Author's Notes: This fic was written after I learned about the storyline for "Joy" and saw the promo pics. Therefore, anyone who doesn't want to be spoiled for that episode shouldn't read. This was written before "Lucky Thirteen" aired, so there are a few discrepancies between this and that. For those who do continue on, please read and review.

Disclaimer: I don't own the show.

When the World Ends
By Duckie Nicks

There are three ways this can end, and that's why you don't want to take the case. Actually, there are more possibilities, more ways to permanently alter your lives, but you're only interested in the three, the ones most likely to occur. The first – the baby comes out perfect – is one you doubt will happen; you've lived too long to think that people get the happy endings they want… or deserve.

It's not that you don't like the landscape of the scenario. Really, what's not to like about it? Cuddy gets her kid, becomes the mother she's desperately tried to be for years, and ends up looking at you like you're the guy who saved her kid's life, because you are. And that means you can kiss clinic duty goodbye – at least for a month if not the rest of your life – because she'll feel indebted, and you'll happily take advantage of that. And if at some point she decides to show you gratitude by touching tummies, then you'll take advantage of that as well. In the exact same way you went along with Cuddy's decision to kiss you over a pile of onesies.

You weren't expecting that when you first learned from Lucas that she was, in a matter of weeks, going to be a mother. His surprising words washing over you hotly, you weren't thinking of kisses but rather how irrational it was for you to feel betrayed. And even now, only days later, as she stands in front of you waiting for you to agree to take the case, you're still not sure where the feeling came from. All you have is a vague notion that this was your thing with her, something that she'd confided into you a long time ago. And it seemed wrong then that Lucas, a stranger, should learn about it before you do. Because you've known Cuddy for years, and he's known about her for a month, maybe, and if anyone should figure out she's doing this, it's you.

Truthfully, you're still not quite sure what bothers you more: that she didn't say anything, that you didn't figure it out, or that Lucas did.

At the time, though, your motivation didn't really matter to you, because you were too interested in finding Cuddy… and tormenting the hell out of her.

After an hour of searching, you found her in one of the local nursery shops with some cutesy name that still makes you want to vomit. Her gaze fixated on a display of baby clothes, she reminded you of your school days, of hours spent in the library secretly watching her try to memorize all the hormones that started with the letter "a."

The smooth skin of her forehead still wrinkled and furrowed together as she tried to concentrate on the clothes in front of her. Her lips still parted every now and then to allow a sliver of white teeth to escape and nibble on the flesh of her lower lip. Even after all these years, you thought, she was still essentially the same person, still an odd combination of determination and vulnerability and a stiff posture that warned everyone to stay away or else. And you knew you hadn't changed much either, because you still approached her regardless.

Your cane tapping her shin lightly, you told her almost conversationally, "Never pictured you as the kind to wear clothing with snaps on the crotch." Her spine straightening as though you had poured ice water on her, you added, "Not that I'm complaining. The visual alone is –"

"You're disgusting," Cuddy interrupted, turning to face you with a hand on her hip. And as the familiarity of your presence dwindled, you watched as she realized that you weren't supposed to be there with her. Her lips curling into a frown, she asked, "Why are you here?"

"Following you," you threw back easily. "Why are you here?" You already knew the answer, but you were curious to see if she would lie to you.

She did.

A blush lightly appearing on the pale skin of her collarbone, Cuddy said, "I'm… buying a gift for a fr-"

"No, you're not," you told her knowingly.

She eyed you carefully to see just how much you knew. A second passed, her scowl becoming more and more pronounced until she asked, "You know?"

You shrugged. "That's what tends to happen when you pay someone nine hundred dollars an hour to snoop…"

"He wasn't supposed to tell you –"

"Well, next time maybe you should pay him to –"

"Be a decent human being?" she snapped.

"Yes," you said, annoyed at her own irritation. "Or you could be smarter and divulge your deep dark desire to live the plotline of Baby Mama to someone capable of lying."

"I'll keep that in mind," she murmured. "Now, can you leave?"

"But I haven't even had a chance to mock you," you told her sadly.

Folding her arms across her chest, Cuddy asked, "Do you have to?"

"You're having a baby, Cuddy," you pointed out. "That's the most interesting thing you've done in years. If I don't make fun of you for this… then what can I make fun of you for?" You added, "Have to take advantage when I can."

But by then Cuddy was no longer paying attention to you. At least you thought she couldn't have been listening to you, because her scowl had disappeared. Replacing it was a smile that made her glow in a way you had never seen. Her teary gaze aimed at you, you didn't know what you'd said to earn this reaction and had no clue what to say in response to it.

And you definitely didn't know what to say when she cupped your cheeks with her warm hands and leaned forward to kiss you. Her soft lips pressed against yours, you were momentarily stunned, too confused by what was going on to react. Which was fine with her, apparently, as she slipped you the tongue as forcefully as you'd expect a woman who hadn't been laid in months to.

Mentally shrugging, you decided to go with it. Kissing was good – even when it didn't make any sense. And kissing Cuddy, you realized, was especially good. Because she was familiar and safe, and the chances of this leading to more were pretty low. Not to mention she was hot and really, just a great kisser, much better than someone who rarely got to do it should have been.

So you kissed back, deciding that all that mattered in that moment was the feel of her lips and tongue and her taste. Her fingers sliding easily through your messy hair, your own hands were just skirting around the curves of her hips towards her ass when she pulled away.

You weren't ready for the moment to be over, nor were you particularly happy about it. You sort of had your heart set on copping a feel, after all.

But glancing at her, you could see her nervously wiping at the tears in her eyes, and you weren't surprised when she said, "I'm sorry."

This time you actually did shrug. "Doesn't matter. That's what me and my lips are here for – to satisfy all of your sexual whims. Want to randomly kiss me? I'm game. Want me to go down on you right here?" You pretended to hesitate, as though it would be a sacrifice for you. "I guess I can do that."

"Can you not be a complete ass?" Cuddy asked, her voice laced with annoyance.

"No."

She rolled her eyes. "Don't start."

"You started it," you argued back. "You should have known a lip lock would only make me more of an ass."

"Well, I hadn't planned on kissing you," she admitted quickly. Hesitating for a moment, she eventually blurted out, "It's just… I've been keeping this to myself for months, and – and…" Cuddy sighed as she struggled to find the words she wanted.

And you were content to wait patiently, maybe for the first time in a very long time, because you were too interested in what she might say to interrupt.

But the tears were forming in her eyes again, and you were beginning to think that waiting was a mistake. And just as you were beginning to ask yourself if hormones could affect a woman by proxy, she said, "All this time, I've never said it, because I didn't want to jinx it… and now… hearing you say it…" Offering you a watery smile, Cuddy finished, "It was nice."

You didn't know how to respond to that. You're never really sure how to respond to her when she's being nice, but you didn't know what to say then. And you're not sure what to say to her now when the tears in her eyes are decidedly not ones of joy.

She's begging you to take the case, listing the reasons why over and over. Dangling the symptoms like candy, Cuddy is trying to entice you like you're a little boy. Mentions of a rash here, a little begging there – her technique is perfect.

But you're too worried about the ways this can end, and you hesitate to take the case, if only because you don't want to get blamed for the whole thing. And you know that that's going to happen if the kid dies.

She'll blame you.

She'll hate you, and the chances of her ever forgiving you for it are slim. Very slim, and you've just gotten Wilson back in your life. So you're not in a hurry to alienate anyone else.

You are realizing, however, as Cuddy gets more annoyed at your hesitation, that she's going to be mad if you don't take the case.

She doesn't see the second way this can end, doesn't seem to understand that…

Taking the case doesn't mean her baby will be okay.

And you are acutely aware of that fact, even if she isn't or refuses to acknowledge it. You picture it even if she won't.

The image before you so clear and lush, you're surprised that she can't see it. You're already encroaching on that future as it is. Fetal heart rate continuing to rise, mother's lungs moving closer and closer towards collapsing – one wrong move, and you know it's all over.

One wrong diagnosis, and you'll have a dead baby on your hands, and you see that all too clearly to immediately take the case.

In your mind, Cuddy will follow you into the operating room, against your wishes, and be there when it happens. In place of the lusty cries of a newborn, her cries will fill the silence. Instead of bleary, dark blue eyes gazing around the room curiously, Cuddy will look at you with desperately wanting, pleading eyes. Holding the pink but blue bundle in her arms, she will shake; the baby won't move.

Cuddy will beg you to do something.

And when you tell her that you aren't God, that you can't cure death, she'll turn to someone else. Chase, Cameron, the night janitor who likes you – anyone who might be able to change what has happened. But even after everyone tells her no, she won't accept it.

You know Cuddy too well to believe that she'll nod her head quietly and silently grieve on her own time. She's planned for this for too long to accept defeat or to believe that this will end in any way other than happily ever after. She's hard wired to be naive in that way, to earnestly believe that working diligently and perfecting details will make everything okay. You've decided it's definitely a biological thing. Because you've ruined her best laid plans time and time again, and she still has yet to learn. Which means she's either physically incapable of accepting reality or too idiotic to believe it.

You don't believe it's the latter.

Not that the cause will really matter when her baby is dead.

Sitting in front of her now, you know exactly how she'll react.

No one will help her, so she'll do the CPR herself. Her gentle hands hardened by paper pushing and a lack of practice, she'll break every rib. Pushing through them as though they were little more than the silk in a spider's web, she'll do more damage than good.

And you'll stop her eventually, grab her hands, and stoically accept the blows she'll no doubt give in reaction. You'll scrounge up your hidden stash of morphine later, but in that moment, you'll stand there quietly as oxygen hitches in her lungs and realization like the air itself travels through each of her cells.

You won't disagree when she blames you for it, won't, for the first time in a long time, be sarcastic when she hurls accusations at you. You'll let her words sink into you slowly like a tea bag in boiling water, and you'll ignore them then – but absolutely come back to them later when you're feeling repentant.

You'll believe in your marrow every cruel word that she says, probably because it's something you've already thought of or heard years ago.

But in those moments after her baby dies, you will only focus on Cuddy and the way the emotion in her eyes changes from blind hope to palpable betrayal. Her trust fading into disgust, there will be tears once more.

Tears of sadness.

And when that happens, you'll let her flee, the kid still in her arms. Everyone else will look at you like you've lost your mind. You'll suppose that you have; images of Cuddy keeping the baby with her for years, playing dress up with it as though it were a doll, will plague your mind as the OR doors slide shut behind her. Twisted, slightly amusing, and completely wrong, that image will be enough to make you snidely tell the rest of your colleagues, "No, no, I'll make sure she doesn't take the brat with her."

You'll leave the room but not immediately go in search of her. As interested as you undoubtedly will be to find her, you'll understand all too well that, when you do come upon her, you'll have to say the right thing. You won't be able to make it up as you go along or half ass it.

You'll have to tell her exactly what she needs to hear.

Unlike what you've done in the past, however, you won't search for Cameron or your team for advice. You won't ask anyone else what you should do, because you'll understand that you're the one who knows Cuddy the best. You'll know that asking someone else what to do is pointless, that the words you need are inside of you if in anyone.

So you'll retreat to your office, where you will play with your ball and ignore everyone who knocks on your door to talk. You'll stay there, refusing to leave until you're sure you have the answer.

Only you'll never find the perfect words, and you'll never know how to handle this situation. Wilson will eventually tell you that there is no right way, and you'll never quite be convinced of that; you'll never be one for etiquette, but there are right answers, and just because you won't find out what that is doesn't mean that there isn't one.

Without any real hope of handling Cuddy right, you'll leave your office slowly. Your leg hurting more than usual, your limp will be even more prominent. And that will make you even less interested in a long scavenger hunt. Intent on finding her as quickly as possible, you'll make only one stop – to the hospital's gift shop – before looking for Cuddy.

You'll never be sure that this is the right course of action. Beginning to systematically weed through the section of baby clothes, you'll start to question your reasoning for doing this, for deciding that this will be best.

Shoving aside a dress with "Mommy's Little Angel" stitched in purple, you'll think about asking the octogenarian working the cash register whether or not they also carry t-shirts that say, "Mommy's Favorite Corpse," but ultimately decide against it. It's not that you believe in decorum or anything approaching it, you'll reason. But as you'll have no intention on paying for the clothes, you'll realize that causing a scene isn't smart.

Feeling a migraine encroaching, you'll grab the first outfit you see – a little yellow dress with pockets that have stitched bees peaking out. Stuffing the small piece of clothing into your pants pocket, you won't know for sure if she'll like it. You'll suppose, however, that it won't matter – as long as it works.

With that in mind, you'll find Cuddy in some quiet part of the hospital. She'll be sitting in a recliner, the bloodstained pink scrubs still hanging loosely on her small frame. Which will seem impossibly tinier in that moment as she holds onto the little bundle in her arms.

Her hair will loosely remain pulled back, sweaty curls occasionally plastering themselves to tear-stained cheeks. And when you'll enter the room, she'll immediately glare at you and clutch the baby closer to her.

"Relax," you'll tell her conversationally, not wanting to deal with any more emotional trauma than what's inherent to the situation.

She'll sniffle and tell you to leave, and when you don't listen, her tones will become more forceful. "Go away, House." Beginning to shake, she'll say, "You have your diagnosis. You have your… 9.9 out of ten times scenario – like you wanted."

You'll close the door behind you and begin to say, "I didn't –"

But she'll interrupt with, "You were right. Again." The tears will spill over when she admits this. The salty fluid lazily making their way down her cheeks, she won't bother to wipe them away as she tells you, "Please… just… go away."

You'll limp the rest of the way into the room and settle yourself on the bed. Careful to keep your distance from her, you'll glance over at her and reply, "But I have something for you."

Still fishing in your pocket for the clothes, you'll have your fingers wrapped around the soft cotton when she snaps, "I don't care. I, I, I don't want you –"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," you'll interrupt. Holding the small dress in the air, you'll say, "See, this is why I don't do nice things. I decide not to drive home drunk; Wilson doesn't talk to me for months." You'll ignore the part where his girlfriend dies, because that fact doesn't suit the story you're trying to tell. "I find myself in the gift shop and think you might like it, so I –"

"Stole it," Cuddy will finish, still upset but just a little bit quieter than before.

You'll also insist that that fact doesn't matter. Curious, you'll ask, "So, you gonna do it?"

Her attention already will be back on the baby in her arms. And distracted, she'll ask, "Do what?"

You'll be tempted to respond, "Dress your daughter," but won't. The three simple words are too weighted, you'll realize. They'll upset her in a way that's all too understandable and unproductive. So you'll gruffly say, "Put the clothes on the kid."

She'll press the baby closer to her chest then, in a way that would elicit smothering jokes from you under different circumstances.

But in this specific scenario, you'll stay quiet while she accuses, "Why – so you can grab her from me the second I reach for the dress?"

Truthfully, this will have been, most likely, your original plan, one that will also have been abandoned quickly when you think about your leg and some sort of metaphor your brain makes between Cuddy and a bear protecting her cub. And when you'll put it to her in just that way, she'll sigh and let out an "Oh."

Lying back on the bed, you'll slowly ask, "So… you interested?"

You imagine that she'll hesitate at first, that she'll look at you suspiciously, as though you're lying or have some other plan. You'll almost dramatically stretch back out on the bed to show that you're no threat, because you really won't have another plot. Ideas may come and go in your mind, but you won't act on any of them. Your goal - the only one you will have at this moment – will be to get Cuddy and yourself out unscathed. And as intriguing as playing keep-away-from-Cuddy with a stillborn will be for you, it won't bring this crappy day to an unceremonious close. Snatching the kid from her won't encourage things to go back to normal.

Which will be what you really want – for things to be as they were before.

You're not going to say that, you'll decide, as she cautiously gets up from the recliner chair. You won't tell her that your motivation has as much to do with your distrust of change as it does with Cuddy herself. You won't explain, as you get up off of the bed, that your attempts at being a human being are rooted in you being an asshole.

Of course, you'll realize, as you lean against the wall closest to the door, that that fact doesn't matter. Or maybe it does, but it won't matter to her. As she tenderly places the baby on the hospital bed, Cuddy's hands visibly shaking, you'll know that she couldn't care less about your motivation. By then you'll have already made her child's death all about you, but you'll understand that that isn't necessarily true outside of your head.

And your head will be where you'll retreat, as she tentatively begins to undo the twists in the pink blanket surrounding the baby. You won't listen to her sniffles or to her strangled sobs. You'll ignore her bittersweet cooing and the empty promises she'll make of being a better mother in another life, in a different time. You'll pretend not to hear the apologies, one right after the other.

So too will you pretend that you're not seeing moments of a life that could have been flash before your eyes. You'll convince yourself that you're not actually able to picture Cuddy as a mother, as a woman whose days are filled with Popsicle stains, sticky hands, and messy curls. You'll ignore images of a giggling baby and a nurturing Cuddy and instead embrace the idea that somehow it wouldn't have worked, and you'll try very hard never to tell her that.

Just as you'll never tell her that, maybe, just maybe, you never wanted her to have a kid.

Closed off to everything around you, you won't listen to Cuddy say when she's finished, "She… she looks… perfect," in a bittersweet voice. You won't even realize that she's talking to you until she utters your name pleadingly. Your eyes darting towards her, you'll see her hands clasped in front of her. And you'll know what she's going to say before she even has a chance to, and you'll let her say it anyway.

She needs to hear it, you'll reason.

So you'll calmly listen to her say, "It's like she's not even…" Cuddy will hesitate to speak the rest, but she will. Her gaze turning hopeful, she'll ask, "Why… can't we do… something?"

You'll stand there momentarily stunned. You'll have known that she was going to say that, but hearing it will be something different completely. For all your jokes of her idiocy, you still won't be prepared to listen to her abandon reason for someone she's never known.

And there will be many ways you can handle this, but you won't consider most of them. Because you'll realize that, while you can be nice about it, you shouldn't be. You can't be, because she can't leave here with any hope that this baby will be okay. Perhaps ironically, you'll want to be kind about it, want to soften the reality for her.

But you won't.

She'll be unprepared when you say, "Cuddy. It's been… two hours." And she'll physically flinch when you tell her, "Her organs have been without oxygen for too long. Even if she hadn't been born with defects in her brain, heart, and lungs." Or even if Cuddy hadn't accidentally shoved the baby's ribs through various body parts, you'll mentally add. Calmly, you'll tell her, "It's been too long. There's nothing to save. Your daughter is dead."

Still sitting in your office, you don't need to finish the rest of the thought process to know how Cuddy will react to hearing that. You don't need to imagine what will happen if you take the case and the kid dies. Because you can see it in Cuddy's eyes right now, as you mutter, "I'm not taking the case."

She looks at you like you've lost your mind, like she is losing her mind from having to deal with you. Anger, betrayal, and disbelief mingling together in her eyes, Cuddy takes a step closer to your desk. Her hands splaying on stacks of paper, she leans over the desk so she can get a better look at you. "You must be joking," she says, sounding not at all amused.

"I'm… not," you tell her simply.

She looks like she's ready to kill you. "Why not?" she asks through gritted teeth.

You smirk, preferring the familiarity of being an asshole to the odd feeling of being kind. "Well, as fun as it would be to poke around a pregnant woman, things might get a little tense if I kill my –"

"Don't you dare finish that sentence," she warns.

"Fine," you tell her with a shrug, noting the way her hands are curling into fists. You really don't want her to hit you, you think lazily. But even so, you push her further with your words. Curious you ask, "You think if I don't say it, it won't be possible? Think that works? Think if we all pretend the world is flat, it'll actually be true? Or that if we stop talking about my leg, I'll be –"

"Shut up," she snaps, standing up straight, as though her full height will intimidate you.

It doesn't.

Just as the way she folds her arms angrily across her chest doesn't or the way tears glistening in her blue eyes don't.

Bitterly, knowingly, Cuddy tells you, "I know you're interested in this case."

"Ooh, good for you," you reply sarcastically. "Would you like a gold star?"

Firmly, she continues, "So I can only assume that you won't take this case, because you've randomly decided that screwing with me will be fun."

Another cool response from you – "Yeah, that's exactly it."

"Then what's the problem?" she asks loudly.

And for that, you offer no answer.

Nodding her head as though she were expecting your silence, Cuddy says, "You don't want the case? Fine. But you're going to take it," she informs you. "I don't care that you don't want it. I'm your boss, and you will treat this woman."

"Gonna spank me if I don't?" you ask, waggling your eyebrows.

This time, she's the one to smirk. "Until you diagnose her, I'm suspending all of your other treatment privileges. Your team's as well."

Which sounds all right to you, you think. Better than being the one responsible for killing Cuddy's baby, you muse, as you use your cane to turn on your TV.

Of course, immediately Cuddy turns it off and reaches for your Lupus textbook. Her fingers angrily leafing through the pages to the part that you've cut away for a secret stash of Vicodin.

"Hey!" you exclaim, irritated, reaching forward to try and grab the bottle.

But she's too quick for you. And the pills in her hand, she tells you, "And I'm taking away your pills –"

"Cause detoxing and diagnosing go so well together," you interrupt.

"You start diagnosing, you get the Vicodin." A forced smile on her lips, she says, "Now, I suggest you get your ass up and start figuring out what's wrong before you're in too much pain to think." She sounds almost cheery at the thought.

And as she leaves your office, you make a mental note to keep Cuddy away from babies from now on; something about their tiny bodies and gurgling noises makes her bitchy, unhinged, and completely unbearable.

In short, they make her more like you and you like her, and frankly, you're tired of reining her in.

And in a way, you suppose you get that unmade wish fulfilled. Because in the end, things don't end happily ever after, and you don't kill the kid. It all goes the third way:

The birth mother changes her mind.

Cuddy's holding the red and bloodied squirming bundle wrapped in pink fleece. Cradling the newborn and cooing softly, she's so wrapped up in her own world inside of the OR that she doesn't hear the other woman ask to see the child. Only when you say her name does she look up.

Almost immediately, she can tell that something is wrong by the way your eyes insistently look at her over the edge of your surgical mask. Her joyous mood falling quickly, she looks stricken the moment you say, "She wants to see the baby."

At first, Cuddy stays rooted exactly where she is. Nearly unable to move, she would almost make you wonder if she heard – save for the way her fingers shifted against the bright pink blanket. You know she heard, know that she's listening to every word you say. And you don't need to be psychic to know what she's thinking when you tell her, "Give her the baby, Cuddy."

The look on her face says it all.

The lines of her forehead wrinkle together in confusion, in disbelief. There are no tears in her eyes – yet – but there will be; you're sure of it. Her mouth opening slightly, you can hear the way her breath hitches in surprise and fear. "What?" she asks unsure and searching, as though waiting to hear you say something different.

"She wants to see the kid," you tell her carefully.

Cuddy shakes her head instantly. Offended, she quietly says, "But…" The birth mother speaks up again, repeats her request, only this time sounding more insistent. And Cuddy immediately offers a "No." Harsh and reproaching, she isn't going to make this easy.

"I have a right to see my daughter," the woman on the operating table says, too drugged to notice the other doctor's stitching her abdomen up from the c-section.

Cuddy glances at you to do something, and when you say nothing, she protests, "But she's not your –"

"Yes, she is. And I want her."

They're at an impasse, and while you would like one of them to give up – or for Chase to bite the bullet and be the asshole – you know that's not going to happen. Especially not when Cuddy, the birth mother, and everyone else looks to you to play Judge Judy: Baby Mama Edition.

"House," Cuddy implores.

You know exactly what she wants you to say, and in theory, you're not automatically against that; you won't do the opposite in this case just to be a contrary bastard.

But you're thinking this through anyway; you can't help it. And you can't help but know how this will end.

Cuddy won't get the baby.

You can fight it – at least for a little while. You can try intimidation, but the birth mother, whatever the hell her name is, has the law on her side. And frankly, if she hasn't been discouraged from raising the kid herself after hearing for two days from you that she'll be a crappy parent, she'll probably never accept it.

She's got biology on her side as well, and Cuddy may have an agreement with the woman, but… it won't be enough.

Cuddy won't get the baby, you think once more, the immediate future for her bleak even to your own pessimistic mind.

Before you even have a chance to say anything, though, you notice the fury infusing itself with Cuddy's features. She knows what you're going to say, knows that you're not going to support her. And so you barely begin to utter the words, "Give her the baby," before she places the kid by the birth mother's side and storms out.

You don't follow her, don't plan on talking to her at all until she's calmed down. As much as you love uncomfortable and emotional conversations, you think sarcastically, you're going to sit this one out. Wait Cuddy out, because you know there's nothing you can say anyway that will make her feel better. And you're convinced that… somehow trying to comfort her will only make things worse.

You're convinced that, somehow, by offering clichés and words that sound clumsy and dishonest when coming from you, you'll make her believe that you think her pain is insignificant.

And you know that it's not.

So you decide to avoid Cuddy all together, which Wilson calls a stupid (and cowardly) move the moment you see him. Not that his opinion matters much, because you're not going to change your mind about this.

But then, it doesn't seem that what you think matters. Because, only moments after you close the door to your apartment and take the phone off the hook, she's there, pounding away.

Settling down on the couch, you don't plan to answer. Of course, you also don't plan on Cuddy shouting that she won't leave until you speak to her. "I saw your bike, House," she snarls from the other side. "And I am not going anywhere until you explain why you would…"

You don't pay attention to the rest of what she says, as you move towards the door; you already have an idea – insults, threats, etc.

Opening the door with a rattle, you don't bother to hide your irritation from her. And she returns the sentiment by shoving you aside, forcing herself into the apartment as your thigh twists awkwardly. It almost goes without saying that any good will you might have shown her has been destroyed. But you'll let her see just how much you don't want her around anyway. "Make it quick," you tell her, visibly annoyed. "I'm about to watch Girls Gone Wild and –"

"You are such an ass," she snarls.

"You just figure that out?" you ask, sounding surprised, as you slam the door shut behind you.

She laughs mirthlessly, scowling the entire time. "All these years, I've defended you – protected you from suing patients and the board and your team and even your best friend," she yells angrily.

"You want me to say thank you?" you ask bitterly.

Throwing her hands in the air, Cuddy shakes her head, frizzy strands of hair whipping around her face. "No," she says strongly. "No… I was just… I don't know – I guess I'm an idiot for thinking that you would do it, but I was just hoping that…" Her laugh is back, sounding slightly hysterical and mixed with the beginnings of tears. Trying once more, she finishes the thought, "I was just hoping you'd… do the same for me. But I guess I was wrong. Again."

Cuddy looks away from you at that admittance, but your eyes are trained completely on her. You're not sure what to say, what to tell her that will make her transform back into a rational human being again. So you slowly ask her, "What exactly were you hoping that I would do? Tell her that she can't have the baby? Let you walk out the OR with her, so you can spend a few days with the kid before social services comes and snatches her from you?"

You take a step away from the door but not near her; you're not sure why, but physical proximity is the last thing you want. "You think spending just enough time with that baby so you can change diapers and play house for a day or so would be enough for you?"

She doesn't answer the question.

And you're about to say more, but she looks you in the eyes then, and you can see, feel the heartbreak radiating from her. "She wouldn't have been… mine," she says, her voice thick with emotion. "I know that." Taking a deep breath, she continues, "But. It would have been… nice to see that… for once, your interest in me was more than just..." Her voice trails off as she tries to find the right words. "That it was more than just jealousy and possessiveness. That maybe you might actually be a human being and care about me as a person."

This time you do look away from her and her accusing eyes.

In truth, she's wrong; she is more to you than that, has been for a while, you admit to yourself. But somehow telling her that is a step you're not entirely sure you're ready to take… yet.

So you listen to her heels click along the floor as she heads towards the door again. Her grasp on the handle, she tells you bitterly, "Thank you. That's… all I needed to know really."

And she leaves you alone then, closing the door quietly behind her.

You don't chase after her – wouldn't even if your leg were willing to cooperate. Instead you pour yourself a few fingers of bourbon and chase that down with a Vicodin. Sipping at the drink slowly, you know that Wilson would say you're being an idiot.

He's… probably not wrong.

You've been so convinced this entire time that nothing you could have done would matter and that Cuddy would get over it, just as she moved on from all the other ways you've betrayed and hurt her over the years.

But.

You… were wrong about that, apparently.

In a way, you're not surprised that she's fed up or that she's hurt or even that she wanted you to do something. Sitting alone on your couch once more, you think you could have predicted all of those things had you really thought about it.

What is surprising is that you feel almost exactly the same way you felt after Amber died and Wilson left. He was your best friend, and you've been pretty adamant for a while that Cuddy is… Cuddy, whatever that means in your screwed up head. She's not your best friend, not someone whose judgment you imagined being even remotely concerned about.

But… she is your friend, and her judgment somehow does seem to matter, you realize. Absently rubbing at your thigh with the palm of your hand, you understand that… as much as you wanted to blame this on fear of change or an inability to change things, something else has been driving you all along.

You're afraid of hurting her.

Of being hurt by her.

Which is ironic, because, thanks to your actions, you've failed at achieving either end.

Sighing in defeat, you're determined to push it out of your mind. To pretend like none of this ever happened – that she didn't kiss you in the store, that you didn't fear killing her baby or being hurt, that you didn't hurt her in return.

And for the next week, you're almost able to do that. Your leg hurts like hell, and your arm is beginning to twinge too, but you're able to dull it with Vicodin and anything else you can get your hands on. Wilson annoys you to talk to her, to "tell her how you feel," whatever that means. And everyone else in the hospital looks at you when they think you're not looking; after all, the rumor mill is infatuated with the OR show down. Both of which you are also able to ignore, thanks to being stoned from all the pills.

But what's harder to ignore is the fact that Cuddy isn't around. That there's no one around to tell you to go to clinic or to stop making sexually explicit comments to your patients is too odd to pretend it's not happening. All these years, you've been wishing for Cuddy to go away and stop being annoying. And for all intents and purposes, that's exactly what she's done.

Which actually annoys you more.

So much so that you decide you'd better check on her and make sure she hasn't slit her wrists.

Taking your motorcycle over to her house, you knock once. When she doesn't answer, you simply shrug and find a key under a flowerpot on the porch; if she's not there, you'll wait, and if she is, then you can get this over with.

Closing the door behind you quietly, you notice a light on in the living room and head that way. Once again the irony of the situation hits you, as you, standing in the hallway, notice that she has a box cutter in her hands. Only instead of slashing her wrists, she's packing boxes.

She's putting away the baby things she's bought, you quickly deduce. Not that the puzzle's hard to solve, you admit, eyeing a stuffed bunny peaking out of its cardboard confines. Surprisingly, the smallest amount of melancholy flits through your body, promptly squashed by Cuddy's cool voice. "I didn't answer the door for a reason, House."

Her tones are calm, raspy in a way that only comes from crying too much. She doesn't sound angry, which is a good thing, you decide. Or maybe she is, and she's just too exhausted to show it. She's sitting on the floor, and you can't see her face to know which one it is. But when she does turn to look at you, you're convinced it's the latter. Even more convinced when she asks dejectedly, "What do you want?"

"Doing some spring cleaning?" you ask, unconcerned about the odd transition.

"Not like I need any of this," she says honestly, standing up.

And from this angle, you can tell: she looks like crap. Her eyes are bloodshot, nose chapped probably from blowing it too much. Her hair messily pulled back, it goes with the rumpled sweat pants and gray t-shirt she's wearing.

Not that you look much better in your leather jacket and two-day old button down shirt, you realize. But it's odd, nonetheless, to see her looking this way.

Your eyes never leaving her, you notice almost immediately the way she shifts under your assessment. Nervousness not the response you were looking for, you meet her gaze. Which prompts her to admit, "I'm giving it all to Becca."

You… honestly have no idea who that is.

Rolling her eyes, Cuddy answers the unspoken question, "The… mother."

"That's nice," you blurt out before you can stop yourself.

Just an undercurrent of judgment is there, a lot less than normal, you think. But it's enough that it doesn't go unnoticed by her. And she responds honestly when she tells you, "Go to hell."

You don't know how to say what you know needs to be said. The words not coming with any ease, you're not surprised when she turns her back to you. Not surprised when she decides to ignore you and returns to her task. Silence, except for few sounds of Cuddy taping a couple lids shut, quickly ensues.

And somehow that makes it easier – and paradoxically harder – for you. Paying no attention to you, she's taken all the pressure off of you; she's not waiting for you to say something, for you to defend yourself, as she was a week ago. But…

As the unnatural quiet lingers on, the fear inside of you grows. You don't want to listen to that part of you, that part that encourages doubts and hasty exit strategies. You don't want to leave her without telling her the truth. But the demons inside of you are hard to ignore, have always had some control over you – whether you wanted them to or not.

Your heart beating faster, your palms beginning to sweat, you understand that it's now or never. And as a voice inside of you pleads for the never, you know that that's not really what you want.

Opening your mouth, the words unrehearsed and arrhythmic, you admit, "I didn't… it wasn't – I didn't want the case, because I didn't want to kill the kid."

You would believe that you only thought the words in your head if not for the way your voice seemed to echo through the room and the way Cuddy's hands froze in mid-air.

As it is, you do believe that you've said the wrong thing entirely when she doesn't turn to you right away.

The seconds ticking by, you're absolutely certain you've just irrevocably ruined things with her. Each moment passing by slowly and simultaneously quickly, you're becoming increasingly convinced that you should leave. That you should limp away in defeat and pretend like the whole thing never happened.

And you're about to do that when she suddenly turns to you, forgiveness in her eyes.

She moves closer to you; you don't dare take a step in any direction. You don't even consider breathing at that moment, because you're unsure of what she'll say or do.

Her own steps are tentative as it is. And only when she's a foot in front of you do you see the suspicion. Or maybe that's the wrong word for it, because in her light blue irises, you don't see the skepticism that goes along with being suspicious. Rather, glancing back at you is the need for… confirmation, that she heard you right.

So you play the one card you have left. Your voice tentative and unsure, you say, "I'm… sorry you didn't get the baby, Cuddy."

Her gaze turns watery, the corners of her lips turning upward in a weak smile. And she slowly nods her head as the apology washes over her. Her entire body seems to sigh at that moment, relaxes in a way you never would have thought possible. Everything about her so… sad and beautiful in its own way, you don't know what motivates you to do it, but you take a step towards her.

The raw pain still radiating off of her, the unusual desire to soothe welling inside of you, you kiss her.

Your lips as tentative as your words were, you are uncharacteristically delicate with her. Not daring enough to touch her with your hands, you're more awkward than you want. Her lips trembling against yours, you kiss her softly and slowly before pulling away. There's nothing sexual about it; for the first time since you can really remember, you're not thinking about her even remotely in that way.

You're asking for something more, something different than that. You're pretty sure that you two will never cross that line into lovers ever again. If there'd ever been a doubt in the back of your mind, somehow… that seems gone now.

It's not that you don't look at her that way, because you know that you do. She's beautiful, and you'll never be blind to that.

It's just that… now, you want… to be someone she genuinely likes and not the guy she just doesn't despise. You want… to be her friend and to see her as something other than the-person-you-go-to-when-Wilson's-pissed.

And for a second, you're convinced that you'll never have that with her. Her silence seems too telling.

But then, her voice soft and honest, she tells you, "Thank you."

And that means more to you than you ever thought possible.

The End