Cuddy woke at five o'clock Friday morning and anticipating a very stressful and busy day, she did an hour of yoga then bundled up and relaxed on the back porch swing with a mug of yerba maté.
As she snuggled under the warm blanket she'd brought outside with her, she thought about the day ahead. It still had not completely sunk in that House was moving in with them. It had only been a few months since they'd reconciled and at times she had worried they were moving too fast. But then, when he was there with them and it felt so natural and so right, her worries left her. She was just happy that after everything they'd been through since their days at the University of Michigan, they were finally on the same page. They'd finally chosen happiness...together.
Cuddy ran her index finger around the edge of the mug and thought about the huge step House was taking, how he'd put aside his fears and chosen happiness. She remembered vividly another time he'd done that, when he'd confessed to her that he'd been happy and in love with her and that she was more important to him than anything else in his life...even medicine.
It was the night of the banquet where she was to receive an award for her exemplary leadership of the hospital and her work expanding and funding the free clinic. Even though she knew it was unlikely he'd show, she still held out hope. After all she knew him better than anyone and he had a knack for surprising her when she least expected it. However, as each hour passed, she accepted the reality and so she hid her disappointment by smiling and keeping busy greeting people and working the ballroom. She'd eaten a luxurious meal and later, given her acceptance speech while trying not to look down at the empty place at the table, reserved for the man she loved who would never show. Later, he'd shown up at her house, drunk and soaking wet.
"You completely disappeared on me. You wouldn't even answer your cell phone." She'd been angry at first but after talking to Wilson, her anger turned to concern.
House didn't respond. Instead, he turned toward her. "You're gonna want to… sit down for this." He gestured toward the couch. "Go ahead. Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit."
He leaned heavily on his cane, closed his eyes and frowned. "I've made a decision," he said.
Cuddy swallowed hard. Oh God, she thought. Don't do this. She closed her eyes for a moment and waited for the inevitable. She'd been waiting for it for months.
"Being happy and being in love with you…makes me a crappy doctor."
Cuddy opened her eyes and looked up at him. He swayed a little and tried to steady himself with his cane.
"Shut up," she demanded. "You're too drunk to end this relationship." She was angry at him again. First he couldn't attend her awards ceremony and now this. It was typical, why should she expect any different?
He ignored her and continued. "I am drunk. And I'm also right. You have made me a worse doctor. And people are gonna die because of that."
Cuddy's heart sank into the pit of her stomach.
"And…you…are totally worth it."
Cuddy's jaw dropped and she blinked several times as she absorbed the impact of his words. He'd confused her. At first, given his tone and his state of drunkenness, she thought he'd do what she feared since day one-realize it couldn't work and end things with her. But with his confession, he'd thrown her for a loop. He would not joke around about something like this for she knew it wasn't easy for him to show his deepest feelings. She wished he'd had the courage to admit it in a more sober state of mind.
House interrupted her thoughts when he sat on the couch next to her. She looked over at him. He was wet and exhausted but his eyes, though somewhat glazed, never betrayed his feelings. They were soft and sincere.
"If I had to choose between…saving everyone and loving you and being happy… I choose you. I choose being happy with you." House smiled drunkenly at her then leaned forward and laid his soggy head in her lap.
"I will always choose you."
He'd said something incoherent and she'd hushed him and told him to get some sleep. Cuddy rubbed his back and leaned back into the cushions as she listened to his soft snores. After a few minutes, she extricated herself from him and laid him out on the couch, taking off his wet outer clothes, leaving him in his boxers and tee-shirt, then covered him in a blanket. Then, instead of going to her bedroom, she made herself comfortable in the recliner across from him. She eased it back and put her feet up and covered herself in her grandmother's warm afghan.
Cuddy watched House as he slept. He seemed so at peace which she knew was rare for him. She thought about his words again.
"I will always choose you."
Oh House, she thought. You don't have to choose, you can have both.
A lone tear slipped down her cheek. While she loved that he had confessed his devotion for her, slight panic spread through her at the thought of the burden he'd placed upon her. She was not only responsible for his happiness, she was responsible for his misery too-because that's what he'd be if he thought he would no longer have his gift. And Cuddy knew that even though it was his decision, she would always feel the guilt for it.
This is not the way it should be, she thought. She'd spent years looking out for him and protecting him and now that they were in a relationship she was his lover, friend, and equal partner, not his caretaker. She couldn't be solely responsible for his happiness-or lack of it. She tried to think of a way she could get through to him and convince him that he didn't have to choose, that he could have her and his puzzles. Cuddy knew she had to find a way because if she didn't, in the end, they would both lose dearly.
She opened her eyes and sighed. She'd come up with a plan for them to go away together for a long weekend. Julia was going to take Rachel so that House and Cuddy could spend some quality time together talking and working through their issues. But it never happened because not long after the events of that night, everything between them had fallen apart.
The past doesn't matter anymore, she thought. Only the future.
Cuddy was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of the doorbell. She looked at her watch and realized she'd been sitting on the swing for almost an hour. She unwrapped herself from the blanket and went into the house. She looked through the peephole and saw House and Wilson shivering in the cold. She opened the door, greeted by two somewhat tired and haggard looking men.
"You guys look awful," she said as she stepped aside to let them in.
Wilson pointed to House. "Blame him and his midnight poker session."
"Midnight? You knew you had to leave early."
"Hey! I wanted to win my money back," House said. He wrapped his free arm around her and planted a short but tender kiss on her lips. Before she could let herself get lost in it, he pulled away. "Gotta pee," he said as he limped quickly don the hall toward the bathroom.
Cuddy hugged Wilson then gave him a smirk. "So did he win it back?"
"You beat him?" She asked, surprised. House rarely lost at poker. It was his gift for reading people. He called their bluff every time.
"I know, right? He was distracted. I won five hundred bucks."
"That isn't even close to what he owes you," she mused.
"Nope. And would you believe he made me buy him breakfast? He said I'd cleaned him out."
Cuddy snorted. "Yeah, right. That'll be the day."
They heard the thump of House's cane in the hallway again and then silence. Cuddy peeked down the hallway but didn't see him. At that moment she heard a loud squeal of delight which had no doubt come from Rachel's room. Moments later, he saw them making their way toward the living room, albeit slowly and carefully. There was House with his cane in his left hand, a grin on his face and a giggling Rachel slung haphazardly over his right shoulder.
After breakfast, Cuddy moved into full administrator mode. As much as House had teased her often about her need to plan and prepare, he admired and respected it. It was one of those things he loved about her-that she was always able to create order out of absolute chaos. He watched her as she zipped around the house, in sweats and tennis shoes, her hair in a messy bun, carrying a clipboard and barking orders. He couldn't have been more in love.
Though she'd only begun to really prepare for the move a week in advance, Cuddy was methodical and meticulous in her planning. She'd done a thorough housecleaning and made a list of the things she wanted to get rid of. She'd donated two carloads of books, toys, and household goods to the local animal shelter thrift store and had Goodwill pick up several things that could be sold secondhand. She'd organized the garage so that it would serve as a staging area, making it easier to unload the items and then later serve as excess storage space. She also tagged the furniture and boxed and labeled the smaller items going to her sister's house.
Sharon arrived shortly before the movers arrived with Hannah in tow. Originally she'd planned to take the girls shopping but Rachel raised such a fuss about wanting to help House move in that Cuddy didn't have the heart to send her away. She did however, make the girls promise to play in Rachel's room and stay out of the way while the movers were going in and out of the house.
At first it was organized chaos but by noon they had made significant progress. They'd moved House's bedroom furniture into Cuddy's room and placed his Eames chair in the corner by a window. With the old convertible sofa, end tables and lamps gone to Goodwill, the third bedroom-turned home office had plenty of space for House's leather sofa, coffee table, desk and television and a few tall bookcases. Wilson and one of the movers rearranged the living room to better accommodate House's lounge, two remaining bookcases, and three small tables. Finally, with the upright piano going to Julia, House's baby grand had been moved, under his watchful eye, into the corner of the living room by two large windows. He left his musical instruments in their cases and stored them in a hall closet until they figured out what to do with them.
By mid-afternoon, the movers had emptied the truck and loaded the items going to New Haven. House walked them outside and Cuddy watched as they shook hands and House handed them a large wad of cash. He watched them as they drove off and as he headed back inside the house, she met him at the front porch.
"All set?" She asked, looking up at him.
"Yep. They're paid and they'll be at your sister's in a few hours."
"And you're sure they know how to get there?"
"They've got GPS, it's fine."
"Good." She smiled.
He put his arms around her and pulled her close. He kissed her hair which was half in-half out of its messy bun.
"Your hair's a mess," he said. She laughed.
"Unlike yours of course." She pulled back from him and looked up. He still had the same bed head he'd walked in with that morning.
He leaned down and kissed her. His lips were soft and warm. She accepted his tongue greedily and then shivered.
"You cold or am I just that good?" He asked with a raised eyebrow.
Cuddy chuckled. "Someone's awfully stuck on himself."
"You could be stuck on me if-"
She smacked his chest lightly and laughed out loud. Then out of the corner of her eye she saw they two sets of eyes watching them.
"Look," she said nodding toward the living room windows.
House looked over and there stood a giggling Rachel and Hannah.
"I always knew you loved an audience," he said.
She stepped back and grabbed his hand. "Come on Romeo, work to do." She led him back into the house.
When they got inside, Cuddy surveyed the organized mess. There were boxes in every room which held an array of household goods, art decor, personal items, books and papers . Thankfully House had the movers mark everything clearly so he'd know what was in each box and with Wilson's help they distributed the items to the rooms they would likely be stored in.
This was the part she dreaded-where they had to figure out what to do with all the little things. She sighed.
House sensed her frustration and walked up behind her and rubbed her shoulders.
"It'll be fine. One box at a time," he said.
"What are we going to do with all this stuff? Do we have enough room?"
"We'll figure it out."
The sound of a horn outside diverted their attention.
"What's that?" Cuddy asked.
Rachel ran to the window. "It's a big truck with somethin' on the back."
House smiled. His bike.
They ordered pizza and worked until early evening.
Cuddy and Sharon worked in the kitchen merging items and throwing in boxes the things she and House didn't need. Cuddy couldn't get over that House seemed to have better and newer kitchen gadgets than she did. She wound up keeping most of his stuff and throwing much of hers in a donation box. She made a mental note to have House put his unique culinary skills to work as often as possible.
With Wilson's help, House unpacked the books and journals meant for the bookcases in the living room. When he realized just how much he had and that there wouldn't be enough room, he decided to make two piles, one for the house and one for his office at the hospital. They'd enlisted the help of their two trusty sidekicks, Rachel and Hannah, who put the items going to the office in designated boxes which Wilson taped up and stacked in the garage.
The women had been in the kitchen talking and occasionally listening to the banter going on between House and Wilson. When it was quiet, they decided to take a break and investigate. When they entered the living room, Wilson was flattening the last of the boxes. House laid sprawled out on the floor, a little girl on each side.
Cuddy stared at them stunned. She couldn't believe they'd gotten it all done. The only thing left to do was hang the artwork.
"It looks great," she said, surveying the room.
"We had help," House said pointing at the two girls on either side of him.
"Very nice," she said looking around. The addition of House's books filled the shelves nicely and his knickknacks fit perfectly among hers on the mantle and tables. The living room had been transformed into a comfortable lived-in space without feeling cluttered. It made her smile.
Hours after Cuddy and Rachel had gone to bed and Wilson had departed to Sharon's to take advantage of her offer to sleep in the guest room, House sat in the home office going through the boxes of books, journals and his personal papers that Wilson had placed in there earlier in the day. He hadn't been tired enough for bed earlier and he'd gotten so engrossed in his task that he lost track of time, checking his watch only when he eventually yawned. His watch read eleven-thirty. He decided to open one more box and then call it a night.
He got up and limped across the room without his cane to grab one of the last remaining boxes. It wasn't a heavy box and so he made it without incident. Just as he set the box down on the coffee table in front of him he felt the stabbing pain in his right thigh. He fell onto the couch and rubbed it vigorously.
"Fuck!" He groaned as his fingers dug into his leg. He looked up at the ceiling, his eyes squinted in pain. He knew he'd stressed it from being on it so much that day. He thought of trying to make it to the bedroom but he didn't think he could make it on his own and he really didn't want to wake up Cuddy.
He sat there rubbing desperate for relief. The patch was no help since he hadn't worn one in two days. He preferred the lowest dose possible and when he did wear it, he insisted on a break for a few days in between so he wouldn't become dependent on it. He eyed his backpack on the other end of the couch. It contained a few toiletries as well as his pills. He reached for the backpack and tugged it toward him, opening it but then he stopped himself. He knew he could take the pills if he needed them but he only wanted to take them as a last resort. He kept telling himself that he'd had worse pain that he'd been able to get through without the pills. He let go of the backpack which rested on the table in front of him.
Please, he thought to himself. Just give me a fucking break for once. He didn't want the pain to overshadow the momentous occasion of his first night in his new home. Suddenly he heard the patter of bare feet in the hallway.
"House!" Cuddy cried when she saw him doubled over in pain. She ran to his side and kneeled in front of him.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"What? No. It's okay."
"Did I wake Rachel?"
"No, her door is closed. And if you did, it doesn't matter, she'd get back to sleep. What happened? Did you fall?"
"No. Just...hurts...was on it too much today."
"The patch isn't working?"
She placed her hands gently on his knees. "What do you need me to do?"
"Just...give me a minute."
She nodded and sat on the couch next to him, on his right. She held his hand as he leaned back against the cushions and breathed in and out deeply. She could feel him squeezing her hand. It hurt but it didn't matter, she just wanted to be there with him...for him. She was desperate to share his pain with him so he wouldn't be alone.
His breathing evened out and he turned his head to her. Her hair was a mess and her eyes still slightly glazed over from sleep but she was the most beautiful sight to him. He gave her a faint smile to let her he was there with her.
"Are you going to be okay?"
He nodded. "Pills. I-"
"You need them?" She interrupted.
He shook his head no.
She tilted her head, confused. Then she realized he must have taken them.
"Did you take them? It's okay House, it's okay." She knew how hard he'd worked in therapy to find ways to manage his pain with as little medication as possible but she had also saw firsthand the moments when the pain was so unbearable he needed them. In the back of her mind, she sometimes worried there might come a day when it was so bad that he might take one and not be able to stop. She couldn't control the pain or whether he took the pills or not but she could be damn sure she was there to support him if it ever happened. What he didn't need was judgment, he needed love and encouragement and support.
He interrupted her thoughts. "No," he whispered. " I wanted to take them..."
"You mean you didn't?"
"I'm weak," he said, sadly.
"How bad?" She asked, assuming he meant his physical condition.
He shook his head again. "No...weak. I almost took them."
She looked into his eyes and where she'd found happiness hours earlier, she found sadness. She hated that his pain sucked the life out of him and she'd give anything to heal it. She placed her hands on either side of his face and rubbed her thumbs over his scruff. She looked directly into his sad blue eyes.
"House, you're not weak," she said. "You're the strongest person I know."
He just looked at her, his eyes glassy. She knew he hurt.
"What can I do to help you?" She begged him softly.
He looked down at her hands.
"Of course." She motioned for him to lay down and she helped him get his pajama pants off then he laid down on his left side against the back of the couch to give Cuddy plenty of room. She placed her hands on his scarred area and caressed it gently, taking her time and eventually working into a deeper massage. She was thankful for the techniques that House and Vince had taught her.
"Is this okay?" She asked, wanting to be sure she wasn't hurting him.
"It's good. Hurts but it'll be okay." It was true, it did hurt but he knew the longer and deeper the massage, the better he'd feel eventually. He closed his eyes as Cuddy worked his leg as hard as she could.
Twenty minutes later House laid his hand on hers in a sign that she could stop.
"Better?" She asked. His eyes were still glassy but he seemed more relaxed. She flexed her sore fingers and wondered how on earth professionals did those massages day in and day out.
"Yeah." He took one of her hands in his and kissed the palm. He knew it had hurt and wanted her to know he appreciated it.
"Do you want to take a pill?"
"We'll see. I might take a half if it keeps up but right now it's bearable."
"How about a bath?" She asked, rubbing his arm lovingly.
"Only if you take it with me."
"You're in pain and you're flirting with me?" She mused.
"You act like that's something new." He waggled his eyebrows at her.
She smiled. He was obviously feeling a little better.
"Come on, let's get you into the bedroom."
"Oh yeah, she definitely wants me," he joked.
She laughed out loud then rose from the couch and helped him up. She picked up his pajama pants and handed him his cane which he gripped with his left hand for the second time that day. He raised his arm to let Cuddy underneath it. She put her arm around his waist and they held on to one another as they ambled down the hallway together. When they got to the doorway of the bedroom he rested against the door jamb and looked down at her.
"This isn't exactly what I had in mind for our first night of living in sin," he said, regretfully.
"Me either," she whispered. "But honestly, just having you here...with us...finally...is enough for me."