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28 November 2005 @ 04:55 pm
Ill Season, Cuddy, PG-13  
Title: Ill Season
Author: Ana (sinquepida)
Rating: PG-13, for language.
today was ice-clogged rivers and thick black
leather, blue cigarettes and no lung cancer
-Sheila Black
Disclaimer: House is owned and operated by David Shore, Heel-to-Toe Productions, and FOX. No copyright infringement intended.
Notes: For the House Rareathon. Betaed by tangleofthorns, a true game-day player. Title from Robert Lowell.
Summary: She's been in Michigan for almost three years, and the winters last much longer than that.

When she gets back to the building, there's a band of light stretching across the horizon behind her. She doesn't time her run so that she can watch the sun come up while she stretches, exactly, but she doesn't mind the show, either.

She sets her tape deck on the low wall in front of her and stands for a minute, breathing deeply. Her sophomore year, a guy from the cross country team spent most of a Sigma Delt costume party expounding on his hatred for the dilettantes who went jogging with Walkmen, thus making the pure and holy sport of distance running nothing more than a mobile Jazzercise class. She had smiled and nodded and then asked why there was a portable stereo at every track practice; she had tried not to laugh while he sputtered about pacing. She runs every morning and every morning she remembers that guy and thinks, simply and satisfyingly, fuck you.

She plants her left foot and pulls her right up behind her, teetering a little; when she switches sides she has to hop a couple times to keep her balance. The entryway to her building is always salted unevenly, especially along the walls. Sometimes the ice and the cold are enough that she goes inside and cools down in the lobby. The lobby's over-warm, even for the winter, and she tends to overheat, already sweating under three layers and a gaiter, listening to the hiss of the radiator and licking her chapped lips. Most mornings, she stays outside and watches the sky change colors. There are worse ways to start the day.

* * *

In her suite, she starts peeling off layers just inside the door, leaving a sweaty trail of winter accessories behind her. Her roommate, a comparative lit major from Illinois, had gleefully scheduled every one of her classes for early afternoon, including recitations, and never gets up before eleven. The little apartment still has the suspended feeling of a place where everyone's gone to bed, even as light starts to creep in from the windows.

She stops to hit the button on the coffee machine before she defrosts in the shower for a few minutes. She doesn't realize until the water starts to sting that her calves had been a little numb. She scrubs the sweat out of her hair and breathes in steam until she figures the coffee might be ready.

By the time she leaves the building again, it's after eight. Her hair's blown out, whipping around her face in the wind, and her boots crunch in the salt. She folds her arms over her coat to keep out the cold and keeps her head down through the walk to the lab.

She spends the morning setting agarose gels, injecting genetic material into typing slots, reading a three day old paper while she waits for the gel to harden and tell her something about the hereditary lung diseases of the common white mouse. She makes a half-hearted attempt at the crossword, but the paper's common property and someone else has already filled in half the answers in ink.

Occasionally, some of the international students, the ones who don't speak Romance languages, get their hands on the Sunday crossword and spend hours filling in the blanks using letters from their native alphabet. Achieving the proper balance of actual vocabulary with the names of obscure composers generally takes hours; the results are taped to someone's lab's door, where they amuse those who can understand them for weeks.

She's had this lab space for two semesters, since she got her name on a couple of studies her advisor had fished up for her. It wasn't groundbreaking work, exactly, but it gave her experience and some knowledge of the method. The research committee had rewarded her by squeezing her into one-third of a lab, shared with a Ph.D. candidate from Iowa and a Ukranian guy attached to the plastics research team. Their projects have never been well-suited to sharing equipment, and the three of them spend a lot of time scuttling off to their respective departments when they want to play with the best toys.

The boys do most of the decorating on their lab door; Joe, from Iowa, tends toward National Geographic-esque nature photos, and Yevhen furnishes crosswords completed in Cyrillic and the odd postcard of the Ukrainian countryside. Occasionally, Lisa puts something up- a sidebar from Popular Science on the physics of the perfect serve; a Far Side cartoon about obscure insects- but for the most part it's the kind of thing she forgets to think about.

* * *

The next time she has to go outside, the morning light pale, the wind is blowing drifts onto the sidewalk, the snow forming swirls and eddies on the pavement. She's learned that there's a trick to placing your feet on the ice, a kind of hesitation as you place your weight on the balls of your feet and hope not to slip. She's been in Michigan for almost three years, and the winters last much longer than that; she's gotten good at the gait. It has its own grace after a while; the winters are so long that she sometimes finds herself forgetting that she hasn't been here her entire life, that there are other ways of moving forward.

She stops in the lobby of the Union and stamps her feet on the runner a few times, trying to shake off as much snow as she can. She unwraps her scarf, following a trail of wet footprints to the elevator bank, unbuttoning her coat on the ride to second floor ballroom. She hangs them both on a portable rack outside the reception and stops for a moment to straighten her hair before she goes inside.
Her advisor, an associate biology professor, finds her at the punch bowl and smiles broadly.

"Lisa!" she says. "I'm so glad you could make it."

"I'm happy to be here," she replies. "I've had a very positive experience with WISE."

"Good, good," her advisor enthuses. "I'd like to introduce you to a couple people from the post-grad biomed program; I think you'll like them."

"Of course," she nods, fixing her smile. Her advisor pulls her over to a trio of second year Ph.D. candidates who are working on prenatal genetic testing; they spend a few minutes selling her on Michigan's open research environment. She listens and nods and makes sure to remember their names and makes a note to go to a lecture one of them is giving on Down markers later in the week.

After they shake hands again, she drifts towards the windows and watches the snow start to fall. She'll make space in her schedule for the Down lecture; she thinks it's important to do things like that, at least in part so she can meet other women who are doing what she is, to get a feel for what the next few years will be like. She has a plan- another publication, medical school, a residency, a staff position- but there are times when she can only see the bones of the thing, a bare tree stark against the sky. It's easy to forget that she'll have moments in her life that won't appear on her C.V., that will be hers alone to remember.

As she makes her way out, she stops to say hello to women she knows- a professor she had last semester, some undergrads she knows from other WISE receptions, a TA with a lab on the floor below hers, who invites her to a cocktail party off campus. She promises to stop by before picking up her coat and walking back out into the weather.

* * *

When she gets back to the lab, Yevhen is at one of the chalkboards, where he's drawn an elaborate series of electron-dot models. He's covered in dust, muttering to himself in Ukrainian. He turns to say hello as she unwraps her scarf.

"Exciting gossip today," he tells her. "Very big scandal."

"Did Joe forget to wash his dissection trays again?" she asks.

Yevhen shakes his head eagerly. "No, is much better than Joe," he says. "Davidson is-" he pauses to tilt his head back and slice one hand across his throat "-finished," he whispers.

She turns to look at him. "He's not teaching anymore?" she asks, the most logical departure she can think of. Davidson is the head of the research committee, and an associate dean of the medical school. He's well-respected if not well-liked; most importantly, he's tenured, and she hasn't heard of any impending doom, and certainly not one that would come in the middle of the semester. She tries to pay attention to the seismic shifts around her, and she's improved over the years. It irks her a little to have missed something so apparently juicy; a petty part of her hopes that Yevhen is confused.

"Gone," Yevhen insists. "Resigning! Retiring! Completely gone!"

"That can't be right," she insists.

Yevhen waves his hands, clearly thrilled to be the bearer of scandalous news. "Yes, yes, completely gone. Leave of absence this semester, then early retirement. Because of girl-" Yevhen lowers his voice "-candy striper-" and makes a vaguely obscene gesture. "In the hospital!"

Lisa forgets herself for a moment. "He got caught fucking a candy striper in his office?" She can't help herself; it's simultaneously repulsive and ballsy, the kind of thing she increasingly believes that only academics and politicians can get away with.

Yevhen shakes his head with glee. "In a hospital bed! Patient out for tests!"

Lisa stares a little; this is egregious and more than a little bizarre- in a patient's bed? She thinks of the sheets and shudders- but, she knows, not the kind of thing that gets one's tenure revoked.

"-better!" Yevhen is saying. "One of his med students find out, tells in rounds. Davidson throws chair at him and tries to hit him! They have to call security!"

Lisa shakes her head and settles back in with her agarose trays. It already has the feel of a legend- the candy striper, the bed, the med student; it's the kind of story that universities spawn every few years, to be passed on at faculty dinners and honor society meetings until no one knows how much is true and how much has been embellished by eager grad students. Even now, a bare day after the fact, it's hard to tell how much of it actually happened- the affair, the assault- and how much of it has been spun through the web of bored T.A.'s and university admin staff.

From the chalkboard, Yevhen says, "I hear the girl-" Lisa turns just in time to see him cup his hands chest high "-huge," he finishes.

* * *

She leaves the lab to go to her afternoon lectures, bracing herself for the cold each time she steps outside. When she gets back to her suite, she briefly considers going back outside to run again, but she's bone cold and her legs still ache a little from the morning's run. Instead, she showers and styles her hair and puts on lipstick and a tight sweater and dress pants. She stands in front of the mirror, wondering when she'll have to stop dressing like this; there's a difference between the way young women dress up and the way professional women dress up, and she's a little afraid of crossing the line into baggy pants suits, or even slim pants suits. A lot of the women she sees at WISE luncheons and the lab tend toward thick cardigan sweaters and the occasional gauzy skirt. She isn't sure which would be worse: dressing that way and hating it or dressing that way and liking it.

The party's at a rambling sharehouse on Liberty, lit up with months-old Christmas lights and cheap paper lanterns. A cluster of people on the porch are sitting on railings and old lawn chairs, smoking, shoulders hunched to keep warm. Inside, the air is almost sultry; everyone is already a little flush with bad wine and the noise of a Friday night in a college town. Lisa finds Blaine, the TA, in the ramshackle kitchen, making guacamole in a tight cocktail dress, overdressed for her own party. She feels a brief twinge of sympathy; she's seen Blaine try too hard before, and it's a little painful to watch.

"Lisa!" Blaine says brightly, "Great! You're here!" She pushes her hair out of her eyes and tries to smile.

The table in front of them is a mess of sour cream and bruised avocados. "Why don't I chop while you stir?" Lisa says. Blaine tries to cover her relief and fails. "Blaine," she continues as she picks up a knife, "do you even know all these people?"

Blaine begins spooning sour cream into mismatched Tupperware bowls and shakes her head. "Someone brought this med student who's apparently famous, and I swear, half the living room is here to get his autograph or something, except honest to God, I'm not even sure he's still here-"

"Is this the Davidson thing?" Lisa asks. Blaine glares at her, looking betrayed. "I mean," Lisa says, "I didn't realize the guy had a fan club already."

"They're like vultures," Blaine replies darkly, mixing the avocados viciously. "Come on," she says when the sour cream is sufficiently green, "you can meet the people I know."

She lets Blaine take her arm and pull her through the living-room to introduce her to a few clusters of guests. Blaine is obviously following a script picked up from a magazine or a book on hostessing, and she tells people that Lisa is researching pulmonary diseases before going to medical school. Lisa, in turn, meets a champion curler, a girl who just won a Fulbright, and a guy who started his own custom tee-shirt business in high school. She tries for a minute to remember names, but she can already tell that, despite Blaine's careful choreography, this will not be the kind of party at which she speaks politely about hobbies.

She accepts a glass of cheap wine from the tee-shirt guy and works her way through half of it while watching Yevhen use a number of vulgar hand gestures to retell the story of Davidson and the candy striper across the room. She listens to the conversation enough to think that the Fulbright scholar is going somewhere in South America before the curler mentions that he heard that the med student who had found out about Davidson was actually at the party.

"I heard it was in a chemo chair," the tee-shirt guy says.

"No," someone else interjects, "he threw a chair at the guy."

"A chemo chair?" the tee-shirt guy asks.

"A folding chair, I think," the curler offers.

Lisa drains the rest of her wine and excuses herself.

* * *

It takes her a few minutes to move through the living room and to the back of the house; at one point Blaine rushes by with a tray full of tortilla chips and liquor. She slips out the back door and stands on the cement stoop, fumbling in her purse for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. The night's turned clear and icy, but she's grateful for the cold after the crush inside. She's cupping her hands against the wind when she looks up and realizes there's a guy sitting on a lawn chair a few feet away, his feet propped on an empty keg.

"Those things'll kill you, you know," he says dramatically. Lisa looks at him for a minute, tired and bored and a little annoyed. I have to be up in six hours, she thinks.

"Not today," she says finally.

He nods slowly. "Of course. You could get hit by a bus long before the emphysema gets you. Tomorrow, maybe. Or next Friday."

She takes the first good drag and holds it for a minute. She wants to be running; she wants it to be morning. She exhales and looks back at the guy in the lawn chair. His hands are steepled and he's rocking a little in the chair, its front legs off the ground; she can just make out a spectacular bruise coming in on his left eye. She wishes again that she were asleep, back on campus in her tiny suite; she wishes she had the energy to go six rounds of statistical probability with the man in front of her. She barely has the energy to lift her cigarette, let alone flirt in coded aphorisms about mortality. Finally, she says, "I don't leave the house on Fridays. I'm very religious."

In the almost-dark, she can't tell if that earns her a smile or not. "Orthodox? I can respect that," he replies. His voice is a calculated combination of earnest undergrad tolerance and liberal faculty disdain, designed for maximum insincerity. It almost shocks a laugh out of her.

"Hasidim," she deadpans, recovering.

They're both silent as she takes another drag, the smoke and her breath mixing in the cold.

"So," he says finally, "what's your major?"

"Sagittarius," she replies.

This time, he laughs. Lisa's surprised to find she's pleased; it's a brief rush, the kind that comes at the very end of a long run, a little determination she hadn't realized was there, letting her sprint to the finish. It's a nice feeling; she smiles a little.

"I'll guess," the guy says. He makes a point of taking in her scarf, her sweater, her dress boots. "You're studying…communications."

She raises an eyebrow.

"Not communications? Sociology," he declares.

This time, she blows the smoke at him, and he smirks a little before trying again.

"Hmmm," he says carefully. "Not communications, not a soft science…maybe…biology with a minor in business."

"That's a good trick," she says, exaggerated awe in her voice. "Can you tell my fortune, too?"

He pushes back and forth on the keg, rocking a little. "Six husbands. At least. You should avoid supermarkets in 1997. Put money on the Pistons, for their time will come."

"Now you're just making things up," she tells him.

"I was serious about the Pistons," he insists. "Now you try."

She makes a show of focusing. "Beware of flying furniture."

He settles the chair fully on the ground, and grins so broadly she can see it in the half-light from the outdoor bulbs next door. "If only I had met you this morning," he says, faking mournful. He stands up and walks over to the stoop, almost her height despite the step. "I would have known to duck," he finishes, holding out his hand. "It would seem that you already know this, but I'm Greg House."

She is suddenly aware of the cold again, and the ice under her feet, the bare trees in the dark. She realizes that this is one of the moments that she won't write on a fellowship application; this backyard and this cocky med student will be hers alone to remember. "I'm Lisa Cuddy," she tells him, and shakes his hand.
mcicionimcicioni on January 6th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)
Witty, sensitive, humorous, perfectly in-character. And no emotional or sexual involvement, just the two young people and the clues to what they will eventually become. What else can readers ask for?
sinquepidasinquepida on January 8th, 2008 01:10 am (UTC)
Thank you! I had a lot of fun trying to come up with a past for these two that fit what we saw on screen- I'm glad it worked for you.
Petratishkovna: houseretsuko on January 7th, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
(Here via crack_van)

I really liked this--it's so low-key, but so involving, somehow. All of these little details are perfectly believable and this is very well written.

sinquepidasinquepida on January 9th, 2008 05:40 am (UTC)
Thanks! I had fun writing about college and ambition and all that good stuff. I'm glad you liked it!
bellemainecbellemainec on January 8th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)
I really liked this. The pacing was fabulous, Lisa Cuddy's voice rang very true, and it felt real. Well done!
sinquepidasinquepida on January 9th, 2008 05:43 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.
from the people who brought you stalin:: house || geniusearlwyn on January 15th, 2008 05:49 am (UTC)
This is really phenomenally gorgeous. I love how tightly wound Cuddy keeps herself, even as a student, and how she battles with career ambitions vs. personal interactions.

This is such a fabulous surmation of her: It's easy to forget that she'll have moments in her life that won't appear on her C.V., that will be hers alone to remember.

I also loved how the cold was an ever-present feature. *shivers* You make me loathe to walk between my classes tomorrow. :)
sinquepidasinquepida on January 24th, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)
Thank you so much. I love that Cuddy made sense to you; she was really complex and driven in my conception of the story, so I'm glad that came across.

I hope you kept warm- I drew on lots of personal experience for the weather, so I feel your pain, as it were.
elsaneelsane on January 23rd, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)
Here via crack_van. I really liked this.
sinquepidasinquepida on January 24th, 2008 12:52 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Krazy Kat: yes (House)krazykitkat on February 17th, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
So lovely. Interesting believable background. Wonderful use of the cold.

(and betaed by one of my favourite people)
sinquepidasinquepida on February 18th, 2008 05:12 pm (UTC)
Why, thank you.

(Oh, mine, too. There should be a fanclub.)