Summary: Some things will remain just between the two of them.
Characters: House, Nurse Brenda Previn
Warning: character death
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Accord by Rose Williams (secondsilk)
Notes: Thank you to pwcorgigirl for the beta!
Time: 16:36 June 30th, 2018. Place: Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, main conference room.
Brenda Previn stood beside the podium at the front of the conference room, impatiently waiting for all the speeches to end. She disliked having attention called to herself, but today was an exception. Unlike most of the staff present, she hadn't dressed up for the occasion. She wore her usual pink scrubs, and her long hair was tied back in a no-nonsense roll. She stood, feeling uncomfortable as the speakers droned on, until Dr. Cuddy stepped up to the podium.
Brenda stifled a sigh of relief. At least Dr. Cuddy's speech would be short and to the point.
"Brenda Previn has been an invaluable member of our staff for over twenty years, and an outstanding Clinic Director for the past five," Dr. Cuddy said, smiling at her warmly. "Her hard work and vision have established the Clinic as a national model, for providing timely access to top-notch health care to those who could not afford it otherwise. Brenda, we will miss you very, very much."
"Hear hear," the crowd replied, and raised a toast. "To Brenda."
Brenda stepped up to the podium and hugged her. "Thank you, Dr. Cuddy." Cuddy smiled and stepped back as Brenda adjusted the microphone up to speak. "I want to say that it has been a great pleasure to have worked here at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with the most talented, and friendly, people on board. I admit, I'm looking forward to retirement--"
Several in the audience laughed. One person shouted, "Aren't we all?"
Brenda suppressed a chuckle, and waited for the noise to calm down before continuing. "But I will miss you all more. In the meantime, I am thrilled that Hilary Thomas has agreed to take over my position as Clinic Director." She nodded at the petite, red-haired woman in a blue suit, standing beside Dr. Cuddy. "Hilary will do a fantastic job, and I can think of no one more suited to run the Clinic than she is."
The audience nodded and clapped its approval.
"And please, don't be strangers. I may be retired, but I won't be gone. I'll still drop by here, and I hope you'll all make a trip out to my pottery studio sometime."
The audience clapped and whistled. She gazed at the sea of beaming faces, finding herself searching for one (not so beaming) in particular.
House had always professed to hate staff parties, grumbling about idiots celebrating the wrong things. But he had never failed to attend anyway. Brenda always caught him, lurking like a gray spectre in the background, waiting to spirit away the free food when he thought no one else would notice. She scanned the back of the room, expecting him to emerge from the shadow any moment to scarf half of the retirement cake.
A small part of her twinged when she couldn't see him. Damn. With a suppressed sigh she stepped off the podium.
Dr. Cuddy stepped back up with a wide smile. "Now I invite all of you to stay for the reception and cake."
About half an hour later, Brenda carried a glass of wine and wandered around the conference room, listening to various snippets of conversation and accepting several congratulations from various staff.
She turned around at the familiar voice. "Dr. Wilson!"
He came up to her, leaned in and kissed her cheek. "Congratulations on your retirement," he said fondly, drawing back to take her hands.
"What do you plan to do now with all your free time?"
She studied his face. He'd aged considerably over the last few years. His brown hair was now visibly shot through with gray; his expression more weary, his gaze guarded. Only vestiges of his good looks lingered beneath the lines around his mouth and eyes.
Pity welled up when she remembered Dr. Wilson was five years younger than she was.
She forced a bright smile. "It's not retirement, exactly. Dr. Cuddy's asked me to consult part-time on setting up a chain of free clinics in Princeton, modeled on this one. When I'm not doing that, I'll be running my pottery studio and business. I'll probably be busier than I was here."
Dr. Wilson raised his eyebrows. "Pottery? What kind?"
She shrugged. "Oh, crockware, mainly."
"Oh, she's just being modest," Hilary said, stepping up and giving Brenda an one-armed hug. "She makes the most gorgeous cup and bowl sets. And she's won a few blue ribbons at the State Fair for her figurines."
"Really? Wow! That's--that's great. Maybe I--I'll take a class from you sometime."
"You should, Dr. Wilson! Brenda runs them on weekends," Hilary said. "She's a very good teacher."
"Yes, I'd like that," Brenda added, not missing the hollowness in Wilson's voice.
Dr. Wilson looked towards the same corner of the room that Brenda had. His mouth curved slightly, as if hearing a private joke. Brenda shook her head, having a pretty good idea of what he was thinking.
House's liver had finally given out five years ago from all the Vicodin and other abuse he'd inflicted on himself. It had been February when he died, on a gray, cold, bitter day. Dr. Wilson's birthday, if she remembered correctly.
She hadn't been surprised at that. House always had to have the last word with everyone--especially Dr. Wilson. In all the years House had rampaged through her Clinic, she could never figure out why they were friends in the first place.
She had not bothered to attend the hospital's memorial service for him.
She had told herself she had a valid excuse for not going. It was the middle of flu season. The Clinic had been extremely busy that day. She'd just started as Clinic Director, and she'd had to chip in because they were short-staffed.
That House was an incorrigible SOB--not to mention an unmanageable thorn in her side for more years than she cared to count--had nothing to do with her decision.
Later she heard that only Dr. Wilson and Dr. Cuddy had been present at the service. Not even his cadre of lackeys at the time bothered to show up. She knew they hadn't been occupied with a patient at the time, either.
Not three months after House's death, Dr. Cuddy dismantled the Department of Diagnostics. Through the grapevine, Brenda heard that Dr. Foreman had preferred to stay at UCLA Medical Center, rather than return to take over for House. (Brenda had always wondered, privately, if that had been the reason why Dr. Cuddy redirected most of those resources to the Clinic. Or why she had been promoted to its first director.)
She never thought she'd actually miss sparring with the jerk, even now on her last day as an employee.
Hilary touched her arm and sailed off towards a cluster of nurses by the end of the conference table. Brenda stood alone by the window, staring out at the courtyard. She would definitely miss it here. She'd be back as a consultant but it wouldn't be the same.
"So will you finally tell us what really happened between you and House?"
Or maybe it would. She blinked and turned around to face Dr. Cuddy, who wasn't bothering to hide her curiosity.
"When you and House were in the Clinic."
Brenda raised an eyebrow in amusement. "A lot of things happened between me and House in the Clinic, Dr. Cuddy. You'll have to be more specific."
Cuddy's smile broadened into a grin. "I'm talking about fourteen, maybe fifteen years ago. Around noon? When--when--oh, you know." She waved her hand.
Wilson turned around, now clearly interested, and stepped up to them. His lined face lit up and his eyes sparkled. "Who did start it, Brenda?"
"Well, House did, of course," she replied snappishly. "Look, do you think I'd ever let him get that close to me on purpose?"
Wilson frowned, puzzled. "House always told me that you started it, because he'd never, ever let you get that close to him by accident."
She folded her arms across her chest. "Does it matter now? It was a long time ago. He deserved what he got. That's all I have to say."
Cuddy and Wilson looked at each other, clearly disappointed. Brenda glared at them, daring either of them to broach the topic again. They both shrank away under her withering stare. Wilson went to socialize with one of the ICU nurses. Cuddy moved away to talk to Hilary again.
Brenda nodded with satisfaction. Yep, she still had it.
But God, she'd never dreamed she'd ever be House's willing accomplice in anything. In death, House had finally forced her to compromise her principles. Thanks a lot, you jackass.
It was now five-thirty and the crowd was clearing out. Brenda moved to the door of the conference room, accepting their farewell hugs and handshakes. When it was their turn to say goodbye, Cuddy and Wilson still looked expectantly at her. She just shrugged and grinned cryptically. This would remain just between House and her.
When everyone had left, Brenda turned towards the oak conference room table to pack up her retirement gifts and the remaining cake. She was going to take the cake to the Clinic, for the nurses who couldn't attend the party. She pulled a box from underneath the table and stood up, then stopped and cocked her head in puzzlement.
At least half of the chocolate-cherry slab cake had been left over after all the guests had had a slice.
It was now missing. All of it, including the cardboard platter. Only a thin ribbon of artificial blue icing remained on the plastic support.
No. That was impossible. It was probably the indentured interns from the ER scrounging for a free dessert, the buggers. Though she could have sworn no one had been near the table since the reception line.
Brenda swiped the icing up with her finger and licked it off thoughtfully. She looked up towards the back of the room--and thought she saw the flash of a cane.
She closed her eyes for a minute, convincing herself she was seeing things. When she opened her eyes again she heaved a sigh of relief. It was probably just the late afternoon sun throwing a sundog on the wall. Of course there was no one there.
She packed the box, picked it up and headed to the door. She stood, holding the swinging door open with her back. Her gaze swept the room for one last time. It lingered for just a moment on the darkened back corner.
Brenda addressed the shadow. "It still means nothing, House. Never will." She turned out the light and left the room.