Author's Notes: This fic will be a series of vignettes, some moments more tightly related than others. They are thematically related, not necessarily chronologically so; the first section, a real moment, sets up the other five fake moments in the chapter. Thank you to my beta, Olly, for helping me and encouraging me to finish this.
Please read and review.
Disclaimer: I don't own it.
Twenty Moments of a life Never Lived
By Duckie Nicks
Her muscles were unbearably tense, shaking fingers pressed tightly against the warm paper curves of her coffee cup. Her nerves frayed for reasons caffeine couldn't even begin to explain, Cuddy was only relieved that Becca still slept. The other woman's hazel eyes flecked with golds and greens were closed, dark lashes delicately kissing her thick cheeks. Messy blonde strands that Cuddy wished she would brush were splayed out all over the hospital's pillow. Becca's face peaceful, all in all, she looked completely different than Cuddy herself did.
The contrast between them stark like ink on paper, like "choose the baby and the mother will die," it felt wrong that even one of them should be so relaxed, given the situation. A scenario so unimaginable, so terrible, and yet so very real, it, perhaps ironically, ate away solely at the woman untied to it. Becca didn't seem to care in that moment, was too ignorant to know just what was at stake; a baby couldn't understand, Cuddy knew that much.
Which left her, the one unrelated, to worry about woman and child.
Throat lurching shut with coffee and cream, concern and fear, Cuddy could feel her own body reject the sentiment she desperately tried to convince herself of. She was not unrelated, not impartial, nor a free-floating entity coined "doctor" whose judgments could solely be based on medical fact.
She was involved.
Try as she might to believe otherwise, Cuddy could not.
And that wasn't for a lack of effort on her part; she really did want to believe that she had no stake in this, because it was… safer. House had decided that she wasn't ready to become a mother, and that… by changing her stupid shirt, she was admitting that she wasn't sure she wanted this baby. But the truth was…
Of all the things Cuddy knew to be true, this was the one that seemed blessed with the weight of timelessness. Medical facts, gravity, "everybody lies," and House acting like a child all ephemeral truths by comparison, wanting the little girl growing inside of Becca was an absolute fact.
But House hadn't been completely wrong; he'd been right to say that, without Becca's cooperation, Cuddy would get nothing. And whereas that fear had been allayed before by giving the young woman reassuring smiles and trying to be nice, it would not go away quietly now.
The bleak reality settling in on Cuddy's shoulders once more, she let out a quiet sigh. Air hitching in her throat like a broken rattle trying to soothe, it was a reaction she couldn't suppress, even if she wanted to. Because as safer as it was to pretend as though she had no stake in this, to tell herself that, if Becca chose herself, it would be okay, Cuddy could not believe that. Because…
This was her child.
A warm hand tentatively unwinding from the coffee mug, she carefully leaned forward across the bed. Gentle fingertips lightly touching the rounded curve of Becca's stomach, Cuddy searched. Palm pressed into the papery patterned hospital gown, she hoped the younger woman would stay asleep. The womb decidedly not Cuddy's but the moment absolutely belonging to her, she didn't want to share this.
Especially when she felt her.
Becca's stomach shifting quickly all of a sudden, the firm skin pushed back against Cuddy's touch.
The smile appearing on Cuddy's sullen face almost immediately, it did not escape her that her own child was consoling her. The role reversal one Cuddy wished never to experience again, she silently promised – to God, her daughter, whoever – that from now on, it would be her job to reassure. Skinned knees already kissed and bandaged, monsters under the bed already slayed and nightmares soothed before they'd been had, Cuddy would do for her baby exactly what the little girl still in utero had already done for her.
Cuddy would do all of those things, because she was this child's mother.
Her burning eyes glancing over to the fetal monitor, she only wished she wouldn't have to start doing it until two weeks from now.
I. Two Weeks Old
In the years after becoming Dean of Medicine, Cuddy could not deny that her life had taken on a particular routine. Work out in the morning, work until five, dinner at six (or later, depending on traffic), bills and paperwork afterwards, a cup of herbal tea at ten, bed at eleven – she had a schedule that she rarely broke.
Actually, thinking about it some more, Cuddy realized that she never broke her routine herself. It was always work, usually House, who caused interruptions. Because she had no boyfriend, no personal life, no family – nothing that distracted normal people from a life of chamomile and paper.
From now on, that would never be the case again.
Oh, there was still dinner at six and tea at ten; there were still bills to pay and stacks of paperwork to take care of. But now there were things in between and after, little moments to fill in the gaps of her life, to change her day from meaningless to momentous.
Because now there were bottles to warm up at three hour intervals and diapers to change. There were soft circles to rub on a cotton-covered back and lullabies to sing over colicky cries every so often.
There was a ton of laundry to do, the amount of clothes with baby vomit on it far outweighing the clean things Cuddy had left to wear.
There was no sleep. An hour here and there was the most she could hope for, and that was hardly anything at all. Fussy cries waking her seemingly the minute she closed her eyes, Cuddy would have never guessed that being this deliriously happy was possible.
But it was.
Obviously it was, because even though she was exhausted, her hair knotted and gross, she was… happier than she had ever been.
Looking down at the little girl in her arms, a thin layer of blonde fuzz beginning to cover the baby's head, Cuddy could feel her heart ache with a fullness she had never known. Sleepy blue eyes meeting another set as the child's lips tugged on the bottle, Cuddy watched fascinated.
Joy was only two weeks old, still far too young to do much besides cry and sleep. But to Cuddy, that didn't matter. Because this was her daughter.
Cuddy was someone's – no, this child's Mommy.
And frankly, that was interesting enough.
II. Seven Months Old
Tiny feet kicked arhythmically against the plastic of the high chair. A cane meticulously tapped against the linoleum floor in regular intervals. Two babies in the room, one smearing oatmeal onto the high chair tray with her hands, the other chomping arrogantly on an apple he had not asked for, Cuddy wasn't sure how an only child household could have so much sibling rivalry.
Apparently, she thought with a sigh, she had underestimated House's ability to insinuate himself into her life. And in that moment, the mother couldn't help but be grateful that she had adopted a child and had, as a result, not been able to nurse. Because, in her mind anyway, there was absolutely no doubt that House would have been right there as Joy ate, pawing at Cuddy's other breast for milk.
As it were, the man-child in her kitchen wasn't too happy to share her attention. Not that she could seriously blame him in this instance.
Cuddy's mind caught between her chubby-cheeked Caravaggio refusing to eat the breakfast on the spoon held out to her, the oatmeal splatting onto the ground and Joy's clothes, and the symptoms House was listing as justification for a dangerous test – she couldn't really concentrate on much of anything.
Pulling the bowl of quickly cooling oatmeal out of Joy's reach (much to the little girl's dismay), Cuddy caught the tail end of House's argument. Or rather, she heard him take a quick detour from medical fact to personal insult. "Elevated heart rate, liver failure… you're not listening to me. Your breasts are lop-sided, you know. And your vagina -"
Turning away from her daughter, Cuddy gave the intruder a threatening look. "Finish that sentence, and you will never get me to sign off on –"
"Cause standing here, watching a baby outsmart you is oh so productive," he pointed out irritably. And as if on cue, Joy punctuated the moment by knocking the yellow plastic bowl of oatmeal onto the floor. The clatter quickly followed by the blonde clapping her sticky hands together in excitement, it was proof enough that breakfast was over.
Picking the bowl up off of the floor, Cuddy told House, "I'm sorry that I can't give you my full attention." Her voice only sounded halfway sincere, she thought as she placed the dirty bowl into the sink. "But you need to accept that things are different now and that I can't put everything on hold for you." Wetting a sponge, she gave him a meaningful glance before heading back to the high chair.
Meticulously, Cuddy began to scrub the oatmeal off of everything in sight – her daughter's tiny hands and delicate mouth, the tray of the high chair and the linoleum. It was hardly a task she wanted to do – especially when bending over to clean the floor meant giving House a great shot of her ass. But if there was one thing Cuddy had learned over the months since bringing Joy home, it was that messes needed to be cleaned the second they occurred or else they never would be taken care of.
"Yeah, that's great," House replied sarcastically. "My patient's dying at roughly the same rate you've lost brain cells to this… this thing, and –"
Cuddy immediately, absent-mindedly corrected, "Joy is a baby, not a thing." How many times was she going to have to tell him that?
But he ignored the correction and kept talking. "He might actually live if you let me do this procedure right now." He was getting louder, angrier, and in return, she could feel her own breathing start to become more shallow, a blush spreading across her cheeks, and a growl threatening to escape her. Especially when he told her, "But I'll wait till you get your head out of your baby's butt. We have plenty of time, cause it's not like it's a matter of life and death or anything," he told her snidely. "If he dies now, I'll be sure to tell the widow we could have saved her husband, but it was more important that the parasite ate all of her –"
"Right," she snapped, spinning around to glare at him. "Because this isn't wasting time? You standing here yelling at me and insulting my daughter? That's not completely distracting you from your diagnosis and from getting your damn test approval?"
Her own voice was now louder than it needed to be, angrier than it should have been. Her tone one House was definitely familiar with by now, it was one, however, that Joy had never heard. The animosity and curtness in Cuddy's voice so out of place, it was surprising, but not entirely so, that the little girl promptly burst into tears.
Joy's sobs loud and shrill, she screamed. Her cries containing no words, as Cuddy spun around, it was impossible not to understand what the little girl wanted. Big brown eyes wide, fearful, and watery with tears, plump cheeks red and pink lips turned down into a frown – she was afraid, her tiny hands reaching out for Mommy.
And Cuddy was eager to give her child exactly what she wanted. Easily plucking Joy out of the plastic confines of the high chair, Cuddy held her sticky daughter close. The hand supporting the little girl patting her diapered bottom reassuringly, the other hand brushed back thin blonde curls sticky with oatmeal.
A litany of kisses placed along Joy's warm forehead followed by whispers and reassurances of, "It's okay" and "It's all right," the baby in her arms was all Cuddy could focus on.
Her attention completely undivided, she hadn't even noticed that House was making his way towards her front door. His presence only known when he muttered, "Babies never fight fair," it was another reminder of why Joy was absolutely Cuddy's favorite baby.
It wasn't until much later, after a bath and nap, that the mother realized House was right:
Babies didn't fight fair.
Because, in that moment, there was no doubt in Cuddy's mind that he'd left to do the test anyway, regardless of what she might have said had he stuck around.
III. Three Years Old
She was exhausted, in desperate need of calamine lotion, Benadryl, and sleep in equal measures. The last two nights of dealing with Joy's chicken pox and now her own unnecessary bout with shingles having completely worn her out, Cuddy was more than ready to slather the antipruritc on them both, drug them to the gills, and fall asleep before the sun set.
She'd earned a night as uncomplicated as that. She hadn't itched the rash sprawled across her stomach, arms, and chest - well, not that much anyway. She'd done all the work she would have ordinarily taken home with her, and more impressive than anything else, Cuddy hadn't scratched House's eyes out in an act of living vicariously when he'd quipped loudly that she'd given her own daughter herpes.
All in all, she'd been good the entire day, earning cosmic brownie points from who knew what.
But if she'd expected to collect with an easy evening, Cuddy realized very quickly how mistaken she was. The calamine lotion was gone, as was the Benadryl she wanted to take. The child's version of the same drug was still nestled in her medicine cabinet, but the bubble gum flavored Pedialyte and those repulsive little hot dogs designed for toddlers – otherwise known as the sole things Joy would willingly eat when she wasn't feeling well – were almost gone.
And that meant, instead of going home after work, Cuddy had to drag her sick, itchy, and post-nap preschooler to the grocery store.
Which seemed like a perfectly horrible way to end the day.
The unbidden images of having to convince her cranky daughter that ten minutes in the grocery store was necessary coming to mind, it was with great dismay that Cuddy drove to the supermarket.
But, whether a gift from God or just sheer luck, the trip turned out so much better than she could have ever anticipated.
Joy's tiny face pressed into the collar of her mother's coat, long blonde hair tickling Cuddy's forearm, the sick child seemed reluctant to part with her naptime. Caught between that warm nexus of wanting to wake up and explore the bright lights of the store and remain asleep in her mother's warm embrace, the little girl allowed herself to be carried around the grocery store.
Only occasionally waking up – usually to the metallic ting of something being added to the cart – Joy was content to stay where she was. Sooty lashes only parting for a fraction of a second, a tiny hand irritably pushed strands of blonde hair out of her face when she did wake up. Big brown eyes lost with the unfamiliar sights around her, she would look left and right and then up.
The sight of her Mommy, though partially obscured by light and dark hair, was enough to make Joy sigh and lay her head back down without a word.
IV. Five Years Old
From the beginning, Cuddy was honest about the adoption with everyone, including her own daughter. Afraid that lying implied shame, and even more afraid that House would tell Joy the truth in the most insensitive way imaginable, she really only ever could tell the truth.
But as someone who didn't know where babies came from, Joy had a hard time understanding what "adoption" precisely meant. Or rather, she could comprehend that there had been another woman involved, another mommy who had known she couldn't give her baby all of the things a baby deserved.
And frankly, Cuddy had thought that, for now anyway, that was enough to know. Joy didn't need to know that she hadn't spent thirty-eight weeks in her mother's womb; she didn't need to know that they didn't share DNA or any of the other things she was too young to truly understand.
But then, leave it to House to change that in a conversation that could have only lasted thirty seconds at most.
Having been allowed the privilege of a lollipop, Joy had trotted out of Cuddy's office that afternoon. A prideful smile on her delicate features, the little girl had disappeared into the clinic, her blonde curls swinging behind her.
A minute later, or maybe it was two, when she skipped back into the office, a giant grin on her face, Cuddy was anything but prepared for her daughter, sans lollipop, to exclaim as loudly as she could, "I just saw a woman's boobies in the clinic, Mommy! And there was a baby, and Dr. House says that if you squeeze hard enough, milk comes out of her boobs!" Joy spoke as though she'd just discovered the grossest, coolest, weirdest thing ever, and much to Cuddy's dismay, she was not the sole one to hear about such a discovery.
The door connecting her office to her secretary's was still wide open, Joy hanging in the doorframe. The door to the clinic was also open, the breastfeeding mother in the clinic no doubt aware that she was being viewed as little more than an animal in the circus.
And, of course, there was the reason Joy had been sent to get a lollipop in the first place: the conference call that Cuddy was having on speakerphone with one of her most generous donors. His muffled chuckles were audible as Joy turned the question back to her and started to ask, "Does that mean if I squeeze your –"
"I'm going to have to call you back, David," Cuddy said quickly, harried, her cheeks red and hand reaching to hang up the phone before he'd even had a chance to agree.
The receiver clattering loudly back into its cradle, the noise was muffled by the sound of Cuddy fluidly standing up and stalking toward the door. "Joy…" She was trying to hedge, trying to keep her daughter who clearly needed another reminder of what constituted an outdoor conversation quiet.
"I wanna know," Joy said in a tone that was somewhere between a whine and a warning.
But instead of an explanation, Cuddy quietly, unceremoniously guided, a hand pressing between her shoulder blades, her child into her office. Closing the door behind them, the mother tried very hard not to notice the amused look her assistant was sending her way. And honestly, that was pretty easy to do when Cuddy caught sight of House.
His body leaning against the nurse's desk, a lollipop in his mouth, he was obviously watching her, wanting to see what she would do.
Through the wooden rods running along the door, Cuddy shot him a glare.
"Mommy?" The voice much more tentative than the insistent hand tugging at the hem of her shirt, Joy repeated her name. "Is it true?"
Trying to find the words she should say to her daughter, Cuddy silently guided the little girl to the couch in her office. The two sitting next to one another, she decided to go for honesty, if only because, once again, lying would hurt Cuddy herself in the long run. Especially if House ever told Joy the truth. Which seemed inevitable now.
"Is it true, is it true?" the little girl repeated a couple of times, her voice singsong.
Brown eyes becoming wider and brighter with realization, Joy squealed, "It is true!" Her daughter excitedly pulling her short legs onto the couch, she scrambled to move closer to Cuddy and onto her lap.
"Yes, Joy, but –" Her words were abruptly cut off by an uncharacteristic squeal of her own; two cold hands practically pawing at her chest, Cuddy, red-faced and dismayed, couldn't help but think wryly that this was almost as bad as going on a date with House.
Silently, she plucked Joy's hands off of her body. "Nooooo," the little girl whined, a pout quickly pulling on her lips. "I want milk!"
"I don't have any milk to give," Cuddy replied loudly, flustered that this conversation was even taking place. "And even if at some point I did," she added immediately. "You are five years old – plenty old enough to use a cup."
Joy folded her arms angrily across her chest. "But Dr. House said –"
"What have I told you about listening to Dr. House?" Cuddy interrupted, peering down at her daughter.
"'Never, ever, ever listen to Dr. House,'" the little girl intoned in a way that sounded exactly as though Cuddy herself had said it.
Which made Cuddy curious. "Are you pretending to be me when you say that?" Joy's enthusiastic nod made her smile.
Less amusing was House piping up at that moment, "Got the voice right, but the ass needs a lot of work if she wants to really be you." Of course he would curse in front of her child without a concern in the world.
Her lips quickly turning downward into something that was half-frown, half-scowl, Cuddy told him, "I hope you're happy."
"Oh, I'm thrilled," he quipped.
"Joy isn't," she pointed out. "Now, I'm going to have to explain why –"
Waving her concern off, House replied, "She'll get over it."
"We all have disappointments in life, Cuddy." Seriously he added, "If I can accept that you don't have beer-flavored nipples –"
"Not that I'll be letting you within five feet of them now even if I did," she muttered, gently pushing Joy off of her lap before standing up. A punishment for him quickly forming in her mind, Cuddy was also aware that it would be a good way to get Joy out of her hair – at least long enough for her to finish the phone conversation she'd tried to have earlier.
"You've been saying that for years," House told her as she rummaged through her purse for cash. "I've yet to see you actually stick to –"
"Want to see me stick to something, House?" Not giving him the chance to respond, Cuddy turned to Joy, who had started to pick at the flowers on her coffee table. "Come here, sweetheart," she said kindly, holding a hand out to the little girl.
"Since you want milk," Cuddy explained, brushing a stray strand of blonde hair out of her daughter's face. "Dr. House here is going to take you to the cafeteria."
Joy's cheer was only outdone by House's groan. Placing the twenty-dollar bill into Joy's small hands, Cuddy said, "You're going to by him some French fries, so he doesn't cry like a baby." As an afterthought, she told her, "Don't give him any of the change, sweetheart."
"Okay," Joy said with an exaggerated nod of the head.
"And," Cuddy added. "You can explain to Dr. House why it's important to be nice to other –"
"Says the woman letting her three year old –"
"I'm not three," Joy interrupted angrily.
"Really?" House asked looking down at the blonde girl who had her hands on her hips. "Cause you look like you're two."
"I am five and two quarters, you moron!" Ignoring him when he pointed out that two quarters were the same as a half, Joy stomped over to him and grabbed his hand. "I don't care," she told him irritably. "Now lets go before I kick you."
As she tugged him along, House glanced back at Cuddy, who was too amused at the way her daughter was bossing him around to chastise her.
Not that Cuddy really could correct her daughter for calling House a moron or for threatening him. After all, how many times a day did she find herself doing that?
Flinging the door to her office open, Joy pulled House along. His steps slower than hers, he used the extra time to tell Cuddy, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you spawned her in that cold, barren womb of yours and nursed her with your bitter harpy milk yourself."
The words lacking any real bite, the meaning remained with Cuddy longer after the pair left. Long ago, the mother had understood that her daughter didn't particularly care for House. He was rude and competitive and occasionally down right mean, and honestly Joy responded in kind.
And yet that never stopped the two from spending time together, despite Cuddy's efforts to keep House away.
The friendship (for lack of a better word) between Joy and House completely inexplicable and yet somehow unbreakable, it had been proof of a fact Cuddy had already learned to accept; it was the same truth House was saying in not so many words now:
Like mother, like daughter.
V. Fourteen Years Old
Ever since Wilson got married (again), House found himself spending an increasing amount of time with Cuddy. Which was easy, considering they'd become closer over the years anyway. Occasionally relying on one another for support, even more commonly finding themselves in bed together, they had slowly, seamlessly transitioned into something that couldn't quite fit under the umbrella of friendship.
Which wasn't to say, of course, that House was okay with seeing less of Wilson. Cuddy, even at her age, had a great ass, but her cooking couldn't compare to Wilson's. The fish in front of him now good but not nearly as good as Wilson's pancakes, it just wasn't the same.
Of course, Cuddy was… nicer overall about the whole thing. Or maybe that wasn't precisely true, but she was willing to get up and refill his plate, and House (and his leg) was grateful for that.
Then again, as she was dishing up another piece of Tilapia for him, Joy, who was ten minutes late for dinner, rushed into the house. And he couldn't help but think that no amount of courtesy from Cuddy could make up for the childhood memories being evoked. His stomach turning slightly at the memory appearing before his eyes, House was helpless to stop it.
Half-expecting Cuddy to yell or send the other Cuddy away without food, he felt trapped. Unable to avoid the train that would surely wreck itself in the kitchen right then and there.
"Sorry I'm late," Joy said. "Some idiot decided today would be a good day to return two years' worth of overdue books to the library. I got stuck behind him."
Cuddy frowned. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. Hungry?" The words murmured sympathetically, the lateness gone essentially unnoticed, it was so… unfamiliar to him.
Oh, he had known as a child that his father's treatment was unfair, and long after that, yes, he had realized that it bordered on abuse. But even so, nevertheless, he couldn't help but be taken with this tiny, banal moment that he was witnessing.
"No," she replied immediately, her own gaze turning to House. Brightly, she said, "But feel free to give my share to the dog." A smirk spread across her face, but it still wasn't enough to bait House, who was still too surprised to respond. Stunned, Joy said, "Okay… I'm going to go study."
It wasn't until long after she left, after Cuddy had said it was too late for him to drive home, and after they'd settled in bed together, her stomach pressed into his back, that he spoke. "I was thinking today… you're not bad at this."
The hand that had been tenderly running up and down his injured thigh paused. "Not bad at what?" she asked tiredly, her breath warm against the back of his neck.
His answer was hesitant, quiet. "Being… a mother."
Her immediate response is an "Oh" followed by silence. After a brief pause, Cuddy said, "Well, you've already had sex, so that can't be what you want. So… unless I'm missing something," she concluded, sounding confused. Coming out as a half-sentence, half-question, she finished, "You actually mean it?"
He said nothing, eliciting another, "Oh," this one more surprised, from her.
Snottily she finally said, "Well, it's only been fourteen years since I adopted Joy." Her tones softening, she eventually conceded, "But it's nice to hear you say that."
And House couldn't help but ruin the moment then. The conversation turning into something too… meaningful, he had to ask, "So do I get laid now?"
"No," she told him harshly, the smiling lips pressed against his neck daring him to press his luck.
End Part 1