Cuddy loved parent-teacher conference day at the Brye Park school. It was a little glimpse into the secret world of Rachel—the way her little girl behaved when Cuddy wasn't watching; the way other people saw her. She had already gotten some wonderful feedback from Rachel's teacher ("I call her my little peacemaker—she's always resolving conflicts") and assistant teacher ("She is such a creative child"). Now she was going to meet with the principal, Allison Fields. This part of the day was less about getting feedback and more about giving it. Principal Fields wanted all the parents to give her an honest assessment of the school's performance and its areas for improvement.

Cuddy got on with Principal Fields right away—they had the immediate simpatico of two highly intelligent, highly ambitious women. And once they finished the conversation ("I have no complaints," Cuddy admitted. "Rachel adores the school and so do I"), Fields got a knowing smile on her face and said, "So, in other news, how is Dr. House?"

Cuddy almost choked. "Dr. House?" she sputtered. How on earth would this woman possibly know about House? And then she remembered: Career Day. House's little mistaken identity stunt. He had mentioned that he was the oldest person ever to be called into the principal's office.

"He's fine, I guess," she said, collecting herself. "Actually, I don't see him much these days. We . . . broke up."

Principal Fields looks genuinely dismayed.

"I'm sorry to hear that," she said.

"Yeah, well…things happen," Cuddy said, trying to make her voice sound casual.

"Is he…okay? I mean, he must be devastated."

Cuddy stared at her: Why would she even say that?

Sensing Cuddy's shock, Fields put her hand over her mouth. "I'm sorry. I spoke out of turn. I guess it's safe to say that Dr. House made quite an impression on me."

"He tends to do that—although not usually a positive one," Cuddy said, chuckling. Then she wrinkled her nose a bit. "So he…talked about me?"

Fields began to shift in her chair.

"I… probably shouldn't say any more."

"I'd love to know what he said. I mean, I don't want to force you, but I'm obviously curious."

The principal hesitated and seemed to ponder to what to do. Then, she finally said, "Yes, he talked about you."

"What did he say?"

"His exact words were, 'I need her in my life. Do you know what it's like to actually need someone?'"

Cuddy felt herself go a little pale.

"Oh."

"I'm sorry, I've upset you. I just—he seemed a little desperate, you know? I'm pretty sure he would've moved mountains to make you happy that day. I truly am sorry things ended between you. He seemed like a remarkable man. But let's focus on other, happier things. Rachel said the cutest thing to me the other day…"

######

Until they finally got together, Cuddy's entire relationship with House had been an elaborate game of tug-of-war, with him pushing her away, denying his feelings, any time they got too close. She had learned, over the years, to understand the pattern: on those rare occasions he showed some tenderness, some vulnerability, he always had to deflect with a crude joke or a nasty comment. Until he finally said the words, "I love you," breaking down his resistances had practically been a full time job for her. So it came as no surprise that, after their breakup, he became an enormous ass. After all, he was extra hurt. That meant he would be extra cruel.

Still, even in her wildest imagination, she couldn't have envisioned the depths of his cruelty: The debauchery, the pranks, the casual sadism, and the ultimate indignity—marrying that skank. ("Can you believe how much House has humiliated Dr. Cuddy?" she heard one nurse whisper to another. "I couldn't show my face.") Some part of her knew he still loved her, was miserable, broken, pining away. But it was hard to feel tenderly toward him when he was married to that leggy Ukrainian rent-a-bride.

And yet, talking to Principal Fields had made her feel sad and nostalgic—and yes, tenderly toward him. She remembered that day, when House had come to her office, apologizing, telling her she was right, adorably brandishing that toothbrush. She really could be so hard on him sometimes.

She tried to imagine House baring his soul to a complete stranger—I need her in my life. That level of vulnerability was nearly unprecedented with him.

On impulse, she made her way to his office. They were barely talking at this point—whenever they did, it invariably ended in a fight. But she wanted to let him know, somehow, despite it all, that she still cared.

He was sitting alone in his office, making a ball out of rubberbands. She cleared her throat.

"What?" he said, testily, when he saw her.

"It was parent-teacher conference day at Brye Park," she blurted out.

"So?"

She probably should've turned around then and there, but she was always a glutton for punishment when it came to House.

"So...it went well. Rachel loves it there. I haven't forgotten what you did to get her admitted."

"You're not welcome. Go away now please." He went back to his rubberband ball.

She sighed a little, bit her lip.

"I met Principal Fields," she said, determined to have this talk.

Now House looked up, a bit taken aback.

"And?"

"She told me that you made quite an impression on her," Cuddy said, with a tiny chuckle.

"And why are you telling me this?"

"She…also told me what you said. About needing me."

His eyes flashed a bit and his neck turned red. "I told her what she wanted to hear," he said.

"Meaning?"

"She wanted some romantic sob story. She wanted me to be pathetic so she could swoop in and be the big hero. I was playing a part. It worked. It got Rachel into the school, didn't it?"

Cuddy hadn't expected this.

"So you're saying you lied to her."

He sneered at her. "Of course I did. Do I look like a man wanting for anything? I have everything I need right now. A woman who cooks, cleans, worships the ground I walk on, and sucks my cock on the regular."

Cuddy felt tears stinging at the corners of her eyes, but held them back.

"So this is how it's going to be? I'm here. I'm trying to talk to you. I'm trying to build a bridge. And you're just going to be giant asshole?"

"Since when is telling the truth being an asshole," he said. "Now this is being an asshole." He took one of the rubberbands and made like he was going to snap it at her. Despite herself, she flinched. He gave a slight chuckle, put the rubberband down.

She closed her eyes. Why had she done this? Why did she always do this? What kind of fool was she?

"Okay, fine, House. Message received loud and clear."

And she stormed out.

######

She was supposed to meet her friend Tanya for dinner that night—she was relishing it, actually; anything to get her mind off House. But Tanya called at the last minute to say that her daughter was throwing up and had fever and could Cuddy take a raincheck? Suddenly, Cuddy found herself with no plans. She probably should've just called the babysitter to cancel, but she had really been looking forward to a night out. So she made her way to one of her favorite neighborhood bars—yes, House had introduced her to it, but he rarely went there himself (it was his backup if Sullivan's was closed or Clyde's was too crowded). She'd have a few drinks, maybe flirt with that cute tattooed bartender who worked there, and call it a night.

She was on her second martini and, in fact, enjoying some flirty banter with the bartender (who was, she calculated with some dismay, literally young enough to be her son), when a horrible apparition appeared out of the corner of her eye: Gregory House. What incredibly bad luck. And he wasn't alone. The superskank was with him, teetering on high heels. She could practically smell her cheap perfume from across the bar.

She wanted to run away, but feared that a hasty exit might call attention to her. Instead, she turned away from the door, tried to make herself small and inconspicuous, hoping House didn't notice her.

But of course, he saw her. When did he not notice her?

He came marching over, a tiny, malicious smile playing at the corners of his lips.

She braced herself.

"So it's come to this, huh, Cuddy? Drinking alone at bars? Very pathetic. I knew dumping me was a mistake, but I didn't expect you to fall apart this quickly. What next? Streetwalking?"

"Says the man married to a whore," Cuddy muttered.

"Licensed cosmetologist," he corrected.

As if on cue, Dominika materialized at House's size.

"Hello, Dr. Mrs. Cuddy," she said. "Nice to see you."

"Nice to see you, too, Mrs. House," Cuddy replied, staring at House pointedly.

Dominika let out a small, delighted laugh. "Mrs. House! But you are the first to call me that!"

"And a fine Mrs. House, you are," House said, wrapping his arm around her. "I think the word I'm looking for is…upgrade."

And with that, he planted a lusty kiss on Dominika's lips.

Dominika looked a bit stunned by House's sudden display of affection. But it was not unwelcome. She put her hand in his back jean pocket and whispered something in his ear. He laughed, too loudly.

"You naughty, naughty girl," House said to her.

With that, Cuddy slapped $30 on the bar and stood.

"This has been a true delight," she said, tersely.

"Leaving so soon?" House said, pulling Dominika closer.

Cuddy walked away, quickly, and didn't look back.

House let go of Dominika so quickly he almost dropped her.

The performance, for Cuddy's benefit, was over. He was back to finding Dominika insipid and annoying. The only reason he'd even come to the bar with her was because the immigration lawyer said they needed to make some public appearances to make the marriage look official. He sure as hell wasn't going to take her to one of his favorite joints.

He and Dominika made their way to a small table, where House downed his first scotch in a single gulp and stared into space as Dominika sipped her strawberry daiquiri and yammered on about something he couldn't care less about.

Two minutes later, a strange woman came up to them.

"Hey," she said. "That woman you were talking to? The really pretty one? Is she a friend of yours?"

House laughed derisively and was about to object. But then it occurred to him how unusual this question was. His eyes narrowed.

"She's my boss," he said quickly. "Why?"

"She's in the ladies' room, crying. Seems like she could use a friend."

Dominika got up. "I should maybe…?"

House scowled at her. "I got this," he said.

He limped quickly to the ladies' room, swung open the door without announcing his presence. He could hear Cuddy sniffling in a stall.

"Bathroom inspection," he said loudly. "Finish your ass wiping, your hair spraying, your drug snorting, or whatever it is you're doing in here and kindly exit the premises."

One woman, who had just arrived, ignored him and went to open a stall door. He abruptly shut it with his cane.

"I gotta pee!" she protested.

"Use the men's room," he said. "But not the urinals. That never ends well."

When all the women had reluctantly cleared out, he lodged his cane in the door so no one else could come in and, with some difficulty, limped over the to the stall next to Cuddy's.

"Hey," he said gently.

She was silent.

"You okay?"

More silence.

"I know you're in there. I hear you sniffling," he said.

"Go away," she said.

"Not until you tell me you're okay."

"I'm great. Just dandy."

He closed his eyes. Leaned his head against the stall wall. "I'm an asshole," he said.

"No arguments here," she said.

"I'm lashing out. It's what I do."

"Yes, I know. I have some experience with that. Tonight, combined with this afternoon, was particularly…bracing." She blew her nose.

"I never meant to make you cry."

"Of course you did."

House considered that for a second and decided she was wrong.

"No, I never want to hear you cry," he said honestly. "Never."

"I feel like all I do is cry these days," she said.

Me too, he wanted to say, but didn't.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm really really sorry. I'm an asshole."

"You said that already," she said, half-heartedly.

"I have this need to punish you," he admitted. "I don't know why."

"Because you hate me?" she offered.

"Cuddy, I could never hate you. Never. My feelings for you are the opposite of hate. "

"If you say so."

"I want to you know that Dominika…she means absolutely noth—"

But before he could finish the sentence, there was loud banging on the door, and then a man's voice—the manager.
"What the hell is going on there?" he said.

"Inspection!" House bellowed back.

"Bullshit! If there was an inspection I'd know about it. Open the door or I'm breaking it down."

"Don't get your knickers in a twist," House muttered. He limped out of the stall and pulled the cane out from the door handle and a rather burly looking guy tumbled into the room, nearly falling on him.

"Easy! Gimp here!" House said, hoping for sympathy points.

The manager looked at him, without sympathy.

At the same time, Cuddy emerged from her stall, wiping her eyes. House looked at her out of the corner of his eye. Her makeup had run a bit. She looked tiny and vulnerable. He wanted to envelop her in his arms.

"Get a hotel room next time," the manager said.

"It wasn't like that," House said.

"Sure it wasn't."

"It wasn't," House said, taking a threatening step toward him. "Suggest it again and I'll shove my cane up your—"

"House," Cuddy scolded.

He looked at her.

"We're leaving," he said. Then he turned to Cuddy, "I'm just going to get Dominika. She's like Paddington Bear. Can't get anywhere on her own without a note pinned to her jacket. I'll meet you in the parking lot, okay? Please don't leave."

He went back to the table, practically dragged Dominika toward the parking lot. But when he got there, Cuddy was nowhere to be found.

######

The next day, Cuddy was in a clinic exam room doing a consult, when House poked his head in.

"Need you," he said.

She glanced at him. "Can it wait?"

"No," he said. "Need you now."

"I agree with your assessment," she said to the attending physician. "It looks like meningitis. Admit him."

And she followed House down the hall. Unexpectedly, he led her right back to her own office.

He closed the door behind them.

She looked at him. She was still angry and hurt over last night, but her anger had been somewhat dampened by his apology, his ridiculous bathroom clearing gambit, and his chivalrous instinct to defend her honor in front of the manager. Still, the image of him kissing Dominika made her vaguely ill, not to mention his stinging words earlier in the day, in his office.

"What do you want?" she said, sitting at her desk. She expected him to propose another one of his insane procedures.

"I need you," he said, a bit more softly this side.

"You said that already. I'm right here," she said. "What is it? Nerve biopsy? Brain transplant? A bigger TV in the employee lounge?"

"No…I…" he looked at her. "I need you."

And finally, she got it.

"House," she said, looking down.

"I lied," he said. "I mean, I lied to you. Not to Principal Fields. Her I told the truth. I do need you. I'm fucking lost."

"You don't seem lost. You seem perfectly fine. How did you put it so eloquently: You've got a beautiful wife who cooks for you, cleans for you, worships you and sucks your cock."

"She hasn't been anywhere near my…that portion of my anatomy," he said. "We haven't slept together. We've barely even kissed, except for that little command performance for your benefit last night."

"I don't believe you."

"It's true. The whole marriage…it was like a prank that went too far. I thought you were going to object. I thought you were going to see the error of your ways."

"And when I didn't, you married her? What? Out of spite?"

"Something like that," he admitted.

"Well, you made your bed. Now you have to lie in it—with your Russian whore."

He didn't even bother to correct her this time.

"No, I don't. I can fix it. Get it annulled." A look of resolve crossed his face. "I want you to take me back."

She gaped at him.

"Are you insane?"

"No…I'm desperate."

She folded her arms.

"No, House," she said. "I won't take you back."

"Why?"

"Because…you fucked up. Even more than usual. Normal couples break up. They have break-up sex . . ."

"Break up sex?" House interrupted, hopefully.

"I'm not done," Cuddy said. "They have break up sex. Maybe they even try to get back together. Not you. Nooo, boy. You have to rain a campaign of unrelenting terror down on me to get your revenge. It's unsustainable. I can't find myself in tears in a dive bar's bathroom every time I upset you."

"I agree," he said.

She blinked.

"You do?"

"Yes, I've been a giant dick. But you're forgetting one thing: I did all those things when I was on drugs."

"What's your point?"

"My point is, when we were in a relationship, you upset me all the time. Hell, you kicked me out more times than I can remember. You slammed doors in my face. You slammed that phone on my hand."

Cuddy looked at the phone, guiltily.

"So?"

"What did I do?"

"You stole my computer and almost got arrested."

"I did everything in my power to make it up to you," he said. "I didn't lash out. I wasn't cruel. I groveled like the lovesick sap I was."

Cuddy rested her hand in her chin, contemplated him. He did have a point.

"That may be true, House, but so what? You're on drugs now."

"I don't have to be. I can get clean again. I can go back to Nolan. Work on my…issues."

"House, no. I broke up with you for a reason."

He blinked at her.

"Why did you come by my office yesterday?" he demanded.

"To…thank you for helping get Rachel into the Brye Park school," she said.

"That's all?" he said, looking at her.

"Yes."

"She's been going to the Brye Park school for three months. Why yesterday?"

She knew what he was driving at, and he was right, as usual.

"Because Principal Fields had me feeling. . .warmly toward you."

"Which we've established I colossally screwed up by being a class A jerk."

"The rubberband was a particularly nice touch."

He bowed his head.

"I'd never hurt you, Cuddy."

"You do hurt me, all the time."

"I know. Last night, I got some clarity. I'd kill any asshole who made you cry. But what if… I'm the asshole who made you cry?"

"A paradox," she said, drolly.

"I want to do better. I want to be the man you deserve."

She sighed.

"I know you do, House. But it's too late. There's too much water under the bridge. And it's infested with sharks."

"But I still love you," he said.

His words hung in the air for a second.

"And you still love me," he added, stubbornly.

"I used to," she admitted. "I used to love you so much. I honestly don't know what I feel for you anymore."

"I'm still me. The same guy you were in love with," he said.

"I know you are," she sad, sadly.

"Then just think about my proposal," he said. "I swear to you, I'll get my sham of a marriage annulled. I'll detox. I'll see Nolan once a week. Twice a week. I'll work on my fear of…intimacy, or whatever you want to call it. Give me a second chance."

"I…can't."

For a second, he seemed frustrated, until he got a look on his face—his diagnosing look—as an idea took root.

"Then break up with me again," he said resolutely.

"What?"

"You said I fucked up the breakup—and I most definitely did. So break up with me again. I'll be a better ex boyfriend this time."

She suppressed a laugh.

"What? You want me to break up with you again—now?"

"Yes," he said, bracing himself, as though she was about to hit him.

"House, that's ridiculous."

"Just do it!"

She peered at him. Rolled her eyes a bit.

"House…I…break up with you."

"Please reconsider. You've just gone through a major trauma. You're being rash."

"Not funny…"

"Look, I'm role playing here. Saying what I should've said three months ago. You play your part."

She humored him.

"My decision is final," she said, as though she were a bad actor reciting a line from a play.

"In that case, I want you to know that despite your unbelievably poor judgment, I will always love you and you can always count on me."

This time, Cuddy did laugh.

"That doesn't even sound like you."

"It's New House, which will prove to be a lot more successful than New Coke."

"I don't know what to say."

"Nothing. And now we hug." He held out his arms expectantly. He had a way of twisting things, confusing her, throwing her equilibrium off. So she allowed herself to hug him, to smell his smell, feel his familiar body against her. Hugging House felt good—too good. She backed away.

"Good hug, ex," he said, and left her office.

######

She figured House's little performative niceness would last a day, maybe two. But two weeks later, he was still on his best behavior—holding doors, complimenting her appearance, showing up for clinic duty.

Even House's team members noticed the change.

"What happened between you and House?" Foreman asked her one day in the cafeteria.

"We…came to an understanding," she said. "Why?"

"I asked him why he was being so nice to you and he said, and I quote, 'Because she deserves it.'" He chuckled, incredulously. "Did you threaten to fire him or something? Report him to the medical board? Take away his secret porn stash?"

"No, I…we're attempting a do-over of our breakup. Now with less hard feelings."

"That doesn't sound like House at all."

"It's, uh, New House," she said.

And Foreman gave her a funny look.

The day after her conversation with Foreman there was a bouquet of flowers—beautiful, new flowers, actually bought from a florist—on her desk. The note from House read: "Still hoping you'll reconsider the whole being-broken-up thing. Either way, enjoy the flowers."

And later that day, she overheard some nurses gossiping about her and House. "Poor House," one said. "Dr. Cuddy must've done a number on him. Have you ever seen a guy so heartbroken?"

She didn't want to be the kind of woman who was swayed by two weeks of kindness, some touching gossip, and a bouquet of flowers, but apparently she was. Because that night, she found herself knocking on House's door. For some ridiculous reason, she was trembling.

He answered, dressed in faded jeans and his pale pink Oxford (a coincidence that he was wearing her favorite shirt…or a sign?). His mouth dropped open when he saw her.

"It's you," he said.

"It's me," she replied. Then she peered inside. "Is she here?"

"I kicked her out two weeks ago," House said, gesturing for Cuddy to come inside. "She's gone."

"And your marriage?"

"Annulment papers filed. We're meeting with a judge next week."

"Wow," Cuddy said. "You really did it."

"I really did it."

Then he looked at her quizzically. "Are you cold?"

Without thinking, he began to rub her arms briskly, something he used to do when they were dating.

She backed away.

"No, I'm just…nervous."

"Why?"

"Because I don't know why I'm here."

"To thank me for the flowers?" he said, helpfully.

"Yes, they were beautiful. All the more so because they weren't stolen from a dead person."

"When you care enough to buy flowers from the living," he said, with a tiny grin.

Then he gestured toward the bar.

"Drink?"

"Good idea," she said.

Without asking, he made a vodka gimlet, her favorite drink; poured himself a scotch.

He sat next to her on the couch.

"I want to show you something," he said. He picked up his phone, opened up his calendar app, and pointed.

She squinted. "What does N stand for?" she asked.

"Nolan," he said. "I have an appointment with him, tomorrow, at noon."

"N could stand for anything," she said, skeptically. "Nintendo. Nautilus. Nigeria."

"Yes, I forgot to tell you. I'm have an appointment with Nigeria tomorrow," he said.

"I'm just saying."

"I have proof," he said.

He scrolled through his phone calls.

"We talked for 30 minutes last week," he said, thrusting the phone her way. "Billable hours I'm sure."

She looked at it. Sure enough, it said "Nolan" in his call log.

"I'm impressed." She handed the phone back to him. "And the drugs?"

He gulped.

"Rome wasn't built in a day," he said, apologetically. "I thought I'd get a few sessions with Nolan under my belt first."

"That's fair," she said. Then she looked at him. "But it's a good start. I'm proud of you."

"I think our breakup is going much better this time!" he said, brightly.

"Me too," she said. And she gave him a hug.

The minute they embraced, she knew the real reason she had come to his apartment. Not to thank him for the flowers. Not to check on the status of Dominika or find out if he had kept his promise about Nolan. It was because she had been fantasizing about him since that day in her office, the day he told her he needed her and they had hugged. She began to rub his back, then she kissed his neck, and then, greedily, found his mouth. He kissed her back, accepting her without question, his tongue soft and probing in her mouth, his hands all over her—her hips, her ass, her breasts. He was breathing hard by now and she was already hot and bothered beyond all measure. He always knew how to turn her on.

They fell back on the couch and he yanked off her jeans, his mouth immediately migrating between her legs.

They were about to have sex for the first time in months and he was thinking about getting her off.

"You don't have to," she murmured.

"I want to," he whispered—circling her clit with his tongue. She moaned.

"God, I've missed that sound," he said, lapping more eagerly. She came once, thanks to his ministrations, and then again, during intercourse.

After, he held her in his arms, kissing her eyelids, the top of her head.

"Was that the famed breakup sex I've heard so much about?" he said. "Because I fucking loved it."

"In our case I think it was more like…makeup sex," she said. And she smiled.

THE END