannies that she would sometimes not even bother going home at night; she'd just fall asleep by the moonlight through the windows and the fixtures fading into shadows, waking up dishevelled but smiling.
She thought that, in its own odd little way, Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital was the most fascinating live artwork she'd ever caught millions of glimpses of, between meetings and paperwork and more meetings and rushing, rushing everywhere.
And there was a simple reason; it was hers. This tiny building-shaped fragment of the world was hers, with all its glowing lights and pastel walls, and she'd fallen head-over-heels for it.
At no time was the relative serenity of her office (flitting people aside) more poignant than at approximately 9 p.m. on a Saturday night.
Cuddy poked her head out of the door and was immediately hit by a shockwave of mixing yells and thundering, confused footsteps. The drunkard brigade, people with minor injuries from car accidents, screaming children being rocked fruitlessly by helpless, scared parents -
The clinic was more than chaotic; it was insane.
"Honey, I think I'm going to -" A decidedly green-looking man with whisky on his breath promptly vomited on the shoes of the woman next to him, who violently recoiled and stood up to get away, bumping into Cuddy as she staggered off.
"Hey, what are you doing just standing around?" The woman put her hands on her hips, scowling at her. "You're a doctor, right? Why aren't you helping my boyfriend?"
Cuddy halted, thoughts running through her mind, none of which she particularly liked the idea of saying out loud. "I am a doctor, but I'm not that kind of doctor." "This isn't my job." "A nurse will be with you shortly..." They all tasted bitter in the back of her throat; any refusal she gave would basically be stating that she was somehow better than the nurses running around out there.
"Yes, I am a doctor," she finally managed, briskly walking over to the counter and pulling out some kind of sick bag to pass to the vomiting boyfriend. "A clinic room should free up shortly, then one of the nurses will give him fluids to counteract any alcohol dehydration. Apart from that, there's not much more we can do than tell him to sleep it off."
The man groaned, a dribble of sick running down his chin. "Careful," the girlfriend tutted, bringing out a crumpled tissue from her pocket. "If you smell like puke when you get home, your wife'll start asking questions."
Cuddy turned her head and looked longingly at the doors to her office, slightly open, beckoning.
Differing responsibilities or not, after over a decade of doing the 'dirty work' it had become so routine to her that it was almost comforting. Relaxing. And most Dean of Medicines she knew viewed 'relaxation' to be either the thirty-second stills between hour-long rushes, or hooking yourself up to a drip full of a questionable narcotic. Cuddy herself was dissatisfied with thirty seconds, and...well, alright, she'd considered the drugs. Most would. But she preferred her downtime to be slightly less illegal.
So Cuddy was now in Clinic Room 1, swabbing an obese patient's tongue.
(Okay, so it wasn't exactly glamorous...)
"Am I going to be okay, doc?" The guy looked worried, and Cuddy resisted the temptation to roll her eyes.
"You'll be fine. Just take this as a lesson; try not to eat an entire bag of peanuts if you don't want your nut allergies to flare up and make your tongue swell to three times its normal size again." You complete and utter moron, the bitchy voice in her head added.
"Thanks, doc. I'll do my best." The man was about to get up and waddle out of the room, before an almighty crash stopped them both in their tracks.
"What was -"
Cuddy quickly tore open the clinic room door and her heart jumped into her mouth; a man was lying motionless on the floor in front of her, stare vacant and chest unmoving. She flew over to him in a haze of panic, checking his neck and wrists and finding no pulse. "GET A CRASH CART IN HERE!" she bellowed, tilting his head back and checking for an airway obstruction.
A few nurses sprinted off and returned with the crash cart, taking out a syringe of adrenaline and injecting it into a vein. Cuddy was now pounding his chest and blowing air through his lips in the familiar rhythm she could repeat in her sleep, but his lungs remained slack and his heart refused to beat. "Pushing 2 cc's more adrenaline," the nurse yelled, fumbling for the vein, but Cuddy barely even heard her; she'd become instantly engrossed in the rhythm of her hands and the dead look in the man's eyes.
It was three minutes or more of numb, agonising silence and blindly pumping his chest over and over before the nurse grabbed her wrists. "Dr. Cuddy, it's over. I'm calling time of death."
Cuddy struggled to free her grip. "No, wait, just give it thirty seconds more -"
"Even if we manage to revive him now, there'll be irrevocable brain damage. It's done. You did all you could."
"Wait, no - what - I don't understand - how could he just die on a hospital floor? The clinic floor?" My clinic floor? Burning tears sprang to Cuddy's eyes and she didn't bother to wipe them away. "It just doesn't -"
"Time of death, 1:45 p.m.," one of the nurses stated softly.
Cuddy just stared around, mouth agape, a shock so tangible in her eyes for a few seconds that people wondered if she'd snapped. Then she shook herself and stood up.
"I'll call Trieger and tell him he's got another autopsy lined up. Regina, find his family, or their contact details if he came here alone. Linus, please go out and calm the other patients. And Irene, we need a body bag." She briskly strode back into her office, letting the door slam behind her.
Death was just a part of life in her hospital.
Though, as the stinging tears and the choking lump against her airway reminded her, not a welcome one.
"Mr. Perabo, I am so sorry for your loss..."
"What loss?" The haunted-looking man, thin and gaunt with an oversized blanket draped around his shoulders, gestured to the room by him. "Lily's not dead. She's breathing, isn't she?"
"Yes, but..." Cuddy bit her lip, not sure how to explain without sounding callous. "She's brain-dead. We can keep her blood flowing and her heart pumping, but she's likely never going to regain cognitive function -"
"-Likely? How likely? Does that mean not definitely?"
Cuddy stared at him, taken aback. "Well, miracles do happen, but they're one in a million -"
"How do you know my Lily's not that one? She's a real little fighter, she is, never even had a cold before this, managed to survive her head being smashed into the dashboard - and you just want to switch her off? Give her a chance!" The father's eyes were shining with a heartbreaking kind of hope, so irrational and yet so disturbingly infectious that she wanted to believe him. So much. But she blinked once, hard, and forced herself to keep her voice firm.
"Mr. Perabo, it's been a week. If she was going to spontaneously recover, she would've already done so. We - we think now would be a good time to switch off her life support, but we need your permission."
"A good time?" Mr. Perabo's voice had gone strange, edgy, with a surreal blankness to it. "How is any time a good time to kill my daughter?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Perabo, that was a poor choice of words -"
"You're damn right it was."
Silence. She stood there, the forms clutched in her hand, trying not to look at the little girl hooked up to a bypass machine in the room behind her, a huge dent caved into her skull.
"Will this - will this hurt her?" He sounded fragile, numb, as if anaesthetised.
"No. I promise you that. She won't feel a thing - she's basically asleep. Her brain can't process anything, let alone pain."
He met her eyes, a flicker of pain so tangible she almost wanted to hug him passing across his face. "The woman who was driving the other car's in that room there," he pointed across the corridor. "The doctors say she's going to wake up soon. Could you..."
"What is it?" Cuddy asked softly.
"Shut the blinds in her room? She's already got to live with this for the rest of her living days, I don't want her to see it too. God knows, I don't want anyone else carrying those images in their head."
"Okay," Cuddy replied immediately, moving over to the woman's room and pulling the blind cord. The man managed something like a smile, then proceeded into his daughter's room, sitting by her bedside and whispering to her, stroking the remaining blonde wisps of hair splayed over her pillow, clutching her tiny, still-warm hand in his calloused own.
Cuddy watched them from outside, and wondered about how things always seem to end. (Even when you want nothing more in this world than to make them stay.)
"God, what time is it?" Cuddy groaned to nobody in particular, as she lifted her head off the desk, greeted by a pitch-black office. Judging by the piece of paper stuck rather dramatically to her forehead, she'd fallen asleep while going through paperwork. Again.
"Is anyone there?"
She took the echo and the following silence as a resounding 'no.' Stood up to achingly fatigued limbs; didn't check the clock - she knew it would only depress her. The expanses outside her office were blank and shrouded in shadows; bursting into painfully bright artificial light as soon as she stepped outside.
"God!" Cuddy covered her eyes with her cupped hands, feeling her retinas throb. "I really have to stop falling asleep here. And start actually sleeping at night, like normal people." She turned the door handle and stepped out of the brightened clinic, plunging into pale shadows again once she set foot in the lobby. Her lobby. The contrast from the earlier constantly flowing rush and now's complete quiet, save the sound of her breathing, was exhilarating.
"It's really quite pretty, isn't it? The view of outside at night. It's all in black-and-white, like a pretentious photograph or an old film."
She spun round in surprise to see Dr. Kitson, a young radiologist with a mischievious streak, clamping a cigarette between his teeth and lighting it with a flourish.
"No smoking in my hospital."
"Right. I forgot about all the patients around at 3 a.m. for me to poison."
"Wow. That's so funny I forgot to laugh."
"Sleep-deprived, I'm guessing?" Cuddy looked up at him, surprised.
"Yeah, well, sleep's for the dead and the degenerating. For the rest of us, there's far too much to see for sleep. Like this place at night." Kitson slipped away just as he'd arrived, sleekly sliding off, with Cuddy barely noticing he'd gone until a few minutes later. She was caught up in how brilliantly the shadows were bending over the lobby floor, twisting by the puppetmaster of a single flickering streetlight.
She grinned. "I guess there is."
With doctors and lawyers, behind their perfectly coiffed exteriors, there's a whole colony of sins growing and fermenting at any given moment - wrath? Check. Lust? Check. Gluttony? Check the three empty wine bottles in the fridge - but none more obvious, or dangerous, than greed.
She should know. She spent practically every waking moment with them.
It wasn't just money, though that was a large chunk of it. The smug little smile a lawyer would get when they knew they'd be securing compensation for a client (and thus a good commission). An avarice-obsessed neurologist asking yet again for a salary bump; everyone haggling, haggling, and bloody haggling again, trying to work out how much of her hospital's budget she'd be willing to sacrifice for their personal gain.
No, it was power, too. Everyone she'd ever met, in a lab coat or tailored suit, burned with power and a desire for more. And they came to her, because she had more power than most of them combined. She was at the mountain's summit; gazing downwards as climbers struggled on their ropes and shot her pleading looks.
And yes, occasionally, that did consume her in an intoxicating blaze of ego and standing, but never for long; the last thing she wanted to become was someone who lost sight of her goal in the glare of the money-stacks she was polishing.
She was going to make this hospital the best in New Jersey, if not the country. And she was getting there.
There was just - something - missing.
Despite the difficulties, though, she was starting to feel like she couldn't be happier; that her life was finally where she wanted it to be.
And nothing, nothing could screw this up.
"AARGH! FUCK, FUCKING HELL - SOMEONE - HELP ME!"
The screaming was so piercing that Cuddy didn't even think; she dropped the file she was holding and sprinted into the clinic room, seeing a slim, wiry man on his side on the table, clutching his leg and hollering.
"It's okay, it's going to be alright," she tried to yell over his panicked screams. "What kind of pain is it? Aching, shooting -"
"PAIN," he managed to choke out. "JUST - PAIN -"
Right, they were never going to be able to reach a diagnosis until she got him some painkillers - she sprinted over to the cabinet, wincing slightly as her heel caught on something and twisted her ankle to the side, and frantically pulled open drawers before finding a demerol syringe.
"You have to - take off your trousers -"
The man visibly paled at the thought, clenching his teeth and reducing the pained wails to agonised grunts. "I - can't -" he managed.
"You're going to have to, or -"
He promptly snatched the syringe from her outstretched hand, and with one sickeningly smooth, quick movement, plunged it into his own thigh and pressed down on the plunger. Instantly he let out a long, shaky breath of relief, and Cuddy gaped at him, horrified, her heart sinking - no, not a drug cheat, she couldn't have been fooled so easily -
"Thank you," he breathed, finally managing to take down his trousers with shaking fingers. She immediately bent down by his leg, checking it over for any signs of trauma. It looked startlingly normal, save paler than his other leg, but when she pressed down experimentally on the vein he hissed in agony, clenching his fists so hard his knuckles turned white.
Cuddy gave him a long, hard look, trying to see any signs of if he was faking. Instead, she got a white-hot flash of recognition, her breath freezing in her throat.
He narrowed his eyes at her. "...Lisa?"
The happiness of a month ago suddenly seemed so out of reach, it could've been felt by someone else entirely. Perhaps it had.
She'd sent him home. Told him to keep an eye on it, apply heat, given him some run-of-the-mill painkillers; she tried to pretend it wasn't just an excuse to avoid talking to him, but bitter, twisted guilt built up in her throat like bile whenever she thought about it. Him. With his eyes and his mind and the screams and her memories.
What she hadn't known is that he'd been re-admitted a short four hours later, terrified girlfriend in tow, with his leg horrifically discoloured and the pain up to a point where he was fluctuating between delirious and suicidal, screaming at God and the nurses and everything, ever. And they pumped him full of narcotics, but still nobody could figure out what was wrong. Nobody. Three days, and nothing worked.
House solving his own case didn't surprise her in the slightest; what did was that he was too late to save anything - his leg, his sanity, his beautiful girlfriend. All lost to the wind, and nothing left but the pain. She'd looked through the glass at him while he was in the medically induced coma, and he'd seemed so peaceful that she'd wanted to cry, but now there was no peace in his eyes - only anger, acid, vitriol.
So, three days after he was discharged, she'd found herself knocking on his door. (Luckily, 'Gregory House' is not exactly the most common name in the phone book.) A broken skeleton answered after she'd waited for fifteen minutes, pausing at the door to dry-swallow three pills with some difficulty.
(It was codeine, that time. It would be another fortnight before he discovered Vicodin.)
"Lisa?" His stare hardened to a point where it could cut bone. "What are you doing here?" he asked coldly.
A million responses came to mind, and the one her subconscious chose surprised her.
"-I'm here to offer you a job."
She was going to kill him. Slowly. And. Painfully.
"HOUSE!" Cuddy yelled as soon as she laid eyes on him in the clinic. "MY OFFICE! NOW!"
"Uh..." House looked away and put on a bad Russian accent. "I no know this house of who you speak...my name Katavo Russian-o...I bodyguard to prevent doctors from being mauled by scary she-dog boss...you know her?"
"House," she warned.
"What? Do I not pass as a Russian bodyguard?" He pretended to be offended. "Fine. What've I done this time?"
"You really don't know?"
"Was it stabbing that patient in the leg to prove he was faking vocal cord paralysis?"
"Diagnosing about fifteen clinic patients with terminal idiocy?"
"Setting the ferrets loose in Dr. Takeda's office?"
"No - wait, that was you?"
"Well, who else was it going to be? He called Chase a brain-dead suck-up with the face of a developmentally challenged toddler."
"You can't say he wasn't provoked."
"Just because I asked him to punch Takeda to check his reflex response as a control against the patient's..."
"Plus, you call Chase worse things than that every day."
"That's because he is a brain-dead suck-up with the face of a developmentally challenged toddler. But nobody else gets to insult my fellows. Boss' privilege. For instance, if anyone else was to refer to Foreman as 70% Cocoa Solids, I'd hit them with my cane."
Cuddy shook her head, yelling die, House, die in her mind. "You told your current, psychologically damaged patient that this was all secretly a conspiracy to harvest her kidneys, I believe."
"That...may have been me."
"She went on a psychotic break and took down three doctors before we managed to sedate her. One was punched so hard their spleen ruptured."
"Well, you couldn't pick a better place for that to happen."
Cuddy glared at him. "Said doctor came out of surgery this morning and now wants to sue the hospital."
House theatrically pulled out his wallet. "Will $600 and a library card cover it?"
Cuddy gave him a look that could sear through concrete.
"I'm kidding. I don't have a library card. I do have the business card for a massage parlour, though."
"How long for?"
"Until Hell freezes over, or until we run out of patients with seeping warts or sore throats. I'd bet the first one comes earlier."
Cuddy sighed and rolled her eyes. "House. What do you want now?"
"I need to biopsy my patient's brain."
"Wait, is this the one that was admitted yesterday? With a cough and unusually fragile bones? I fail to see how either of those links to the brain in any way - oh, I forgot about Bullshit's area, which controls the cough reflex and bone brittle-ness. Go right ahead."
"Thank you," House grinned, quickly leaving before she could stop him.
"House! I was being sarcastic!" Cuddy put her head in her hands, not even bothering to follow him out. "He's going to be the death of me."
Fact is, this was worrying her. She'd always been as tough as nails, fair but strict, having a knack for knowing when to let things slide and when to put her foot down. But with House, she always felt just as she had as a medical student, meeting his eyes across a room; the butterflies in her stomach, feeling dizzy and totally, intoxicatingly, powerless -
God, Cuddy, get a grip.
(And go kill House, before he cuts his patient's brain open.)
"GET AWAY FROM ME!"
The girl pushed her IV stand into the wall, making an almighty crash as she spun around to face Cuddy, holding a crutch threateningly, like a baseball bat. A nurse was frozen up against the wall.
"Cassie, it's okay, just put the crutch down..." Cuddy started in a quiet, reasonable tone, but the girl took another step towards her, eyes wide and panicked, her short black hair dishevelled and mouth contorted into a scowl. "Stay back," she growled warningly.
"What's wrong?" Cuddy whispered, trying to subtlely signal to the nurse to run, but she was practically catatonic with fear and her eyes were fixed on the psychotic patient.
"SHE -" Cassie yelled, pointing a trembling finger at the nurse whose lips contorted around a silent scream, "-TRIED TO KILL ME!"
"She was taking blood, Cassie..."
"SHE TRIED TO STAB ME IN THE CHEST!" The girl now had the crutch aimed at the nurse's throat, whose face was frozen in a mask of fear and pleading. "Get out and you won't have to see this," she hissed.
Desperate, Cuddy clutched for an idea in her mind, but it stayed blank until a sudden, beautiful flash of brilliance hit her. "Wait," she quickly said, reaching into her pocket. "It's okay, Laura, just stay right there, she won't hurt you..." She began to slowly walk over to her, back pressed against the wall, with Cassie staring warily at her and holding out the crutch towards her.
"Stay back..." But now she sounded uncertain.
"It's alright, Laura, you're safe..." As soon as she was within range, Cuddy whipped out a syringe of sedative and injected it into Laura's arm. Laura screamed, then slumped against the wall.
"She's asleep now, Cassie, nobody's going to hurt you," Cuddy crooned, suddenly painfully aware of how close she was to the maddened girl and how far away the exit seemed to be, paralysing fear tightening her chest like a vice, but she tried to keep calm. "Now go lie down, and we'll send people to take Laura away."
For a second, Cassie looked like she was going to turn on her, but before she could move Cuddy pounced, taking out another sedative syringe - thank bloody God she was paranoid and always carried around two of everything - and inserted it into her vein.
"NO! No, no..." Cassie wailed like a tortured child, giving her a look of utter pain and betrayal before quieting and falling to the ground. Cuddy caught the girl and lifted her into the bed, then took Laura's arms and, half-carrying, half-dragging her, moved out of the room. A flurry of doctors who'd been standing outside rushed in to check over the patient, and she was left outside, holding the (extraordinarily heavy) nurse up and breathing heavily whilst a lone person stood up and looked at her.
"Impressive," he conceded.
"I'm glad you appreciated it," she huffed. "I assume this invalidates your diagnosis?"
"My 'diagnosis' was hypochondria. She still could just be a great little actress."
"There's a rash on her upper thighs. I saw it through the slit in her hospital gown. You think she's faking that?"
"Really? That must have come on recently." He thought to himself. "That rules out..."
"Seriously?!" Cuddy carefully put Laura down and glared at him. "Not even a 'thank you?' I just stopped your patient from battering a nurse to death."
"...which would most likely have resulted in her being transferred somewhere else, so you'd never be able to solve her case."
"You have a point. All right, Cuddy, thank you." House pretended to gag.
"There, was that so hard? Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to try and move Laura here to somewhere where she'll wake up and not want to kill me."
Cuddy picked Laura back up and turned away, staggering back down the corridor with the unconscious nurse in tow, only smiling when she knew he couldn't see her.
House, the hospital, this whole thing...everything was madness. Did the fact that she'd acclimatised make her mad or sane?
There were many things Lisa Cuddy had sworn to never do, an unspoken list engraved in the back of her mind. It had stayed relatively static over the past twenty years, but she'd recently felt compelled to make some adjustments. A few additions, if you will.
"I will never let this power go to my head."
(For more than thirty seconds at a time.)
"I will never do anything to jeopardise my position."
"I will never approve infecting a patient with syphilis to treat gonorrhea."
She cycled previous entries through her head idly, before stopping on one. If this one had been written down, it would be in an angry scrawl, the ink blurred and smeared with tearstains. She'd made it on the callous morning after a beautifully spent night; waking up in an empty bed in a room that wasn't hers.
"I will never fall for Gregory House."
She stopped, mulling it over in her head. Should I -
No. She put it back, and started distractedly fiddling with a pile of papers. Thinking about these things never did any good.
"...Hang on a second. What did you just ask me?"
"I asked if I can biopsy my patient's heart," House repeated, mildly annoyed. "In case you weren't aware, 'biopsy' means 'cut little piece out of' and 'heart' is 'irritating fist-sized muscle that is easily crushed and only healed by copious renditions of The Notebook'."
"But - but that's a sensible idea!"
"I know." He tilted his head, puzzled. "Hence I want to do it."
"House, you never ask me about the sensible procedures. Usually you don't about the insane ones, either. You're allergic to obedience!"
"If you don't want me to ask, that's fine," House grinned, turning to leave.
"Wait! No, that's not what I meant," Cuddy quickly said, flustered. "I just meant - why do you suddenly care what I think?"
"I always care what you think," House smiled. "Especially when I get to ignore it and make an offensive joke about your hooters."
"You did not, just, call, them, hooters..."
"Sorry, is that offensive? Let me find another name -"
"Let me stop you there," Cuddy sighed. "Yes, you can biopsy your patient's heart. Please don't take a detour on the way there and biopsy a nerve or engrave a gang symbol into his ribs or anything like that..."
"On it, boss," House exaggeratedly saluted her and marched out of her office, leaving her to stare after him.
I always care what you think.
Well, that she hadn't expected.
When House had first asked if he could have a piano in his office, she'd stupidly thought he was joking.
"Sure you can, if you can manage to get it up there without using the elevators."
A $100 bribe (each) later, she'd watched in amazement and vague trepidation as Thirteen, Chase, Cameron, Kutner and Taub all heaved a gorgeous-looking piano up eighteen flights of stairs, to the tune of House yelling from the bottom, "You drop that thing and I'll buy a replica and drop it on your heads!"
An hour later, House sat down at the piano in the centre of his office, with Cuddy looking through the glass at him, half wanting to renege on the offer but knowing his fellows would probably lynch her. So she just watched to see what he'd do, the others in a cluster behind her.
"What do you reckon he's going to play?"
"The most obnoxious, loud rendition of Baa Baa Black Sheep you've ever heard, I'd imagine," Thirteen replied dryly.
"Don't be so sure," a passing Wilson replied, stopping by the cluster with a strange smile on his face. Cuddy had no idea why, until he started.
The most beautiful melody she'd ever heard crept under the door and flew like tiny sparrows around her ears.
Everything suddenly fell silent for him; the way his fingers danced along the keys, creating a haunting, melancholic piece which soared into major keys and then dipped into low, longing interludes, like waves rearing and breaking through the sea.
And as for him - as he played, he seemed transformed; the pained crease between his eyebrows had smoothed; he nodded his head in time to the music, eyelids fluttering shut and his lips mouthing lyrics that he never quite let loose; his entire body flowed like the music, his arms rippling as they quickened across the piano, running faster along the keys -
The piece slowed and quickened, building in pitch and texture to a soaring climax, and her eyes fell shut as she let the music fill her head and run in her bloodstream, consuming her -
Until, as quickly as it began, the notes died down to silence.
Everyone around had fallen into a stunned pause, broken only when Chase started clapping, followed by the rest of the team. Wilson's face had broken into a broad smile; clearly he'd heard him play before - a spike of jealousy hit her at the thought - and House turned around to face them, an expression on his face she'd never seen before; a mixture of wonder, pride and mild embarrassment. He looked happier in that second than she'd ever seen him, as he met her eyes and her heart stopped.
In that second, she seemed to fall in love.
"I - I have to go," she quickly announced, breaking the moment and his gaze, scrambling to her feet and heading for the elevator, feeling her heart pulse deafeningly loudly in her chest.
As soon as she locked the door to her office, her sadistic subconscious instantly started firing questions at her.
"Why did you run off?"
I don't know.
"Why did his playing affect you so much?"
I don't know.
"Are you in love with him?"
"Why did you give him the job here in the first place?"
He was desolate, he needed a job.
"Do you care for him?"
Of course, but -
"Do you respect him?"
Most of the time, but -
"Are you attracted to him?"
"No it isn't, it's extremely relevant, and you know it. Are you attracted to him?"
"Would you have continued a relationship with him if he hadn't been expelled twenty years ago?"
That was twenty years ago!
"Answer the question."
Probably, but it didn't happen, and what's the point in talking about hypotheticals?
"All right, so you would've dated him back then. What's changed?"
"Shut up!" she yelled aloud at her subconscious. "I don't have to answer all these damn questions - it's all too complicated!" But as she calmed down, her brain began to work. Fact is, what had changed? He'd been just as miserable and cynical back then; just as commitment-phobic and sometimes cutting; of course, the leg had happened, but he'd gone off Vicodin now after the hallucinations and his stay in Mayfield...
He'd barely changed, actually. Arguably, in terms of appearance, he'd even got better with age. He still had that intellect, that wit...she still cared for him, liked him and his attention; after all, the tight skirts weren't exactly a coincidence...
"I'll ask one final time. Are you in love with him?"
Though, now that she thought about it, this wasn't exactly one-sided, was it?
Discounting the shameless ogling that had been going on for God knows how long (probably from the second he lay eyes on her; after all, he was kind of a pervert) there had been signs that he felt...things for her. The glances in the hallways. The kiss after she lost Joy. The conversation before, oh God, Lucas...all that thrown away for someone she left after three weeks! Guilt pulsed through her; he'd opened himself up to her and she'd crushed him. He wasn't going to do that again in a hurry.
And, of course, there was the one-night-stand. It was marred in her memory by a drunken haze (she wasn't that drunk, just a little tipsy, but the emotional high of being invited back to Gregory House's dorm had taken its toll on her recollection) but from what she could remember, he had seduced her. The witty comments, the bought drinks, the easy conversation...yes, it had definitely been him. Not to mention the fact that they'd gone back to his...wait, whose decision had that been? It was the obvious choice, since her room had been on the outskirts of the university, but...she could vaguely remember him offering for them to go back to hers, and her declining.
Had he really wanted her that much?
It doesn't matter. She shut herself down. It's over now, it's done, and it's too late; you had your chance. It's over.
Ever since she was old enough to argue, Cuddy had thought. That was her thing; thinking about everything and anything, from deep philosophical insights to the most mind-numbingly mundane parts of life, like the glass on elevator buttons and figures on sheets and patient histories. Probably why House was attracted to her in the first place. Apart from, you know, the obvious.
But now...she just couldn't think. Her mind worked like silver balls dropped into glycerine; slow, sluggish, knowing the ideas were there but they just took so long to form. Fact is, she didn't want to think. It just made everything tangle up into complicated loops and knots, which she couldn't untie for the life of her.
Whoever said ignorance is bliss was a goddamn genius.
"Lisa, can I ask a favour?"
"Sure, Regina, go for it."
"There are some interns performing their first ultrasound today, and I asked Dr. Sonne to supervise them but he's off sick and I can find exactly no-one who is free and it's happening basically now. Could you..."
"Okay," Cuddy smiled, but inside her heart was sinking.
"I know it's still a painful subject, you not being able to..."
"I'll be fine."
Okay, she was not fine.
The ultrasound had gone well; turned out that the woman in question was having twins, which 'ran in her family.' The babies looked fine, and the look of pure wonder that she'd got as she saw the fuzzy images on the screen...
I'm likely never going to be able to experience that.
She was slumped against the nearest wall, trying to prevent hot tears sparking in her eyes, when she heard the sound of a familiar erratic gait approaching her and she squeezed her eyes shut.
"Go away, House."
"Ultrasound go badly?"
She looked up at him, suddenly amazed. "How did you..."
"You're outside a clinic room with a big, pretty ultrasound machine in it. Sometimes you don't have to be Holmes, Cuddy."
She felt like an idiot. "Ultrasound went brilliantly, actually. She's having twins."
"And you're sad because..."
"Why do you think? I'm never going to be able to get pregnant."
"But you have a daughter. A real, live, irritating little kid who likes biting things, as opposed to some crappy blue images on a screen."
"Yes, but..." She bit her lip. "There's something to be said for the whole 'being pregnant' business. I barely even bonded with Rachel for the first fortnight; scariest time of my life."
"Yes, because morning sickness and bloating are glorious. Then again, why am I complaining? Your breasts would swell about a cup size more, which I think defies most accepted laws of physics."
"You're an ass."
"Besides, nobody says you're never going to be able to get pregnant. It could still happen," he smiled.
"I guess." She wiped her eyes, stood up to face him. "Thank you. That was...actually...kind of sweet."
"Don't get used to it. Do you...need a hug?"
"No, I'm alright."
One thing you could say about Gregory House; for a miserable, cantankerous cripple, he usually seemed almost...
He bounced through life with wit and cynicism and an easy kind of charm that made you like him even when he was insulting you. (Or maybe that was just her.) He hated life, most of the time, but it worked for him. He'd matured like a fine, cantankerous wine.
Reason #827 to love Gregory House.
And yes, she was counting.
"Happy birthday, Cuddy."
Cuddy glanced up from her work to see Wilson entering her office, holding a cake. "That's lovely, Wilson, but you didn't have to -"
"House made it," Wilson interrupted her. "He doesn't want you to know, but I'm sick of him pining. And I'd eat it, trust me. I mean, I'm a pretty competent cook - if I wasn't, my wives would've left me much sooner - but he...has a knack for it. Here, I have a lighter for the candles. I dissuaded him from putting the actual amount for your age. Not - not that you're old -" Wilson blushed and brought out the lighter.
"You don't have to do that - wait, pining?"
"Pining," he repeated. "He thinks you're pissed at him. Can you blow out the candles? I want to prove to him that you didn't chuck the thing."
Cuddy rolled her eyes, but blew out the ten twinkling flames in a single breath, then quickly cut out a small chunk with the knife Wilson was holding out and took a bite. "God," she exclaimed, "that's amazing! Is that coffee?"
"And hazelnuts, and coconut shavings. He had a lot of time on his hands when he left Mayfield. It was either this or start a crime syndicate."
"I need to make him procrastinate more often." She pushed the cake to one side. "Thank you, Wilson, but I highly doubt he cares if I'm 'pissed' at him. Which I'm not," she added unconvincingly.
"What wish did you make?" Wilson joked as he scooped the cake back up.
"Actually, leave the cake. I'm not going to have time to get lunch today. And I'm a little too old for birthday wishes. After all, I still don't have that Barbie dream house I wished for when I was eight."
"Maybe your file got archived." Wilson grinned as he left, and Cuddy felt herself blush as soon as he turned away.
Fact is, she had made a wish, of course. About House. Like she was a lovesick schoolgirl.
God, she needed to get away from him.
It had been the most wretched, miserable, tiring, fuck-the-universe-and-everything-in-it day that when she staggered into her office, all she really wanted to do was curl up on the floor and cry herself to sleep.
Instead, in the middle of her desk she saw a bunch of flowers. Beautiful yellow roses in a cellophane bouquet, with a note attached to them. Curious, Cuddy walked over and picked up the note, which she unfolded to find a page of scrawled writing.
I hear you have had a royally shit day, because the X-ray machine broke down and backed up the hospital worse than a constipated guy's colon. So, out of pure, banal curiosity, I decided to look at a bunch of other words beginning with X, to see if any would help make you feel better. Don't ask me why. Feelings aren't my area of expertise.
Turns out, orthographers really hate X; only the shit words begin with it. A bunch of scary-sounding medical conditions like Xanthoma and Xerosis. (Which are discoloured patches on the skin and abnormal dryness respectively.) Xiphias, which means swordfish. Xylem's some crap to do with plant stems, and there's Xylophone...yeah, X generally sucks. Next time, make the MRI machine break down and then maybe we can get somewhere.
So, just as I was getting desperate enough to actually go find you a massive swordfish (I hear it's a very romantic gesture in some parts of Greece) I came across Xanthia, which means yellow. And I seem to remember you like yellow flowers, except hyacinths which make you break out in hives, so I got you these. Knowing me, I've probably got it wrong and you hate yellow flowers and think they're a death omen or something like that, but this is the best I can do. I'm not going to sign off, because you know who this is.
"You paged me?"
"Need a consult."
"...But there's no patient in here."
"Sure there is," House smiled, shutting the door behind her. "Me. Most people agree I've got several undiagnosed diseases swimming around somewhere."
"STDs, most likely."
House pretended to wince. "Ouch. Anyway, Cuddy, I was wondering if I could ask you something. Actually, I've been wondering for a while."
"How long, exactly, have you been in love with me for?"
Slight pause, as she processed it.
"I'm not sure. Anything between twenty years and a month."
She'd been expecting to freeze up, but the words came surprisingly easily - perhaps because she knew he already knew them.
"Well," House cleared his throat, "that's good to know." He tried to bolt for the door, but Cuddy stopped him.
"You can't just leave after hearing me say that!"
"Really? Let me try and prove it." She barricaded the door and gave him a Look. "Fine. What is it?"
"Why did you ask me that?"
"I was curious."
"It's never just blind curiosity with you. There's always a reason behind it."
House looked thoroughly uncomfortable, avoiding her eyes and fiddling with his cane. "Why wouldn't I want to know?"
"You tell me. Wait," she gasped, "you've been acting really strangely this week. Avoiding everything and everyone -"
"-you mean, like I always do?"
"Being unusually mean -"
"-you mean, like I always am?"
"No, unusually even by your standards. And never making eye contact; not with your team, not with Wilson, not with me. You're always staring off into the distance, like you're thinking about something else. You're doing it now!"
"What are you thinking about, House? Tell me!" Her face was inches from his now, her gaze burning into his. He forced himself to meet her eyes, gritting his teeth.
"I was thinking," he said, "about how beautiful you look when you're angry. And that's what I've been thinking of all week - you, in various forms, and occasionally in various stages of undress. And why? Because I'm in love with you. Are you happy now?"
"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to leave now."
Before he could take a single step, she quickly leaned forward and kissed him, full on the lips. She wanted it to be quick, chaste, but as she moved back he leaned towards her and connected their lips, pulling upwards so she had to stand on her tiptoes and wrapping his arms around her, pressing her into him. Fireworks and explosions and warmth surrounded her, heart racing, electricity surging, just like it had twenty years ago, and fucking hell why had they waited so bloody long to do this -
And then it was over, and they were both left there, breathless, staring into each other's eyes.
"Well," House finally pronounced, "that was..."
"Great," Cuddy breathed.
"You took the words right off my tongue. Literally."
"You want to go back to my place?" Cuddy felt light-headed at the words, a wide smile cracking across her face.
"Lisa Cuddy," he replied, moving in to whisper in her ear, a shiver running down her spine at the feel of his stubble against her skin; "I've wanted to go back to your place for decades. Frankly, if I didn't know how dodgy the lock on this door was, I'd happily do you here. You really think I'm going to turn you down now? Or ever?"
Well, she couldn't argue with that.
"I'm going to miss this place."
Cuddy leaned against the edge of her desk, resting her hands gently over her bump as she looked around at what had been her base of operations, her second home, for over ten years. It choked her up a little to think of leaving it.
House saw her tear up slightly and slipped his arm around her shoulders. "You don't have to go permanently. They said they'd be happy for you to come back after your maternity leave."
"I can't. Rachel's about to start school, and with this one coming...I'm not letting both our kids grow up seeing more of a nanny than they do their parents."
House visibly glowed at Rachel being described as 'his kid.' "You'll go stir-crazy being at home all day, I know you."
"Oh, I'm not stopping working," Cuddy smiled. "I'm taking on a role in endocrinology where I help out a few hours a day with new interns."
"Knew you couldn't resist being a control freak for long."
"What about Wilson?" Cuddy looked up at him, and for a second it struck him that all those rumours about pregnant women were true, at least in her; she was radiant.
"I've told him I'm breaking off the affair. He seemed upset, but then again, losing the world's greatest lover's got to be a kick in the teeth, as you'd know -"
She playfully thumped him. "You know what I meant."
"I'm moving out of the loft in two weeks. He's pretending he's going to have a huge party when I'm gone, but secretly I think he'll miss me. Can I go over there once a week to slaughter him at Mario Kart?"
"Only if you don't bring Rachel."
"That dime was an isolated incident!"
Cuddy laughed. "I'm going to miss all this. This room, the hospital...seeing you in the corridors..."
"Getting up to X-Rated stuff in the janitor's closet..."
"One time, House! One time!" House grinned mischievously and wrapped his other arm around her for a quick hug, before returning it to his side and shifting his weight back onto his good leg.
"To be honest, I'd be lying if I said I'm going to miss this office."
"I've spent years looking through that glass at you," he admitted, gesturing towards the doors, "every time thinking it showed a painting of something I wanted but could never have. And now I have it. You. Plus baby Zygote here." He patted her stomach awkwardly. "So now I just kind of want to stick my middle finger out at this place whenever I see it."
Cuddy smiled at him, touched. "I had no idea you felt that way."
"There's a reason for that; sappiness makes me want to vomit."
"Oh, and House?"
"We are not, under any circumstances, naming our baby Zygote."
"Aww, come on! It works for both sexes! Plus, it's better than Arlene."
"What? Is it wrong to want to name a child after your mother?"
"You hate your mother!"
As they bickered good-naturedly, Cuddy looked out at the busy clinic beyond the quiet office and thought to herself about how she'd come full circle.
Now, she was about to start yet another new chapter.
And she couldn't wait.
Hope you enjoyed the fic! Took me 24 solid hours to write. (It was originally going to be the next chapter of Snapshots but it's about 5400 words too long for that.) I'm normally a pretty devout Hilson, but this stuck in my head and wouldn't leave. Please R&R :)