Stacy is in town and no one tells House. She comes without Mark to retrieve the last of their belongings from the rental house and Cuddy invites her over for dinner so she doesn't have to spend the night alone in her hotel room. Cuddy can cook; she just never has the time to do it. She leaves at five instead of nine-thirty and pulls out of the parking lot behind House on his motorcycle. He doesn't acknowledge her in any way even though he knows her car.
She picks up Stacy and there are certain things they don't talk about. Namely, her marriage and her ex. The conversation is not difficult, though. Stacy has her new job and there are other parts of the hospital that aren't the diagnostics department.
Stacy wants to help in the kitchen. There is a roast and Stacy peels potatoes while Cuddy finds an appropriate bottle of wine. It's cold out and the heat from the kitchen steams up the dark windows.
"I love your house," Stacy says, running her hand along the dark wood of the dining room table. She means it innocently, and Cuddy has spent a lot of money making her home exactly right, but the word 'house' jolts them out of the night and Stacy looks down at the napkin in her lap.
"How are things?" Cuddy speaks generally so Stacy can say whatever she wants.
"Things are how they are." she says, rising and carrying her dishes to the sink. Cuddy convinces her to leave them and takes her back to the hotel, kissing her cheek and promising to keep in touch. They e-mail once a week, usually, anyway.
When Cuddy pulls into her dark driveway, she sees House on the street, leaning against his motorcycle. He's back to using the cane, back to the pills, back to himself. She wonders if they can't just keep rebooting him all his life. Eight weeks of rehab for two months free of pain seems fair.
"Why didn't you just let yourself in?" she calls, waiting for him to limp over.
"I don't want any scolding tonight," he says. He sounds serious and she finds she doesn't feel like bantering either. She lets them in; turns on the lights.
"It's cold out," she says. "How's the…"
"Cuddy," he says. He doesn't want to talk about it. She hangs her coat and leaves her purse on the table by the door. He sees the dishes on the table and she starts to clear them. "Company?" he asks. She doesn't buy it.
"Don't play games," she says. "What confuses me is why you waited on my street instead of outside her hotel." He picks up what he can carry with one hand and helps her.
"Everyone has to make a choice," he says. She needs to think about that so she lets him lean on the counter while she loads the dishwasher.
"Are you hungry?" she asks. "There's plenty."
"No," he says. "Maybe some water."
She pours him a glass from the large Evian bottle in her refrigerator. He drinks it all in one go and she watches his Adam's apple bob and she realizes that he has shaved. He looks younger, by a little, and not so mean. She thinks his power is in his stubble.
"We didn't talk about you," she offers.
"That, I believe." he says. "Interestingly, I don't want to talk about her."
"Really?" she asks, dryly.
"I want to talk about you." he says. "Remember the other day, when you didn't say what you came to say?" She hates herself for blushing and when he limps towards her, she feels stuck to the spot. He looks like he's about to touch her, but his phone rings. "I hate all three of you." he answers. He waits, listens, and Cuddy's eyes are very blue from beneath her lashes. He thinks she wants him, and he likes that.
"House," she whispers.
"Do Foreman's idea and I'll take a look in the morning." he promises. His face crunches. "Fine, I'll be there." He snaps the phone closed.
"Let me take you." Cuddy says. "It's too cold for you to ride."
"It's late," he says, his fingers finding the very ends of her hair.
"If you die, it's a lot of paperwork for me," she argues.
"Fine." He limps toward the door and she almost forgets her jacket because she is so warm.
She follows the team around, offering the occasional suggestion that House shoots down almost immediately. No one asks why she's there but she can see the question dancing in Cameron's eyes. She's in jeans and her lab coat doesn't fit well over her knit sweater. Finally, knowing that everyone involved would prefer if she stopped helping, she leaves the lounge and goes into House's office to lie down on his couch and watch the Magic Bullet infomercial on his tiny television.
It's almost four am when the clunking of his cane wakes her. She sits up, bleary eyed, and the TV is silent – it's low battery light lit. He scowls and takes it from her hands, flicking the off-switch and tossing it into his desk drawer.
"Let's go," he says, not sounding happy.
"How is the patient," she asks.
"In a coma, so he'll keep." he says. She stands, rubbing her face and smudging her eyeliner slightly. It has started snowing sometime in the night and Cuddy drives home overcautiously due to the ice and her tiredness.
"Stay," she says because it's dangerous out. He doesn't argue and she points him to the guestroom and closes her bedroom door.
She's been asleep for less than an hour when she wakes up and she wakes because he has come into her room.
"House?" she asks, wishing she'd bothered to put on pajamas instead of just stripping down to her skivvies.
"Do you have pain killers?" he asks, his voice raspy. "I'm out of Vicodin." She knows Wilson has been monitoring his prescriptions – teaching him how to pace himself.
"When can you get more?" she asks.
"Morning," he says and she can see the sweat gathering on his forehead and his eyes look glassy. She believes his pain. She pushes the covers back, ignoring her lack of dress – at least her bra matches her underwear.
"Lay down," she orders and she moves to the bathroom. He listens to her rummage without comment. This worries her. She has an emergency kit under her sink and she brings it out, sitting cross-legged next to him. She pulls out the syringe and the small vial of morphine. He's in a white undershirt and boxers; his mangled thigh is there for her to see. She swabs the small injection site and gives him the shot. His eyes flutter in relief. "House," she says but he hardly reacts to the sound of her voice.
"You're pretty naked." he says, slurred. She can't tell if this is a compliment or an observation, so she shakes her head and moves to put away the kit. She puts on her robe in the bathroom – short but any cover is welcome and she plans to move to the guest room or the couch but his arm reaches out as she walks by and snags her wrist.
"Stay," he echoes. He is here and warm and maybe she should just give in to the temptation of a man in her bed – even this man – for just once.
"Lose the robe." She does this, too, and when she climbs under the covers, he pulls her against him and lets his hand rest in the dip of her waist. "I like you in red."
"Stop talking, you're ruining it." she scolds. He buries his face in her hair and they sleep.
Three hours pass, maybe, before she can feel his stubble against the skin of her neck, hips lips on her ear. She's confused by this change of heart and she doesn't want to be a distraction from Stacy – any sort of replacement. She doesn't want to ruin their working relationship for a one night stand. His tongue is hot, though, and his hands are beginning to move across her body. She hears her breath catch and to House it's like permission. When he finds a sensitive spot, her back arches and he seizes the opportunity to unhook her bra.
She wants to kiss him but she knows there's no stopping if she does. He's everywhere at once and her bra has been flung away from the bed. His mouth migrates back from her breasts to her jaw line and she gives in. He tastes just how he ought to – a little metallic and a lot addicting. His hands are buried in her hair and her body hums with the weight of a man on her.
"Join the party," he whispers, he begs and she starts pulling off his clothes. This makes him chuckle and she relaxes, remembering that this is supposed to be fun.
Her alarm goes off and her eyes feel like someone poured sand in them. She'd never been good at all nighters even in college and now, well, into her… she can say it, very early forties, she feels like death warmed over. She bangs the snooze button and considers sleeping through the day with her phone off the hook.
The alarm doesn't even cause House to stir. His sleep is heavy – medicated – and she feels a stab of irritation that it's his day off. Her bed linens are, for the most part, crumpled on the floor and House looks very white and long against her lavender sheets. She doesn't know how he always looks like he fits in, no matter where he is. She moves to the bathroom and turns on the hot tap, not the cold, and plugs the tub.
She feels strangely apart from herself; distinctly without emotion. She glances in the mirror and plans to wear a high collar and she almost can't get into the water, it burns so. Hissing and gritting her teeth, her skin has turned bright red. Her hair is getting long now and floats in the water next to her. She sinks until the water is just under her nose.
She needs to wash her face, to get a move on, but all she can do is soak and occasionally turn on the hot water again with her toes. She hears her phone ring four times and then her assistant's voice on her answering machine in the kitchen. She has missed her first appointment. It doesn't take long for House to limp into the bathroom with nothing but his cane.
"Phone," he mumbles and she looks away while her urinates, hugging her knees to her chest.
"I'm late for work," she says and he looks at her until she stands, water falling off her, and helps guide him in with her. The big tub has always been worth the money. He leans back and she leans against him. Outside is snow covered and she hasn't taken a snow day since she was fifteen.
"Call in sick," he says, reading her mind. She doesn't agree or disagree, and it feels okay. The phone rings again and when the machine clicks on, it's Stacy.
"Hey Lisa, it's Stacy. I'm about to board my plane, but I just wanted to say thank you for the dinner and the company and… could you tell Greg I said hello? Or, just, keep an eye on him for me. Talk to you later." She hangs up.
"Stacy says hello," Cuddy says and she feels House's chin on the crown of her head – the place of her that first saw the world. House was probably a breech and she studies his toes. They are long, like his fingers, and if she had a piano, she'd ask him to play.
She does call in sick, though she doesn't even bother faking a rasp. No one questions her legitimacy and her assistant quickly aggress to shuffle her schedule. She's hungry and House is always hungry, so she makes some pancakes and cuts up honeydew and they eat in silence but she feels relaxed and happy to not be alone. She watches him eat enough for three people and she pulls her hair to the side to braid it while it's still damp. He watches her unflinchingly.
"What?" she asks.
"You're kind of pretty," he says.
"You don't even like me." she says, pushing her rind around in a puddle of syrup on her plate.
"That's not true," he says. "I like you better when you let me do whatever I want, but that has nothing to do with Lisa. Dr. Cuddy is kind of a bitch, though."
"Shut up." she says.
"Let's go for a ride." he says. "Put on warm clothes."
Something makes her agree and she doesn't question it. He only has one helmet which he gives to her. It's illegal for him to ride without one but neither comment. It's cold outside and she's freezing when the wind of the highway hits her; she's really never been this cold, been this alive.
They go to the hospital and she stays outside and shivers while he gets more Vicodin. They drive to the campus and he takes her to the lake where the crew team is out with their boat on the shore, staring at the frozen lake. Students wander from class to class and they all turn to stare as the motorcycle roars by.
This is the only day they are going to have like this, so she holds on tight.
After 20 miles, they return to her house and she slides off the back and hands his helmet to him while he stays idling on the bike. Her nose is running and her hands and feet have gone numb. He reaches out and puts his finger through one of her belt loops and she smiles a little. He puts on the helmet; he speeds away.
Inside, she cranks the heat and washes her hands and her face with hot water. It's not that late – she could go into work and save the rest of her week but maybe she is sick, somehow, and so she makes tea and calls her younger brother to ask after the baby.
"You should take a trip," he says. "Ohio isn't that far and we miss you."
"Maybe for Christmas," she says, but this is no real promise. When she hangs up, her house feels empty and though she is used to being alone, it feels more acute. The motorcycle was fun, was thrilling, and her arms were tight around his torso. He had taught her to lean into turns, to fit her hips against his.
She changes her sheets before she goes to bed.
House has a new patient when she gets in. She wears a pantsuit, which is not her usual style, but it looks best with the turtleneck and icy sidewalks with skirts never end well. She takes her lunch in her office and is in meetings all day because of her 'day off' and it isn't until an hour before the clinic closes that she can get down there to check on things.
"Dr. House didn't do his hours today," the nurse informs her and there is a line of patients trying to get in before closing so she grabs a few chars and takes three people before turning the rest away. House isn't in his office, or the lab, or the patient's room and she finds Cameron in the locker room, putting on clean scrubs after a shower.
"Good evening," Cuddy says. Cameron's hair is very dark and it's leaving a wet spot on the back of her shirt.
"Dr. Cuddy," she acknowledges, sounding tired.
"Is Dr. House still around?" she tries to sound nonchalant.
"I think so. He was very…" she pauses, choosing her words carefully. "Quiet today." Cuddy feels a pang of relief.
"The cold hurts his leg." Cuddy offers.
"He's probably with Wilson, if you're really looking for him." Cameron says, plugging in her hair dryer. Cuddy thanks her and leaves. She's not really looking for House and she hopes he doesn't tell Wilson, but is certain that he's doing so right now. She goes back to her office and goes back to work.
She sees Wilson in the cafeteria the next day at lunch and he looks at her with an unreadable expression. She sits at his table, banging her tray down and making her plastic cup of dressing tip.
"What?" she says.
"Nothing," he says. "You sat with me. How are you?"
"Just fine," she says. "Yourself?"
He stares at her as she stabs at her lettuce.
"I don't want to talk about it," she snaps.
"So you know what's going on with House?" he asks. This makes her pause.
"What do you mean?" she asks.
"Something happened and he isn't telling me about it. He isn't even dangling it over my head." Wilson looks distraught.
"Maybe nothing happened, did you consider that?" she asks.
"Oh ho ho!" he says. "Something happened and I think you know." She sets down her fork. She needs to get Wilson off her back so she decides to tell him the truth.
"Stacy was in town," she says, but that's all he's getting.
"Ah," Wilson says. "That explains that."
"It sure does," she says, crossing her legs.
She goes to his apartment with a six-pack and a pizza and he lets her in without comment. He looks tired but he solved his case today so he's probably just down of the high of a good puzzle. The television is off as are most of the lights. The lamp by the piano is on and he sits at the bench and resumes playing a tune she doesn't recognize. She sits on the couch and watches the window and the narrow scope of the city that she can see.
"You didn't tell Wilson," she says between songs. He begins to pick out something that sounds suspiciously like "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
"Disappointed?" he asks.
"Surprised," she says. She stands to get plates for the pizza but he comes up behind her and is so much taller than her that she feels like a little girl.
They watch some television while they eat but she really just wants him to play some more with the light low. He takes two Vicodin and his blankets are rumpled but he pushes them aside and she unbuttons his shirt. He seems pleased that she came. He probably would have left her alone if she hadn't made some sort of gesture back.
She's on top of him in the dark when they both hear the knock on the door. She tenses a little and it makes him groan so she doesn't stop, so she speeds up.
"House!" Wilson's voice is muffled but unmistakable. "Your bike is outside. I know you're in there." Cuddy is close and House's fingers on her hips are so tight that they will leave marks.
"I still have a key!"
"Lying," House grunts but Cuddy hears the lock turn and the door bang against the chain lock. House comes beneath here and presses a finger against her so she comes too.
"House?" Wilson's voice seems less sure now and House puts a finger to her lips. Like she would say anything. She does jerk her hips one last time so his eyes roll back into his head a little. She feels like an exhibitionist and wonders if she left anything in the living room, anything Wilson could see with his face shoved into the narrow opening of the door. "Fine," they hear. "Keep your secrets." The door closes and the lock turns.
"Whoops," House says, lifting her off him and she slides down into the bed.
She doesn't stay. He doesn't say she can't spend the night but getting up extra early to go home and change before work sounds cold and difficult so he watches her dress and she lets herself out. Wilson is sitting in the hallway watching the door. She stops and his mouth actually falls open.
"You?" he asks in disbelief.
"Out of all the people on the planet, you come out that door?" he really can't believe what he is seeing. She keeps walking and he scrambles up after her. Outside, he follows her to her car, gaping. "Cuddy, you hate each other." he says. "What happened?"
She pauses and decides to tell him the truth.
"Sometimes, James, you just have to make a choice." she says. He stares at her, his mouth opening and closing, as she drives away.