Written for Livejournal's 'fraternizing'
Shaun: As Bertrand Russell once said, "The only thing that will redeem
mankind is cooperation." I think we can all appreciate the relevance of
Liz: Was that on a beer mat?
Shaun: Yeah, it was Guinness Extra Cold.
Liz: I won't say anything.
-Shaun of the Dead
thanks to tree for being my beta.
Cuddy can tell when House has been to her home. He doesn't leave evidence, or take things, but she has a feeling, a gut feeling, of his presence. Figurines will have their little faces turned to the wall, or she won't be able to find a certain pair of socks or the matching panties to her purple bra. She'll have less milk than she thought she had. There will be a spoon mixed in with the knives.
"It's probably your housekeeper," her assistant says when she mentions these oddities.
"Maybe you have a stalker," her brother says, bitterly. He has just turned 50 and everything has become negative – an omen of mortality.
She buys neither of these stories. Though she has absolutely no proof, she is certain it is House.
She spends Wednesday shadowing him. This isn't easy with all the new fellows around, but she manages to know where he is almost always. She watches him berate Dr. Taub and ogle Thirteen. She watches him slog through only thirty-five minutes of his clinic time (barely two patients) and watch three back to back episodes of CSI: Las Vegas in four different lounges and one empty exam room on his portable TV. She takes an hour for lunch and another 45 minutes for meetings.
When she gets home, her bathroom window is open a crack. She is 99 percent certain she closed it after her shower. She always closes it. Doesn't she?
She starts popping home at odd times during the day. She purposefully forgets her cell phone so she can go retrieve it. She runs her nylons; she breaks a heel (a sacrifice); and finally just gives up the pretense of excuses.
Her house is always empty and still when she enters; always feels invaded and disturbed.
The thing of it is, she's starting to lose sleep. She lays awake at night straining her ears and waking up with a start every few hours. She dreams he's at the foot of her bed, outside her window, at her back door.
Finally, she calls him into her office.
"Enough," she says.
He holds her gaze too steadily, for too long before he shrugs almost imperceptibly and shakes his head.
"What?" he asks.
When she gets home, her living room has been rearranged.
She finds Wilson in the morning.
"Are you in on this?" she demands.
"In on what?" he asks, with that stupid, innocent expression he has – perfected from years of friendship with House and three failed marriages. It makes her even more angry.
"He can't move a couch by himself, Dr. Wilson," she spits.
He stares at her blankly.
She gets her locks changed and doesn't hide any keys anywhere. She keeps one on her key ring, one on the top of her bookshelf in her office. She checks on it almost compulsively.
She gives dirty looks to his new fellows; she even gives the cold shoulder to Cameron and Chase, just in case. She makes Foreman give her hourly progress reports that come back with things like: '1:00pm, Dr. House eats a bag of chips' and '4:00pm, Dr. House listens to Tom Waits loudly in his office.'
This is draining.
She gets an extremely expensive alarm system installed and slaps the 'protected by' sticker on her window with a perverse joy. If anything at all disturbs her home, she'll get an immediate phone call and a police dispatch.
She comes home to cut flowers on her front step and smiles.
Everything inside is just as she's left it.
She doesn't actually see House until his case is finished. All of his new ducklings trickle out and the hospital lights power down into their night cycle. She likes this time in the hospital, when things start to slow and the patients settle into sleep. She worked nights once, before she was the head of a department and long before she was Dean. When she first came to Princeton-Plainsboro, she worked nights because she liked the light footfalls of the nurses and the way everyone spoke softly. That was before House.
It's late now and her shift is long over. It's time to go home, to face the quiet. She can see out the window that House's bike is in the parking lot, still in his space, slowly gathering snow. It's too cold for him to ride that now, with the way the winter stiffens his leg. Every newspaper, radio station, and TV in the state has been announcing snow fall all day – only House would tempt fate by riding his motorcycle to work instead of taking his car.
She should just leave, just go home and sleep with the sound of the heater clicking on for company, but her feet walk her to House's office before she can stop herself. She will call him a cab, or make sure that he gets some sleep in an empty room. She won't offer him a ride home. But House is standing in his office, by the door with his coat and backpack already gathered. He doesn't give her a chance to choose.
"Let's go," he says and brushes by her, his cane a dull, thudding metronome of his progress. What can she do but match his step?
"You're an idiot," she says.
"My car is in the shop." His response is even.
"Still," she says, winding her scarf around her neck before they reach the outside. "I stand by my previous assessment."
"Smarter than you," he says with a tiny grin.
"So you're walking home, then?" she snaps. She unlocks her car and they both slide in. He eases his leg so gently that she backs off. She knows he must hurt in this cold. She takes his cane from him and lays it across the backseat. They have to sit for a little while, as the engine warms, and he spends it massaging the place where muscle used to be.
"Are you spending Christmas alone?" she asks. She has this picture in her head of him sitting alone every holiday with only alcohol and melting ice for company. It bothers her; it nags at her. She doesn't want it to happen to House. She doesn't want it to happen to herself.
"What do you care, Jew?" he asks and she rolls her eyes.
"You aren't," she points out. "I just thought maybe you'd want me to cook you something."
"Cook me something?" he asks. He looks like he wants to scoff but is too astonished.
"Never mind," she says. "Forget it." She puts the car in gear now that she can see slightly through the windshield and starts to drive.
"You," he says, writing his initials on the window with his finger. "…Could cook me something on Christmas if you wanted."
"Fine," she says. "I will."
"Good," she says. Outside his apartment, he doesn't invite her in and she doesn't offer to help him up the icy steps. He's about to close the door when she stops him. "House?"
She's about to tell him to stay out of her house, to tell him that the couch facing the window instead of the TV doesn't make any sense but she doesn't get it out.
"Goodnight," she says. He looks at her for a little too long, until she is uncomfortable.
"Whatever," he says and slams the door.
Cuddy doesn't bring House a Christmas present because she is, after all, Jewish. But they both have the day off and that's a gift, really.
The food arrives before Cuddy. Even thought it's late into the morning, the knocking on his door wakes House up and he limps heavily to answer it. The delivery boy on the other side nearly buckles under the weight of the groceries he holds.
"Are you Mr. Cuddy?" the boys asks, setting down a few of the paper bags with a loud thump that sounds like, perhaps, glass breaking.
"Christ," says House. "What the hell is all that?"
"Groceries," he says. "Can you sign here, please?"
House takes the clipboard and scrawls his name and glowers at the kid who shuffles the bags into the kitchen. He hands it back to the boy, who can't be over nineteen.
"You should go back to school," House says.
"What?" the kid asks.
"So you don't have to do such a shitty job on Christmas," House says.
"Whatever," the kid says and lets himself out. House faces the kitchen and the groceries now alone. He peers into one of the bags. Milk, butter, eggs…
"Ugh," says House and fishes his phone out of his pocket. Cuddy is number two on his speed dial. "You need to come fix this."
"What?" she says. "I'm on my way."
"There's all this stuff in my kitchen," he says.
"It's called food and I told you I'm on my way," she said. "Just put away the things that need to be refrigerated."
"Cu-uu-uddy," he whines.
"I'll take an hour off your clinic duty," she says and hangs up the phone. House puts the milk in the refrigerator and goes back to bed.
When he wakes up she's there already in his kitchen. He doesn't ask how she let herself in, or how long ago she'd arrived. She's in jeans, something he hasn't seen in years, and a red sweater with a white apron on top, crisp and lightly starched. His kitchen is warm and smells like food. He leans against the doorframe and watches for a minute. She's stirring something in a bowl – her wrist arcs with each rotation.
"I made some coffee. Do you want some?" she says. She doesn't wait for an answer and he begins to understand that even though this is his stage, it's her show. "Go sit down. I'll fix you a cup."
The terse Cuddy from the phone is gone. The groceries are all put away and she is giving him a soft smile. He's in sweat pants and his med school t-shirt that is so threadbare it's practically transparent; he fights the urge to put on real clothes and sits down like she tells him too. She brings him coffee in a white mug that was probably once Wilson's and returns to the kitchen. The coffee is good, not the crap that he buys when he manages to get to the store, but rich and smooth.
House has never cooked a full meal before. He feels that he could, if he had too. Listening to Cuddy move around his kitchen, the sound of dishes clinking and the refrigerator door closing again and again, reminds him of his mother, so he takes his delicious coffee over to the piano and starts plinking out notes experimentally, trying to decide what to play.
It's almost time for the tuner to come again. Something sounds a little bit off.
He starts playing in earnest and she brings him out a blueberry muffin on a little plate.
"That's nice," she says.
"All that banging and food for one muffin?" he asks, his fingers pausing above the keys.
"No, this is just to tide you over," she says. She walks away before he has a chance to respond snidely. He watches her disappear, feeling more confused than ever. When he agreed to let her cook for him on Christmas, he didn't realize she'd be nice about it.
In the kitchen, Cuddy sits at the table and eats the other muffin, listening to House run scales one handed while the other picks at his breakfast. She has the turkey in the oven, the piecrusts in the refrigerator, and the potatoes ready to be peeled. Her grandmother used to make rolls from scratch but Cuddy bought them instead. The phone ringing demands her attention. She lets it ring three times before she realizes that House isn't going to answer. A small part of her rationalizes that it might be the hospital and she answers it.
"Hello?" she says in her Dean of Medicine voice.
"Oh… is… Gregory there?" says the voice that Cuddy recognizes as his mother. Of course it would be his parents. Who did she expect? Wilson? Thirteen? Cameron?
"I'll check," she says, and sets the phone down on the counter carefully. House looks up when she comes into the room.
"You didn't answer that, right?" he says. She cringes a little. "It's not my mother is it?" he demands.
"I'll tell her you're unavailable," she offers.
"Give me the dame phone, Cuddy," he snaps. She jumps a little and retreats to bring him the phone. She stands on just the other side of the door trying to listen to the conversation.
"Merry Christmas," House says, loudly but with no cheer, false or otherwise. "I'm sorry," he says. "Work is busy and you know I'm always on call."
House doesn't have a patient right now and while Cuddy is on call, House is not. And even if he were, he so rarely answers his phone that it has long become a moot point. In the living room, House lowers his voice so that Cuddy has to strain to hear.
"I'm not alone," he says. "It's fine."
Hissing from the stove alerts Cuddy that one of the pots has started to boil over and she has to rush away from eavesdropping to tend to the food. When House comes in to the kitchen to return the phone to its cradle, she is sitting cross-legged on one of the kitchen chairs at the table, peeling apples with a paring knife. Her first impulse upon seeing him is to apologize, but she holds the words in. He sits heavily in the chair next to hers; a corner from the table and a pile of apples separates them. He takes a pill, maybe two, she can't really tell while not looking directly at him.
"Don't you have Hanukkah plans or something?" he asks suddenly and her knife stills briefly before continuing, leaving a pile of green skin in front of them.
"Hanukkah has been over for a while," she says, carefully. His hand slides past her and he takes another knife. Now they are both sitting quietly, her peeling and him slicing the apples up, leaving the cores dissected beside him, cut with a surgical precision. No wasted meat, no spilled juice, no nicked seeds. "I saw my nieces," she says, wary of continuing a conversation he may not have any interest in.
"Ate some chocolate coins, spun the dreidel? Lit the candles?" he asks none too nicely.
"Mock my culture's holiday and you get no pie," she says loftily.
"I don't like my holidays either if it's any consolation."
"It's not," she says, standing. "I'll make you a snack."
He understands the dismissal and leaves the kitchen. Cooking in a foreign kitchen is like an adventure. She can navigate her kitchen blindfolded but now she has to search for what she needs and sometimes go without. House's kitchen is surprisingly complete – knives, pots and pans, Pyrex dishes – she doesn't know if this is because of Stacy or Wilson. She doesn't care, either, because Stacy and Wilson aren't here and she is. She puts some cheese and crackers on a tray and brings it out to him.
"Where's Wilson?" Cuddy asks, surprised she's not cooking for both of them. Wilson doesn't need it in the same way, but still.
"Connecticut," House said, handing her the dirty muffin dish. "With his other family."
"Did he invite you?" Cuddy presses and House shifts his shoulders slightly. She sets the tray on the piano and tries to be patient. "Well?"
"I'm going to take a shower," he says. "Are we eating soon or are you going to be here all day?"
"It's done when it's done," she says and disappears. He feels something that might be the smallest pang of guilt as he heads for the shower. She's trying to be nice, he knows this, and he's not sure what keeps him picking at her.
He leans against the bar that Stacy installed in his shower soon after the accident, when he was still in the wheel chair. His shower is getting a bit dingy – he lost another cleaning lady and has yet to replace her. He's lost his mother to the iron-will and dislike of his father. He's lost Stacy to Mark, and Cameron to Chase.
He is precariously close to losing Cuddy. Wilson would disagree, probably, but House knows. This is the last kind act he's going to get from her and, if he drives her away now, he will have driven away every woman who has ever been important to him. He can find another cleaning lady and in Thirteen he's pretty sure he's found another Cameron.
He is one million percent sure he isn't going to find another Cuddy.
He puts on a nice shirt. He even thinks about shaving for half a second.
Cuddy is putting food on the table when he emerges. She has even dug out a tablecloth. It's white with lacy edges and positively screams Stacy, but Cuddy just smiles hopefully.
"It…" he says. "Looks great."
The look on her face is worth playing nice and it really does look good.
"Thank you," House says.
"You're welcome," she replies.
They watch Antiques Road Show and drink Guinness once the dishes are in the machine.
"So," Cuddy says, her feet on his coffee table. "What's with breaking into my house and moving all my stuff?"
"You were ignoring me," he says.
"Yep," he says.
"And you thought interior design was the solution?" she asks.
"Well," he says. "Here you are."
She doesn't really have anything to say to that, so she drinks her beer and puts her head on his shoulder.