ticcyyy: (Default)
ticcyyy ([personal profile] ticcyyy) wrote2009-03-28 09:57 am

Lead You Into The Night - Chapter Two

Title: Lead You Into The Night
Pairing: House/Cuddy, House/Wilson friendship
Rating: PG-13
Words: 35,000
Author's Notes & Credits: A big, HUGE thank you to my wonderful betas, [livejournal.com profile] ducks_in_a_row and [livejournal.com profile] topaz_eyes! Without the both of you, this story would not have come together anywhere near as smoothly as it has. The title of the fic is derived from the song Lead Me Into The Night by The Cardigans. It was a song I listened to a lot while hammering this story out; it, in some ways, set the tone of the story. The chapter titles are also derived from the song's lyrics. The banner was made by me.

Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six




CHAPTER TWO:
Ran Aground, My Ship Left To Rust




Leaning back in his desk chair, House tossed his ball in the air for the umpteenth time. Outside, rain fell heavily while the wind blew in sharp wintry gusts. People passed in the corridor outside his office, rushing to meetings or consults or other duties their jobs demanded. It seemed like a day like any other. Nothing was different around him. He could almost trick himself into believing that nothing had changed, that Cuddy wasn't down in L&D exploring the physics of pushing a basketball through a soda straw.

He tossed the ball into the air again and caught it in both hands. Doing something repetitive and mindless helped take his mind off things he didn't want to think about. His eyes felt tired and itchy from lack of sleep, and his head felt heavy with stress that he couldn't shake no matter how much he tried.

A sudden burst of noise from the corridor flooded into his office, along with the quiet whoosh of the door being pushed open. House glanced towards the intruder: Wilson. If the stern look on Wilson's face was anything to go by, House had a feeling he was in for a lecture of some kind.

He went back to tossing the ball in the air.

"So," Wilson announced after a short lull. "I take it you're aware that Cuddy's in labour."

"Yep." He caught the ball and tossed it up again.

"And I take it you haven't been down to see her."

"Nope."

"Or even checked up on her."

"Nope."

Another pause fell over the room. "Are you going to?"

House glanced at Wilson. "Nope. Why should I?"

Wilson squinted. "Because it's Cuddy? I thought maybe she mattered to you enough that you'd at least be concerned for her well-being during childbirth."

"It's childbirth, not open heart surgery." He resumed tossing the ball. "Besides, not my kid. I'm not obliged to care that it's slowly and painfully being expelled from her body one agonising contraction at a time."

"No, you're not obliged to care about the kid. But I thought you'd feel somewhat obliged to care about Cuddy after everything she's done for you."

"Oh, please." House swivelled his chair around to face Wilson. "Guilt-tripping me into caring isn't going to work."

"Right, of course you'd see this as guilt-tripping. How silly of me that you'd even think to approach this like a mature adult." He looked at his watch. "She's been in labour for over thirteen hours now."

"So? Piece of cake compared to twenty hour labours. Or thirty hour labours." He leaned back in his chair to resume throwing the ball in the air again. "Judging from the fact that you're keeping tabs on her progress, I take it you've been down to see her."

"Well, of course I have. She's a friend. I care about her."

"Well, good for you. Pass on my regards when you see her next."

"Why don't you go down there and do it yourself?"

"I'm busy."

"Busy playing ball while Cuddy is in labour. Clearly, you have very clear-cut priorities."

"Priorities. That sounds familiar. Didn't we discuss that the other day?" He waved his hand dismissively at Wilson. "Seriously. Shoo. If I was interested in giving a crap, I would. But as it happens, I'm not. "

Wilson pressed his lips together. "You're an ass."

"Oh, please. Is that the best you can do?"

Wilson held his hands up and kept that pose for a moment as though biting back a reply that he'd later regret. He turned and House watched him head out of his office in a stiff, angry stride. The moment Wilson was out of sight, House glanced at the phone on his desk and he considered, for all of a second, contacting the labour ward and finding out about Cuddy's progress.

He looked away and drew in a deep breath, suppressing a sudden burst of unease. Swivelling his chair away so he was facing the rain-dotted window, he resumed tossing the ball in the air.


*


"You're still here?"

House jerked awake, startled. For a few seconds, he gazed in confusion around his office, trying to work out where he was. More to the point, why he was here. He was sprawled on his recliner, feet propped up on the ottoman and his coat covering the top half of his body as a makeshift blanket. How long had he been asleep? He glanced to the window and saw that it was pitch black outside.

"House?"

He turned his head and saw Wilson standing near the door. He looked weary, eyes bloodshot with tiredness, his shirt rumpled and his tie loose. "What time is it?"

"Almost one in the morning."

House frowned. "Seriously?" He stretched his eyes open wide and shifted on the seat. He let out a quiet groan at the painful kink in his neck as he pulled his coat down from his chest. He rubbed his eyes. Had Cuddy given birth yet? When had he actually fallen asleep? "Must've dozed off."

"Right. Well, in case you care, Cuddy's still in labour."

House looked back up at him. He quickly calculated how much time had passed since she called him. Almost 24 hours. "Sounds fun."

"Hardly. She's still only six centimetres dilated."

"I'm sure she's taking it all like a champ."

"She's exhausted. Her labour's dystocic."

"She'll live. If it stays dystocic, that's nothing a c-section can't fix."

"Why don't you go down there and tell her that yourself?" Wilson snapped.

"She's one of those medical people. What do you call them...? Oh, right. Doctors. I'm pretty sure she can work out for herself where dystocia normally ends up." He stiffly pushed himself up, dropping his coat behind him on the seat. "Suck it out, pry it out, cut it out. It's gotta come out somehow. It all ends up with the same result: a bald, angry baby."

Wilson crossed an arm over his chest and wearily wiped his other hand over his face. "Why are you still here, House?"

"I told you. I dozed off. Why are you still here?"

"Someone has to be here for her."

"Cheering her vagina on? Very noble of you."

"I'm not doing any cheering, especially not around any vaginas. I'm just simply checking up on her from time to time, just to reassure her that someone's here for her." Wilson ran his hands through his hair before holding them up. "Okay, look. Her labour doesn't look like it's going to make progress any time soon, so I'm going to go and have a nap in my office. I'm beat."

"You say that like I'm supposed to care."

"House..." Wilson covered his face with his hands and let out a long sigh. "I can't be bothered arguing with you right now. Whatever the reason you're still here..." He dropped his arms to his sides, shoulders slumped. His hair was sticking up in all angles from having just raked his fingers through it. "Just do something that'll benefit us all, like go home."

House watched him slouch out of his office. He had no intention of heading down to L&D to see how Cuddy was doing. He wasn't sure what to do with himself, either, but for some reason, being in the hospital felt less nerve-wracking than the idea of being a ten minute drive away, especially now he knew that Cuddy's labour was complicated.

After he tugged his jacket on to keep warm, he entered the dark conference room and headed across to the kitchenette. He dumped the old coffee grounds from the filter into the trash and set about making a fresh pot, carrying a red mug back into his office once the coffee had brewed.

He sat down at his desk with a stifled yawn. Outside, the rain was still beating against the window. A night janitor strolled by in the dim corridor with a mop. The hospital was eerily quiet. House found himself trying to picture what state Cuddy was in right now. Was she loopy with pain meds? Maybe she was being administered oxytocin to push her labour along. He propped an elbow on the desk and dropped his face into his hand, rubbing it. It didn't matter how Cuddy was doing, he reminded himself as he swallowed a couple of Vicodin pills, because he didn't care. As long as she lived, he had no reason to be concerned.

He remained seated at his desk, leaving only to go back into the conference room for another cup of coffee and then to pace the corridor outside his office when he got too restless to stay idle. His shoulders were tense and his leg hurt. More than a few times, he considered phoning down to L&D, just as many times as he considered going home. He felt caught in limbo, itching to know what was going on but too stubborn to go and find out for himself.

By the time five o'clock eventually rolled around, he was agitated and on the brink of making a rash decision to just find out Cuddy's progress for himself. He was heading back into the conference room to get another cup of coffee in a futile attempt to wake himself up when he saw Wilson walking down the hall towards him. House stopped in the middle of the room, cup in hand, and watched as Wilson pushed the door open.

"What's going on?"

"Obstetrician on duty called for a crash c-section about ten minutes ago. Cuddy's labour was still dystocic, so they put her on an hourly IV push of pitocin. When her water finally broke, they found traces of meconium." Wilson lifted his hands to his face and scrubbed it before setting them on his hips. "Possible meconium aspiration."

"Why'd they take so long to induce her?"

"Cuddy didn't want intervention. She wanted a completely drug-free birth."

"At the risk of the foetus."

"She didn't put anybody at risk. She was simply--"

"Being stubborn enough to refuse medical intervention because she wanted to come out the other end of her childbirth looking like a champ."

Wilson fixed him with a disgusted look. "Would it kill you to be concerned for Cuddy instead of twisting this into something that proves she's somehow a failure for wanting to bring her child into the world the way she hoped?"

"Never said she was a failure. Just that she's an idiot. She probably could've avoided a c-section altogether if she'd had the capability to see past her pride."

"Maybe if you'd gone down to see Cuddy, you would've seen for yourself what was happening. Maybe then you would've been able to convince Cuddy to change her mind. But no. You refused to go down there because you refuse to care about anyone but yourself."

"Why would she listen to me?"

"Because she trusts your medical judgement. But it's too late for that now because you did nothing except hide out in your office. Like you always do." Wilson held his hands up. "Look, I just came up here to tell you what happened and that she'll be out of the OR within the next half hour. Just in case you care. But don't go out of your way or anything."

House watched with a creeping feeling of guilt as Wilson shoved the door open and stepped out into the hall.


*


"You can only stay for ten minutes," the NICU nurse told House quietly.

"Not planning on staying, anyway," he replied. He followed her down the dim, narrow corridor, glancing at the walls which were decorated with collage after collage of photos of tiny babies nestled in incubators. Interspersed with the pictures were stories of survival that parents had written on colourful sheets of paper and cardboard, accompanied with pictures of where their kid was at several years on. The nurse, a tall, thin woman with red hair knotted at the nape of her neck, led him around a corner, which opened out into a layout of five different intensive care rooms. The most critical babies were down the far left in room one, the least critical in room five to the far right.

She pointed at room three. "You'll find her in crib six."

As she turned to walk away, House stopped her again. "A little birdie told me meconium was passed in the uterus. Any sign of MAS?"

The nurse -- Elaine, according to her nametag -- shook her head. "I'm afraid I can't give out that information. Patient confidentiality."

"The baby's not going to care."

"It's Dr. Cuddy's baby. She has a right to patient confidentiality."

"Ever heard that phrase 'what she doesn't know won't hurt her'?"

"I told you - I can't give out that information."

"Right. And yet you let me in to see the kid. That, technically, is a breach of patient confidentiality, too." He stepped closer. "I'm higher up on the medical food chain than you. Which means you have two options: one, you can tell me the information I want to know and this little ethical slipup won't go any further. Or two, you don't give me the information I want and I'll tell your superior that you've been letting people in to see other people's babies without the parents' consent."

Elaine paled. "Fine. Lungs are clear; no sign of aspiration. She presented with a small amount of meconium in the mouth."

"And how long are you keeping it under observation?"

Elaine didn't appear too impressed with the pronoun he gave the baby. "Probably just for the next 24 hours. She is doing really well. She'll probably be transferred to room five by tomorrow. Might even get to be reunited with Dr. Cuddy by tomorrow afternoon."

"Apgars?"

She hesitated. "I'm not giving you any more information."

"No biggie. I'll just go and find your superior." He took a step forward. Elaine dashed a hand out and blocked his path.

"Okay, okay. I don't know. But I can find out for you."

"Really? Wow. Thank you," he replied without a hint of sincerity.

She gave him a sour look and walked off. House slowly approached the third intensive care room. In the far left corner, a young mother in a hospital gown sat by a crib with her hands in the access ports, stroking her baby's arm. Incubators lined either side of the room, all of them occupied with an infant; some were hooked up to quietly beeping heart monitors and PAP ventilators or oxygen via nasal cannula. He followed the numbered cribs until he reached the one labelled 'six' on the opposite side of the room.

Affixed to the side of of the incubator was a small pink placard, detailing the sex of the baby, the date and time of birth, its weight and length: female, 6Lbs 4oz, 17 inches, born 2008/1/28 at 5.09am. Under the label 'name', the words 'Baby Girl Cuddy' were scrawled in capitals.

He looked down at the baby, which was asleep on its back and naked save for a cloth diaper. The umbilical stump was fastened with a yellow plastic clamp. An IV was attached to her left hand, a thermistor taped to the abdomen, three ECG electrodes to her chest, and name tags were affixed to her right wrist and right ankle. Unlike some of the other babies in the room, she was breathing freely without the aid of a breathing apparatus. The baby was chubby and a healthy pink colour, and the crown of its head boasted a fuzzy tuft of pale hair.

"First Apgar was five, second was eight."

House glanced at the nurse, who'd joined his side. "See?" he replied, turning back to the baby. "Wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Why are you interested in Dr. Cuddy's baby, anyway?"

"I'm not interested," he lied.

"You just asked for an update on her condition and her Apgars. That's interested."

"No. That's prying on account of me wanting to know Dr. Cuddy's business."

"Only people who are interested in something pry to find out information. People don't pry for the sake of prying."

"I do." He shot the nurse an annoyed look. "You going to go away?"

"You have less than ten minutes left of your visitation. You're not supposed to be here; I want to make sure you leave in time."

"Your superior here?"

"Not yet."

"Relax," he said when he noticed how fidgety she was. He turned back to the incubator. "I'll be out of your hair in a couple of minutes."

The baby's arm jerked and it let out a soft gurgle. He found it difficult to fathom this kid had inherited half his genes; it was like watching through a smokescreen. "She's beautiful, isn't she?" the nurse said, breaking the lull of silence. "She had a pretty tough entrance into the world, but she's going to be okay."

"A baby's a baby. They're all the same to me."

"So, what's so special about Dr. Cuddy's?"

"Just wanted to check for horns or cloven hooves. Did the kid come with a pitch fork?"

"This isn't Rosemary's baby," the nurse said, giving him a disgusted look.

"No, but everyone knows Dr. Cuddy made a deal with the Devil to be the woman on top."

The baby began crying in earnest. As the nurse rounded the incubator and reached for the access ports, House decided that was his cue to leave.


*


"What room is Dr. Cuddy in?" House asked a blonde nurse seated at the nurses station.

She looked up from her file work. "She's resting. Visiting hours aren't until 6.30pm."

"I'm a doctor. I work here. That means I automatically get a backstage pass to everything."

"I'm sorry. Dr. Cuddy is resting. Visiting hours aren't until 6.30pm."

"Do you think repeating yourself is going to make me listen to you?"

His eyes caught the patient room assignment board hanging on the wall behind the nurse. Cuddy's name was listened next to bed 12A. "Actually, you're right," he conceded, flashing the nurse a friendly smile that was hardly motivated by friendliness. "I'll come back this evening. See how she's doing then. Sorry to have disturbed you."

"No problem," she replied, returning the smile.

House turned and wandered down the corridor to make it seem like he was leaving. It was just past one in the afternoon and the entire L&D was quiet, save for a baby crying in one of the rooms. He looked back at the nurse when he was almost at the door and saw she had returned to her file work. He turned around, halting abruptly as she suddenly got up from her chair. She headed into the small common room just beside the nurses station, calling out something to another nurse. House stole the opportunity to pick up his pace, quietly pushing the door open when he reached room 12.

It was a private room. Cuddy's bed was by the curtained windows with Cuddy herself huddled under the covers. A saline IV hung from its stand by her bed and next to her stood an empty bassinet where the baby was supposed to be. The room was otherwise empty except for her bags in the corner. Cuddy appeared to be asleep, but just as House decided he'd come back later, she stirred.

"House?" Her voice was soft and slurred, and her face tired and pale as she turned her head towards him.

Exhausted though he was, House had neither gone home nor gone to sleep since seeing the baby; he felt too restless to do either. He'd kept tabs on Cuddy's progress as best as he could: she'd been moved back up to the L&D ward a little after 7am, after spending over an hour in recovery. Six hours had passed since that last update.

He approached the end of her bed. "You're an idiot."

She groaned quietly in pain. "Don't. Not now."

He had a tirade ready to deliver, about how she'd been too proud to accept medical intervention until it was too late and how she probably wouldn't be suffering the consequences of a c-section if it hadn't been for her own selfishness. Hearing the quiet, stifled sounds of discomfort she was making gave him pause, however. He looked down at her chart hooked on the end of her bed instead and picked it up. Reading it, she'd received a low transverse c-section and two morphine suppositories upon completion of suturing. Her pain management plan called for morphine every four hours IV until she was lucid enough to swallow oxycodone.

"You in pain?" he asked.

"House, you're not my doctor."

"I'm a doctor."

"House."

Despite how groggy Cuddy sounded, she managed to say his name in a way that made him think twice about arguing with her. He tutted and snapped the file shut. Being a doctor was something he knew how to do without hesitation. "Kid's fine," he said when Cuddy looked longingly at the empty crib. "Bald, grumpy, about seventeen inches long."

"You saw her?"

He hesitantly nodded.

"What does she look like?" she asked, sounding suddenly a bit more alert.

"A baby, surprisingly. I was expecting it to look like a fire-breathing dragon... kind of like her mom."

She snorted with a weak, exasperated smile but then sobered again. "I want to go and see her."

"You underwent an LTCS only a matter of hours ago. I know you want to be Supermom, but let's not get too ambitious."

"I need to see her."

"You will. Later. For now, rest. Kid's not going anywhere."

"She's supposed to be here."

"Well, she's not, so deal with it." He watched Cuddy turn her head towards the window and stare at the curtains, and he debated taking the chance to the leave the room. He decided against it for the moment. "Apgars were good," he said. "Five and eight."

Cuddy turned back to him. "Five?" she asked in alarm.

"And eight."

"Is she okay? Is she doing okay? Is she breathing on her own?" Cuddy paused and grimaced in pain. "I need to see her."

"Eight, Cuddy."

"But--"

"Does the number eight mean anything to you on the Apgar scale?"

Cuddy lifted the hand the IV was attached to and wiped it over her face. She dropped it back to the bed in a gesture House understood as her wanting him to take her hand. He ignored it.

"On that note," he continued, "I'm outta here. Figured I do my bit by pretending to care for five minutes. And now that I have, I'm going home."

"Wait," Cuddy said when he reached the door. He looked over his shoulder to see her peering at him in confusion. "Why did you go and see her?"

He yanked the door open. He wasn't interested in discussing the baby any more than he was interested in hanging around. "Get some rest. I'll be back later. Maybe."


*


The afternoon had darkened with thick rain clouds by the time House arrived home. His stomach growled in hunger as he let himself in; his whole body felt gritty with the kind of fatigue only a hot shower and a good sleep would cure. His shoulders ached, too, as well as his neck -- tension he hadn't realised had been building up until now.

He felt oddly misplaced. The sudden change in everything that used to be familiar to him was more than enough to make him feel uncomfortably on edge. Sleep was what mattered most, however. As he leaned back against the door, he realised that he'd easily fall asleep standing right where he was. With a quiet grunt, he walked to his bedroom, ignoring the persistent empty feeling of hunger in his stomach, and stripped his clothes off. He climbed naked into bed, exhaustion almost immediately taking over once he'd settled against the pillows.

Evening had fallen by the time he awoke again. For all of a few seconds, he tried to work out why everything felt wrong. Nothing appeared different upon first glance around his room, but then the last twenty four hours came back to him in an unpleasant rush. It had only been the night before when he'd received the phone call from Cuddy that she was in labour. That now felt like a lifetime ago.

He got out of bed, his skin breaking out in goosebumps as he hurried to the bathroom. He used the toilet and then got in the shower, cranking the hot water up to a temperature just below unbearably hot. It was close to 7pm by the time he dressed and made himself some dinner -- two slices of toast spread with a generous amount of butter. He deliberated over what to do: whether to pay Cuddy a visit like he'd half promised he would, or whether to put the whole ordeal out of his mind once and for all. The latter was much easier said than done and in the end, he caved and headed for the hospital.

He pushed the door to Cuddy's room open and stopped short. A strong smell of flowers hit his nose; the room was close to overflowing with them, along with stuffed toys and numerous 'It's A Girl!' balloons. The sea of flowers wasn't what had caught him off guard, however. Gathered around Cuddy's bed were three people whom House immediately identified as her family. The man, obviously Cuddy's dad, had the same strong jaw and sloped nose. The younger woman sitting on the side of Cuddy's bed had to be her sister; she looked startlingly similar to Cuddy, except with straight, flat hair. They all stopped their conversation and looked at him, and his first instinct was to step back out into the hall.

"House," Cuddy said, surprised.

He turned his attention to Cuddy herself and noticed a vast improvement to her appearance. She was sitting up with pillows supporting her back. Her face was still pale and she had bags under eyes, but she was alert and the IV had been removed. Next to her in the bassinet lay the baby, sound asleep.

"I'll come back later," House replied.

"Wait." Cuddy gestured to him. "This is Dr. House," she told her family. "Dr. House, meet my mom, my dad and my sister."

"Hi," he said briskly to all three of them. He looked back to Cuddy. "I'm leaving now."

"House..." he heard Cuddy exclaim as he shut the door.

His eyes landed on a bench just outside Cuddy's room and after debating whether to stay or leave, he took a seat. The ward bustled with much more activity than it had when he'd been here earlier. The sound of babies crying chorused discordantly over people quietly chattering. Somewhere in one of the rooms, House could hear a little kid either playing loudly or having a tantrum -- he wasn't sure which. A woman in a hospital gown wandered out from another room, pushing a crib with a sleeping baby in it. In Cuddy's room, he heard the muffled sounds of conversation, interrupted by the occasional short laugh.

A good twenty minutes passed by the time her door opened and House looked up to see Cuddy's mom, dad and sister filing out. The mother's face was lit up in a way House could only describe as New Grandma Syndrome. "Oh, there you are," she greeted.

"Here I am," he agreed dryly.

"I wanted to say a proper hello but you left so quickly. Lisa's told us a lot about you."

House eyed her warily. "All bad, I hope."

She gave him a confused frown but the sister cut in, "Mom, come on. We don't have a lot of time for a coffee break. Visiting hours end soon."

"Oh, yes," the mother replied. She smiled at House, a broad grin that was identical to Cuddy's. "We're just going to get some coffee, give Lisa a chance to have a rest."

House didn't care what they planned to do. He just hoped they'd leave so he didn't have to deal with them. He stood and turned towards the door.

"It was nice meeting you," the mother added.

He looked back at her. "That's what you think." He ducked into Cuddy's room and shut the door behind him like he couldn't close it fast enough.

"Do you have to be rude to my parents?"

"No. But seeing you've told them a lot about me, I wouldn't want them to be disappointed in their expectations."

She gave him an exasperated look. "What are you doing here, anyway?"

"I'm not allowed to visit?"

"I didn't think you'd want to visit."

"I don't, but I'm bored."

"Right," came Cuddy's sarcastic reply. "Because it's such a room full of fun in here."

"Well, it is now. The sea of colourful flowers takes away from how crappy you look."

"Thanks, really."

"No problem." He paused, then motioned to her. "How're you doing?"

"Better than I was earlier."

"They got you up and walking yet?"

She nodded and pointed across to the door that led into her own private bathroom. "They made me walk to the bathroom and back after they took my catheter out this evening. It was murder."

"Yeah, well. Major abdominal surgery. What do you expect?"

"Definitely not this."

"Bit naïve for a doctor. All surgery hurts."

"No, I mean this." Cuddy gestured to her stomach.

House shrugged. "Kid had to come out somehow."

"Yeah, but not--"

"If you'd accepted drug intervention, c-section probably could've been avoided. Hours of labour, arrest of descent, only to be pumped full of oxytocin almost twenty-four hours later. No wonder the kid crapped itself."

"Are you saying this is my fault?" Cuddy replied sharply.

"No. I'm just saying you're too stubborn for your own good. You're lucky the kid doesn't have meconium aspiration syndrome. Then you'd really be riding the guilt wagon."

"Are you here to visit, or are you just here to point out how much of an idiot I am?"

"Why can't it be both?"

The baby interrupted with a quiet gurgle. Glad for a distraction from Cuddy's glare, House approached the crib. He saw Cuddy had finally decided on a name. "Eva," he read out from the placard affixed to the head of the bassinet.

"Yeah," she said, her tone slightly softer at the change in topic to the baby. "It's Hebrew. It means 'life-giving'."

One of the baby's arms broke free from the covers, its fingers curling into a fist. House wanted to step back from it as far as possible. "I suppose there are worse names you could've picked."

"That's almost nice, coming from you," Cuddy intoned. "Do you want to hold her?"

He looked up at her. "No."

"You sure?"

"Not my kid, remember? Bonding is your job, not mine."

The baby made another gurgling sound, followed by a noise that sounded like the precursor to a crying fit. She turned her head to the side, mouth twisted open and an eye screwed shut: the rooting reflex. "Besides, kid's hungry. I can't help you in that department."

Cuddy sighed. "Can you at least pick her up for me?"

House looked back down to the baby. He wanted to argue that Cuddy could get the kid herself. But with it in mind that she'd only had a caesarean that same day, he set his cane aside and reached his hands into the crib. The baby kept rooting for a nipple to latch onto, its fists punching in the air while he held it uncertainly. It wasn't that he didn't know how to hold a baby, but he never thought he'd holding one who shared half his chromosomes.

Cuddy tugged her gown aside, exposing her left breast. "No comments," she warned him as she took the baby from him. She leaned back against the pillows and directed the baby's mouth to her nipple.

"Ow," Cuddy gasped softly as the baby missed the nipple altogether and latched onto the side of the breast instead. Cuddy pried its mouth away and guided it to the nipple again. After three more failed attempts, she pulled the baby away with a frustrated sigh. "They make breastfeeding look so easy. I had to express my colostrum earlier because I couldn't get her to latch."

"So? Kid's got to be fed. Complaining about it isn't going to solve anything."

"I'm not complaining, House. I'm frustrated."

"Already?" House snorted. "Boy, you're off to a good start. You've got a whole lifetime of frustration ahead of you. Might as well get used to it."

The baby let out a loud, angry whine and Cuddy directed its mouth back to her nipple again. She hissed in pain and yanked the baby away, causing it to cry louder. House glanced over his shoulder towards the door and considered making a break for it. "Look," he said, facing back to Cuddy. "Just.... Try again."

"I can't."

"Bullcrap you can't. Get a lactation consultant to help you. There's bound to be one out there somewhere who could shove that kid's mouth where it needs to go."

"I've already had a visit from a lactation consultant. Besides, I don't need anyone's help."

"Right. You're just going to keep yanking the kid around until it's so worked up it can't calm itself down."

"Well, what do you suggest I do?"

"Stop being an idiot. Keep trying until you get it right. 'Can't' isn't an option."

"Everything all right in here?"

House whipped around to see a nurse poking her head through the door.

"Do you need any help, Dr. Cuddy?" the nurse asked.

"No," Cuddy replied, "I--"

"Yes," House interrupted. "Go and get a lactation consultant, stat, before the kid's screaming starts breaking glass."

"They're all busy with other moms at the moment." The nurse slipped into the room while House turned back to Cuddy, who was glaring at him. "I know, it's not easy," the nurse continued in a cheerful voice as she reached Cuddy's bedside. "You're a new mom. It takes some practice to get breastfeeding down to a fine art. A lot of new mothers don't realise that."

"I wish someone had told me that before," Cuddy muttered.

The nurse smiled. "That's a phrase you'll probably get used to saying a lot in these next few months. Let me help you with attaching for now. I'll get a lactation consultant to pay you a visit tomorrow afternoon."

House decided to leave. He didn't want to stand around watching Cuddy trying to breastfeed any more than he wanted to stand around arguing with her. And he definitely didn't want to stand around in the same room as the kid.

He threw the door open and left without a word.


*


House stopped in the doorway. "You're packing already?"

Cuddy was standing by the crib, dressed in her hospital gown. The room was bursting with even more flowers, cards and baby gifts than the last time he'd been here; the smell of the flowers was almost overpowering.

"I go home tomorrow," she replied. "I'm just packing so I don't have to worry about it in the morning." She waved a hand at her overnight bags in the corner. "My mom and my sister helped me with most of it. They left about ten minutes ago. They'll be back tomorrow to take me home." She looked back at him. "Is that where you're headed?"

He nodded a little awkwardly. He was dressed in his overcoat with his bag slung over his shoulder. It was early evening and he was more than ready to head home to relax. Visiting Cuddy hadn't been something he'd planned. He'd gotten into the elevator to head to the lobby and changed his mind at the last minute.

Cuddy flashed him a brief smile. "I appreciate you stopping by."

"Don't. You'll start expecting it all the time, otherwise."

She snorted. "I never expect anything from you."

"Good. Keep it that way." He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

"My bandages came off today," Cuddy said after a small pause. "Everything's healing nicely. I can't wait to have a proper shower. I feel revolting. My hair is..." She lifted her hands to her head with a grimace.

"You've got a new baby and all you care about is your hair?"

"I care about how I smell."

He sniffed the air. "Flowers are doing a good job of camouflaging anything offensive. So, apart from your body odour...?"

Cuddy shrugged. "I'm doing okay."

"Just 'okay'?"

She faced the crib, where the baby was wrapped up tight in a blanket and fast asleep. Maybe she was just fatigued, but she didn't seem herself. He frowned.

"Can't believe I'm heading home tomorrow," she finally said. "It's going to be weird having a baby in the house."

"You've had plenty of time to get used to the idea."

"Preparing for a baby, House, and having one..."

"Thought you'd be jumping for joy."

"I thought so, too."

House drummed his fingers on the pommel of his cane. It was probably just the 'baby blues' -- the hormonal changes that took place after giving birth and during the first few days of milk production. "You'll get over it," he replied dismissively.

He expected Cuddy to agree with him or tell him to shut up. Instead, she lifted her hands to her face with a soft sob. He stared at her, frozen.

She furiously wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me."

"You had a kid pulled out of your lower abdomen. That's what's wrong with you."

"I know. I know. I..." Her face crumpled and she moved her hands back up to cover it. "God, I feel so out of control. I feel... I feel like I'm..."

She couldn't seem to finish her sentence. House wracked his brain for something to say, something to hopefully shut her up or at least make her stop crying. "You'll get over it," he repeated.

Cuddy threw a shooing wave at him. "Please. Just..."

He took her shooing to mean she wanted him to leave, which he was more than glad to do. He'd seen Cuddy in a lot of different emotional states -- happy, angry, embarrassed, distressed. He'd never seen her cry. He didn't want to deal with it, either. That was a job for Wilson, not him. Without offering another word, he pulled the door open and walked out.


*


"You talked to Cuddy lately?"

House looked up from his lunch. Wilson stood beside him, clutching a lunch tray. It was just past one on a Tuesday afternoon and the cafeteria was bustling with hospital staff, lined up to collect some lunch or chattering at the tables. "No."

"You should." Wilson slid into the chair opposite and reached for his fork. "She's not doing too well."

Almost a week had passed since House had seen Cuddy breaking down in her room. As much as it had crossed his mind, he'd paid her no further visits. Too much change had happened for him to want to welcome any more of it. "She's a new mom," he replied. "That's hardly surprising."

"I visited her yesterday after work."

"Do you think telling me about it is going to make me care?"

"Your carefully sculpted façade of apathy isn't going to stop me from talking."

"Nothing ever stops you from talking."

"She's a mess. Eva's unsettled. Cuddy's exhausted. She's not coping too well."

"Do I need to start talking to you with subtitles? What part of 'I don't care' don't you understand?"

Wilson ignored him. "I heard you paid her a visit before she left the hospital." He ate a mouthful of food, then pointed his fork at House. "You should think about visiting her at home."

"No, I shouldn't."

"Fine. Allow me to rephrase. It wouldn't hurt if you visited her. She's feeling pretty alone right now."

"She's got family."

"They left this morning."

House washed down his food with a gulp of orange juice. "She knew what she was getting into."

"Theorising over having a baby and actually having one are two different things."

"Wow, Dr. Mom. I didn't recognise you behind all those pens in your pocket protector."

Wilson sighed impatiently. "The point is, I know Cuddy well enough to know when she's not coping."

"Just because she's having trouble adjusting to being a new mom doesn't mean I have to give a crap about that. She's just like every other new mother. She'll get over it. She'll work it out for herself."

"In the meantime, she needs some support until she gets to that point."

"Actually," House replied, "that sounds more like a job for oncologists who eat neediness."

Wilson squinted before his expression set into a hard look. "You're a real son of a bitch sometimes."

"Only sometimes? Maybe I'm not trying hard enough."

Wilson scooted his seat back with a sharp squeak against the floor. He grabbed his lunch tray and stood up.

"Aww. Did I just hurt the poor little oncologist's feelings?"

"House..." Wilson began. He shook his head in disgust and walked away.


*


House knocked on Cuddy's front door. The sensor light that had detected him walking up the garden path clicked off, leaving him standing in complete darkness. A cold, bitter wind blew into the alcove, cutting through his coat, which he tugged tighter around him. Inside, he could hear Eva crying. From how worked up she sounded, she'd been crying for a while.

He knew it was probably late by Cuddy's standards to be paying her a visit, even on a Saturday night. His conversation with Wilson on Tuesday had been playing on his mind, however, and it was close to eight o'clock when he decided in the middle of eating dinner -- a bowl of canned soup and buttered bread - to go and see her. He wanted to see for himself, just this once--that she was okay, that she wasn't falling apart like she'd been in the hospital room, and that he'd have no reason to bother any further. His job was done, after all; it had finished the moment when Cuddy informed him she was pregnant all those months ago.

The curtains in her living room were drawn, so he couldn't see in. "Cuddy," he called, pounding on the door again.

The baby's cry persisted and after a few more minutes and a few more persistent knocks, there was still no sign of Cuddy.

House dismissed the feeling of unease growing in him. As much as it was unlike Cuddy to not be prompt in answering the door, he decided there would be a logical explanation for why she wasn't. He stooped down to search for the key under the potted plant, only to discover it wasn't there.

"Damn it," he muttered. The sensor light clicked back on, flooding the front yard with light as he shuffled along the porch. He searched under foliage and around the potted plants for the key. His breath came out in thick plumes of steam against the cold air and the yard plunged into darkness when the sensor clicked off again, leaving him feeling around clumsily under another plant. His fingers brushed over a spider web before coming in contact with something small, flat and metal: the key. He stood tall with a grunt, the sudden movement reactivating the sensor light.

He edged his way back across the porch and slotted the key into the lock just before the front garden plunged back into darkness. With the door now open, he could hear the baby's cries were coming from the nursery.

"Cuddy?" he called out again.

He closed the door and moved across to the living room. No Cuddy. Glancing across the hall, he saw that the dining room and kitchen were dark. He headed down the hall to the nursery, the baby's cries growing louder and louder with each step. The door was open but the light was off, with still no sign of Cuddy.

Alarm settled in as he looked around frantically, his heart beating a little faster. It wasn't like her to leave something as important as a baby unattended like this. Images flashed through his mind. Had she left the baby in the house all alone? Had something happened to her?

Swallowing back the panic rising in his throat, he quickly entered the nursery to check on the baby. The baby was on its back, bed covers askew and her arms and legs flailing as she screamed. Despite her distress, she was otherwise fine. The baby could be dealt with later. He hurried back out into the hallway and down to her bedroom. That, like all the other rooms in the house, was dark and empty. He reached for his cellphone in his pocket to call Wilson, to ask if he'd seen Cuddy.

He stopped when he spotted light flooding out from the bottom of the bathroom door. His heart picked up as he approached it. If Cuddy was in there, why? What was he going to be confronted with? He reached for the handle and slowly pushed the door open.

"Cuddy?"

She was sitting huddled on the floor by the toilet, her knees drawn up to her chest. She looked at him, visibly startled. Relief instantly flooded through him, so sudden and strong he felt lightheaded. But then he noted her appearance. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her face pale. Panic subsided into bewilderment, if not mild anger that she'd given him such a fright, and he stared at her while her mouth formed a few silent vowels like she was too distressed to even speak.

"I can't get her to stop crying," she finally managed. "She's been crying for hours. I've tried feeding her, I've tried changing her, I've tried..." She let out a hitched sob.

He shifted in the doorway and tried to gather his thoughts together. "So, you thought hiding out in the bathroom was going to solve everything."

"I didn't... I can't―"

"What are you doing? Your kid is screaming its head off."

"I know, I know. I--"

"Get out there. Your kid needs you."

"House, I can't--"

"Oh, cut the crap. Pull yourself together. Sobbing your eyes out in the bathroom isn't going to shut the kid up."

"Nothing is shutting her up."

"So? You're just going to give up and cry your eyes out? What are you, five?"

"I don't know what else to do!"

"You're her mother. Go out there and be one to her instead of being a useless crybaby."

"House, don't," Cuddy begged through another sob. "Please. Don't."

He stared at her for another long moment, then looked towards the nursery. What was he supposed to do? Get the baby and bring it to Cuddy? Phone Wilson? Try to deal with the kid himself? He didn't want to deal with it. But he couldn't just leave, either, not while Cuddy was in the current state she was in. He shot Cuddy a sharp, angry look and headed down to the nursery.

He flipped the light on and stripped his coat off, tossing it across to the rocking chair. He moved over to the crib and hooked his cane over the safety bar. The baby's arms and legs flailed as he picked it up, its mouth wide with gums exposed and its face bright red.

"Come on, shut up," he muttered, then rolled his eyes. Like the baby would understand anything he said. He held it out from him, turning one way and then another. He took a step to the changing table but changed his mind and lifted the baby up until it was resting up against his collarbone, its face pressed into his shoulder. He jerked his head away at the volume of the kid's screaming right next to his ear and he started patting its back awkwardly. The crying halted for a moment and he glanced down to see the baby with its mouth latched onto its tiny fist, sucking hungrily. When the baby realised nothing was coming out of it, she launched into a new round of screaming.

House limped out into the hallway and down to the bathroom. Cuddy was still crouched down on the floor. "Your kid is starving," he told her.

She wiped her eyes. "I've tried feeding her. She won't take to my nipple."

"Probably because you're not trying hard enough," he argued angrily over the top of the baby. He turned his head sharply away again as another scream sounded right in his ear. "Do something about your kid. Pull yourself together. She needs to be fed."

"House, I can't--"

"Do you want your kid to starve?" he exploded. "Is that what you want?"

The baby's wails echoed in the bathroom while Cuddy peered up at him with a distraught look on her face. House glared back until she gave a subdued nod of understanding. She scooted stiffly from the wall and struggled to her feet with a pained grunt, clutching her lower stomach as though holding it would ease the discomfort of her surgical scar. Another wave of relief flooded through him as Cuddy reached for the baby. He handed it over and let Cuddy pass, following her down the hall to the living room.

Cuddy swiped up a diaper cloth draped over the arm of the couch and took a seat on the armchair. The baby's screams was rapidly reaching white noise level. House fretfully rubbed his forehead while Cuddy lifted her sweater to expose her breast, sniffing.

"I can't do this," she sobbed when the baby failed to latch and burst into a new round of wailing. "I can't. I can't do this. Breastfeeding hurts too much."

"It's called breaking your nipples in. I'd offer to help with those kinky nipple clamps you keep by the bed, except something tells me now's not an appropriate time to be getting any hot nipple action."

"She's not getting any milk, House. Nothing is coming out when she feeds."

He motioned to her breasts. "They're pretty engorged. Means something has to come out." He suddenly remembered the breast pump that he'd seen on the dining table the last time he'd been here.

He stepped back into the hall without any further word, clutching his bad thigh as he crossed over to the dining room and into the kitchen. He rummaged around in the cupboards until he unearthed the breast pump still in its box. He spent the next five minutes assembling the pump on the counter according to the instructions and took the contraption out to Cuddy. She was up, pacing with the baby against her shoulder. Cuddy was still crying; she wiped her eyes and cheeks in between patting the baby's back.

"Here," he said. He put the pump on the coffee table. "Express. Get as much milk out as you can and feed it to the kid in a bottle."

"But what about--"

"Give it to me," he cut in, reaching out for Cuddy to hand the baby over.

"But..."

"Just do it. Hurry up before I change my mind."

Cuddy gave him a teary, guilty look as he took the baby from her. He limped back into the hall, leaving Cuddy to express on her own. Reaching her bedroom, he shut the door and unclipped his cellphone from his belt.

"Come on," he said to the baby irritably, grimacing each time a particularly loud scream reverberated against his eardrum. He pressed the speed dial for Wilson's number and slapped the phone to his ear. "You need to get over here," he said when Wilson answered after the fourth ring. He was surprised at how shaky his voice sounded.

"Is that... a baby I hear?"

"No, it's the latest computer game I bought. Of course it's a baby."

"You're at Cuddy's?" Wilson sounded surprised.

"Yeah."

"You okay? You sound--"

"I'm fine," House snapped. He wasn't interested in explaining anything, so he jumped straight to the point: "Cuddy's just had a major meltdown in the bathroom and I'm left with a screaming troll that won't shut up."

"Is Cuddy okay?"

"What does the word 'meltdown' indicate to you?"

"Depends on your idea of what a meltdown is."

"Crying in the bathroom. Leaving the kid screaming and starving for god knows how long."

"What's she doing now?"

"Decompressing the pressure valves in her milk factory with a breast pump. Still sobbing her eyes out. Look, just get your ass over here."

"Okay. I'll be there in fifteen, twenty tops."

He shut the phone and tossed it across to the bed, then hoisted the baby higher against his shoulder. "Come on," he said. "Come on. Shut up. You're giving me a headache."

The baby arched its back, a fist flying into his cheek, and House did the first thing he could think of to make the baby quieten down: he stuck his finger in its mouth. She latched onto it right away and began furiously sucking. Just like when she'd tried sucking on her fist, she let go and let out another ear-piercing wail when she realised nothing was coming out.

"God, you're persistent," he muttered. He shifted the baby across to his other shoulder and began pacing the room, wishing Wilson would hurry up. Another ten minutes passed before he heard Cuddy calling out and House walked back to the living room, shoving the baby gratefully into Cuddy's arms. Cuddy had stopped crying but she looked pale and exhausted.

"Do something with that kid's mouth before my head explodes. How much did you get out?"

Cuddy held up a bottle of pale, slightly yellow-tinged breast milk. "About three ounces."

He nodded and ran a hand over his face, his other hand clutching his bad leg again. Cuddy twisted the nipple onto the bottle and the baby stopped crying in favour of drinking the moment it was pushed into its mouth. The immediate silence, save for the hungry sucking and quiet gasping sounds the baby made in between gulps, was heavenly. He dug into his pocket for his Vicodin.

Cuddy looked back up to him. Her eyes had brimmed with fresh tears and House sighed with dread at the prospect of having to deal with more of her emotions. "Thank you," she said softly.

"Just feed your kid."

He sagged against the couch as he tossed a pill into his mouth, listening for Wilson while the baby continued gobbling from the bottle. About ten minutes later, the doorbell rang and House jumped straight to his feet and made a beeline for the door.

"Good," he greeted Wilson. "You deal with the rest. Now I can leave."

Wilson frowned and peered into the house. "Sounds all quiet on the western front."

"If all wars could reach a ceasefire with artificial nipples, there'd be no need for weapons of mass destruction," House agreed. He beckoned Wilson into the house and shut the door.

"Hey, Cuddy," Wilson said, poking his head around the living room doorway. "Everything okay?"

House couldn't see Cuddy from where he was standing and he didn't hear her reply. He assumed she nodded when Wilson turned back to him, his hands pushed into his jacket pockets.

"What happened?" Wilson asked quietly.

"I told you what happened."

"Everything seems pretty calm now. Admittedly, Cuddy looks--"

"Like crap."

"Well... yes. Baby's quiet, though. A far cry from how she sounded on the phone."

"A far cry. You're funny. Not. I'm outta here." He stepped around Wilson to fetch his coat and cane from the nursery, and his phone from Cuddy's room. When he came back into the hall with his coat shrugged on, he saw Wilson sitting on the armrest of the couch, watching Cuddy. The baby had drained most of the bottle and was now asleep in Cuddy's arms. Cuddy was staring down at the baby with an expression House couldn't quite discern. Tiredness or sadness, or possibly resentment.

He opened his mouth to announce that he was leaving but as Wilson murmured something to Cuddy and leaned forward to touch her knee while she wiped a tear from her cheek, House decided against it. He'd done more than his share. He was still unnerved and a little shaken up from the whole ordeal. But it wasn't his business now. It was Wilson's. Wilson was way better at dealing with this stuff than he was.

He faced the door and opened it, heading out into the frosty cold night.


*


House stepped out of exam room two and slapped the file onto the desk as he passed the nurses station. He quickly signed out and pushed his way through the glass doors to the lobby. Clinic rotation was done and he had an entire afternoon to kill. Which meant he had to find something else to do to take his mind off what had happened at Cuddy's place the night before.

When he'd gotten home, he'd downed two glasses of bourbon while trying to block the evening out with Conan O'Brien's distrustful, caricature face on the TV. He'd retired to bed sometime after midnight but didn't end up falling asleep for several hours. Waking up in the morning had been difficult -- his eyes had felt scratchy with tiredness and his whole body weary and knotted up. As the day progressed, he hadn't felt much better; the only thing that kept him feeling reasonably alert was strong black coffee and lots of it.

"House."

He glanced over his shoulder as he reached the elevator and saw Wilson approaching. He pressed the button impatiently to summon the elevator to the lobby faster. He knew Wilson was going to bring the baby or Cuddy, or both, up. House wasn't in the mood to talk about either.

"Had lunch?" Wilson asked when he reached House's side.

"Not yet."

"Hungry?"

"You only ask me that when you're trying to bribe me."

"I have way more tricks up my sleeve than just dangling a reuben in front of your face like a bone to a dog."

"What do you want?" House snapped.

The elevator doors opened and after a few people exited, he stepped inside and pressed the button to the fourth floor. Wilson trailed in after him. "Cuddy wanted me to pass on her thanks to you for being there last night."

"Pass on the message that I'm not interested."

"Knowing Cuddy, she probably wouldn't have called anyone for help if you hadn't showed up."

"Yeah. I'm a real lifesaver."

The doors slid closed. "So, what made you decide to see her?"

"Bad judgement."

"Based on what?"

"Doesn't matter why I went to see her."

"Admit it -- you care."

"Hey, now." House threw Wilson a dirty look. "Don't start using offensive words like that around me or I'll have to start washing your mouth out with soap."

The elevator reached the fourth floor and the doors opened. He stepped out, Wilson still following him. "You had the situation under control."

"You weren't there when Cuddy was freaking out in the bathroom. You also didn't have to deal with a kid screaming right in your ear for almost half an hour."

"Try three hours. That was how long Eva was apparently crying until you showed up."

Reaching his office, House threw the door open and walked across to his desk. He picked up a pile of letters that had been delivered during his clinic rotation and started sorting through them. He tossed the first few letters into the trash and glanced up when he realised Wilson was standing in the middle of his office, his hands on his hips.

"What?" House demanded.

"Admit it," Wilson repeated. "You care."

"About what? My mail? I don't give a crap about my mail." He held up another envelope and waved it before sending it sailing into the trash.

"About Cuddy. That's why you've been acting like such a jerk this past week. You're worried."

"I'm acting like a jerk because my leg hurts."

"No, you act like a jerk on a twenty-four hour basis, but you act like a complete jerk when something matters to you."

"What's your point?"

"My point is that your priorities have changed and you're trying to pretend they haven't."

"My priorities are exactly the same as they always were."

"Right," Wilson agreed dryly. "Which explains why you were at Cuddy's place last night, trying to help her cope with the baby instead of telling her to deal with it. Or better yet, not going at all."

"What does it matter to you what my priorities are?"

"Because whether you like it or not, Eva is your daughter. You must feel something about that."

"Nope. I cleverly don't have things like feelings."

"So, why'd you stick around last night?"

"Leaving a starving baby in the company of a woman who can't get her act together to feed it would've been illogical."

"Except, according to you, you don't care about Cuddy and you don't care about Eva, which makes your argument about what's logical illogical."

"Do you really think repeating the kid's name is going to make me suddenly care?"

"You wouldn't have shown up in the first place if you didn't care, House."

He tossed another letter in the trash. "Whatever. Point is, if Cuddy can't cope, that's her problem. Besides, she's got you. You love fussing around people who can't stop crying. Why would she need me?"

"Because you matter to her."

House stared at Wilson for a moment, then looked down. "Well, that's stupid of her."

"And she matters to you."

"Only I matter to me."

Wilson sighed. "House, she's not coping."

"She'll get over it. It's just hormones. She'll be fine in a week or two."

"And what if she isn't?"

House dropped the last letter in the trash. "She'll be fine."



CHAPTER THREE