It felt like only moments later when she was startled back into awareness by fingers gently tickling her lower stomach. "Wakey, wakey, wakey . . ." a low voice mumbled in her ear.
She shifted, and found her muscles stiffer than a few minutes rest even in a strange position should have resulted in. "House?" she mumbled in a half-asleep tone of voice, blinking sleep out of her eyes and turning her head to look at him.
"While I think that you could do with a Saturday hanging out on a couch, you said you wanted to be at the hospital by noon," he said, again flicking his fingers lightly against the bare skin of her lower stomach, then tracing them a slight bit lower, before withdrawing them completely. "Is an hour to shower, dress and drive cutting it close?"
"An hour?" she asked, sitting up quickly and looking toward the clock in the room. The blanket fell away from her and she grabbed at it hastily, suddenly feeling a both a bit awkward, and a bit silly that she'd feel awkward in front of House, given that she'd been apparently sleeping for almost two hours naked and cuddled against him.
The clock was just approaching 11 o'clock. Barely enough time to get completely ready and drive to the hospital, but enough time. She looked down at the naked House lounging on her couch, and said, "I recall you're coming with me?"
"I'd hoped you'd forget that," he said, stretching his arms above his head. She stood, keeping the blanket wrapped around her, and he swung his legs to the floor and tried to stand up, groaning in the process. "Can I plead pain and stiffness?"
"You don't look that stiff," she remarked, as she peered down at a particular part of his anatomy.
"Ha, ha, ha," he responded, and offered her his hand.
She helped pull him to his feet, losing the blanket in the process. He once again used his eyes to trace her body from hips, to breasts, to face, focusing back on her with a half-leering grin. "No need to hide under that blanket." Then he continued, "can I steal a few minutes in a pounding and hot shower?"
Although her second bathroom had a shower, and she could perfectly well have offered that to him, the impulsive and lustful part of her brain that too often took control when House was near her and naked, spoke up. "We can share."
"You really want to get me in there to do those clinic hours."
"I held up my end of the bargain."
"Just a shower." She wagged her finger at him, then turned and started walking toward her bedroom.
"It always starts as just a shower . . ."
A few minutes after noon, they walked together through the front doors of Princeton-Plainsboro, she feeling ready to face whatever the nurses at the front desk had for her, he acting like he was actually looking forward to his clinic hours. She had offered to drop him off at his place to change into fresh clothing, half-expecting that he would not make it the rest of the way to the hospital, but he'd instead opted to ride with her to the hospital, mumbling something about the hospital, a change of clothing, and scrubs.
Just after they walked through the door and before they separated, he pointed his finger at her. "Five o'clock," he stated.
"What about five o'clock?" she asked.
"At five o'clock, I expect a ride out of here. No later."
"You can take a taxi . . ."
"Nope, you leave at five o'clock."
"We'll see about that."
With that, he headed off in the direction of the locker room, and she headed over to the front desk. While some part of her wanted to test him, to see exactly what he'd dared do if she wasn't ready to leave at five o'clock, the more rational part of her brain set the deadline and started planning the things she needed to accomplish this afternoon.
The receptionist at the front desk was staring after House with a slightly quizzical look on her face, but she returned her attention to the piles of paperwork in front of her as Cuddy approached. "Dr. Cuddy," she greeted her. "Dr. Sandberg has called four times since nine o'clock this morning, insisting that he needs to speak with you directly."
Cuddy looked at the pile of pink call slips on top of a pile of file folders, and noticed there were more than four slips. "Any good news in that pile?"
"Not that I know of."
"Put Dr. Sandberg through to my desk next time he calls." Damned if she was going to call him back and grovel for not being in at nine on a Saturday.
Cuddy took the pile of folders and call slips she was handed, and headed off toward her office. Luckily, there was nobody haunting outside her office door this morning. Not even Sandberg was obsessed enough to drive in and track her down in person, when he could harass her from the comfort of his own home on a cold and icy Saturday.
She sorted out the call slips and tossed the ones noting Sandberg's calls into the trash, then organized the three others from other board members in a neat line in front of her. Unless they had unknown benefactors she could attempt to call, she really didn't want to listen to the ideas any of them had. What were the chances that any of them had come up with ideas on who to fund-raise from or places they could cut the budget between last night and this morning? Shaking her head, she swept them all into the trash.
Looking through the pile of file folders in front of her, she found the one that contained the monthly summary of insurance issues, summarized information about what percentage of the patients in the past month had been covered by insurance, what percentage had not, which insurance companies were doing the most brazen 'reject everything and see who screams loudest' dance, how much uninsured care was going uncovered . . . it was a report she hated, but right now, maybe there was more chance of directing the billing office to pressure specific companies playing the refusal game than of finding money anywhere else. She began paging through the report, ignoring the huge total detailing their uninsured care, the number of accounts scheduled to go to collection, the number of requests for charity coverage, focusing only on the insurance details.
A sharp rap sounded from her doorway and she looked up, a bit annoyed that her concentration had been broken so quickly. Although, the sight of House in pale-colored scrubs, covered with a correctly-fitting white coat-now where in the world had he located it?-curbed her annoyance slightly.
He limped over to her desk and tossed a piece of paper on top of the report. It contained a short list of names and numbers jotted hastily down in House's distinctive handwriting, some of them starred. She picked it up, and glanced up at him in confusion.
"Call 'em." he stated. "Give them your song and dance. You probably can mention me to the starred names, otherwise, you might want to focus on the clinic or the effects of the economy on the hospital, or whatever. Some of them might have donated already, I don't know."
With that, he turned and walked out as quickly as his leg would allow him.
She looked at the list of names. Some looked familiar, most did not. Well, she could at least check the names against their fund-raising and donations database.
At three o'clock, she finally managed to talk an incensed Sandberg off the phone, and decided that she both needed a break and something to eat. She was starting to become too familiar with how quickly she went from being slightly hungry to feeling absolutely ravenous these days.
As she had expected, Sandberg had a lot of hot air to blow, and absolutely no useful suggestions or recommendations. She hoped that perhaps letting him rant at her via her speaker phone while she looked through budget spreadsheets might mean that he kept his suggestions short and to the point when the board re-convened, but she was beginning to believe that he would never shut up until he was either excused from the board or died.
On the other hand, House's list had already proven useful. Once she'd eliminated the few duplicate names from his list, she'd tried calling some of the starred names. One of the first three had resulted in an invitation to come speak with the board of a charitable foundation she'd heard of in passing over the years, but had never considered approaching before. Another had resulted in someone who had set up an appointment to come in and discuss a donation to one of their funds. It was more than she'd managed to accomplish otherwise in recent weeks.
As she exited her office, she glanced over toward the main desk and noticed a couple of nurses, nurse assistants, and the receptionist engaged in an animated discussion. While she wasn't one to forbid workplace chatter, as long as it didn't venture into destructive gossip, this seemed to be a bit more intense than usual. She wandered over toward them, trying to see if she could casually overhear what they were discussing, but one of the nurses she knew well immediately brought her into the conversation.
"Did he lose a bet with you?" Nurse Becky asked her, waving her hand in the general direction of one of the exam rooms for the clinic.
"Lose a bet?"
"Dr. House. Or did you get some great blackmail material on him?"
She choked and coughed at the same time. "What is House doing?"
"He's gone through about 40 patients in under three hours, and he's actually pretending to be civil. Either he's up to something, or you got something."
"I guess I'll have to figure out what he's up to."
She walked away quickly, neither trusting her voice or her face any further, as the group started to speculate about what House was doing. As she waited for the elevator, she saw him emerge from an exam room, a half-smile on his face, and politely trade one folder for another.
Even with the distance between the front desk and the elevators, he caught her eye, tilted his head at the gaggle of gossips, and then gave her one of his patented smirks.
Her elevator arrived and she hastily stepped into it, managing to suppress her desire to laugh loudly until the doors had closed her off from the lobby area.
As her clock changed over to 4:58pm, Cuddy was hastily sorting through documents that required her signature, trying to figure out which ones she could sign and send on without further review. House stepped through the door into her office, once again dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, his coat tossed over his arm. "Time to go!"
"I have two more minutes left."
"One, actually," he remarked, as the clock again changed.
But he shut her office door then settled down on her couch, apparently willing to wait a few more minutes as she finished up the paperwork she was determined to get through. She tossed a few more files onto the pile she needed to look at again later, added her signature to two more, then shut the file folder. "Okay, done."
He groaned, and settled further into the couch. "Do you know how tiring actually working for five hours is?" he asked with a whining tone.
"Maybe someday, you should try working for eight hours, even ten."
"Now why would I do that?"
She rolled her eyes at him, and stood up to gather her briefcase and coat. Grabbing that last file folder off her desk, she started to head toward the door. "Hey, you're the one that insisted we were out the door at five."
"I insisted we be done with work at five."
"I think there are places I'd rather be than this office."
"Got any ideas?"
"We could grab some dinner, go to a movie, you know, normal Saturday night things. Or even just stop somewhere for coffee and sandwiches before heading home."
He regarded her steadily. "I'd define those as Saturday night date things."
"You could characterize those suggestions that way."
"You asking me out?"
"I guess that I am." She opened the door and headed out, walking toward the front desk and the inter-campus mail box there.
Behind her, she heard House heave himself to his feet and follow, as her actions dared him to continue their conversation in the halls of the hospital.
"Dinner and a movie sound like something that boring, everyday people do."
"Right now, boring and everyday sounds just fine to me."
"I guess that I am."
She handed off the file folder to the person currently manning the front desk, noting with a slight bit of relief that it didn't appear to be anyone she recognized and that the lobby area was mainly empty.
While some part of her was getting a bit tired of the formal distance they had been keeping within hospital walls, another part of her knew that on top of everything else, neither she nor House needed the rumors of a relationship complicating matters right now. But she had intentionally drawn him out into the lobby during the course of a conversation about a possible date. She found that she didn't want to look at her motives closely.
They walked out the doors quietly, side-by-side, as they often had in the past. To anyone watching, it was probably unremarkable. Somehow, they often ended up leaving at the same time, walking out together.
As the back of his hand lightly brushed against hers, she resisted the temptation to take hold of it, to intertwine their fingers. They would be at the parking garage and her car in a few minutes, perhaps stopping somewhere for dinner soon after that. Plenty of time away from the hospital to engage in whatever romantic tendencies she might have, and he might be willing to tolerate.