Insufferable

"He's down complaining to Cuddy."

"Why doesn't he just fire her?" Cameron asked as she sipped her Starbuck's latte non-fat de-caf.

Taub shrugged his shoulders as high as he could, responding in a voice as baffled as Cameron looked. "That thought runs through my mind just about every day since he hired her."

"What was he thinking? I know that her review from the Mayo Clinic said she was terminated without opportunity for rehire. I interviewed her for Emergency."

"Really?"

"Yeah, I was her fallback position if she didn't get the fellowship with House."

"But, why would she even move if she wasn't going to get the House gig?"

"She thought that just by getting near House his magic would rub off." Cameron sat down on the table squinting at Taub who was sitting at the computer with the sunlight behind him. "I never thought for a minute that House would hire her. Not with her background. It's like putting oil on fire."

"She's definitely an acquired taste. I feel like I'm fighting on two fronts. I have to put up with House and then I have to convince her to put up with House."

"You're talking about Mick?" Foreman said as he breezed through the door sucking on a JambaJuice. He whipped his sunglasses off and looked around, grimacing. "Damn. Where are they?"

Cameron, arms draped across her small chest, sighed. "With Cuddy."

"What did she do now?" Foreman asked, looking back and forth between Taub and Cameron.

Taub couldn't resist a little smile. As much as Tressa McClaren pissed him off, she always called a spade a spade, something Taub wished he had the balls to do. "He told her to wash his car; she told him to buy a new car or go screw himself. Only she used more colorful language."

"This is feeling more like a battlefield than a hospital. Maybe Cuddy can sort them out." Foreman stared out into space for a few seconds, thinking back over the last four months and the time wasted on their arguing. Shaking his head, he walked into House's office to review the new referrals.

"I could give a shit about your precious little ego or this job. I care about the work…the diagnosis. You're a pathetic excuse for a man. You claim that you welcome dissention, that you want us to question you, but you're so full of it. You're so desperately afraid someone might be smarter than you that you hire idiots to be yes-men."

House raised his eyebrows in surprise, "Uh—I hired you."

"Yeah, but you hired me because of my screw up. You found it endearing."

"Who wouldn't be enchanted by the woman who ran over Hunter Caitland after everyone heard the two of you arguing?" He smiled to himself.

Lisa Cuddy jumped up from her chair, "She did? And you hired her?"

House gave Cuddy a big mischievous grin.

"I didn't –" Tressa started to defend herself but was stopped by Cuddy's outstretched hand.

Still giving House a burning stare, Lisa continued, "The Caitland Foundation subsidizes four major grants at this hospital! And you hired the woman who ran down Hunter Caitland?"

House realized that Cuddy was at full throttle, mortified at what he did, perhaps to the point of taking the bitch's side in the dispute. "It seemed like the right thing to do."

"Did you even bother to check her references?"

House thought for a second before answering, weighing the right way to phrase it to make Cuddy go completely nuts. "Of course I did. She was fired from her last three jobs."

Tressa blurted, "But, I—"

Cuddy and House both turned to Tressa screaming in unison, "Shut up!"

Tressa's mouth snapped shut, but only for a second. "To hell with this…to hell with the two of you. I have a contract and you can't fire me unless I commit malpractice."

Both House and Cuddy's heads turned abruptly to look at her.

"What?" Cuddy said in a voice that made House take a step back out of her reach.

"You heard me. My lawyer drafted the contract, I handed it to him, he signed it and that's it."

Cuddy's head rotated again like a scene from the Exorcist until she focused on House. "You signed a contract to hire her without running it through legal?" The sound of her voice sounded like fingernails against a chalk board.

House's head bobbed and weaved as he invisibly dodged her daggers. "I may have signed something…I thought it was from H.R."

"You idiot!"

"Hey, I'm a great doctor." Tressa said in her defense. "I'm going to be better than him." She said pointing her thumb at House.

House and Cuddy both stared at her again, then turned to each other and started laughing.

Cuddy shook her head, "You don't really think you're going to be better than House?"

"Yeah, I will be. I just need a few years studying under him."

Cuddy sat down again, putting her head in her hands, sighing. "Bring her contract to me. In the meantime, maybe the two of you should take a break from each other."

House put his hands on his hips, "Fine. I'll go home."

Cuddy snarled, "You'll do no such thing. You have a referral coming in today and you know it." Cuddy thumbed through Tressa's file. "What's your background again?"

Tressa folded her arms across her chest. "I'm a cardiothoracic surgeon."

Cuddy's mouth dropped. "And you threw that away for a fellowship that pays $95,000 a year?"

Tressa looked down at the floor, "I was in between jobs."

"You were in between jobs?" Cuddy asked suspiciously.

"The Mayo had let me go after the unfortunate accident."

"Running over Caitland?" Cuddy asked.

Tressa hesitated. "No, it was my accidental announcement over the p.a. system at the gala that Hunter Caitland was impotent before I hit him." Tressa swallowed hard.

"Before you hit him?" Cuddy asked with trepidation.

"Yeah, uh, he tried to say his impotency was a result of the accident, but let's just say that when we tried to have sex in radiology the month before, he was unequal to the task."

Lisa's head hit the desk with a thud.

House couldn't hold it in. He let a burst of laughter loose, surprising both Cuddy and Tressa.

"Out! Out! I don't care what you two do, but get out of my office!" Cuddy screamed.

Tressa stomped out with an air of indignation. House followed the little firebrand with the short, no-nonsense haircut, the tailored pants and sensible shoes. He liked the little wiggle in her butt and the way she threw her head back in a haughty pose.

House called out to her, "You're going to be cleaning the office when our patient arrives. I don't want you near him."

Tressa hit the elevator button. "Her, it's a her! And like hell I'm going to clean the office, my contract says that I don't clean, cook, or get you coffee unless I specifically agree to do it."

House opened his mouth to comment and then shut it, finally he simply said, "Then prepare to run labs all night."

"Screw you. You need me on this one." Tressa replied knowing that they had not one, but two referrals coming in at the same time, something House usually avoided.

"I don't need anyone." House replied.

Tressa snorted, "Right, you just keep telling yourself that. You've chased this Stacy woman away and you screwed over Cuddy and I see how you flirt just enough with Cameron that she can't quite get you out of her head. But, yet, you go home alone at night, don't you?"

"Yes and after a day with you it's how I want it."

"Oh, you don't have to worry about me spending time with you outside of this poor excuse for a fellowship. I run to the nearest bar to have a drink just to forget about my day with you."

"Yeah, well that explains why you look old for your age." He made the sign of someone knocking back a drink.

She stood defiantly, her jaw locked and a finger wagging at him. "I look young for my age and we both know that."

"What? For a sixty year old?"

"Fuck you."

"Is that your best offer? Cause you really have a big mouth and I thought that you could put it to good use."

"You're an idiot if you think I'd put any part of your body in my mouth. I'd rather—"

He stuck a finger in her mouth.

She froze.

He pulled his finger out. "You were saying?"

The elevator opened and House hobbled into it. The doors closed without Tressa making a move to enter. As he rode up alone, House chuckled to himself. The smile soon faded as his mind drifted back over the last few months. As much as he enjoyed humiliating and mocking her, he hated her. It wasn't just his normal dislike of all humanity; this was an actual aversion to a human being that he found obnoxious and insufferable.

She grated on his nerves every single day. She asked questions incessantly, rarely did what he told her to do, and was constantly in his face, but not like Cameron who's constant need to take care and monitor him had been out of her teen-age crush on him. No, Tressa was in his face constantly berating him for his actions, a Cuddy-Wilson combo on steroids. Sure she contributed to the team--it was her only saving grace. She'd saved a patient just a week ago by refusing to give the guy the full body irradiation that House had ordered. It was a good thing since it turned out that he had a rare staph infection and the irradiation would have destroyed his immune system. But, still, it was her defiance, the air of superiority, the righteousness that drove him around the bend and back. It was worse than Cameron's naïveté; Tressa knew she was right, she knew with a certainty that he was wrong and she had been right. It was a certainty that even he had never felt. Frankly, he was jealous of that and he hated her for it.

House swung the door open and headed to his desk as Foreman vacated it. "We have another referral coming in."

"I know, Cuddy told me."

"No, we have another one besides that one; we have two." Foreman said.

House sat down in his Herman Miller Aeron ergonomic chair that was his first purchase when Cuddy renovated the hospital offices years ago. His chair selection had blown through Cuddy's original budget for office furniture. His answer to her screaming was that he needed it for his leg which, in light of the laws protecting disabilities, Cuddy was able to sell to the board. "We have two?"

"Yeah, one guy who had a seizure and a woman with a high white blood cell count but no known infection."

"Are these their files?" House started to finger the files on the desk.

"Yeah, the one on top, Alva Menendez, is the first one coming in and Ernie Allen is the seizure disorder. I'm assigning Taub and Mick to Menendez. Cameron and I will take on Allen."

House sat back, taking into account what Foreman was saying. "Why aren't you working with Mick? The seizures could be related to a heart condition, vaso-vagal syncope."

"I can cover that. I don't need a cardiacthoracic surgeon working on this to run basic tests."

House turned his head and gave Foreman a side-look. "You don't want to work with her."

Foreman took a deep breath and shook his head. "She's obnoxious and opinionated and stubborn. She won't do anything unless she thinks it's right."

"You don't like her."

"None of us like her. Why you hired her, I don't know, because apparently you don't even like her."

"She's got a nice body."

"I've seen better."

"Yeah, you slept with better and then she dumped your ass for someone with a better figure than you--a female figure." House snickered, remembering Foreman's fling with Thirteen. Now he wished he had treated Thirteen better so that she wouldn't have accepted the offer from Massachusetts General forcing him to hire another fellow. "Fine. Tell them that they need to see me after they take the history."

"They already know that." Foreman said with some frustration. "We're not children; we've done this a few times."

House sighed and leaned back in his chair as Foreman turned on his heels and exited. Reviewing the files, he found the first patient more interesting than the second. When Menendez was admitted, House waited impatiently in his office for Taub and Tressa to go over the history.

Taub entered first and took a seat across the table from the white board. They waited a few minutes and then House finally slammed him hand down on the table. "Where is your smarter half?"

Taub drew in a deep breath. "She's running some tests and will be up in a minute."

"What tests?"

Taub shrugged. "She wouldn't say."

House jumped to his feet and started towards the door just as Tressa was about to enter. He stepped back to let her walk through the door. As she sat at the table, House took his place next to the white board.

"Your prettier half here was telling me you were running some tests."

Tessa looked at Taub as if to ask him why he was snitching on her. "Yeah, I wanted to run some blood tests, why?"

"Because I hadn't ordered them." House snarled.

"Yeah, and you didn't tell me to brush my teeth this morning, but I did. I'm a doctor, I can figure out a few tests to run on my own." She put her hands on her hips. "You don't get all pissy when Cameron or Foreman run tests on their own, but you treat Taub and me like we're half-wits."

"Nah, I think of you as a quarter-wit."

"Fine, I'm bored, can we just review our patient's file?" She asked.

House, annoyed that she was pulling the 'adult' card and trying to refocus on their patient, pointed out the door. "Nah, I figure if you want to do something useful, go check out her home. Look for toxics, medicines, drugs…you know the drill."

"Oh, because I took initiative you're punishing me?"

"No, because no one in this office wants to work with you I'm sending you away. Get used to it. Anytime there's something to do off campus, you're my bitch."

Tressa grabbed her purse, keys and jacket, then stood, delivering a look of frustration and disgust to House as she did. Sitting in her car, Tressa pounded her fists on the steering wheel and screamed out to whatever Gods would listen to her. She had tried; she had tried really hard this time to keep her temper and her mouth in check. And to add insult to injury, she brought this on herself. She knew House's issues by reputation, knew she was walking into her own hell, working for a man who himself had control issues. She thought, just like she had before at the Mayo Clinic that she could control herself, but she soon found that she couldn't. Within a month under House she was contradicting him, opposing him, refusing some of his orders. This behavior didn't go unpunished. Tressa had been given every crap job he could think of including running ten assays in one night. She could put up with it if it didn't eat into her time to actually learn his diagnostic process. Every time he sent her on an errand of penance, she missed the round robins around the white board where the real learning occurred. In four months, she felt as if she hadn't learned half of what she could have had she 'behaved.'

Later that afternoon she returned and found Mr. Menendez asleep in the chair next to Mrs. Menendez's bed. She asked Mrs. Menendez if she had taken any of the prescriptions she had found at their home, specifically some that were prescribed for her husband and might contribute to her condition. Mrs. Menendez said no.

Everybody lies. Yeah, but not all the time. Mrs. Menendez is telling the truth.

After reporting what she found and Mrs. Menendez's response to her questions, House told Tressa that she could go home for the day after she ran the last of the assays. There was nothing more to do since they were waiting to see if the specific antibiotic House had ordered was going to work. Tressa didn't bother to ask the diagnosis; Taub had already caught her in the hallway and warned her of what was going on, begging her not to give House any flak, he was desperate to get out of the hospital and meet friends for drinks. Tressa, thinking that the diagnosis was probably right, gave Taub a reluctant nod to let him know she wouldn't rock the boat and Taub smiled back.

House watched Tressa leave the office just as Cuddy entered. Cuddy looked over her shoulder to see if Tressa was gone before she spoke.

Giving him a deep frown of frustration, Cuddy threw a copy of a legal memo on House's desk. "You're stuck with her. At least for now. But Legal says that if you start peppering her file with things that she does outside the box or her failure to do things for her patients or anything that could be considered malpractice, then we've got her. Depending on what she does will determine how fast we can get rid of her. In the meantime, I assume you've been making her life miserable?"

"Don't I always?"

"Well, in this case it may work. Her last boss said she was 'her own person', end quotes. Which is code for 'doesn't respond well to authority.' Look, House, next time you hire someone, I want you to run them by me and Legal. Has she disobeyed any orders causing problems with a patient?"

House handled the fuzzy ball, but didn't throw it. What he was going to say wasn't going to go down well. "She saved a patient by disobeying my order."

Cuddy's shoulders dropped. "Crap! You can kiss any argument that she's not obeying your orders goodbye. You'll have to prove gross negligence or malpractice before you can fire her under the contract. Good luck with that, I also found out that she's a damn good surgeon. But, why did she sign up under you?"

"She told me that she wanted to change areas of expertise."

Lisa snorted. "Yeah, right. I suspect that most of the cardiothoracic surgeons know her and don't want to work with her. You know she was let go from her last position and, as far as I can tell, she left the one before that under 'strange circumstances.' Hmmm, sounds familiar, doesn't it? You know this hospital can't get a reputation as the last resort for unruly physicians."

House gave her a smug smile. "It's worked so far. You took a chance on me and it's brought in a lot of money."

"Money I might lose if Hunter Caitland finds out we're employing his least favorite person. She's your responsibility; I don't want to see you in my office anymore. You signed the contract, you deal with it." Lisa marched out, her curves wiggling as she did. House watched her ass until she disappeared. Grabbing his coat, he started packing up. Wilson was out of town and there was nothing on his DVR worth rushing home to. He decided that he'd grab dinner on the way home.

The restaurant fell short in its attempt to mimic a French Provincial dining room, but the food past muster. He finished his Boeuf Bourguignon which was delicious, the beef falling apart in his mouth as the taste of the pearl onions burst with each bite. Feeling full, he decided to take a short stroll before calling it a night. It was a mild autumn, but the evening had turned a little chilly. House pulled his jacket collar up and started down the street.

He came to McNulty's, a brand new trendy restaurant with lots of granite table tops and well stocked bar. It had opened that summer. The restaurant sat on a corner with two walls of large windows facing each side of the two streets. One of the large window panes was filled with a baby grand and someone playing it. He walked over to see what the pianist was playing. It turned out to be a piece from Porgy & Bess. At first he didn't see them and then, just as he was about to leave, he noticed Cameron in the booth. Next to her was Chase, then Foreman and across from Cameron was Taub, all with beers in front of them. They were laughing and joking back and forth, each using exaggerated hand gestures to get their points across while the others howled. He immediately felt lonely, an outsider. Angry at himself for feeling rejected, House took a deep breath and tried to shake it off. He continued to look around and that's when he saw her.

Looking in from the other bank of windows from the side street was Tressa, a look of unmistakable longing on her face. She had stopped to look at the menu on the window and was now watching her co-workers. House wondered if she had been invited, but doubted it. She didn't look as if she intended to join them by the way she took a step back to keep from being seen. Her head down, she turned the corner and bumped right into him.

"Oh!" She cried out, shock written all over her sharp features. "Sorry. I, uh, well, I won't keep you. They're in there at that booth." She pointed to the booth with the four doctors still laughing and having a good time as they drank. She had assumed that he was meeting them. As quickly as she could, she sidestepped him and took off.

"Hey!" House yelled. When she stopped and turned he hobbled over to her. "You weren't invited?"

"No." She said it almost hopefully, as if he would say it was a mistake and invite her in with him.

"Yeah, I didn't think so. They hate your guts."

The crushed look on her face was heart wrenching. Surely she knew by now how much people avoided her? It was strange how people like her, like him, still held out hope that, despite knowing they were unwanted, the Gods would smile down on them and prove them wrong.

She looked down at her feet and in a sad voice simply said, "I know."

Watching her walk off, House thought about it. What makes her so damn annoying? She can be brilliant in her own way. She can hold down her end of a decent conversation. On occasion she's even funny. But, what was it?

He'd once read in Modern Psychology about a sociological study of men in a bar and how they related to the women who went to the bar to meet men. One extremely handsome man stood alone at a table and drank several drinks without scoring with any of the women. Any conversation he started up with a woman quickly went nowhere and the handsome man left alone that night as well as other nights when he was observed whereas several men of average looks left with women they had just met. The conclusion had surprised House. The gist of the feedback from the women in the bar was that the handsome man never showed any vulnerability. He was too self-assured, unable to show that he might need someone in his life. Women wanted to know that you needed them, that you weren't perfect.

House asked himself, was that her problem?

It was true to some extent; she didn't let her guard down. She didn't contribute to the diagnosis unless she was absolutely sure of herself and her response. Even worse, she was quick to admonish the rest of the team when their ideas were ridiculous. It was funny how he could get away with doing that, but she couldn't. Or maybe he didn't get away with it? Maybe, he was out here and not in the bar with the team because he never showed them how much he wanted to be invited to the party.

House crossed the street and was surprised when Tressa once again walked into him coming out of the neighborhood drugstore with a bag. She looked up into his eyes and gasped. He snatched the bag and looked inside--a box of band aids and an Almond Joy.

"Big purchase." He said.

"I'm getting a blister from these new shoes."

House looked down at the brown loafers, obviously made of good quality leather, but boring in appearance. "You should try high heels."

"What?" Her whole face squinted when she asked him.

"High heels and a dress. If you advertise a little, it would be like saying to everyone, 'please like me.' It would make you more appealing…more vulnerable."

"Excuse me?" Her voice was full of indignation.

"You want the team to invite you out with them, but you send them signals that you don't need, that you don't want their friendship, so they don't connect with you. If you tried wearing something more appealing, people would know that you were trying to attract attention, trying to make someone like you. When it appears that you need someone, it makes you seem vulnerable."

"And this from the Orenthal Simpson School of Social Skills?"

"Who better to tell you? I have more years on you; more experience at going solo. In fact, if you buy me a whiskey, I'll even tell you the answers to the universe."

"You want me to take you to a bar and buy you a drink?"

"Or we could go back to one of our respective apartments. We could flip a coin, head at my place, tail at yours."

Tressa grimaced. "Spare me."

"Drink?"

She stood, hunched over, hands in her coat pocket and thought for a few seconds. "Fine, but you have to tell me how you diagnosed Mr. Chang the other day."

"Ah, Padwan, come with me and that mystery shall be revealed. This way." He put a hand to her back to guide her in the direction of Dobsons, one of House's favorite bars (they had Tallisker.)

Arriving a few minutes later, Tressa was relieved to see that it was a nice place and not a dive. It wasn't the most fashionable, most of its décor was from the early nineties including antiquated televisions on platforms above the bar and pool tables, but it was clean and they had a nice stock of booze.

Tressa pulled off her coat and hung it on the hook next to the booth. "I hope you don't use that coin toss thing as a pick up line, it's pretty disgusting."

"Damn, is that why I keep going home alone?"

Tressa chuckled and gave him a smile. "Do you really hire hookers?"

"Whenever I have an extra thousand and a box of condoms, don't you?"

Short of staff, the bartender came over and took their orders, quickly pouring House his double and Tressa her Bailey's on the rocks.

"You know, I've never hired a hooker or gigolo, but—and this better not go any further than us—"

House gave her a playful shudder, shaking his head as if he'd never reveal her secret.

Tressa looked down at the table and played with a folded napkin. Clearing her throat she smiled sheepishly. "I did go home with a guy who used, "What do you say we go back to my crib and do some math: Add a bed, subtract our clothes, divide your legs, and multiply."

House burst out laughing. "That's all it took to get you to spread your legs?"

"That and six shots of Patron."

House raised a hand, "Bartender, two shots of Patron and keep them coming!"

Tressa let out a laugh that was so hearty, House was somewhat surprised. He could see that she was slightly embarrassed and a little flattered that he was flirting with her. Admittedly, when she laughed her whole face relaxed and you could see the shadow of a human being.

"You should laugh more often, it looks good on you. People might like you."

She immediately stopped laughing and turned red. "I don't need people to like me."

He shook his head and grinned. "Bull, I have maybe fifteen years on you and take it from me, life doesn't suck as much if a few people like you."

Her body stiffened. "I have friends."

"Really?" He pretended to look around for them.

"Not here. I'm new here." She said defensively.

"Yeah? You've been here four months and I bet there's no one you could call at two am to give you a ride when your car breaks down."

"Tripple A. I could call triple A."

"That's pathetic."

"I suppose you could call Wilson."

"Wilson, Cuddy, a few others. I could even call you."

She shook her head, "Uh-uh. Don't bother, I don't have a car yet. I've been taking public transportation."

"Then why are we worried about your car breaking down?"

She laughed again! "I wasn't—you were!"

The round of Patron was knocked back. He thought it was rather masculine, but cute that she used the back of her hand to wipe her mouth. When she looked up at him and smiled, House wiggled his eyebrows. "How are you doing? Feel like making a porno? We don't have to tape it."

She laughed again, her nose bunching up like a cute little elf.

"So you were fired from your last two jobs? Was it rough finding work?"

She knocked back the second Patron the bartender had brought over to them. "Yeah, to some extent it was. But life is like a dick, when it gets hard, fuck it."

Now it was House's turn to laugh. She joined in, but when one would try to stop, the other would start up laughing again. It wasn't really that funny except that for some reason it had tickled their funny bones. Neither was known to laugh a lot, let alone laugh out loud. But, for the first time in years, House had laughed and laughed heartily at that.

After two hours and two more Patrons (she had slowed down substantially), House had to admit that there was more to her than her mouth, although he wouldn't mind finding that at the end of a healthy erection.

They left the bar together, walking and talking through the streets for another half hour. There was a lot of girly giggling coming from her until she finally stopped and motioned to a brownstone building.

"This is my place."

House didn't want the evening to end. "Hey, want to help me find my puppy? I think it ran into that cheap motel over there."

She threw her arms around his neck, lifted up and kissed his cheek. When she pulled back she gave him a humble look of gratitude just before running up the stairs and through the front door.

House stood on the street, smiling. Who said I don't have people skills?

The End