And To You Your Wassail
Cuddy found them after the party, not cuddling really but drowsing on the same couch off in a corner of the room. Wilson's head was tipped nearly onto House's shoulder and House's fine high cheekbone was snagged on Wilson's hair. Cuddy had always thought that House had unfairly well-sculpted bone structure, for all the grit of his stubble did to disguise it. She smiled a little, vaguely sad: even dozing against his best friend, half-tipsy on mulled wine made from the family recipe, House had that cranky little crease between his eyes.
She had taken off her shoes when most of the guests had left. She was accustomed to the ache and vertigo of stilettos, but she liked padding across the carpet in silent stockingfeet. Otherwise she never had the chance to see moments like this, House unguarded and Wilson relaxed, sweet and trusting. They had appeared like a cairn on the moor as the other guests had drifted away in the fog of their own companionable conversations. Clearly she needed a vacation, if she was coming up with similes like that. The rest of Ireland's effects had worn off two days after she'd gotten back, immersed immediately in the heat and stench of a Jersey summer. House drove her not quite to the other side of the earth, but at least partway across the hemisphere.
Cuddy stood in front of them with her arms crossed, just watching fondly. Her doctors. They did good work. This Christmas was the end of a week long case, another one of House's puzzling Rubik's patients, and again he had conjured up a miracle. And for once he had agreed to come to a party. She had thought he seemed lonelier, since Stacy left. Cuddy looked at House's leg, stretched out in front of him. He wasn't getting better, but she didn't know what to do.
House opened his eyes and caught her flatfooted. He put out a gentle hand, almost tender, and moved Wilson's head onto a pillow before getting awkwardly to his feet. He stood in front of Cuddy and she remembered why she liked wearing heels in front of House. He was tall, too tall, even with the stoop of his shoulders as he leaned on the cane. Cuddy had a weakness for tall men, but House had never bent over her with passion in his eyes, and she wasn't always sure she wanted him to.
"How are you doing?" she asked, off-balance, trying to regain her authority. House looked at her with a familiar cynical quirk to his mouth and she wished he were back on the couch breathing wine fumes into Wilson's hair.
"Saving lives, breaking rules," he said airily. "The usual."
"How's the leg?"
"Deteriorating." He looked away and popped a Vicodin. She wondered how many he had taken tonight and how the alcohol was interacting with his usual drugs. Maybe Stacy hadn't made the right choice. No, she knew Stacy had made the right choice, over and over, even if it was awful for the rest of them.
"Do you miss her?"
"Who?" House gave her his look of contrived confusion. "Oh, Stacy? Why would I miss her? One lawyer's as good as another."
Incorrigible House with his heart of blood and stone. But he was looking thinner these days, his cheeks Alas-poor-Yorick gaunt under the scruff of unshaved days. Cuddy thought her skepticism would irradiate House, but he seemed indifferent to the slant of her eyes as she watched him.
"It's okay to miss her," she said, vaguely uncomfortable but determined to continue the conversation, not to stand awkward and short in front of House but to demonstrate her social competence in the face of his heartbreaking misery. Gregory House, king of innuendo, brash and rude and somehow completely compelling.
"There's no point in it," he said. "I sent her away."
"There are ways to heal..." she began but he scoffed and looked down and away.
"Unless you're offering some sexual healing, I'm going to get some more wine." He shifted his cane in the deep pile of the carpet and gave her an appraising stare.
"I..." she faltered.
House paused and looked her over again. "Doctor Cuddy, were you propositioning me all this time?"
Uncertain, she blushed. She had always known what she wanted in life, but not with House. The pause had damned her but she would soldier on, the way she had when Vogler had asked her if she'd slept with House. Now and again she wasn't sure what was truth and what was intention.
"It's sweet that you thought you had to get me drunk, Cuddy," he said, somehow a little closer, his voice a little huskier, his eyes touched with green. She had to tip her head back to look at him now, the long pale line of her throat exposed to him. He would kiss her, perhaps, with the nutmeg of her wine on his bitter lips.
Instead he drew the back of one finger down her throat and between her collarbones almost to the plane of her sternum. She felt the flat of his nail and the rougher skin of his knuckle and shivered a little.
"House..." Her voice was unintentionally breathy and high the way it never was.
He tipped up her chin with the same finger and kissed the joint of her jaw underneath where the skin was tender. His stubble was harsh on her neck but she found she didn't mind, though she couldn't stop thinking of anatomy class. Mandible. Clavicle. Now House's breath was in her hair and she touched his arm to steady herself, feeling the tautness of his forearm under her hand as he gripped the cane.
"I thought you were just a flirt," she whispered.
"You'd be surprised what I can be," he murmured back with his lips against her ear. Cuddy felt the marrow of her bones beginning to turn warm and liquid. But it was wrong, all wrong. She couldn't save House from his despair. She would only lose herself in the effort. She had too many other things to do; loving House would require a singular focus. House or the hospital. There wasn't a choice there.
"Greg...House, no, I can't."
"Can't you?" He kissed her neck again. She closed her eyes. He wouldn't look at her, she thought. She wouldn't ever be who he wanted.
"No. I can't."
He pulled back and his cheekbone grated over hers. She felt herself leaning backwards, trying to counterbalance, but there was only the plush carpet under her feet and she barely caught herself. They looked at each other for a long moment. She was certain her wide eyes betrayed her weakness for him, her arousal. His eyes were inscrutable as always.
Then he smiled, the House trademark smile, thin and brittle and utterly without hope. There is joy, she wanted to tell him, there is love in the world and a great deal of it is lavished on you for all your skepticism.
What she said instead was "Merry Christmas", hoping that somehow he'd understand.
She watched him limp away towards the wine bowl.
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A/N: Yes, Cuddy is Jewish, but she could still throw a Christmas party. She does wish House and Wilson a merry Christmas at the end of "Damned If You Do", so it's likely that she even might. I'm really just covering my tracks here.
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Legal Disclaimer: The authors published here make no claims on the ownership of Dr. Gregory House and the other fictional residents of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Like the television show House (and quite possibly Dr. Wilson's pocket protector), they are the property of NBC/Universal, David Shore and undoubtedly other individuals of whom I am only peripherally aware. The fan fiction authors published here receive no monetary benefit from their work and intend no copyright infringement nor slight to the actual owners. We love the characters and we love the show, otherwise we wouldn't be here.