The morning after his surgery, Cuddy went to check in on House, just as Wilson was leaving his room.
"How is he?" Cuddy said.
"Emotionally? God only knows," Wilson said. "Physically? Feeling no pain. He's completely high on morphine right now. It's actually kind of adorable."
Cuddy peered into the room. House's entire team—Taub, Chase, Foreman, and Thirteen—were huddled around his bed, all smiles.
"What the hell is going on in there?" she asked.
"They can't get enough of blissed out House," Wilson said, chuckling. "I think he just told Taub he loved him."
Cuddy shook her head, barged into the room.
"Okay, party's over," she said.
They looked up at her.
"It's Cuddy!" House said merrily.
"I want to talk to Dr. House alone," she said.
"Yeah, she wants to talk to me alone!" House repeated. "Go away! Shoo!"
The team all got up. "Feel better, boss," Thirteen said, touching his arm.
"I love you, too, man," Taub said with a small giggle. Chase flicked him on the back of the head.
When they were gone, House looked up at Cuddy, smiled beatifically.
"I have two legs," he said.
"Yes, you do."
"You saved me."
"You're nice," he sighed.
"Thanks House. You're not so bad yourself."
"I like your face," he said.
"Thank you again," she said, suppressing a laugh. "How's the leg feel?"
"Fantastic," he grinned.
He looked up at her.
"Remember when you were my girlfriend?" he said dreamily. "That was nice."
"It definitely had its moments," she said, brushing some hair off his face. She could see why Wilson and the team were so delighted by him. "Listen House, duty calls. But I promise I'll check back with you later."
"Ha, ha. You said duty."
She went to visit him the next day and he was himself again, obviously off the morphine.
"I didn't think you'd show," he said when he saw her.
"I came to visit you yesterday," she said. "You don't remember?"
"No. Apparently, they have really good drugs around this hospital."
They exchanged a look.
"How do you feel, House ?"
"Two-legged, thanks to you," he said.
"You already thanked me yesterday," she said.
"Well this is a thank you I'll remember. I'm sorry I dragged you and Rachel out of bed with my reckless and appallingly idiotic behavior and I can't tell you how much I appreciate everything you both did for me."
"Wow," she said. "That was downright. . . mature."
"I'm turning over a new leaf," he said. "Wilson gave me a motivational pep talk."
"What did he say?"
"That I was a fuck-up and needed to get my shit together. It was very inspiring. . ."
"Well, good. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."
"You can," he said. He grabbed her hand. She stiffened just the tiniest bit.
"You can forgive me," he said, looking up at her.
"House. . .I can't. . . I don't. . ." She glanced at the door for a second, feeling uncomfortable.
"I don't mean get back together. That's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying forgive me. So we can be friends again."
Funny, friends is the last thing I want us to be, he had said to her once, a lifetime ago.
"I'd like that," she said.
"So would I," he said.
She glanced at the table beside his bed, saw the letter Rachel had dictated.
"I see you got Rachel's letter," she said.
"I read it once. . . or 25 times. Can you tell her how much it cheered me up?"
"I will," she said.
"Thanks Cuddy. And thanks for raising such a cool little human."
The thing was, she and House didn't actually know how to be friends with each other, did they? They could do flirting, they could do hostility, they could do sex, they could even do love. But friends? How on earth did they do that?
And it was while grappling with this dilemma that Cuddy found herself in the unfamiliar position of inviting House to a cocktail party she was throwing.
"I'm having this little get together Friday night," she said. "I'd love it if you came. No pressure."
"Are you inviting me because you genuinely want me there or because you're afraid I'd find out about the party after the fact and be hurt?"
She thought about it for a second.
"A little bit of both," she said.
"Is Wilson coming?"
"Negative. He's got that thing."
"Oh yeah. DJ Jazzy Jim."
(Wilson had taken to running karaoke night once a month at the Princeton Senior Center.)
"Right. You'll know some of the guests, though. Brennan and Sullivan, from the hospital. And remember the Oldenburgs? The couple we had dinner with that night?"
House remembered it all too well. It had been one of his ill-advised attempts at proving to Cuddy that he could be a normal boyfriend in a normal relationship. He had been mostly quiet and fidgety during dinner and they fought on the ride home.
"Couldn't you have at least made an attempt?" she had complained. "You act like I forced you to have dinner with Jed and Daisy Mae Clampett. Bob's a Harvard MBA and Ruth is a philosophy professor at Rutgers."
"They were boring," House had said, taking her hand and kissing it. "I prefer to just spend my evenings with you."
"Well, I like to have a crazy little thing called a social life, so try harder next time," she said, pulling her hand away.
Needless to say, they never had dinner with the Oldenburgs again.
"I remember them," he said now. "Can I think about the party?"
"Of course. In fact, you can just show up. You don't even have to RSVP. Party starts at 8."
He gave a small, grateful smile.
"You wore a tie!" she said.
She wasn't sure which was more surprising: The fact that he had actually shown up for her little cocktail party or that he was all dressed up.
"This will be a first," she said, tightening his knot and smoothing his tie. "You might actually be the best-dressed man at this party."
House peered in. Most of the male guests were wearing polo shirts and loafers.
He braced himself, entered.
"Oh yeah . . . here," he said, shoving a bottle of wine at her.
Cuddy took it, trying not to act too amused. The tie, the wine. It was all too much.
The doorbell rang.
"Okay, you know the drill," Cuddy said. "Booze and wine over there. Food there. And, of course, door behind you. I will not blame you if you beat a hasty retreat. I'm impressed that you came at all."
"I'm a big boy," House said. "I can handle a party."
"Okay, if you say so. I'll find you later."
But she was right. The party was its own special ring of hell.
Half the people didn't know that House and Cuddy had broken up and were asking him things like "when are you going to make an honest woman out of her?" and "are you guys getting away this summer?" Then, there were those who knew that they were broken up and couldn't quite figure out what House was doing there (House was beginning to wonder the same thing himself.) There were the inevitable handful of guests who used House's presence to solve some long vexing medical problem ("I get this rash on my hand whenever it rains. . .") and then there were those who didn't like House, never had, and wanted nothing to do with him.
Exhibit A: Julia Cuddy.
"What the hell are you doing here?" she asked.
"Nice to see you, too, Julia," House said.
"Seriously. I thought she was finally done with you."
"We're trying to be friends. I'm told that's the mature thing to do."
"So . . .what? You're just trying to ingratiate your way back into her life by showing up at her parties?"
"Yes, that's it! You got me! Also. . .she invited me."
"I heard about your little suicide-by-self-surgery attempt. You're such a healthy influence on Rachel. . ."
"And you are a veritable Florence Nightingale of compassion and warmth . . ."
"Having fun, guys?"
It was Cuddy, materializing at his side, smiling. She slipped her arm protectively around House's waist.
Julia took a sip of her drink.
"Great party, sis!" she said cheerfully.
House side-eyed her.
"Yes. . . wonderful," he said.
"Good! Julia, I need some help in the kitchen if you don't mind . . ."
Julia turned back to House.
"Absolutely. I look forward to continuing this conversation at a later date."
"I'm counting the minutes," said House.
Had Cuddy intentionally rescued him? Or was it just good timing? Either way, he had little time to feel relieved, because Ruth Oldenburg was standing next to him, handing him a drink.
She was pretty, in a hippie-professor kind of way. She let her hair gray naturally, which he didn't actually mind. It was long and wavy.
"Didn't think I'd see you here," she said.
"I work in mysterious ways," he said, taking the drink. "Nice to see you, Ruth."
"You too. Nice tie."
"So does this mean you guys are back together?"
"No. . .just doing the dreaded 'friends' thing," House said.
"And you're not seeing anyone else?" Ruth said.
"We should go get a drink one night," she said suggestively.
"Ruth. . .not only are you a married woman, but your husband is standing about 15 feet away from us. In fact, he's waving at us right now."
House gave a half-hearted wave back.
"Please. You think he doesn't cheat? Our marriage is based on the philosophy of 'don't ask, don't tell.'"
"That's been repealed, by the way."
"I always thought you were super sexy, House."
House didn't quite know how to respond to that. He looked around the room for an escape route. Cuddy was enmeshed in a lively conversation with a group of friends.
"Excuse me, my pager just went off. . ." he lied.
"I didn't hear anything," she said.
"It's on vibrate."
"Well, here's my number," she said, slipping a folded piece of paper into his trouser pocket. Her hand dug a little too deeply into his pants. "I hope you consider my proposal."
"I'll undoubtedly think of little else."
The crowd had thinned out significantly and House was nowhere to be found. Cuddy must not have noticed when he left. Still, he had toughed it out longer than she expected. That conversation with Julia couldn't have been pleasant. And geez, Ruth Oldenburg was practically undressing him with her eyes.
She stood on her doorstep and waved goodnight to the last of her guests. The house was empty now, almost eerily quiet. She started to straighten up, then decided that it could wait until morning. She was exhausted, and a little drunk.
She poked her head into Rachel's room. What she saw was unexpected: There was House, sitting on the floor next to Rachel's crib, sound asleep.
Rachel was asleep, too, in her crib, but her face was where her feet would normally be. Her head was so close to his, they were practically touching through the slats of the crib.
Cuddy lightly shook House's shoulder.
His eyes fluttered open.
She put her finger to her lips, gestured toward her upside-down sleeping daughter.
House got up slowly, grabbed his cane, which he had hooked to the edge of Rachel's crib.
"Sorry," he said, when they had stepped out of the nursery. "I guess I fell asleep."
He looked around the empty living room.
"Party's over, huh?" he said, stretching.
"Yeah. . .how long were you in there?"
"I . . .heard Rachel crying so I went in to check on her," he lied.
"You woke her up, didn't you?"
"I. . .just wanted to talk to somebody I actually liked," he admitted.
Cuddy shook her head, but laughed despite herself.
"What do you two talk about anyway?"
"Important stuff. Pirates. Pet rats. Gross things people eat."
"She misses you," Cuddy said.
"I miss her, too." House said, looking at Cuddy. "More than she can possibly know."
You're just friends, Cuddy thought. Just friends. You definitely do not want to kiss him right now.
"I'm glad you came," she said, snapping out of it.
"Me too," he said.
"And they thought this friendship wouldn't last!" she joked.
"What do they know?" he said. "And who exactly are they anyway?"
"Goodnight, House," she said, opening the door.
She watched him limp to his car and pull away.