Mom folds the red paper in half and draws a looping arc of half of a heart on it. She hands him the scissors.
"Cut along the line," she says, and holds the paper in place for him.
Greg's hands aren't as steady as hers, and the scissors cut in choppy, awkward strokes. He stops when the blade slices a deep groove inside the line, but Mom smiles at him.
"Don't worry," she says. "It'll be fine."
Last year Greg picked out a box of ready made Valentine cards at the store. They had drawings of cowboys who swung their lariats into heart shaped loops. Mom made him fill one out for every kid in his class. He tossed three of them in the trash when she wasn't looking. He never liked those kids anyway, and didn't see any reason to pretend he did.
This year, they're in the Philippines. It's hot, the air is thick and it sticks to his skin even as they sit beneath the ceiling fan. The only Valentine cards Mom found were meant for grown-ups. Greg rolled his eyes when he read the stupid poem inside.
"We'll just make our own," Mom had said. "They'll be even better."
She found the paper at a store in town, and now the two of them sit at the table after supper. Dad is in the living room, reading the Pacific edition of Stars & Stripes. Mom waits for Greg to finish.
He snips through the last inch, and Mom unfolds the paper. She spreads it out on the kitchen table, the red heart vivid against the white formica surface.
"It's perfect," she says.
"No it's not." Greg stares at the sharp edges where the blade cut too deeply, creating a divot dug out from the heart and its matching twin on the other side.
"No one will care about that," Mom says. She hands him a fresh sheet of paper and the pen and leans down to whisper in his ear. "Lets make one for Dad."
"You're not supposed to sled here."
House can picture the look on Cuddy's face without even turning around -- her eyebrows pulling together and eyes narrowed -- but, he hopes, with a brightness in them that defies her posture.
"Who says?" he asks.
"This sign, for one." Cuddy points to the post at the gate.
"What are they going to do, arrest us?" House nods toward the other students gathered beneath the sodium light at the top of the hill. "Arrest all of us?"
He walks through the gate and past the students to the far side of the hill, and smiles when he hears Cuddy's footsteps follow him.
He places the sled at the top of the hill. The moon is a slender arc of a crescent low in the sky and its dim light leaves most of the park in shadow and darkness. House looks down and has to imagine where the giant oak is on the first rise of the big downward slope leading into the Arboretum. He points the sled slightly to the east so they'll slide wide of it. The sled is just a cheap plastic model he picked up at the hardware store for five bucks. He won't be able to control it once they start down the hill.
"This isn't exactly my idea of a dream date for Valentine's Day," Cuddy says.
"Who ever said this was a date?" House glances back at Cuddy. Her hands are pushed down into the pockets of her coat. "I told you, you're too stressed about mid-terms. You need a break."
"You're the one who faked the lab results," Cuddy says. "If anyone is stressed, it should be you."
"Who's going to know? Besides, I knew what answers he wanted. I just didn't have time to run all the tests."
Cuddy sighs, her breath coming out in steam that hangs there for a moment in the cold air. House looks back down the hill. There are maple and elm trees beneath the ridge of the cemetery to the far eastern side of the Arb, but the wide open meadow waits beneath the snow if he can find just the right angle downhill from here. Once he's happy with the placement, he holds out a hand to Cuddy.
"You ready?" he asks.
Her jeans are tight and tucked in to the top of her boots. He checks out the shape of her leg and curve of her ass as she leans down to place herself at the front and tucks her legs into the sled. He squeezes in against her and wraps his legs around her.
"One --" he places his hands against the snow.
"Two -- " the sled squeaks against icy hard packed surface at the top of the hill.
"Three." He pushes, and the sled glides down into the darkness.
Cameron didn't take everything with her when she left.
Some things she forgot: the summer t-shirts she'd put into storage in September, the bottle of shampoo in the closet, the slippers stashed under the bed.
Some things she meant to leave behind: the photo album, the scarf Chase bought for her last birthday, the top tier of their wedding cake that she placed in the the freezer and told Chase was traditionally saved for their first anniversary.
Chase sees the foil-wrapped cake every time he opens the freezer. He shoves it into the corner, behind the ice cube trays. He stashes a pile of cheap frozen dinners in front of it to try and hide it, but he knows it's there. He can't bring himself to toss it out.
He's not superstitious, but finds himself thinking that that the year isn't over yet. Maybe things will still change. Despite House's comments about divorce, neither Chase nor Cameron have actually filed any paperwork.
When he stops at the grocery store for chips and beer, he walks past the display of cards and candy for Valentine's Day. Chase ignores them the first time, but on the way back, he slows. There's one with Florentine cherubs -- fat babies with curly hair -- and he finds himself reaching for it.
It sits on the kitchen table, just waiting for him to make his pleas to her. Chase clicks open a pen and stares at the card. He doesn't know what to say. "I miss you?" he asks himself. That would be true. "I love you," would be too. That's not what Cameron wants to hear though. "I'm different now," he thinks. That's what she wants. "I'll change." But that's not true.
He stares at the card a little longer, puts the tip of the pen to the paper. He signs his name and leaves the rest blank.
Marcus isn't supposed to drink, so Eric doesn't open any wine at dinner.
"If you want some, have some," Marcus says. "It won't bother me."
Eric wants to believe him, but addicts are addicts. Some things never change, and he figures it's better for both of them if they limit the number of temptations around the place.
"I never liked wine anyway," Marcus says.
Marcus is making dinner: ham and collard greens. It's one of Mom's specialties, and the smell reminds Eric of everything he'd left behind. He never bothered trying to cook like her. Whenever he cooked, it was usually to impress someone, so he learned how to make a good bolognese instead. He learned enough about French cooking to turn out a decent white sauce on demand and could stir fry well enough to impress Thirteen on their third date.
Thirteen liked wine. She also liked dragging him out to hole-in-the-wall diners when they got done with a case early in the morning. She always dared him to eat the greasiest thing on the menu. She probably would like Mom's recipe.
"I was thinking," Marcus says. He doesn't finish the thought right away. Instead he watches Eric for some sign that he should continue.
Eric leans against the counter. "What?" he finally asks.
"We should ask Dad to come down for the day next weekend."
"Why next weekend?"
"Valentine's Day. I hate to think of him sitting there all alone." Marcus turns back to the stove and stirs the greens. "First time in forty years he won't be with Mom."
"You don't know what it was like," Eric says. "Mom didn't even remember who he was in the last year. It's probably easier for him now, in a way."
Marcus flinches slightly and Eric wonders if Marcus ever realized how much he hurt Mom that last time he screwed up. Dad said that she forgave him. He said to make sure that Marcus knew that.
Dad was going to come down the first week after Marcus was released, but Eric told him to wait for a few days, just until Marcus was settled. It's been nearly a month now, and Marcus has been on his best behavior, but Eric remembers how it went every other time. He tells himself that he's protecting Dad from another heartache when it all goes wrong again.
"It would be good to see him again." Marcus says.
Eric nods. He knows he can't keep Marcus away from Dad forever, but then thinks that maybe if he's there, he can keep things under control. Marcus won't hit Dad up for cash if he knows he still has to live with Eric afterwards. At least Eric hopes so.
"Good idea," he says. "I'll give him a call."
Taub buys flowers early, just in case. He gives them to Rachel along with a card on Thursday.
"Valentine's Day isn't until Sunday," she points out.
"Nothing wrong with getting an early start, is there?" He wraps his arms around her and holds her close. He doesn't tell her the truth -- that House has been restless the last two days. They wrapped up their last case on Monday, and House was happy to kick back and take it easy at first, but on Wednesday he began trolling the halls.
Earlier today, Taub saw him rifling through files in the ER. His limp was more pronounced, and when House tossed the ball against the wall, it hit harder and harder as each hour passed. House wants a distraction, and he doesn't care if that distraction means he screws up everyone else's weekend plans.
Rachel has been more patient since Taub lied about the punch, but she still doesn't understand. He hears the disappointment in her voice whenever he calls to tell her he'll be late -- or won't be home at all -- so Taub usually tries to call her when he knows she'll be tied up in a meeting, and he can just leave a message on her voice mail.
"I hate this too," he says when he finally makes it home.
It's not a complete lie. The nights are long, and he's not as young as he used to be. Most nights, he finds himself drifting off in the lab as they wait for the machines to spit out the results. Thirteen will usually kick him beneath the table if he starts to doze off during the differentials, but never says anything about it.
But at the same time, it's exciting. He feels a buzz in the room when House walks in holding a case folder. Everyone does. Chase sits up straight, all four legs of his chair on the floor at once. Thirteen's eyes dart across the pages looking for the one thing that everyone else missed. Even Foreman raises an eyebrow when the papers hit the table.
Kutner once ran all the way from the clinic when he got a page with House's number on it. He burst into the room like an overgrown puppy who'd just heard the refrigerator open.
Taub missed that. After Kutner died everything felt muted, sedated. It was like listening to the world from six feet under water.
Then when House left, Taub thought he was ready to give it all up. Nothing lasts forever, he told himself. Plastic surgery was a good, steady specialty. He could count on it.
But then House came to him. He'd changed. It wasn't just the hair, or the fact that Taub didn't hear the rattle of Vicodin from House's coat pocket. And he was still a bastard, still insulting and mocking Taub and everyone else. But he picked his targets more often now than he had back then. He kept quiet -- not always, and not for long, but often enough that Taub noticed. It was as if he had tamed some beast, at least for a little while.
And when House came back, the energy was there again. Taub tried to ignore it, but it tugged at him, whispered in his ear like a lover.
So he's back. Back with the crappy hours and the insults and trying to find new ways to make his life work. All of his life. Sometimes it's easy. A little advance planning -- flowers and a card delivered early, a necklace hidden away in his sock drawer for later -- and he's ready for Valentine's Day.
Now he just hopes he's ready for whatever House comes up with next, because he wants to feel that buzz again.
Amber never asked Wilson if he wanted to move in. She just stood in the middle of his hotel room and put her hands on her hips.
"You need to get out of this place," she said. "How long will it take you to pack?"
The next day, his shirts were hanging in her closet and his toothbrush was nestled next to hers in the bathroom.
"You cook," she said, "I'll clean."
Wilson made coq au vin for their first Valentine's Day. After they ate, she told him to leave the dishes in the sink and led him into the living room. The video camera was pointed at the couch.
"Trust me." She stretched across the sofa. "You'll love it."
For those few months, everything seemed to fit perfectly, as if her life had just been waiting him to slide into it, a missing puzzle piece to complete the picture. Everything had been easy.
Now nothing is.
"House, it's four o'clock in the morning."
House doesn't answer, just blasts another power chord, then listens to the sound echo off the walls. Wilson is glad the developer had placed an extra layer of soundproofing between the loft units.
"Can't you turn that down?"
"It's Zeppelin," House says. "Would you ask Jimmy Page to turn it down?"
"If he pointed the amp at my bedroom wall, I would."
When House called from Mayfield the day before his release and told him that the doctor wanted him to stay with someone for a while, Wilson hadn't hesitated. Neither of them talked about how long it would be. As House settled further and further into Wilson's life -- and Amber's condo -- it seemed easier not to talk about how long it would be.
It was always easier not to talk about things with House. House didn't want to, and Wilson didn't have to. When he took House to show him the loft, House seemed to understand everything that it meant. Wilson didn't have to tell him that he didn't want to end up someday with more missing puzzle pieces from his life. House just nodded and told him he was an idiot for paying the asking price in a buyer's market.
But the unspoken understanding doesn't mean that anything is easy. House leaves dishes in the sink, rather than putting them in the dishwasher right next to the sink. He leaves the junk mail in the pile on the counter rather than throwing it out. He refuses to sort the recycling.
House does what he wants whenever he wants.
"You couldn't do this some other time?" Wilson asks.
"I figured out the chord progression when I was trying to fall asleep," House says. "I had to know if I was right."
"And you couldn't figure this out quietly? With --" Wilson points at the acoustic guitar leaning against the boxes -- "that one, for instance?"
"It's Zeppelin," House repeats. "It doesn't sound right if it's not loud."
Wilson turns down the amp volume. "Try," he says. "I'm sure you can make it work." and heads back to bed.