origamiflowers: bare feet on tile (shadow flower window)
with a violin and a song to sing ([personal profile] origamiflowers) wrote2009-07-25 03:41 pm

fic: House: "A Hundred Times Too Short" - Thirteen/Cuddy, PG

Title: "A Hundred Times Too Short"
Fandom: House M.D.
Pairing: Thirteen/Cuddy
Rating: PG
Length: ~2850 words
Disclaimer: House M.D. does not belong to me. I am not profiting from this.
Warnings: none
Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] femslash09. My first House fic in a while!
Summary: It all starts with a cup of coffee.


"Is life not a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?" - Nietzsche


Waiting in line at the local coffee shop down the street was fast becoming a habit, Thirteen thought wryly. (Much like referring to herself as Thirteen, in fact.) Forget about tripping or toking; caffeine was her favored fix of choice.

Still, there were downsides. She spent at least thirty minutes at this place every morning, inching forward at a pace more suited to snails than bipeds, along with what seemed like half the nurses before first shift. She slipped her hands into the pockets of her trousers, preparing to wait.

When she finally reached the front of the line, she found herself having to shout at the coffee shop guy. What were those people called again? she wondered vaguely while saying, "No - not a latte - I just want a cup of coffee, you know, just regular coffee - two creams and one sugar, okay?"

"Any flavors?" the barista said loudly (That's what they're called, Thirteen realized, and this was why she needed her goddamn coffee already), punching buttons on his cashier's machine thing and not looking at her. "We got vanilla, hazelnut, raspberry, mocha--"

She shook her head emphatically, thinking gestures might work better than words. Maybe she should pick up sign language if she was going to keep coming here. "No. Two creams, one sugar, that's all." She held up her fingers in numerals to illustrate.

He grunted and gave her the total. As she handed over a five (plain-jane coffee was going to be as expensive as gold one of these days) and gave him her name, Thirteen glanced around nervously. She didn't recognize a single head of hair - did everyone have to be dressed in their scrubs before she could recognize them on sight?

She pocketed her change and shouldered her way through a patch of giggling women, trying to find a quiet - or at least still - place to stand while she waited. Her gaze was fixed low, avoiding prying eyes.

"Dr. Hadley?" said a female voice, coming from just in front of her.

Thirteen's head jerked up. It was Dr. Cuddy - House's boss and hospital administrator, wearing a small smile and one of those pencil skirts that silhouetted her figure perfectly.

She took a deep breath and nodded, feeling distinctly squeezed in, and not just physically. "Dr. Cuddy. Hi."

The older woman's smile was wide and pleasant. "How are you?"

Thirteen shrugged, not really sure what to say. "It's been fine. Working for House, I mean."

Cuddy's right eyebrow rose a notch, looking irritatingly skeptical. "Fine? I'm not sure that's an adjective I've ever heard from one of his doctors before. You don't hate him? Think it's time to quit? Considering moving to another country so you never have to see his face again?"

"I like my job," Thirteen countered, her smile growing sharper. "It's challenging."

"Fair enough," Cuddy said. The line moved forward the space of one person. "But," she added, her mouth twitching, "I asked how you were."

The one question that, if she were to consider honestly, she had no idea how to answer. She settled for a standard response. "I'm fine, too. Everything's fine."

At that moment, one of the baristas yelled out, "Coffee for ... B? B?"

"That's me," Thirteen said, anxious to leave. "I think they have trouble with 'Thirteen'."

Cuddy nodded, her forehead creasing in momentary disappointment. "Well, see you around," she said, and flashed another smile, touching Thirteen's arm briefly. Her fingertips pressed into Thirteen's inner arm gently, and the touch stayed with her for the rest of the day.

----

Prince Worthington, they'd nicknamed him behind his back, or just The Prince for short. The worst kind of assignment - the kind that came straight from Cuddy, top-down, no negotiations. A board member had insisted that House treat his sick son - no other doctor in the country was good enough, apparently - and since their current caseload was a little on the slow side - okay, it was practically nonexistent - Cuddy had demanded that House take the case.

A move designed to irritate him more than anything else, Thirteen was sure, especially since she suspected that Lucas Worthington, III, could be treated just as well by the clinic as by the hospital's top diagnostic team.

"I had to change your clinic hours for tomorrow," Dr. Cuddy said her as she swept by, holding a clipboard. "We need more doctors in the morning. Come in at eight instead."

Cuddy disappeared almost immediately, but Thirteen stared after her for a moment. Had she come down here from on high to do anything besides inconvenience her? She'd been scheduling her clinic hours for Friday afternoons for a reason - it was a nice, no-brain-required way to end the week. Now House was probably going to be the last face she saw this week at work. Thirteen clipped her own clipboard to the patient's bed with a little more force than was probably necessary, ignoring the disgruntled look she got from her patient.

"Hey," he snapped. Literally, in fact; he snapped his fingers in her face. Did people even do that in real life? "Excuse me, do you realize who I am?"

Thirteen sighed.

By the end of the day, her irritation at Cuddy had been forgotten, subsumed by the demands of her job. That was what Thirteen considered the greatest benefit, excellent healthcare notwithstanding, of working for House: it made it remarkably easy to forget everything else.

House was staring at his computer screen when she entered his office for hopefully the last time that day. "Hey," she said, leaning in. "I'm leaving for the day. There's nothing else we can do for Prince Worthington tonight. See if he's better in the morning."

House merely flicked his fingers at her. "Go therefore and do ... whatever it is you do at night. Be emo. Snort coke. Protest the heteronormativity of Twilight." He sounded merely bored, a result of being given a useless assignment, but Thirteen wasn't fooled. He would find some puzzle to work on, which probably included going after his employees' personal lives, if he didn't have something else to do.

She thought back to the way Cuddy's fingers had brushed her arm. The feeling of it had stayed with her all day, like an imprint. Her eyes narrowed.

"Sure," she said, and disappeared.

----

"Coffee?" Cuddy suggested from her right. "Two creams, one sugar, and absolutely no flavorings, is that right?"

One hand poised at the door, Thirteen halted in her tracks and looked over. "Excuse me?" she asked, too surprised to say or do anything else. Here she was, right in front of the door to the coffee shop, and there was Dr. Lisa Cuddy, standing off to one side, with a smile and an extra cup of coffee, looking amused. For her, apparently.

Cuddy tilted her head to one side, regarding her curiously. "Coffee," she repeated. "My advice? Take it before it gets cold."

Thirteen did, momentarily grateful as the warmth seeped through to her hands, but she was unsure of what to say. "Uh, thanks," she said finally, shifting on her feet. Awkward as she felt, she supposed the gesture meant she wouldn't be standing in a line for thirty minutes that morning. "I can't believe you remembered how I take my coffee," she added.

Cuddy shrugged nonchalantly, but her blue eyes were sparkling. "Figured you might need it. It's my fault you'll be in the clinic this morning, so I thought I'd make up for it."

She had to have gotten here an hour early to get them both coffee in time, Thirteen thought - a long way to go to thank an employee for a shift change. "I guess so." She took a sip of her coffee - it was just the right temperature, still hot without being scalding. "You pay that much attention to all your employees?"

"Only the interesting ones." They began walking in the direction of the hospital.

Thirteen's lips turned up at one corner; she looked down at the plastic lid on her coffee cup. "I see."

"You really enjoy working for House." Cuddy still sounded surprised about it - and if Thirteen were to guess, a little impressed too.

She shrugged, listening to the uneven clip-clop of their shoes on the pavement. "It's a challenging job. It has its rewards."

Cuddy nodded like that answer was exactly what she had expected. "Most doctors can't stand it. Other people thrive in that environment."

They had almost reached the great glass doors to the hospital. Even though the fragile early sunlight was only just washing over them, Thirteen could already see the hustle and bustle of the workday beginning. Things were stiff and slow at the moment, but soon everyone would warm up.

"Well." Cuddy paused at the door, flashing a wide smile; Thirteen found herself drawn to the tilt of her lips and wondering just -- now that was a bad idea. She reined in her thoughts before they started really wandering. "I'll see you around."

There was some irresistible power to Cuddy's smile when it was sincere; Thirteen felt herself smiling back. "Sure."

----

"I need to talk to you." Thirteen dropped the file onto the table, looking serious. The rest of the team had left with their respective assignments moments ago, and it was only her and Cuddy standing in House's office.

As Cuddy glanced at the clock, her expression was oddly satisfied. "I have some free time in two hours, after my next meeting," she suggested. "How does that sound?"

"Perfect." Thirteen was eager to get the whole messy thing out in the open and sweep it under the rug. "I'll get my blood work over with and come by, then." She indulged herself in a quick sweep over Cuddy's figure as she turned away, eyes following the seam down her pink skirt. Then she made herself look away.

It had been two weeks after their first 'date' at the coffee shop, and Cuddy had continued the coffee ritual almost every morning. Their conversations as they walked to work were short and often shallow, but Cuddy had begun by casually brushing elbows with her, and the touches gradually started building up in frequency and intensity as the days passed. Now every time they got into an elevator together, she knew she could expect the brush of Cuddy's fingers against the small of her back.

And that was where the problem lay. The other woman's constant physicality was driving Thirteen to distraction.

She didn't know if Cuddy knew about her sexuality - House could have told her, but he usually didn't reveal what he knew unless there was something in it for him - and she doubted that the administrator was making a pass at her blind. Which left one option, really: she just didn't realize the signals she was sending.

It felt, in a strange way, like being woken up again after a long sleep. Oh, she couldn't call herself a nun - she'd been having plenty of sex - but it wasn't sex born of attraction. Every time she thought of Cuddy she felt a tightening low in her belly, a coiling desire. She was looking forward to their morning coffee every morning without fail. This was going to be dangerous if she didn't nip it in the bud.

As Thirteen began drawing blood from their new patient, she practiced what she planned to say in her head. "I know you don't realize what's happening ... culturally, women are allowed to ..."

"Hey, are you okay?" Mrs. Newberry leaned into Thirteen's field of vision.

She realized the vial was full of blood, and had been for several seconds. Flashing an apologetic smile, she carefully slid the needle out of the patient's arm and reached for a bandage. "Sorry."

"You look like your head's elsewhere," she chided. But it wasn't cruel; she was smiling at Thirteen instead. "Problems of a personal nature?" Romantic problems, in other words. Thirteen cringed; she hated letting personal issues get in the way of doing her job well.

"Sorry," she said again, ducking her head a little. Newberry flapped a hand at her dismissively.

"Don't worry about it. I know you probably don't want advice, but you should resolve it. Don't let it fester."

"I will," Thirteen assured her. Everything would be fine once she got it over with.

----

She took the seat across from Cuddy's desk tentatively.

"What did you want to speak to me about?" At the moment, Cuddy looked eminently administrative, exuding a glow of professionalism, and Thirteen was already beginning to doubt herself. Maybe it would be better to just forget about this, she considered. It might be all in her head.

Then she thought of those fingers brushing her lower back again - unfortunately her favorite erogenous zone - and took a deep breath.

"Let me say first that I know you didn't intend it," she began, feeling Cuddy's gaze boring into her. "And really, it's not that big of a deal. But the way you've been touching with me recently - it's making me uncomfortable. I don't know if you know this, but I'm bisexual, and that could be interpreted as ... well, as an overture toward me."

Cuddy opened her mouth, but Thirteen held up a hand, determined to get through her entire speech. Cuddy obliged, sitting back quietly. "I know that in our culture women are allowed to touch a lot, especially friends. And that's fine. I thought I'd just clear the air on where I stood."

Cuddy lifted a perfectly manicured eyebrow. "Are you telling me you're attracted to me?"

Thirteen's mouth opened and closed silently, at a loss. Regaining her composure, she said, "That's not what I said." But her protest sounded weak, even to herself.

Cuddy leaned forward, a smile playing at the edges of her lips. "As a matter of fact, I was 'making an overture'." She added air-quotes around Thirteen's phrasing.

Once again, Thirteen found herself without words. Every time she thought she figured out what was going on, Cuddy threw her for another loop. Unexpectedly, she found herself getting angry.

"Look, you might be attracted to me, it's possible, but I'm not interested in being someone's experimentation, okay? I get that every time someone says the words 'bisexual' or 'lesbian,' people insist on hearing 'threesome,' but I'm not interested in the Girls Gone Wild version of relationships with women. It's not titillating, or subversive, or just passing the time until the guy you want notices you."

By the time she was finished, Thirteen found herself on her feet, hands planted on the desk.

Cuddy's smile hadn't gone away. "I got my experimentation over with in college. I'm not waiting for anyone else to come along. I know what I want - and I go after it."

Without warning, Thirteen tipped Cuddy's chin up with her fingers and pressed their lips together. Cuddy's lips were sticky-sweet, tasting faintly of plastic strawberries, and she could just smell the make-up from her skin. The tip of Thirteen's tongue darted out, sliding across her upper lip, but only for a moment - then she pulled herself up and away.

It was a short kiss, as kisses went, but Thirteen still found herself breathing heavily and feeling lightheaded as she looked down at Cuddy. She had finally surprised her: her mouth was moistly parted, her eyes wide. Thirteen could taste Cuddy's lip gloss behind her teeth.

"Is that what you want?" she asked finally.

Cuddy pressed her lips into a line; Thirteen indulged herself by imagining that she was licking the taste of their kiss from her mouth. "Well, I was thinking we might have drinks before that part. But - yes. How does tonight sound?"

Thirteen smiled. "As long as you're not talking about more coffee. We have to try something new." It felt good. Really good. In fact, she didn't know how long it had been since she'd smiled this much. It had felt foreign at first, but she was slowly getting used to it.

Cuddy laughed out loud, the kind of full laugh that Thirteen loved. "How about martinis instead?"

Something new was beginning.

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