but when the music started
or perchance, when the last little star has left the sky
In the midst of white lace and brocade and lilies and laughter, the little girl sullenly kicks her foot in the air, aiming at nothing and everything at once.
There are scores of big people around her, mingling, chattering, smiling, whirling across the floor in three-four time, but she is prisoner to her new clothes. She fusses with the bow around her waist and the ribbons in her hair. Absentmindedly, she rubs her shiny, polished shoe against the chair leg.
This is uncommon torture, for a little girl who would rather be tearing around after her cousins in the garden, shrieking at the top of her lungs in the freedom of shirt and dress pants.
But she had made a deal to be good and so behave she would, though it doesn't stop her from fretting, and pouting a little, and wriggling uncomfortably in her seat.
"Why, if it isn't little Lisa, all grown up," suddenly comes a voice in her ear, and a big, strong arm loops around her waist and lifts her easily from the chair. It's Uncle Ted, and she had always liked him because he laughed as if he really cared about her jokes, and she smiles at him now. He sets her on her feet, and drops into a sweeping bow that makes her giggle. "Will you do me the honour of the next dance, young lady?"
She pauses, a frown in her words and her eyes. "Daddy promised me a dance," she says hesitantly, and scans the room for her father's white coat and the ragged lavendar flower she had rescued from their backyard that morning and insisted on threading through his buttonhole.
"He's dancing with your sister, darling," Ted tells her, and she sees that it's true, as Jamie and her father swoop past in a whirl of laughter and music. "But my dance card is empty."
So she bites her lip, and swallows her disappointment, and puts her hand in the big paw he reaches out to her. In no time at all, she is in the middle of the dance floor, Ted instructing her to rest her toes on his far bigger shoes. "You won't hurt me," he smiles at her, and she is surprised by the laughter she manages to find inside her as he moves them easily around the room and sings along to the music, off-key as always.
Her face falls when the last note fades into farewells and platitudes and hugs, and it's time to go home. But her father grabs her hand and apologises - maybe next time, darling - and she thinks she's okay as he kisses her goodnight and tucks her in. The next day she comes home to an empty house, its peace broken only later, by her mother's fierce, desperate hug, the hot, hopeless tears of her sisters and a drive to the hospital that changes everything she has ever known.
- - - - -
shall we then say goodnight and mean goodbye?
She can still hear wisps of laughter and music, floating through the crisp night air.
She's tired, right down to her bones, with picnics and parties and football games with her friends, all of them dreaming big and bright and hopeful as their lives lie wide open before them - worlds they have yet to conquer, but which, in the bloom of their youth, seem ready for the taking.
This is the last party they'll have together - over the next two weeks, they will scatter across states, across countries, across the world, even, and the jokes and lockers and detentions that held them together will fade into Christmas cards and calls made too far apart to be meaningful.
She chides herself for her melancholy, as she tilts her head up to the night sky and studies the stars.
"There you are."
She smiles at his voice, turns at his words, and thinks that maybe, surely this will last if nothing else does - that he will always find her, as he did that grey autumn morning after Mr Cole told her that Katie was in the hospital, and she could swear that her heart had stopped beating.
He settles his long, swimmer's body next to her on the bench, loops his arm around her shoulders and presses a kiss to her cheekbone. "Last dance, Lise. Come on back in."
"I like it out here," she replies, and knows with a pang that goes straight to her gut that this is the last time they will sit here like this in Janie's backyard, high school kids for a few days yet, with the stars overhead and their friends dancing in the living room, as the world they have known and built for the last four years slowly fades away at the edges.
He gets to his feet then, and pulls her up and into his arms as the first strains of a familiar Sinatra song spill into the garden. She rests her head against his heartbeat, counts off a rhythm as his fingers lace themselves with hers, and they dance, in a fashion, swaying on the spot.
"This will work, won't it?" she finally dares to ask him, five words muttered into his grungy blue T-shirt. She means for it to work - she has resolved to write him letters and to call, and to save what she can from her scholarship to make trips from Ann Arbor to New York City.
He doesn't answer, and she's not sure if it's because he didn't hear her, but his arm tightens across her back and he sings into her ear, badly, no, they can't take that away from me.
She laughs, he always makes her laugh, and they're still dancing even after the music dies away, and Janie and David and Claire are howling with laughter and shouting at them to get a room, for Pete's sake.
It's the last night that they're all together, and these days, when she thinks back to this star-washed night, she knows that he said nothing because he had suspected it would never work, had known her well enough to guess that her ambition would some day drown out all her good intentions. Sometimes, she can't help wondering if he had also known that this would be their last dance, the last time he sang her Sinatra, the last time she felt the hum of his heart through her own skin.
- - - - -
and shall you be my new romance?
Front step, cha cha cha, back step, cha cha cha, side step, front step -
"Oh no," she laughs, the split second after she realises that she's dropped half a beat behind the music, and he groans, theatrically, as her foot lands squarely on his. "I'm sorry. Again. I swear I'm usually a better dancer than this."
He laughs at that, pulling her so close that she can feel the line of his hip against hers and almost taste the rum and chocolate they'd had for dessert on his breath, before he spins her away from him in a reckless circle that has nothing to do with the cha-cha.
As she moves back into his arms, he grins, that shy, goofy grin that reminds her of stolen kisses beneath the bleachers and football games on a spring morning. "I've already told you there's no need to apologise, Lisa," he tells her, "I know you're here to schmooze, so schmooze. The deal was half an hour. And then I get to do with you what I like."
He arches his eyebrows, trying for diabolical and failing miserably, and she can't help laughing again, as she rewards him for his patience with a long, slow kiss.
This is their second date, and she knows it's not going anywhere. He's about ten years too young, at least, and he's due to be posted overseas in three months' time. The only reason she knows him at all is that he's set to inherit the wealth, assets and property of a man whose name will one day soon decorate the hospital's east wing.
But it's been too long, she thinks, since she's just had fun and not worried about how to make room for it in her life and her work and her schedule. He makes her laugh, and he evidently wants her, she can tell from the way his eyes are sparkling even now as she presses her body against his and rubs her hand just so across the small of his back. So what the hell - it's been even longer since she's had a reason to turn up at a party already lightheaded from cocktails and fizzy dinner conversation.
The music slows, spilling from cha-cha into jazz, and he asks, innocently, "Don't you need to make the rounds?" before his arms go around her waist and it's clear that he has no intention of letting her go anytime soon.
She kisses him, again, as they move in lazy circles around the floor past other couples - Dr Cameron, bestowing a pity dance on Jackson from Geriatrics, Wilson with a faraway look in his eyes as he engages in a gloomy pas de deux with his wife, the one whose name she realises with some surprise that she still doesn't know.
It's with even more surprise that she discovers House, alone at a table (though the surprise is not that he's alone, but that he's there at all), hand gripping his cane and his hunter's eyes keenly tracking something, she's not sure what, on the dance floor.
She sighs, and suddenly decides that there's something depressing about the music and the people and the responsibilities that fill this room. So she leans into her date, and whispers in his ear, "Did I say half an hour? I'm thinking ten minutes should do it."
She remembers leading him from the room, and impatiently, back to her place - it's one of the few times she's thought to herself, to heck with the job, to hell with the schmoozing, fuck House and his angst and his lawsuits. She still remembers the strange glow of recklessness that carried her through that night and those kisses and the curiously gentle sex with a man she stopped seeing just three weeks later. It didn't go anywhere, as she had known it never would. But sometimes, on particularly bad days when she feels like breaking from the strain of holding the hospital and her world and a bitter, angry House together, she does wonder what might have been.
- - - - -
that this kind of thing can happen
She'd like to think that, for all the dinners and dances and lunches and soirees she has attended over the last ten years, she has never sold her soul for her hospital. Of course, she has flattered, wined, dined and flat-out begged too many people to count, a smile plastered on her face even if her heart was breaking, or her mind a thousand miles away, or her stomach hurting from the flu.
But those were sacrifices that had been willingly made, voluntarily offered.
Tonight feels different. Tonight, as he slouches on the sidelines with a pout in his brilliant blue eyes and his bow-tie - as usual - only perfunctorily done, she can't shake the feeling that she is bartering too much of what she believes in against a backdrop of smooth jazz and the clink of cutlery and wine glasses.
Throughout the evening, as she dutifully makes small talk with donors, or takes refuge in brief chats with the ever amiable Dr Wilson, she can feel his baleful glare fixed on her back. He is a malevolent presence, glowering and angry, and she hates to think of the trouble he will surely cause her on Monday, the spite of a petulant six-year-old attending a party against his will.
Once, as she brushes past him on her way to get some punch, he scowls and bites out, accusatorily, "Having a hundred million dollars' worth of nice evening, Dr Cuddy?"
She straightens up, returns his stony gaze, and tells him, "You were out of line this afternoon, House. Grow up."
Sweeping away as angrily as she knows how, she knows he's watching her, mutiny sketched in plain sight across his face. She sighs. Though it's clear as day that his presence here is some dastardly form of emotional blackmail, she'd like to think that there's a tiny part of him that feels guilty after that speech he gave earlier, and this is his warped way of apologising - skulking creepily in the shadows of a night otherwise filled with song, dance and the promise of money.
"Ah, Dr Lisa Cuddy," and she can't help it as a shiver of something like distaste skates up her spine, "aren't you a sight for sore eyes."
She turns and forces herself to smile. "Mr Edward Vogler," she replies despondently, though she tries to keep her words light as she scans the room, praying that she can make eye contact with anyone who can save her. Wilson has spied them and looks sympathetic, but is trapped in a conversation with his biggest donor. Chase is too engrossed in a pretty blonde nurse from NICU, and House... damn House is smirking, and he knocks back the rest of his cocktail with deliberate relish before tipping his glass at her.
"Shall we dance?" Vogler barks in her direction, never quite looking her in the eye, and she can't help wondering if this is how he's always asked a woman to dance - like a commander yelling at his troops to step lively, a threat of dire punishment in his loud, ringing voice if they disobey.
There is nothing for it but to nod, as graciously as she can, and he escorts her to the dance floor. She is trapped now, in an Ella Fitzgerald song and a shimmery blue dress she loved the moment she saw it on the rack, but which she suspects she might never wear again for fear that it will only remind her of this moment. She imagines that they must look ridiculous as he guides her across the floor - she is tiny against his bulk, and feels it as he looms over her.
"That was an... interesting display earlier, don't you think, Dr Cuddy?" Vogler stares down at her now, barely-concealed rage twisting his lips. "Utterly unprofessional behaviour from a doctor you claim is an invaluable asset to Princeton-Plainsboro. Seems to me he's more like a financial black hole with an unhealthy ability to manipulate everyone around him, including yourself."
She's not sure, at this moment, if she hates him or House more for putting her in this situation. "I can assure you I will speak with him," she begins, but the rest of her words die on her lips at the ice daggers Vogler shoots at her with his eyes.
"We will have a board meeting tomorrow, Dr Cuddy," he demands, as Ella declares smokily in the background that she is bewitched, bothered and bewildered. "You will not tell House, or any member of his team, or Dr Wilson about this until I have personally spoken to Dr House. But I would appreciate it if you would get the rest of the board members together."
She wants to pull away from him, cause a scene by yelling that a hundred million dollars isn't worth this aggravation and this blackmail, but she thinks again of her hospital, and the lives it has saved and the people it can save, and all the grief House has put her through, and she swallows her anger and her frustration and her words, and stays in his arms.
As Vogler bodily drags her to the left, she spies House, leaning against the wall and watching them intently. When he sees her looking in his direction, he stares right into her eyes for a brief, reproachful moment, and then he limps heavily from the room.
She knows he has no right to be disappointed in her; in the last few weeks, he has caused her more heartache and stress than any sane person could knowingly inflict on another human being. This is for her hospital, she tells herself again, for her people, for the research, for the greater good. But, as the music plays on, interminable and torturous, she can't shake the feeling that she has every reason to be disappointed in herself.
- - - - -
something drew me to your side
In the midst of white lace and brocade and lilies and laughter, she sits by herself with a glass of champagne.
There are scores of people around her, mingling, chattering, smiling, whirling across the floor in three-four time. She just manages to make him out through swirls of silk and velvet - he's next to the buffet table, talking to Wilson, a sardonic smile on his face punctuating what she's sure is a sardonic comment.
Absentmindedly, she fingers the napkin on the table, and turns her attention back to the dance floor. Chase, one of the reasons they're all here today, is glowing, his blue eyes crinkled with hope and laughter, his arm snugly around Cameron's waist - and Cuddy doesn't think she's ever seen Cameron smile just this way, bright and open and unworried, a lifetime of sacrifices made, unknowingly, for this moment.
She glances around the room again, and realises that House is looking at her now, intently, a question in his eyes, and she nods, just a little.
So he picks up his cane and a plate laden with food, and makes his way slowly, heavily, through the surprising numbers of people who managed to make time in their schedules on a balmy Tuesday afternoon to attend a summer wedding.
It takes him a while to manoeuvre his way through the crowd, and as he does, she thinks about the few times she's seen him dance. Once, in college, at a frat party - two seconds before he disappeared to hunt for beer. Again, at a casual party maybe a dozen years ago, when she was with Ben and he was with Stacy.
But she remembers one dance in particular - the night of the Huntington ball. She hadn't expected him to be there, hadn't even thought about him in months. But there he was, in a tux no less, Stacy on his arm, a lightness in his step she knows she'll never see again. In his own rude way, he had been charming, cheerful, complimenting her cleavage and her dress with one artful, gruff leer - and she had been genuinely surprised by the realisation that, yes, even Gregory House could be softened at the edges by love.
She remembers standing near the dance floor, trapped in the uncommon torture of listening to the hospital's biggest donor tick off a list of his own imagined virtues. She remembers watching as Stacy pulls House off his chair, words of protest she can see but can't hear spilling from his lips, and suddenly they're dancing. She remembers, randomly, his hand on the small of Stacy's back, sketching circles into skin with his pianist's fingers. She remembers him tilting his head, just so, looking into Stacy's eyes with the simple trust that they will take their next steps in perfect time with the music.
She knows, also, the reason she remembers this dance clearly. It was the last time she saw House whole.
A week, maybe two later, and all she sees and remembers is his face, twisted impossibly in rage and pain and so much bitterness, sunk in a hospital bed unable to save himself from a bad diagnosis and a newly hollow leg.
"Wanna dance?" suddenly comes a voice in her ear, as he settles himself in the chair next to hers.
She pauses, a frown in her words and her eyes. "You can't," she says, matter-of-factly, and wonders if, after ten years, it hurts her more to say those two words than for him to hear them.
"Spoilsport," he snarks back immediately, and she's glad he's not upset. "Astaire danced with a cane."
"Astaire also danced on roller skates. Backwards. With Ginger Rogers. Oh, and big plus, he wasn't crippled."
"Touche." House admits, then shrugs and drags her chair closer to his. She frowns at him, but finds it hard to maintain a chilly air of disapproval when he hooks his ankle possessively around hers, and he's close enough so she can breathe in the sharp salt of his aftershave. "Anyway, I didn't mean 'do you want to dance with me'. I meant, do you want to dance. For me. I think someone with the initials Lisa Cuddy M.D. owes me a lapdance."
She clenches her fist to keep from smiling, digging her nails into her palm, and says, as stonily as she can, "I never promised you anything of the sort."
"Cuddy, what have I told you about making non-specific promises to someone with a photographic memory? Friday last, at 11.23pm. Right after I gave you everything you never even knew you wanted, for the second night in a row, I specifically recall you saying that there was a special treat in store for me if I attended this wedding and didn't make Cameron cry. Et voila, a tearless Mrs Allison Chase."
She glances over to where Cameron is now chatting animatedly with Brenda and Foreman, and looks back at House. "The night is still young," she quips, "I've seen you make a total stranger cry in under a minute."
"I am awesome that way," he agrees readily, his blue eyes glinting green with mischief as his fingers start gently massaging her back. "By the way, I think my lapdance should involve you stripping down to whatever lacy unmentionable you're wearing under that blue thing, because I don't see Chase or Foreman weeping into their cocktails either."
She grins now, she can't help it, and then she leans over and whispers into his ear, "Be careful what you wish for."
"I'm used to your witchly wiles, Cuddy," he growls back, "You won't hurt me."
And she is surprised, this time, by how quickly and easily the laughter comes as she steals a cherry tomato off his plate, and he tries, as always, to be as off-key as possible as he hums along to the music.
- - - - -
Title and lyrics stolen from Rodger & Hammerstein's 'Shall We Dance?'. For a cuddy_fest prompt.
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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.