DISCLAIMER: This is femslash – well, femslash lite. Do not read it if you're not into that sort of thing. Mistakes regarding the Wellness Center, L.A., LAX, or anything about the shows are my own and occurred because I either didn't listen to Jules, or my research wasn't up to snuff. I make no claims to either House or Private Practice. I'm just having fun with "what ifs."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I was trawling the P&P website the other day and saw this particular challenge. It intrigued me, because I've always liked Lisa Cuddy, and the challenge was not so specific as to get me too knotted up in television plot points. Written in July, 2008, this is my first story in either of these fandoms. While I like Cuddy, and this is written from her point of view, I wouldn't exactly kick Addison Montgomery outta bed fer eatin' crackers, ya know? I mean, this is Kate Walsh. Who doesn't cream over that Cadillac ad? ("When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?" Oh, come on!) As always, thanks to my Mighty Editor Goddess, Brenda S., and to Jules68, because she knows as much about Private Practice as she does about Grey's Anatomy and it all works to my benefit! Thanks also to Celievamp, for her elegant use of the word "curtaining," which I am copying here.
CHALLENGE: Written for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By DianeB


Cuddy had the papers and the glossy three-fold, six-color brochure in her hand, all the facts she needed to make an informed decision about her next move.

But, God, California was light years from New Jersey, both in distance and in cultural sensibility, and she wasn't sure she had the stomach for it.

Still, it was also light years from Gregory House and his meddling shenanigans, and almost for that reason alone, Lisa Cuddy, in her office in the middle of the night, did a Googleã search for the best deal on airfare.

A scant two days later, Cuddy disembarked at LAX feeling as though she had, indeed, traveled light years to get here. Though she knew jet lag was still to come, the flight itself had been bumpy and hot, her seat uncomfortably small, and to top it off, she couldn't hear the movie because the plane ran out of ear buds before they'd gotten to her. Though the flight attendant was suitably apologetic, and even gave her several of the more recent best-selling paperbacks they had in the back to make up for it, Cuddy was still unable to make the time in the air pass as quickly as she had originally hoped.

It was not that she was afraid to fly, only that once she had made this decision, she didn't want anything to slow her down. She wondered if maybe the nature of the flight had been a portent of the future, but her scientific mind quickly rejected that idea as superstitious and, well, flighty. Plane travel (unless you were fortunate enough or rich enough to travel First Class) just sucked, and that was all there was to it.

By this point in her musings, she had made it to one of the moving walkways. After glancing briefly at the print ads lining the wall and feeling weirdly like the GEICOã caveman, she set her high heels upon it and began an uneven ride to the other end, bringing her one long length closer to her luggage in this airport three times the size of Princeton-Plainsboro.

Thankfully, the balance of her experience in LAX was uneventful and remarkably speedy, given everything that had come before. She was able to retrieve her luggage, pick up her rental, and arrive at her hotel inside an hour. It helped that this particular Marriott was an "airport hotel," meaning that getting to it didn't involve driving on the clogged and unfamiliar highways around Los Angeles. She'd get to that soon enough, but for now, she could take a moment to relax.

Once inside her room, she tossed her bag onto the far side of the bed, took off her shoes, peeled off her pantyhose and sat back against a pillow with the Oceanside Wellness Center brochure she had had in her office back at the hospital.

"Sensible, grounded fertility promotion counseling, state-of-the-art procedures and holistic practices," it proclaimed. "Trained, caring professionals available 24/7 to help you make good, healthy decisions for yourself and your future." She'd read up on this center and the community it was housed in. It was all about the healthy and holistic with this bunch. Cuddy dropped the brochure on the bedspread, sighed heavily, and checked her watch. She had time enough to grab something to eat before she had to head to her appointment in Santa Monica.

And then, without so much as a muscle twitch as warning, she was overcome by a deep sense of melancholy that was both unwelcome and unprofessional. Her mission here was a dual one. The information she gained here would most certainly benefit Princeton-Plainsboro, but she would also satisfy a mission of a more personal nature. None of it, she told herself sternly, was anything to be sad about.

But she was hardly an idiot. It wasn't lost on her that she'd chosen to do this about as far away from House and his rotten medical sixth sense as she could possibly get without dropping into the ocean. Wasn't any of his damn business, she thought angrily, even though she knew that never stopped him.

Recognizing that she was allowing House to get to her even with 3,000 miles between them, she sought distraction by reaching for her suitcase and rooting around in it for the sandals she'd been wise enough to pack. She was in the Golden State, after all, the land of tanned, bare bodies, and even though her Jersey sensibility had yet to really meet the California variety, there was just no way she was putting the hosiery and heels back on.

Getting to the Wellness Center took her longer than she had planned, owing to a missed exit and a brief but scary drive the wrong way down a one-way street, but even with that, she managed to arrive ten minutes ahead of her scheduled appointment.

Even though it was near the end of the day on a Thursday, the waiting area still held a couple of women, one of whom was noticeably pregnant, and Cuddy could hear bustling and doors closing down hallways beyond the entrance. Somewhere out of sight a phone rang; somewhere else, soft laughter. She didn't have time to contemplate any of this because as soon as she crossed the threshold, a baby-faced young man, who had been sitting behind the reception desk, stood and walked around to her, holding out his hand and smiling brightly.

"Doctor Cuddy? Hi, my name's William Parker, but you can call me Dell. Welcome to Oceanside. How are you? Did you have a good flight?"

Cuddy wondered if maybe she was wearing her hospital identification, but knew it was probably more the nature of her profession: no matter where she was or what she was wearing, she looked like a doctor, and it didn't always please her that she could be spotted so easily. Belatedly remembering her manners, she took the young man's hand and returned the smiled, but was unable to keep the sharpness from her voice. "Yes. Hello, Dell. Thank you. Fine. Not so much."

To his credit, he was entirely unfazed. Must be that California sensibility. Instead, he handed her a clipboard with a blank form on it and a pen, and asked if she would please take a moment to fill it out. Dr. Bennett would be with her in a minute.

Cuddy sat in the nearest empty chair, dug out her reading glasses, and looked at the sky-blue paper. What at first looked like a routine medical document soon became clear was a customized effort not only to reflect the Oceanside Wellness Center, but also her own personal reason for being here.

She proceeded to fill in all the standard stuff about name, address, phone number, and insurance information, pausing only when she got to the questions that asked "Have you ever been pregnant?" "Have you ever had an abortion?" "Have you ever had a miscarriage?" "Are you on birth control pills?" And then a few of the harder questions, ones that allowed more space in which to answer, such as "How long have you wanted a baby?" "Do you think you would make a good mother?" "Does the word 'infertility' frighten you or make you unhappy?" "Do you think something is wrong with you because you cannot conceive?" "Do you blame yourself?"

Suddenly the room had become far too small and too hot. Without thinking, Cuddy rose, yanked off her glasses, threw them into her purse, and went for the door.

I should not have come here. What the hell was I thinking, to come all the way across the country just to—

Blindly, she put her hand out to push open the door, not hearing Dell behind her softly calling her name, or seeing the person on the other side of the door trying to get in.

Twin exclamations of surprise heralded the arrival of a slim, redheaded woman wearing a white medical smock and a bright purple stethoscope. The redhead was the first to recover, taking the door and backing up with it. "Oh, I'm sorry about that!" She said, gesturing with her free hand. "C'mon, I promise I won't knock you down."

Cuddy was moving out the door past the woman when Dell spoke up behind her. "Doctor Montgomery, um, this is Doctor Lisa Cuddy. Doctor Cuddy is the Dean of Medicine at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey. She's here to, uh, learn about Oceanside and some of the things we do here to take back to the hospital." Then he reversed the introductions. "Doctor Cuddy, Doctor Montgomery is a neonatal surgeon and OB/GYN here at Oceanside."

Cuddy saw the woman flash a quick look at Dell before smiling kindly and focusing so intently on Cuddy it was like Cuddy had become the only person she ever wanted to talk to again. Immediately feeling calmer under this woman's reassuring gaze, Cuddy had to admit it was a pretty impressive bedside manner, one she knew Montgomery had to have been born with, because no amount of practicing could ever give any doctor this much instant warmth.

"Doctor Cuddy," Montgomery said, holding out her hand, "very pleased to meet you, though I'm sorry it had to be so confrontational! Call me Addison. Glad to have you with us. What can we do for you?"

With a weak smile, Cuddy took the offered hand. "Nice to meet you, too. And call me Lisa, please." Now, embarrassed to admit she had been fleeing, even though she was sure both these people knew that was exactly what she had been doing, Cuddy realized she was stuck, her hand still in Montgomery's. Dell saved the day.

"Doctor Cuddy? Doctor Bennett will see you now."

Releasing Montgomery's hand with a reluctance she was baffled to feel, Cuddy turned and went back inside the Center.

After an hour of what could only be defined as therapy with Dr. Naomi Bennett (even though Cuddy knew Bennett wasn't the psychiatrist of this group), Lisa Cuddy was feeling more than relieved to know that the anxiety she had experienced was a normal and even necessary process to get through before starting, or in Lisa's case, re-starting, any kind of discussion about fertility promotion or treatments of same. Going forward without confronting fear, Bennett cautioned, would only lead to trouble down the road.

As she found herself relaxing and opening up with this woman about her past failed attempts at IVF, and her miscarriage, Cuddy began to understand the attraction of the West Coast mentality. It would never have gone like this if she had found a clinic closer to home. A thought rose out of nowhere, surprising her with its intensity. Nearly slamming into Doctor Addison Montgomery had turned out to be a very good thing.

A muted buzz from the phone disturbed the hushed tones of their conversation. Bennett apologized for the interruption and lifted the receiver, listening for a moment before saying, "Right. We're almost done here for today. I'll be out in a minute." To Cuddy, she said, "Lisa, how about if we take some blood tomorrow and do a few diagnostic tests, so we can at least begin to see just what's going on with you, okay? And maybe tomorrow we can give you the nickel tour for your hospital. How's that sound?"

Cuddy who, in waiting, realized maybe jet lag was catching up with her and was unable to stifle a huge yawn. "Oh my God, I'm sorry! I guess the time change is finally getting to me." She stood and picked up her purse. "But, yes, that sounds fine. I should fast for the blood, right?"

Bennett had gotten to her feet, as well. "Yes. No solids after midnight and no caffeine in the morning. It was good to meet you face-to-face. And don't worry, we'll take good care of you."

Bennett followed her out of the room and then quickly disappeared down a hallway, leaving Cuddy feeling bereft. The waiting area was completely deserted now; even Dell had disappeared.

"Hey there, you look a little lost. Everything okay?"

Cuddy, who always thought of herself as a hard-nosed realist, not one for drama – unless, of course, it involved House – nor one who went in for bodice-ripping romance novels, was caught completely off guard by the way her stomach flipped at the sound of the honeyed voice of Addison Montgomery, who was, by some miracle of transportation, standing right next to her.

Honeyed voice? Did she just actually think the word honeyed? Oy, she thought, her mind's voice reverting to her Yiddish roots, I should be going native already, I'm in town less than four hours?

But the idea, she concluded pleasantly, didn't really bother her much at all. Lost as she was in her own musings, she nearly forgot to answer Montgomery's question.

"Oh, uh, no, er, I mean, yes, everything's—well—" She stopped, shook her head to clear it and started again. "I'll be back tomorrow for tests and tours."

Montgomery smiled, doing that focused thing again, but this time her intentions seemed more, well, intentional. "Pardon me for being so blunt, but you look like hell."

Cuddy couldn't disagree, since that was pretty much how she figured she looked.

Montgomery asked, "Where you staying?"

"At the airport Marriott."

"Plans for dinner?"

She had planned to eat, of course. "No."

"Join me, won't you?"

Cuddy, entirely unused to the funny way she was feeling about this woman, opened her mouth to decline, telling herself that room service and cable television would be the better plan. She heard herself instead saying "That sounds wonderful."

And then Addison Montgomery extended an invitation, the likes of which put her sensibility squarely in the California sunshine. "Listen, rather than you driving all the way back to the hotel, why don't you just stay at my place tonight? It's not far from here, right on the ocean, and that way you can grab a quick nap before we go eat. I've got plenty of room, and this town's got some great restaurants."

Dinner was one thing, but this. . . Cuddy shook her head, but before she could get out a word of protest, Montgomery spoke again.

"C'mon, doctor, consider it a professional courtesy. I'll be done here in a few minutes. Wait for me and follow me home." And then she paused, leaned in very close to Cuddy's ear, and whispered, "Trust me, the sea will do you good, and it's a helluva lot better than the airport Marriott."

It was the jet lag, Cuddy decided, or the time change, the salt air, the counseling, or the fact that Montgomery couched it as a professional courtesy, that gave her no other choice but to accept.

But she knew she wasn't kidding anyone, least of all herself.

It was Addison Montgomery's honeyed voice that did it.

Addison's house, was, indeed, not far away. Pulling up in the rental and gazing at the entrance, Cuddy was a little jealous. But only just a little, and she figured she could be forgiven for it, because at least from the outside, the place looked beautiful. She got out of the car and met Montgomery on the sidewalk.

Reaching the front door, Montgomery opened it, dropped her keys with a jingle onto a small table just inside the door, and immediately excused herself to check her messages and change her clothes. She gestured toward the rear of the house. "Go on out back. I'll be there in a few, and I'll bring the wine." She left Cuddy to manage on her own.

Walking through the beach house was like walking through a fantasy world for Lisa Cuddy. Her place back home was all sharp edges and polluted industrial city, but this, this was airy and bright, fresh, crisp, and clean. And there was a sound, a muted rumble coming from the back that Cuddy could feel in her chest.

Following it to a set of doors through which she could see the ocean, Cuddy opened them and was met fully by the orchestral sound of waves pounding rhythmically against the beach. Shorebirds on stilt legs gleefully skittered and shrieked up and down the packed sand at the water's edge, just happy to be the little birds they were. Seagulls hung in the air currents above the waves, screeching in counterpoint to the birds on the ground, eyeing the water for a seafood snack. A few people walked in the sand further up, but aside from the birds, the beach was empty.

Cuddy stood transfixed, almost without blinking or breathing. In all her travels, professional and otherwise, Lisa Cuddy had never actually seen the Pacific Ocean. Okay, well, she had flown over it once or twice, but never, never had she been so close that all her senses were engaged. She could feel the spray, taste the salt, see and hear the waves, and smell the brine.

The day was unimaginably sunny, humidity was negligible, and there were deck chairs that looked so inviting, Cuddy just dropped her purse, slid off her sandals, and fell into the nearest one.

Though she fought admirably to stay awake and enjoy the ocean, she was sound asleep within a minute.

. . .she was, as usual, arguing loudly with House about some ridiculously-expensive test he wanted to run on one of his latest patients. Cameron was there, but this time she was on Cuddy's side, not defending House to her, but standing beside her, jingling her keys for some reason. . .

. . .then she was lighting her Hannukia at home on the first night of Hannukah, but it wasn't Hannukah and she wasn't at home, but in an unfamiliar place where the smell of the sea filled all her senses. . .

. . .then Addison Montgomery stood before her, smiling, holding a syringe wrapped in a yellow blanket, saying in that sugared voice, "Don't worry, the next one I deliver will be yours, Lisa, Lisa. . ."

"Lisa? Lisa?"

Lisa felt awareness returning by degrees. She heard and knew it was Addison Montgomery, not Cameron or House, calling her name. She felt a cool hand on her warm arm, shaking gently, and then she heard the pounding surf and smelled the sea. Still, when awareness fully returned, it startled her and she sucked in a breath of surprise, jerking in the chair and blinking. "Oh!" She struggled to sit up through a haze of sleep, but was only marginally successful on the first try. Addison had obviously seen her distress, because she took Lisa's arm and gently maneuvered her into a proper sitting position on the chair's lower end.

"Wow, I really went out!" She said, the memory of the disjointed dream already fading. "I guess you were right." Lisa canted her head to look up at Addison, and when she did, the other woman went down on one knee in front of her and gently brushed dark hair off her forehead.

"Well, aside from the mussed hair, you look much better." The words were clinical, and even the look Addison was giving her was more professional than personal, but that voice, that voice, was still just as rich and warm as the first time Lisa had heard it. The hand that was not raised to Lisa's hairline was resting on her upper thigh, and in both spots Lisa could feel an intense heat. In an effort to slow a sudden jump in her heart rate, Lisa asked an obvious question.

"How—how long have I been asleep?"

"About an hour," Addison said, without moving from her position in front of Lisa. "I put the wine in the fridge and ordered Thai, which just arrived. Figured we could save dinner out until tomorrow."

The silence that followed stretched out for a minute or two, but it was more of an anticipatory silence than an awkward one. Waves beat the shoreline in the background, as the sexual tension Lisa had been feeling since first meeting Addison Montgomery came to a head and could not have been ignored or mistaken for anything else.

While Lisa had never identified as lesbian or even vaguely bi-curious, as a doctor, and certainly as a human being, she knew feelings of attraction often defied labels and didn't wait around for you to make up your mind about them. Instead, they preferred a dramatic entrance, charging in and demanding to be addressed, without a bit of regard for the life situations or genders of the persons involved.

Judging by the look on Addison's face, it was clear her feelings were, if not mutual, at least compatible.

Like a scene from a movie, the women leaned toward the inevitable, but Lisa braked suddenly. "Uh, Addison, I think, I think—that is, I think I—" It was impossible for her to fathom why she was trying to talk, except that the blood rushing in her ears was drowning out the sound of the surf and Lisa was very afraid if she didn't talk, didn't acknowledge that she knew what was about to happen, it might not happen, and she absolutely couldn't bear that idea.

But she needn't have feared. Addison, her lips mere centimeters from Lisa's, smiled that warm, intent smile, her eyes crinkling at the edges with the effort, and said with a teasing lilt, "Shut up and kiss me."

A kiss, they say, is just a kiss, but that was not the case for Lisa Cuddy.

She had never kissed a woman before, and while the mechanics of it didn't feel a whole lot different than kissing a man, there was a distinct tenderness about it that was utterly lacking in the masculine version. Not only that, but Lisa's body surprised her with its spirited response to Addison's probing tongue.

That is to say, all parts were on high alert, with certain parts above even that. With one second's thought of House and what he might think of this, Lisa stopped trying to analyze everything and began to put her kissing ability to much better use. Taking the lead, she put her hands on the shoulders of the kneeling woman, pulling her closer, and pushed her tongue gently into Addison's mouth, adding pressure and a moan she wasn't one hundred percent certain came from her.

This activity, while pleasant, was awkward to maintain with the two of them in their current positions. Addison broke the kiss, bringing her finger to Lisa's lips for a second, and began to get up, flexing her ankle as she stood, then suddenly pointing her toes to the sky and wincing. "Wait, ow, wait, charley horse." She began rubbing her calf, which was, conveniently, pretty much at eye level with Lisa.

"Here," Lisa said, waving Addison closer, "let me help you with that."

Massaging knotted muscles was something Lisa was good at, and she began working her fingers into Addison's warm flesh with confidence and skill. At once, Addison's head fell forward, eyes dropping shut, her red hair curtaining her face. "Oh, yeah, right there, that feels great." Blindly, she groped for Lisa's shoulder for balance as she relaxed under Lisa's touch.

Lisa felt the knot ease almost right away, but it was several more minutes before she stopped massaging Addison's leg. After that, it seemed the most natural thing in the world for Lisa to lean forward and kiss the thigh that was now only inches from her face. "There," she said, patting Addison's calf, "all better."

Addison's head came up slowly, her expression one of pleasant contentment, as if she had known from the start it would go this way. She cast narrowed eyes to Lisa and said, "Don't lie to me, doctor, you've done this before, haven't you?"

Catching the look on Addison face, Lisa grinned and said, "Of course I have. Just not with a woman."

"Me, either." Addison turned to Lisa and cocked one finger at her. "Come up here."

Lisa stood and they melded smoothly into each other's arms, the sound of the waves and the shorebirds serving as fine backdrop to the sounds of two people enjoying each other's intimate company.

It soon became clear to both women that if they were going to continue this activity, it would be better achieved elsewhere. Breaking the current kiss, Addison leaned back in Lisa's arms and looked critically at her. "Hey, you okay?"

Lisa raised an eyebrow. "Why, do I not look okay?"

"No, no," Addison said, smiling. "You actually look quite beautiful. It's just that we only just met, and here we are, making out on my deck like a couple of kids. It was awfully quick, and I feel as though I owe you an apology for coming on so strong at the clinic. It's definitely not my style with women, but I've recently had a sort of epiphany regarding, well, regarding people of my own gender." Addison stopped suddenly and raised her own eyebrow. "Okay, I'm rambling, aren't I?"

Lisa smiled, reached up and brushed the pad of her thumb across Addison's lips, marveling at the way this felt so comfortable. "No, not a bit. And you don't owe me any apologies. I didn't exactly push you away, now, did I? She asked, indicating their current entwined state. "So tell me about your epiphany."

Addison rolled her eyes, but continued her story. "I used to work at Seattle Grace Hospital, and I just came back from assisting with a neonatal emergency up there."

Cuddy nodded. She'd heard of Seattle Grace. It was a teaching hospital, too, same as hers.

"While I was there, I noticed a surgeon friend of mine, Callie, was acting very, well, for lack of a better word, very giddy around another surgeon, who happened to be a woman. So at lunch one day, I called her on it. I think I suggested she might be 'speaking The Vagina Monologues,' or some such a thing, which was stupid, I know, but it was the only thing that came to me, and at the time I thought it was very clever.

"Anyhow, you should have heard Callie deny it, which only proved to me she at least had the hots for this woman, if they weren't actually together. But, you know, I was good, I kept my mouth shut and let her go on and on about how she was a huge fan of penis.

"But then, later that evening, a bunch of the staff were at this local bar and I ended up at the table with Callie's object of denial, Erica. At the time, Callie was dirty dancing with, uh, one of the male surgeons, to prove to the world how much she really did love that penis, I guess, and the look on Erica's face was heartbreaking. So, being the dazzling surgeon I am, I made a calculated remark to Erica about Callie being pretty. And you know what Erica said, without once taking her eyes off Callie?"

Cuddy shook her head. This was actually a pretty good story.

"She said, 'She's beautiful.' I swear, the longing in those two words was so palatable I could taste it in my drink. Callie ended up leaving with Mark, and you would have cried at Erica's expression when she did.

"I decided right then that life was too short to spend it denying ourselves the very things that would make us happy. That, of course, put me face-to-face with the dismal state of my own love life, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since."

By now Lisa's curiosity was piqued by the story. "So, have you talked to Callie since you got home? Do you know if anything's been resolved between her and Erica?"

"Not a peep yet. I can only hope Callie has come to her senses and owned up to the fact that while she might be a huge fan of penis, it's definitely not what she wants right now."

Standing in the circle of Addison's arms, with waves pounding and shorebirds screeching, Lisa studied the redheaded woman, whose gaze had moved outward over the ocean but was clearly also inward, toward whatever lessons her recent time at Seattle Grace might have taught her.

Lisa sensed revelation at hand, a sea change, as it were, swirling in the salty air, both for herself and for Addison Montgomery. Oh, not the kind that moved mountains so much as the kind that moved hearts. Her Jersey sensibility kicked in at that moment, and she heard her father's sideways Yiddish wisdom in her head: Dray zakhen ken men nit bahalten: libe, hisen, un dales.*

There would be time enough in the days ahead, Lisa knew, to face the medical realities of why she had made this trip. But for now, for right now, it was time to give new emotional realities their place in the California sun.

Lisa gently cupped Addison's chin and slowly turned her face toward her. A question loomed, one Lisa knew was unnecessary to ask, but she asked anyway, just to give voice to the desire she saw in Addison's shimmering green eyes. "And what, Doctor Montgomery, do you want right now?"

The End

Let us knock gently at each other's heart,
Glad of a chance to look within—and yet
Let us remember that to force one's way
Is the unpardoned breach of etiquette.

--from a poem by Carol Haynes


*Three things can't be hidden: love, coughing, and poverty.

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