Disclaimer: I don't own anything!
Author's Notes: what acted as my wonderful beta from Television Without Pity. This story does not exist in any set universe of mine, so you don't need to read any of my other stories to understand it - but I would really love it if you did!
It would be one of the greatest triumphs of humanity, one of the most tangible liberations from the constraints of nature to which mankind is subject, if we could succeed in raising the responsible act of procreating children to the level of a deliberate and intentional activity and in freeing it from its entanglement with the necessary satisfaction of a natural need"
She has studied the warning signs for a year: fatigue. Headaches. Nausea. Fatigue. She thinks their label is a misnomer - a warning alerts you to anticipate impending danger. Life, Cuddy knows, is not dangerous. Life, Cuddy knows, is beautiful.
But still - she studies. At the edges of her mind, the place that has neither moral nor reason but want, a terrible, hungry need, is a theory: if she reads the books until the words are what she sees when she closes her eyes, when it's that she's drowning in its pages (she does not need air in this place), then she will be pregnant. Even if her baby is conceived by diffusion - even if conception is as sterile and lonely as the spine of a book - then it's still a baby.
On the news, she sees a story about a woman who didn't know she was pregnant until she gave birth. The woman was smart. She went to college.
It's odd, Cuddy thinks, how a woman cannot realize that her body houses two; how she can be herself, plus one. How an obsession with one thing can irrevocably compromise the way you see - or the way you're blind to - everything else.
That's the thing about obsession. You become so focused on something happening to you, that you don't realize it's happening to another.
It's been her pet suspicion for weeks - the one she likes to worry through her mind when she first wakes up, in that half-minute where she can forget what a complication is - but when she sits against the headboard of Chase's bed and feels that gentle shift inside her, just above the line of her sweats, Cameron knows.
She knows even more after three positive pregnancy tests, dispensed safely in the garbage in his apartment.
She doesn't care if that's how Chase finds out: this is happening because of him. Because one night, it broke, and she said it'd be fine if they just winged it. Because when he dozed off, and his arm lay across her stomach, she tempted fate and wondered what his child might look like. Because she might actually love him, and there's feng shui.
She hears the creak of the bathroom door open and pulls the comforter up to her chest. It smells like him, and her stomach turns.
He stares at her with a half-grin on his face. "Really?" he says, and the word lingers delicately in the air: a question so loaded needs to breathe without poisoning the air - without destroying the things that sustain it.
She nods and this is all he needs: he jumps onto the bed and kisses every inch of her. And when she hugs him and presses her face into his chest, her fingernails dig too deeply into his back.
She wants this. She does. But she wants other things too.
What she does during the mornings (when not being nauseous is too much to bear) is go to the maternity ward. Her favorite thing to do is sit in the waiting room and watch the expectant mothers get wheeled in by their husbands and partners and friends. She wishes, too frequently, that she were one for math so she knew how to calculate the slope of a pregnant belly, the height of its crest.
Yesterday, she told a new doctor that she wanted to observe him as he gave a woman a sonogram, and this is how she came to understand House. She knew that it was unhealthy, that she needed less than she took, but every time she saw that fuzzy black and white image, she knew: she would never be satisfied until it was her baby on that screen.
The first things she sees when she goes to observe are the backs of an achingly familiar towhead and the ponytail of a brunette. And it takes a slice of a moment to process: it's Chase and Cameron. Cuddy can't move, suddenly, can't breathe.
She hadn't known.
Cameron's hand traces the blurry profile of her baby, and she leans into Chase. Her hand touches her round stomach.
Why hadn't she seen?
Chase is facing away from her, but Cuddy knows that even though he kisses the crown of Cameron's head, his eyes haven't left the screen.
Cuddy feels sick - but not how she wants to be - and chokes out you're doing fine to their doctor, who looks at her in surprise. And she runs to the privacy of her office.
After she quit the fellowship, Cameron began working for the Immunology Department at a different hospital - this much Cuddy has learned from House. Not wanting to lose two excellent doctors to his stupidity, she rehired Chase and put him to work in ICU. Every now and then, she sees him and House swapping ideas in the hallways, and she used to be glad he has someone other than Wilson now.
She wonders if House knows.
And, with a swell of jealousy: she wonders why Cameron is with Chase when, last Cuddy checked, she wanted House.
Her spacious office is suddenly too big for her - too much room to think - and she bolts. She wants to ask House, and remembers she's ordered Wilson to make sure House does his Clinic hours.
But the minute she steps through the glass doors, she stops wondering and starts staring. A woman with a figure that would be willowy, had it not been for her basketball of a belly, is sitting on the floor with food stamps sprawled in front of her.
Cuddy finds herself watching her and understands now the depth of her desperation; how far she's willing to go: My job, she thinks, my job for your baby.
The woman looks up at her and frowns. "Necesito ver un medico," she says.
Cuddy nods. "I know," she whispers in a language the woman cannot understand. "You will." Cuddy leads her into an exam room and remembers where to feel to see if the baby's in the right position. Cuddy clasps the woman's hand and squeezes her fingers. There are a thousand barriers between the two of them, but they are tied to each other by a million year old chord - the desire to nurture and love and protect and raise a child.
"I'll trade," she says, and is thankful the woman does not know.
This is how her nightmare goes: she is in a shower, giving birth. Not in a hospital, where she knows the language, not in their (not his or hers anymore: theirs) apartment, where she is safe to cry out, but in an anonymous shower where no one can hold her hand. She screams, the baby slides out, and immediately chains itself to her ankle, her throat, and her heart.
Cameron wakes up shaking, and rolls onto her back in a vain attempt to counter the pressing ache there. She waits for Chase to inch into the space that she no longer takes up, for his fingers to brush against her thigh so she can grab his hand. But then she remembers: he's working at the hospital tonight, leaving her all alone with her thoughts.
Cameron tries to relax, because she knows she's running out of time, but her imagination is still going: What if no one turned the shower off? Would she drown? Would the baby anchor her down? Everytime she closes her eyes, she sees her palms pressing desperately against the glass, tiny droplets of water sealing the shower door shut.
The thing is, she won't try and escape, and this is the scariest part. When her baby is born in three weeks, she will love it. She will tend to it and nurture it and protect it and raise it and love it. She knows this. She knows that her priorities will shift suddenly, that her career will be an afterthought, and that her ambition will be directed towards something - someone - else. She will want a family, and that is what she'll have - what she practically already has. She knows.
Sometimes, she reads articles about working moms and how long maternity leaves should last and how to balance work and family life. Chase gave a few to her, and she always throws them out when she's done. She is not wired to do that. She is wired to love her husband and her kids, and she wants this, but it's a Stockholm trap. Once she's in it, she will love it and won't look back.
She just doesn't think she's ready to be there yet.
But when she gets out of bed to use the bathroom, and feels something wet trickle down her legs, she knows: her time has run out.
Cameron sits on the edge of their bed for a few moments, mentally running through a list of things she must do, but the same thread of thoughts keep interrupting: Not yet. Please, not yet.
Chase. She has to get Chase - he'll know what to do. She stands up slowly and turns around to nudge him awake: he's gone. Hospital, she remembers, he's at the hospital.
That's what she has to do. She has to get to the hospital.
By the time she realizes that she's not wearing any pants and that she can't drive, she's already out the door.
"Damn it," she says, and suddenly, there it is: a burning deep beneath her skin, a fist inside of her - a contraction. She latches onto the doorframe for support, and begins to cry. "Damn it."
She has a brother, but he's on vacation, and she and Chase both have friends in the area - a few of them mutual - but she doesn't want to call them up at one in the morning. She knows, though, that she can't stay here.
She waddles into the kitchen and calls a taxi company. I can do this, she thinks, and imagines a thousand different places: a pale stretch of sand, a cool blue glacier, a locked shower stall. Cameron can see herself anywhere but where she is, and this is how she knows she will enjoy a different lot in life.
When she sleeps, she dreams of the fire. Behind her eyes is a constant vision of thick tufts of smoke, settling into her bed sheets, and flames licking her ceiling. And then herself: an out-of-body experience. She is pressed against her headboard, fire surrounding her - she can't get to a window and her smoke alarm went off too late. I'm a hostage, she thinks in the split of a second before everything goes black.
And then she wakes up, and remembers why she's sleeping in her office tonight.
Cuddy gingerly lifts herself up from her practical desk chair and stretches. The pull and give of her muscles is so relaxing, so normal, that she thinks she may never want to sleep again. Suddenly, she wants to run laps around the hospital: to feel a reassuring sweat on her brow so she knows that some things will never change. And so she goes, as she always does when she's scared, to the Maternity Ward.
And he is there, as he always is, when he knows she's scared.
"I'd offer you a place to stay," House begins, sitting down next to her, "but I don't need to. There is no practical reason why you're here right now and not in a hotel. Unless, of course, you were hoping that I'd ask you to stay with me. But then you'd know that I'd ask why you were here and not in a hotel. You can't even fall for your own ploys." He gives her a leering look.
"I don't like beds," she says stiffly, her eyes trained in front of her, and she curses internally.
"Well, we could always do it against a wall," he replies quickly. "But it might get uncomfortable with this thing." House pokes her with his cane. "Unless you were willing to…ahh, never mind."
She turns to him, and pretends to be disgusted: that is the game they play. "Don't you have a patient to diagnose?"
"Don't you have someone else to nag?"
She shifts closer to him - not close enough for anyone to suspect anything, but close enough for him to know. She feels it when he sighs. "How's your soccer star?" she asks.
"I hate it when people diagnose themselves," House says. "Especially when they're right. She's getting a synovectomy right now and - is that Cameron?"
House is up and away before Cuddy gets the chance to look, but when she does: it is Cameron. And, Cuddy notes, she is all alone. And terrified, looking as though the floor is about to crumble beneath her feet.
Cuddy hates her suddenly, and she doesn't know why. But still, she walks over to her and House.
Cameron stares at the two of them, and, to her credit, does not burst into tears. "Contractions," she finally says. "Seven minutes apart. I-" she looks around and her voice shakes. "I think I went to the wrong hospital."
Cuddy sighs, and gives into that tug of sympathy. "Are you pre-registered here?"
Cameron shakes her head, her ponytail swishing from side to side. "Jersey General."
"OK," Cuddy says, taking her hand and guiding her to the chairs she and House were just occupying. "OK. We'll just call and ask them to fax over your records, all right?"
Cameron nods, sits down, and moans, her fingers tightening around a chair leg. "Please," she whispers, and Cuddy knows her voice cannot go any higher: she resents that. And as she walks away to call Jersey General, she hears House say happily to Cameron, "you're not wearing a bra, are you?"
Cameron really does start to cry then.
Out of respect for Cameron and respect for herself, Cuddy does not sit with Cameron in her Labor & Delivery room, and instead makes sure House does not bother her. House likes telling Cuddy about his cases, and he is distracted - for now.
"And they're also taking out the trapped posteromedial meniscus remnant. She'll have a complete range of motion in her knee now. She gave us all free tickets to her games."
Cuddy turns to him in surprise. "Will you use them?"
House shrugs. "Do you like soccer?"
Cuddy has to bite the inside of her cheek, but still: she can't hold back her smile.
"Oh, now what?"
Cuddy sits up straight - maybe she misread the question? But then she sees a redheaded nurse walking over to them and she understands.
"That doctor of yours," the redhead says to House in a gossipy voice, "is a real problem."
House smirks at her. "I've taught her everything she knows," he says and gets up, as does Cuddy. He turns to her. "Want to see what my protégé's up to?"
They walk into her room just as the machine that monitors her contractions begins to spike - it's a neon green stripe that shoots up as Cameron cries out and twists the hospital sheet in her hands. Without thinking, Cuddy rushes over to her. "Shh," she says soothingly, squeezing Cameron's shoulder bracingly. "It'll be over soon."
Cameron nods but does not look at her, still concentrating on the contraction. When it ends, she looks at her and smiles weakly. "Thanks." She leans back and wipes her face - she has been crying. "What are you doing here?"
House, who has been standing uncomfortably at the doorway, shrugs. "Nurse Firecrotch said that you were causing trouble."
Cameron sighs and nods. "I asked, like, five nurses to get Ro--Doctor Chase, but - he's not here yet, and none of them have come back and I want him here," she says with as much dignity as possible. She wipes her eyes again.
Cuddy pats her hand. "Ok. House'll go get him." She turns towards him. "Right?" she asks significantly. House rolls his eyes but leaves.
Cuddy turns back to Cameron and nods. "Doctor Chase will be here soon," she says, but her voice catches. "Everything's going to be fine."
And she knows it's the truth when Chase runs into the room five minutes later, and Cameron smiles at him: Cuddy understands suddenly that Chase may not be the person Cameron originally wanted, but he's the only person she wants now. Cuddy knows that the things Cameron wants have been irrevocably shifted…And that Cameron has those things now.
"He's a beautiful baby."
House rolls his eyes at her. "He looks exactly like every other baby in there."
Cuddy smirks at him. "He does not. He'll look just like his dad."
He gives her a look she can't quite understand and raps his fingers on the glass window that looks into the nursery impatiently. "Do you - do you want to hold him?"
She gives him a little smile. "We shouldn't. Doctors Chase and Cameron--"
"--Are sleeping, and won't know the difference." He gives her that look again and leads her in, and she really can't resist.
The baby is on the far side of the room, and now that she's close-up, Cuddy is even surer that he will look just like Chase. Without thinking, she picks him up and holds him close to her. "Hi, Baby," she says quietly, and tries to ignore the lump in her throat.
"He has a name, you know," House says, looking at the little blue card taped to the bassinette. "Evan Luke."
She rocks Evan a little bit, and she can't hold back anymore - she begins to cry. She feels House's hand awkwardly begin to rub her back, and she puts the baby down quickly, turns around, and presses her face into House's chest. "They have no idea," she whispers. "No idea how much they love him."
She knows he is nodding because his chin bumps against her head, and finds herself listening to his heartbeat instead of the cooing baby sounds. And she thinks: maybe this means something. She calms down a bit and soon her breathing is even with his. Being with House, she understands, doesn't lessen her desire to have a child, but sharing the weight of such a crushing want does make the burden easier to carry - and that makes all the difference in the world.