Maddie woke up suddenly because her mouth was so dry she thought she might choke. She gasped for breath, wondering if her throat was closing. A moment of panic; then she managed to swallow. Her fear subsided and she realised she was just incredibly thirsty. She reached out for the glass of water on her bedside table, but her hand closed on empty air. That startled her.

She opened her eyes and immediately discovered she wasn't in her own bed. Worse than that, there was unmistakably someone in bed with her.

"Oh, fuck!" she exclaimed, and the instant throbbing behind her eyes made her immediately regret speaking so loudly.

She lifted a hand to her head, trying to soothe away the pain, and said "Oh, fu-u-ck," again, in a quiet, drawn-out way. Vague details from the night before whispered through her mind, but they were all too insubstantial to be helpful.

A sleepy but irritated voice emerged from beside her.

"Shhh!" House hated been woken by anything other than his own circadian rhythm. Especially when he was hungover. Scratch that, he was still drunk. But the hangover was close enough to see on the horizon. Hers must have kicked in already. Well, she had been fairly far gone when they'd met. He decided to take some pity on her.

"I normally take a couple of Vicoden and try to sleep through the 'oh fucks'," House said. "Of course, you probably only need to take one."

Without moving any part of his body except his arm, he reached out from under the covers to grab the pill bottle on the bedside table, lobbing it over to land somewhere in the middle of the bed.

Maddie was confused, her thoughts moving through her mind without leaving any meaning behind. She did a quick mental body check: no tell-tale slickness between her thighs, so they hadn't had sex. No other pains or injuries except the killer headache; not a migraine, but close. A nagging sense of unease, but that could easily be attributed to waking up in an unfamiliar environment.

She picked up the pill bottle and squinted at the label. Prescription pain killers, she thought, good call. Maddie took a closer look at the bedside table and saw there was a glass of water pushed toward the back. It looked like it might have been there a while, but she honestly didn't care. Sure enough, there was a light layer of dust sitting on top of the water.

Ignoring everything except her desperate thirst, Maddie swallowed a pill and drank all the water. She lay back on the pillows gently, her head swimming slightly with the effort.

She lay still for a while, fighting the nausea that inevitably arose as soon as the liquid hit her stomach. Breathing in and out slowly, she lay as still as possible listening to the deep sleep breathing of the man lying next to her, trying to ignore the creeping sense of anxiety as her thoughts became more coherent.

The previous night

House had had what could only be described as a shit of a day. An uncooperative patient had pulled in a legal team to stop him from doing the brain biopsy House knew was needed. Cuddy had sided with the lawyers. Wilson had sided with Cuddy. His team had pathetically debated patient rights until he'd wanted to scream.

On top of all that, he'd been in pain all day. Not just his normal pain, but a new level, an extra notch on the usual. Like someone had grabbed a twisted muscle and squeezed – and then not let go.

It was all he could do not to tell them all to piss off. All he wanted was to go home, reach to the very top of his bookcase, pull down the leather compendium and draw up a beautiful, clear, peaceful dose of morphine. Imagining holding the cool bottle in his hand and watching as the liquid drew up into the syringe was as close as he got to meditation.

But he needed to be clear headed for tomorrow. Ready for when the patient dramatically declined, as he knew he would, and House could spring to the rescue – gaining those admiring looks from Wilson and Cuddy especially, who already knew he was right, even if they had to disagree with him today for posterity.

The only option was his usual: Vicoden and alcohol. Wilson had offered to buy him a drink, most likely salving his guilty conscience. They'd headed to a bar they went to from time to time, but after one drink light-weight Wilson had headed home.

House was sitting at a table, vaguely watching a hockey game showing on a TV set over the bar, working his way steadily through a sequence of whiskys poured by an indifferent waitress.

Maddie had been sitting at the bar for a while. She'd had enough red wine to be feeling pleasantly numb and had pushed away the reason she'd walked into the bar earlier that evening.

Unfortunately it had got to the point in the night when her bladder felt like it couldn't hold even a teaspoon of liquid. On her way to the ladies she stumbled, on nothing, just her own misbalance, and knocked someone's chair. His drink spilt on his jeans and he gave an exasperated sigh.

"Watch it!"

House wasn't in the mood for anything else to go wrong with his day. He looked up at the woman who knocked into him, waiting to see if he could start a fight, but she hadn't even seemed to notice and kept walking to the back of the bar. He muttered something his mother would have blushed to hear and grabbed a handful of napkins from the dispenser and began wiping at his jeans, simultaneously calling over the waitress to get a fresh drink.

In the bathroom Maddie looked at herself in the mirror. A somewhat attractive, late-thirties red-head looked back at her. Her best features were her red hair and green eyes. Her pale skin was blotchy, pink patches bright on her cheeks from the wine. Something was niggling at the back of her mind. Something was desperately wrong, but she just at that moment couldn't quite remember what it was. She just felt that general sense of dread; of coming home to find that you had left the iron on after all and nothing was left but a pile of smouldering ashes and a fireman yelling at you for your stupidity.

She splashed some water on her face and flashed back to a few moments ago. Ah, she'd made that guy spill his drink and she didn't even say sorry. Maybe that was what was bothering her? Easy fixed, she could buy him a new one. Maybe that would make her feel better. She knew that wasn't it, but the thought of having something positive to do, something easy to atone for, was slightly satisfying.

As she dried her face and hands she knew that she was pretty drunk. She knew she'd better work out what to say to him so she didn't slur or stammer – not the way to make a good first impression.

House watched as the drunk woman came back from the bathroom and pulled out the chair opposite him, sitting down at his table.

"I need to buy you a drink," she said.

House groaned inwardly. He rarely got picked up these days and it was a novelty he would normally enjoy, but tonight he just wasn't up for it.

"Look…" he began.

Maddie interrupted. "No, wait. It's because I made you spill your drink. And drinks are important and should not be spilt." She made an extravagant arm gesture to the bored-looking waitress at the bar.

"Garcon!" she called out. "Another round here please!"

The waitress just turned to the bar and ordered their drinks, already familiar with what each of them was drinking. She returned a moment later with a glass of red wine and a snifter of whisky.

House raised his glass, deciding to down it and leave, despite the attractive woman and her alcohol-purchasing tendencies. It was more than time for him to go anyway.

"A toast…" Maddie proposed.

House halted, pausing patiently to hear her out.

She looked him straight in the eyes. "…to days that fuck you over like you were a ten-dollar hooker, and to still being alive and kicking at the end."

Despite himself, House couldn't help giving a little snort of laughter in appreciation. He cocked his glass and raised it to clink with hers.

"Good toast," he said.