Chapter 16: Epilogue.
"I hope you die, I hope we both die"
House sat on the edge of the bed, his legs idly dangling as he watched Cuddy pulling faces at herself in the mirror. She was oblivious to him, her hands hypnotic in their constant motion. In one instant she was smoothing the soft fabric of her dress, her pale pink nails matched perfectly to its design. The next she was fussing with her curls, rearranging them in a way that made any change imperceptible as soon as she stopped. Turning this way and that, her relentless appraisal was providing him with quite a floor show.
As her features contorted in the unfortunate lipstick application pose, House heard her grumbling over the music he was playing. Though he didn't catch every word, the sentiment was clearly along the lines of whose brilliant idea this was, how she wasn't fit to be seen in public and the entire night was a disaster so inevitable even George Bush could see it coming. As he was beginning to enjoy the flow of her rather impressive litany, they were interrupted by an abrupt knock on the front door.
Cuddy turned on him them, eyes flashing dangerously.
"I'm not ready! Can't you stall him?"
Ignoring the wheedling tone in her voice, House attempted to end any further protests by placing a tender kiss on her collarbone as he stood behind her (He wasn't foolish enough to risk disturbing the makeup that had been applied with an intricacy that made lacework seem clumsy).
"You're as ready as you'll ever be."
She placed her hands on his forearms as they encircled her waist.
"Be grateful I didn't insist you wear a tux tonight. How do I look?"
"Like you always do: a desperate woman with a rockin' bod. Just remember you don't need to see anyone's checkbook tonight, ok?"
With that parting shot, he limped out of his bedroom and went to answer the door. He'd never understand how he let Cuddy talk him into these things, but a little sacrifice was worth it for the perks being with her provided, something so ridiculous he'd ever admit to another living soul.
Opening the door with an exaggerated sigh, he whispered urgently to the man standing there.
"I got ten bucks with your name on it if you drive around the block a couple of times. Woman trouble."
Unfortunately for House, his father had never been impressed by any of his idiotic quips in almost 50 years. Tonight was no exception.
Shrugging off his father's stony silence, he accepted the proffered bottle of red wine, smirking slightly at the conversation it would most likely provoke. He'd been spoiling for a fight since being forced into the clinic that morning and Cuddy thoughtlessly primping and preening all afternoon leaving him without a sparring partner. Loosening the knot on the tie he had stolen from Wilson's office, he followed his father into the living room, nodding vaguely at the sofa to suggest he take a seat.
Without being told, House went straight to his drinks cabinet and poured his father a generous measure of bourbon. He handed it over and watched suspiciously as the older man subjected his surroundings to the usual level of scrutiny, even tutting as he surveyed the guitars pinned to the wall. Aware that the lack of conversation was making for an exceptionally oppressive silence, House was grateful that Cuddy chose that moment to make her entrance.
When she did, it completely escaped his memory that he had seen her only a few moments before. The soft light of the living room showed her off to fantastic effect, the summer dress she'd chosen bringing out her best features. In fact, he was hard-pressed to spot a single flaw.
He was practically mesmerized as he watched her warmly greet his father, addressing him as "Colonel" because she knew the rank deserved respect. For what it was worth, his father seemed completely taken with her, the sadness of their previous meeting seemed like a long time ago. He reminded her once again to call him John and Cuddy gave him a smile that almost made House jealous.
One of the major side effects of hating 99 of humanity was a complete lack of ability for small talk. Thankfully, Cuddy could talk enough pointless crap for ten people and despite himself, he was drawn into her conversation about how beautiful the Caribbean was. He had been distinctly unimpressed by the Bahamas a few years ago when Stacy insisted they have a real break for once. Typically, he'd enjoyed the rum more than his surroundings. Listening to Cuddy wax lyrical about the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic though, he felt a strange urge to call a travel agent.
Cuddy left them to check on dinner, causing both men to fall back into their regular stony silence. House sighed with the effort, but tried anyway.
"How's the fishing?"
House grit his teeth at his father's stunted sentences.
Just moments ago he had been competing with Cuddy to see who could say the most asinine thing about the beautiful beaches in St. Thomas, and now he was practically mute. Cuddy's request for assistance in the kitchen had House scrambling off the sofa as quickly as he could manage in a long time, despite the twinges of pain still fizzing through his thigh. All the therapy in the world wasn't going to undo that damage, but even House had to admit it was much more manageable these days.
He joined her willingly in the kitchen, hoping this meant a little bit of cheeky fondling before dinner. His disgust at being handed a spoon and told to stir was almost comical.
"How's it going?" Cuddy asked to see what he would tell her though she'd been able to hear their lack of conversation quite clearly.
"The man won't shut up! Can't get a word in, same as ever." He shot back, not bothering to keep his voice down.
She sidled up to him at the stove, slapping at his hand.
"I asked you to stir the sauce, not splash it all over the kitchen. Get back in there and make nice."
Predictably, he had no intention of doing as he was told, but liberation from sauce duty left his arm free to wrap around her waist. For a moment, his hand rested on the slight curve that had developed on her stomach, fingers softly beating a rhythm that matched Cuddy's rotation of the wooden spoon.
"Think he's guessed why he's here yet? I mean, you are getting pretty fat."
Cuddy's elbow connected with his ribcage but the lack of malice left him relatively uninjured.
"House, you promised you would behave. We are going to make this announcement like adults. Consider it practice for when my father attempts to kill you next weekend."
For all his bravado, she could immediately sense the tension that gripped his body. The great Gregory House, actually caring what impression he made for once. Well, until he got bored and started making insinuations about her parents' marriage or her sister's sexuality. Still, that was a week away; she could worry about damage control once they had a pleasant meal with House senior and informed him about his impending grandchild.
His head was resting on hers, chin buried in her hair with no regard to whether he was casually undoing hours of careful preparation. She was getting used to it, slowly but surely. People might not change, but he could occasionally do the dishes if she could swap power suits for jeans every now and then.
Funny what ceased to matter when you had something more exciting to do than going home to a ready meal for one every night. When he spoke after a peaceful moment of watching her cook, she could feel his deep voice vibrating in his throat and chest.
"You know, there's gonna be a certain expectation. I knocked you up, people are gonna think there should be an overpriced diamond somewhere in the equation."
A more foolish woman might have jumped to a romantic conclusion, answered a question that had not in fact been asked. Cuddy did her best to disguise the fact that her breath had caught in her throat, simply nodding as though they were discussing the weather.
"You did knock me up, though you may want to work on that phrasing when it comes to other people."
Ignore that he had said anything else, she said to herself. That was the only way to handle House when he thought aloud.
"Now, from your Oscar-worthy performance as someone not interested in things like marriage, I can tell that I have your attention. You also know me, tradition and contracts aren't really my thing. So I'm not going to ask you that. Maybe I never will."
She may have been the walking definition of pragmatism, but something still felt suspiciously like tears prickling behind her eyes at his words.
Cuddy the administrator might have entered into this insanity of a relationship with lowered expectations and fewer demands, but Cuddy the endocrinologist could list off the countless hormones circulating in her bloodstream that really didn't need inconvenient emotions to spur them on.
Intent on getting this dinner over and done with, she pulled away from him and stepped across the kitchen to rummage for the plates she would need. It surprised her when he stepped in front of her, piercing blue eyes locked on her own.
"I might not ask you that. I might never do anything people might expect of a normal guy, but there is one thing I do want to ask you."
"Then ask, House, but if this is another question about sex during pregnancy I'm going to beat you to death with What To Expect".
"Is there any chance, even a small one, that you might consider sticking around? You know like forever? Or at least until one of us is dead."
Cuddy's brow furrowed in confusion.
"What are you actually asking me, House? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
"I'm saying that I don't want to dress up like a penguin and see you imitating a Christmas tree fairy. Not now, not ever. You might stand a chance if you get me drunk and drag me to Vegas, but otherwise, never gonna happen. However, I'm trying to tell you that I'm in. Not just because of the demon spawn, but somebody has to love those rapidly expanding funbags. I think it's kinder just not to mention your ass at all, if I'm honest."
He kept his voice purposefully light, as though he was reading the cinema listings for her to choose the movie, but she knew without doubt that he was serious for once.
Hell, how was she supposed to stop the tears at that? Other men might have quoted a long-dead English poet, or worse, a really cheesy song lyric. Instead, he was trying to kill her with an overdose of his version of romance.
"I'm not planning on going anywhere, House."
He raised his hand slowly to her face, the coarseness of his thumb surprisingly gentle as it swept away the escaping tears. When his mouth captured hers in one of the slow, probing kisses she had happily gotten used to, she couldn't help but moan quietly at the contact. Far too quickly, he pulled away from her, leaving her grumbling in frustration.
"Good. Now, let's feed the company before he starts chewing on the furniture."
They completed the preparation in record time, serving up dinner at the small dining table that Cuddy had insisted on retrieving from the junk depository that masqueraded as a spare room. Small talk persisted over the soup, the only awkwardness when the inevitable topic of coping without Blythe came up.
The big announcement came over roast lamb, and even House was stunned by the joy on his father's face.
"I thought the family name was going to die out with Gregory here. This is some good news, sure enough." John's voice suddenly took on a deeper timbre of pleasure.
Cuddy aimed a swift kick at House's ankle as he opened his mouth to complain about them not having decided on the baby's surname yet. His pointed glare confirmed that she had made decent contact, and she realized that the decision had just been made. She was bringing Baby House, or perhaps Baby Cuddy-House into this world.
She was surprised that no mention of marriage came up. The three adults simply sat around the table discussing the generalities of having children until the time came for dessert.
Cuddy insisted on doing that alone, and so House returned to the table after the dinner dishes were put in to soak. He'd never done a chore so willingly in all the time she'd known him, and she vowed to invite his father over much more often if this was the reaction it got. They haven't worked out the details of who was living where just yet, but they had the luxury of time to think it over--five more months of it to be precise.
She lost herself for a moment, knife hovering over the banoffee pie she knew both men loved. Absent-mindedly, her free hand was drawn to the bump that was growing by the day. The sound of voices from the next room jolted her from her reverie, and she went to eavesdrop as she went about her business.
"You're happy about this son? After all that talk about not wanting kids, how only selfish jerks brought 'screaming brats' into the world? When I think how it broke your mother's heart to hear you talk that way…"
House felt his grip on the wine glass tighten at the accusation being leveled. Wanting to end the night without stitches, he very carefully and deliberately placed it back on the table.,
"It wasn't right before but I'm ready now. I want this. And don't bring Mom into it. She was always telling me that one day I'd change my mind, and she was right."
John House considered his son for a moment, a meeting of steady glares that would scare off most people. Not so Lisa Cuddy, who presented dessert without a second's hesitation. After all, she had taken staring contests and battles of will to Olympian levels herself.
Before too long the torment was over, and House was able to see his father to the door. Expecting one of their mercifully brief goodbyes, House was irritated as his father dawdled, kissing Cuddy on the cheek and complimenting her cooking as though he'd never eaten a meal before. The impatience traveled to the cane in House's hand, and the rhythmic tapping of it against the floor at last prompted his father into the doorway.
Out of the blue, John extended his hand and clasped his son's. Not the casual salute of his usual goodbye, but some warmth and human contact that caught House completely off-guard.
"I don't say this stuff too often, but I'm proud of you, son. I can't pretend to understand what goes on in that head of yours, but you've managed to find yourself a top-class woman. Just don't screw this up."
House could feel Cuddy hovering behind him, pretending not to listen. He found himself curiously unable to summon words, and had to settle for nodding solemnly at his father, returning the fierceness of his grip as best as he could through crushed fingers. When at last he found his voice, there was nothing much he could think of to say.
"Thanks. Don't be a stranger, okay?" His voice was weak, but he forced the trite words out anyway.
Sure, the compliment had been smothered in an avalanche of further criticism, but its very existence in the first place had House reeling. His father departed cheerfully enough, his gait a little uneven and his stride a little shorter these days.
House found himself staring at the empty hallway, not quite ready to turn around and go back to the real world just yet. Dreading questions from Cuddy, scared that the moment would shatter like the most fragile piece of glass if any mention of it was made.
He ought to give her more credit, really. If anyone knew how to handle the occasional fragility in his life, it was Cuddy.
Giving him a minute or two to compose himself, she waited calmly by the couch. When he did turn to face her, there was no inquisition, no picking over the words his father had spoken, but her eyes betrayed that she knew the significance of the moment.
She simply pressed a soft kiss to his welcoming lips, and held him to her for the briefest of moments. It was then he realized that they might actually make it, baby and all. And for once, a thought like that didn't scare the crap out of him.