WARNINGS: Season four spoilers up through 4.08 You Don't Want to Know.
"I don't understand why he has to come." Chase sits on the newly made-up couch, displacing a throw pillow into his lap. He isn't sure whether she's had these stored on a closet shelf somewhere or if they're freshly purchased for the occasion, but he's sure she wouldn't be happy if he moved this one to the floor.
"It's a holiday," says Cameron. "He shouldn't have to be alone." She's standing at the kitchen table, examining tarnished silverware that looks like it hasn't been used since it was passed down by her mother. Chase thinks about the past three years, the feeling of working in a bubble while life passed by outside, and the bitterness of getting home in time to find out that the rest of the world has already celebrated without you.
"He has family," says Chase, just to be difficult; in truth he's maybe just a little bit jealous. He gets up and moves to stand behind her, inhaling the scent of the perfume she's taken to wearing lately. It's sweet and earthy, incongruous and too sophisticated for the work clothes she's in nearly all the time now. Like her, he thinks, then pushes it away.
"Family who you know he's not going to see." Cameron sighs and gives up on the fork she's been trying to polish. It's probably tarnished beyond saving, Chase thinks, but he doesn't want to upset her. It's not like either one of them is particularly good at domesticity.
"I still don't understand why you didn't want it to just be us," says Chase. He takes another step closer and puts his hands on her waist, running a thumb along the warm skin of her stomach.
Cameron turns and flicks at him with the dish towel she's been using for polish, a rare impish sparkle lighting her eyes. "Foreman is a friend," she says. "Be nice."
They both know he isn't serious. It's a place of privilege, this spot in her life, this glimpse beyond the façade that is Cameron to most of the world. That he's standing here watching her obsess over pillows and silver polish instead of patiently waiting his turn outside the door with the rest of the world speaks volumes to the past year.
Years of working in a hospital have convinced Cuddy that the holidays are all about manipulation. Commercials trying to sell food with pictures of happy families mock her from the television in the clinic waiting room while Christmas carols play on the radio, and god, wasn't it just Halloween last week? The dial tone has become a mindless vibration in her ear, and she's seriously considering looking for a personal assistant again as she sits through Thanksgiving dinner making apologetic last minute calls to potential donors.
It's been a hard year for the hospital, and that means a hard year for her. Sometimes she's started to think that she's irrevocably linked to this building, that she might cease to exist as well were it to suddenly vanish. She's told herself that social life and family are the price she's paid for a respectable career. And isn't that what she's wanted all along? Cuddy wonders whether she ought to feel grateful for these calls that are hers to make, but all she can find lately is exhaustion and bitterness.
It's nearly seven when Wilson shows up, and the assumption comes instinctively, like breathing. "What did House do now?" she asks, half hoping for a reason to do some yelling.
"What?" Wilson looks lost, like he's just woken up to find himself someplace strange, his normally well-groomed hair disheveled and his tie rumpled.
"You're working late," says Cuddy, suddenly concerned. "Because of House?"
"No," Wilson stammers. "No, I had a…patient."
"Oh." Cuddy hangs up the phone and gives him her full attention, wondering why he's here. House is the thread that binds them all together, the reason they began to talk and the reason they are talking still. It's ridiculous, but she can't think of any reason Wilson would come to see her if he isn't involved.
"It's Thanksgiving," says Wilson, with the same rapid-fire delivery used for any uncomfortable subject. "Dinner?"
"Oh," says Cuddy again. It's been a long time since she's done anything even remotely social, and Wilson is the safe choice, she reminds herself. And the alternative has less than no appeal. "All right."
"Chinese takeout?" asks Foreman, eyeing the table. He hasn't even given up his coat yet, and already he's made his bad mood known. Chase bites back a stab of protectiveness as he watches Cameron cringe.
"You should be thankful I didn't try to cook," she says a little sadly, and Chase wonders suddenly whether she resents the things her life has not allowed her to learn to do. "Sit."
Chase nods civilly as Foreman hands off his coat to Cameron and sits across the little kitchen table. The surface is almost comically cramped with half-polished silverware, orange cloth napkins, and cardboard boxes of Chinese food. It's obviously not made to seat more than two, the mismatched third chair pulled in from the living room a blatant reminder. Returning, Cameron takes this seat, placing herself in the middle and an unsettling few inches above them, thanks to her chair's longer legs.
"Happy Thanksgiving?" she offers, looking at Foreman. He nods again in response. It's strangely awkward, this play at social normalcy, and Chase wonders, not for the first time, whether they function at all without the job to keep them together. Without House. It's a silly idea, really, getting together for dinner tonight. It's not like they're the kind of people who put much stock in happy holidays, and they aren't a family or really even friends. And yet there's still the occasional glimmer of idealism in Cameron's eyes, in the thought that maybe this time can be different.
Finally, Chase understands as he spoons rice onto his plate. They're trapped between a dissonant present and the longing for a past that no longer exists, and maybe it hurts less to be in it together.
The diner is unexpectedly mobbed, even though it's Thanksgiving and nearly eight o'clock at night. She's expected that these people would have homes and families to go to this night, but then Cuddy catches sight of a young couple with four children and wonders at the fact that they would choose here over home on a holiday.
"So, what's new?" Wilson sighs and looks intently at his bread plate. They've ordered already and gotten stuck somewhere between niceties and real conversation. Cuddy finds herself wondering whether he was different around the women he married, or if they found some kind of awkward charm in his inarticulacy.
She's getting tired of sipping at her water for lack of things to say. She and Wilson are supposed to be friends, and old ones at that. And yet she's always reminded in situations like this of how little she really knows about him except through House. He's like a force of nature, and she wonders whether any of their lives would be the same without him in them.
And then the little bell over the door is ringing, and Wilson is sighing, and it's like somehow Cuddy's subconscious has come to life, because the devil himself has just come limping in. She can't help the smile that breaks the tension in her face. House uses his cane to hook a chair away from a nearby table and sits heavily in it.
"I'll have what he's having," he says to the harried looking waitress who's come rushing over in the wake of the commotion. "And I'll have it on his check."
"House is losing it," says Foreman abruptly, breaking the awkward silence that's fallen.
"How so?" asks Cameron, and Chase wonders what kind of game she's trying to play. They all know what's been going on in Diagnostics lately; sometimes he wonders whether they'll ever truly be free of it.
"Hiring and firing Terzi in one case. And he would have killed that kid if it hadn't been for Thirteen. Injecting himself with potentially toxic blood, games with Cuddy, drugging employees…" Foreman lets his fork fall just a little too hard, jarring the table. "This whole damn survivor game. It's unprofessional."
"He stuck a knife in an electric socket two weeks before you came back," says Cameron, sounding uncharacteristically conspiratorial. Her statement is meant to shock, and it works.
"Notice how she knows more about it than you do?" says Chase bemusedly.
Foreman shakes his head. "Why does that not surprise me?"
They laugh, and for a moment the tension melts. This is something they do know: sitting around a table complaining about their former boss.
"You told your team to steal my underwear," Cuddy accuses. It's unprofessional, she knows, and she tries her damndest not to, but in truth she enjoys his games most of the time. It's a welcome respite from the dryness of the rest of her job.
"It was a valuable test," says House. He steals a dinner role off Wilson's plate. "Even more than I thought, as it turned out."
"I still can't believe you fired Cole," Wilson interjects. "Right before the holidays? He has a son."
"That surprises you?" asks Cuddy. She feels a pang of sympathy for Cole's child, but she's come to expect no less from House.
"He broke the rules," says House lightly. "He paid the consequences."
"What, you expected him to read your mind?" asks Cuddy incredulously.
House shrugs, giving her a look of mock remorse. "My patient did. Is it unreasonable to ask that my staff have the same skills as my patients? I mean, if the patients were more skilled, they wouldn't need doctors."
"So you need a team that's loyal?" asks Cuddy. She still can't understand the logic behind House's staffing decisions.
"No," says Wilson. "No, he needs a team that knows things about him. He's obsessed with getting answers because he thinks maybe they'll tell him something about himself."
House opens his mouth to retort, but the food comes, and they don't talk again for a very long time.
"You two have the rest of the weekend off?" Foreman asks, when most of the food is gone. The little apartment smells like dish soap and tangy spices and memories not quite ever made.
"Yeah," says Chase, as Cameron gets up to pour wine. They haven't talked about it, and he doesn't know whether they're expected to have plans or not. He's struck, again, by the strangeness of the sudden lack of all-encompassing work.
Foreman shakes his head. "I don't. We've got another case. Luckily the patient's relatively stable, or I wouldn't have even gotten tonight off."
"House let you leave in the middle of a case?" asks Cameron, her voice bolstered by the excitement she finds in anything related to Diagnostics.
"He has more than enough help," says Foreman flatly.
"Are you jealous?" asks Cameron, picking at the food left on her plate.
Foreman laughs. "Of you?"
"Of the fellowships applicants," Cameron amends, ignoring the implications of his previous question.
"Getting to work for House? Oh, they're really lucky." Foreman drains his wine glass in one long swallow.
"But you're not jealous of us," Chase cuts in. "Interesting."
Foreman narrows his eyes. "What's interesting about that?"
"If you're not jealous of us, and you're not jealous of them, you must actually like your job. And yet here you are trying to act like you can't stand it." Chase reaches clear across the table to retrieve the bottle of wine.
"Are you jealous of me?" asks Foreman.
"It's not about the job, is it?" asks Chase sharply. "It's about us. I mean, maybe the job got us where we are, but that's not what it's about now."
"What a beautiful statement," says Foreman sarcastically, and Chase can practically hear House's voice.
"You know it wouldn't be the same," says Cameron defensively. "Even if we went back there now, it wouldn't be the same." And this is the reason she resigned, this is what she's been mourning all summer. Strange, Chase thinks, to want to return to something that no longer exists. That maybe never did.
Foreman looks back and forth between them, then shrugs resignedly and raises his wine glass to the center of the table. "To us?" he concedes, only slightly mocking. He knows, Chase thinks, though he'll never admit it.
"To us," Cameron echoes.
The clink of their glasses sounds like autumn and brittle friendship born after first frost.
Reviews are greatly appreciated! Happy Thanksgiving!