Author's Notes: This fic contains spoilers and speculation (as this was written before it aired) for episode 5x23. If you'd rather not be spoiled, please turn away now. This fic also contains sex, so if that bothers you, do not proceed. For those of you who do read, please read and review.

Disclaimer: I don't own it.

I am in the dark Beside You
By Duckie Nicks

A fly lazily circles near the buzzing fluorescent lighting in the room. The edges of the black insect distorted by the harsh light, the creature's been making elongated loops for the past ten minutes. And House knows this, because he's been watching it for that amount of time.

It's kind of pathetic that a fly is his greatest source of entertainment, but at the moment, he's willing to welcome any sort of distraction with open arms, because if there's one thing he's learned in the last three days, it's this:

Psychiatric hospitals are incredibly boring places to be.

In the back of his mind, he can hear Wilson chastising him for being flip, telling him that people don't check themselves into mental institutions for the entertainment. So too can House hear himself responding to the imaginary Wilson in his mind that he didn't come here to dwell on just how crazy he's become.

And that's really what it comes down to: he doesn't want to think about that.

About her – or that part of his mind that's decided to appear to him as her, anyway.

Continuing to stare purposefully at the fly above him, House doesn't dare glance towards his left where she's perched. Which is stupid and pointless, he knows, because it's kind of impossible to ignore something your own mind is creating.

"It's also impossible to keep the fact that you're thinking about me a secret," Amber suddenly offers, a smirk on her face, he knows, even if he doesn't glance her way. And clearly unimpressed by his silence, she starts to prod him, her voice taunting, "You know you can't ignore me. I'm part of you, House."

He says nothing in return – as hard as it is to do that. After years, decades, spent blurting out the first thing he can think of, it's a bizarre turn of events that has forced him to think about what he wants to say, that has forced him to learn to keep quiet when all he wants to do is snap and respond to the annoyance that won't leave him alone.

But House supposes that, if there's one thing that can make a person change, it's the very real possibility of being forced to share your mind with someone – no, something – else, being stripped of your privacy, your identity for the rest of your life. It's the potent possibility that he'll have to spend his days holding his breath, hoping that his mind won't betray him, that his hallucinations won't appear at the wrong moment and tell him to do the wrong thing again.

It's the future, so tangible he thinks he can feel it encroaching upon his present, that consists of being second-guessed and coddled, of Cuddy babysitting him with eyes that never trust or waver.

Not that he would really be able to blame her, he realizes.

Nearly killing Chase has proven that he needs as much.

Ever since he discovered he couldn't trust Amber – well, what passed for her these days – a cloying sense of fear had seized hold of him. Every decision needed to be agonized over, debated over within himself as though he could somehow divorce his decision making from the parts of his mind Amber had access to.

That there was and is no such secret place, that there is no part of himself that is his own, makes acting alone an impossible task. And if in the last couple weeks he's made any choices, none of them have been made in complete confidence.

If anything, House wonders just how autonomous he's really been lately. The cochlear implant wasn't him; neither were the strawberries and Karamel.

At least, this is what he chooses to believe, the other option, that he somehow really wanted to hurt Chase, too frightening to consider.

And it's that thought that makes the Bitch laugh. "Who are you kidding," she asks, sounding amused at his musings. "We both know you'd rather be a murderer than a nut."

Taking a deep breath, House knows that he's not supposed to talk to something that's not real. He's been in this God forsaken place, on his own volition, for three days, but already, he's learned (as though it weren't common sense) that you're not supposed to talk to your hallucinations.

But at the moment, he can't resist. "Some would say those aren't mutually exclusive." Cocking his head towards her, he's not surprised to see her towering over him, long blond hair spilling over her shoulders in a way that makes her seem angelic in the harsh fluorescent lighting.

Only her presence is anything but something straight from heaven. The rough juxtaposition jarring, it's almost enough to make him breathless. And it takes him time to recover, but eventually he is able to point out, "Some would say those are the same thing."

She's on the bed with him then, lying down right next to him, her arm touching his. He didn't see her move, but then again, he rarely does. Of course, he supposes that when you're not really real, you don't need to rely on things like walking to move around.

"Fine," Amber concedes, her shoulders shrugging, despite the fact that he can't feel the limp mattress shift at the movement. "If you want to play 'where'd I last put my sanity,' I'm game." A smirk on her peach-tinted lips, she asks, "Did you check behind the milk carton in the fridge?"

He doesn't answer her question, but she does have a point. If he really is crazy, and all signs point to yes, then it's probably impossible to tell just when it was he divorced himself completely from reality.

Nevertheless, lying in the hospital's poor imitation of a bed, House can't help but wonder how he got here.

Obviously, he knows how he literally got to the hospital; he's not that crazy.


But in any case, he thinks it's weird that only a month or so ago, he'd thought that having Amber in his head was a gift.

Or maybe it's not weird, he concedes to himself (and to her as well), because he thinks part of him had been simply too curious about how the whole situation worked to wish it away. Just as he'd been with so many things, he'd needed to understand the mechanics before he could judge. He'd needed to see the system at work before deciding it was a flop.

And maybe… just maybe, part of him had embraced her, because it had given him the feeling that there was someone who understood him, because it had meant that he wasn't alone.

Of course, House thinks now that that sounds absolutely insane – finding solace in something that's not real. Especially since looking back on the last month, he can see how he'd pushed his team away and separated himself from everyone else at the bachelor party to be with her. Which means that she couldn't possibly have been making him feel less alone; Amber could have only exacerbated it.

And when put like that, he guesses that it's really not all that odd that he should himself scrambling to keep things together, to shove her back into the deepest, darkest recesses of his mind before anyone else realized that he was seeing her.

Things hadn't turned out the way he wanted them to, obviously. The sleeping pills hadn't worked. Ignoring her hadn't worked. Even trying to kill her by nearly killing himself hadn't worked.

And that knowledge makes him sigh in defeat.

He When he thinks about that last one…

"That was pretty stupid, don't you think?" Amber interrupts, finishing the thought for him, arms folded across her chest in irritation.

She's still pissed about that; he can feel her displeasure acutely, because it breathes and lives inside of him.

But if House feels guilty about injecting himself unnecessarily with insulin, it's not because of her. That emotion is all – entirely without a doubt – for Wilson, for the one terrified to lose him and who had the unlucky fortune of finding him.

House frowns at the memory of waking up to his angry and terrified friend. They've been down this road too many times before, and he's not sure how many more times he can do it before there's no amount of pleading that can make Wilson stay. Even this last time, House thinks that if his father hadn't died, his best friend wouldn't have come back.

And right now, when he has no case to distract him from all of the recriminations he's been pushing to the side in the blind hope that they will lag behind his frantic pace, he can only think of that fact.

Wilson would have left forever if not for that one stroke of luck.

And because of that, House thinks that he really should reconsider being the burden that he knows he is.

But at the time, that couldn't have been farther from his mind. When he was sitting in his office with the syringe in his hand, he wasn't thinking about how this would affect himself much less his best friend.

All he knew was that he had a patient losing her skin and a dead woman appearing in front of him as though she were some sort of zombie-Jesus hybrid, and both of those things needed to be taken care of. And since sleeping pills and ignoring her, confessing part of the truth to Wilson (that he was hallucinating) and hoping that he would know what to do, House did what he thought made the most sense.

Angrily jabbing the needle into his arm, he relished the temporary satisfaction of feeling the pin prick his skin, her skin. The drugs snaking through their shared blood, he stared at Amber defiantly, both of them waiting for what was about to come.

His pupils beginning to dilate, the harsh light of the room began to make it difficult for him to see her. Which meant that the insulin was doing its job: it was dangerously lowering his blood sugar like he wanted.

Beads of sweat began to form along his brow, and he had to close his eyes to keep himself from hissing in pain. Amber completely disappearing from his view, he wasn't able to look at her. But he could tell just by the way it was affecting him that it was getting to her as well.

That was the last intelligible thought he had. Intense anxiety washing over him hotly, he suddenly became unable to think, unable to process what was happening.

He no longer knew where he was, who he was. He had no name, no ambitions, no feeling save for the overwhelming fear that something was wrong. His hands trembled, every inch of his body quickly becoming covered in a continuous sheet of sweat. His rational mind shut off completely, the fear and hot blood coursing through him was the only way he knew that he was still alive.

He collapsed onto the floor, his body convulsing violently, lashing out in a way he wasn't used to. No longer a human being, he was simply a hot ball of need, though he could not name what it was he was in want of. Pain roiled through him as he seized on the unforgiving floor. Contusions forming along his body, his muscles feeling as though they were being ripped apart from the stress, he hurled himself into unconsciousness.

When he woke up, House felt awful but simultaneously relieved that the first face he saw was not hers. He was parched and starving and kind of slumped over uncomfortably in his office chair, but for a brief moment, he was grateful that he saw Wilson and not Amber.

Sad brown eyes – not the taunting ones he'd begun to get used to – looked him over, the pain etched deeply in Wilson's gaze. And House, knowing that he had been the one to make his friend suffer, couldn't help but feel guilty in reaction.

Even as he demanded something to drink, he told himself that he should be more appreciative… nicer, because if he didn't, there would be a time in the very near future where Wilson would leave him to die. But at the moment, when he'd had the insulin in his hand, it had seemed like a risk worth taking if it meant the Bitch was gone.

The second his friend left the room to get him some juice, however, House realized that he wasn't going to get what he wanted anytime soon. Because it was at that moment, the exact second that Wilson closed the door, that she spoke up.

Standing in front of him in a red suit with matching lipstick, Amber asked with a smirk, "You didn't think it would be that easy to get rid of me, did you?"

The bitterness he felt was just as palpable as his hunger. "Go to hell," he snapped.

The doctor inside of him knew that he shouldn't move, knew that he should wait until his blood sugar was somewhere near normal before doing anything. But her presence overrode all of that.

With a dizzying speed, House stood up, earning the remark, "You can run all you want; you're not going to escape me." But he didn't respond to her, instead using his energy to walk towards his desk, where his cane was, his limp more pronounced than normal.

Truth be told, more than food and juice, what he wanted was his Vicodin. And yet, House hesitated to swallow one of the chalky pills he could so easily get his hands on in this office. Because he was beginning to suspect that his drug use wasn't entirely unrelated to what was happening to him mentally, the idea of mindlessly taking another Vicodin gave him pause.

"Blame it on the Vicodin," Amber interjected, slightly amused by the whole theory. "That makes sense."

Detecting a hint of derision in her words, he retorted snottily, "It does make sense."

She pretended to sound confused then. "Yeah, but you know what doesn't make sense?" She didn't give him a chance to respond. "If you really think that the Vicodin's at fault, why aren't you in the middle of detoxing?"

He grabbed his cane and headed towards the door. In the last week or so, when he left the room talking to his own hallucination, he would pretend to be taking a phone call. But at the moment, he was too tired and frustrated and sick to care about pretense. So he simply kept on talking as he shoved the door to his office open. "I'm in the middle of a case."

"That's not why," Amber said knowingly. "Remember that time when you tried to convince Cuddy you weren't a drug addict? You willingly detoxed then while you had a patient."

"This is different." But he didn't explain why, knowing that it really wasn't different at all.

Which she also knew. "You're afraid," she told him, a light teasing in her voice.


"Of the possibility that this – I'm not the result of the drugs." There was an assurance in her words that he hadn't had since she'd tried to kill Chase. "Because if I'm real –"

"Which you're not," he interrupted.

But she ignored him, finishing her thought, "Then you can't just switch narcotics or lay off the Vicodin until I disappear. You'll be stuck with me."

A vicious remark on the tip of his tongue, it was halted by Wilson, a can of orange juice in his hand, approaching him. "House. Go sit back down before you pass out."

House shook his head. "I'm fine." All he wanted to do was go home, try to escape her even though it was impossible to do that.

"You're not bionic. You've had a seizure."

Described like that, the situation seemed much more serious than he wanted to believe that it was. The way Wilson talked about it, it sounded as though having dangerously low blood sugar thanks to an insulin overdose should take first priority. But right now, there were more important things to handle.

Which Wilson knew.

Truth be told, House hadn't planned on telling anyone that he was hallucinating. He liked brutal honesty, but admitting to people that he was crazy didn't really seem like a smart idea.

But in the end, he hadn't exactly had a choice. Foreman had shown up at his apartment with a case in his hands and Cuddy's threats on his tongue. And even if House hadn't believed Cuddy was going to fire him – she could be manipulated on that end pretty easily – not taking a new case would have only made everyone in the hospital suspicious. So he'd had to take the case.

And that meant he'd had to find someone to watch over him. Because if he got so bad that he couldn't do his job anymore, he'd known that he would need someone to be able to stop him.

There'd only been a few people who qualified for the job. His fellows couldn't do it, he'd realized, since they were technically ranked below him. Cuddy was really the only person he trusted, who was ranked above him, who could stop him because of her position.

But even then, he hadn't wanted to use her, because he'd understood that, if she allowed him to treat patients and something went wrong, she would get in trouble. And what that would mean for her job, for his job… well, he'd known it wouldn't be good.

Cuddy had always known that as well. If there'd been one thing she was constantly, acutely aware of, it was the fact that their jobs, and the future of their jobs, were intertwined with one another.

So if he'd told her that he was hallucinating, there was a very real possibility that she would strip him of his medical privileges right then and there. And although that had made sense to him, although he'd been trying to do that himself by pretending to be too sick to work, the idea of being too crazy to do his job had scared him.

Even now, as he lies in his bed in a psychiatric hospital, the thought scares him. Having come here in a moment of panic, House didn't think about what it might actually mean if he were sick enough to be here. But as the days pass, he's beginning to understand that there's the distinct possibility that there's no going back.

Which is why he hadn't wanted to tell Cuddy about this at all.

So he'd chosen Wilson, the safest bet for him when it came to divulging secrets. Because his best friend had enough power to stop him from doing something incredibly crazy but not enough that Wilson would take the blame should something go horribly wrong.

Of course, that fact hadn't made actually admitting that he was hallucinating any easier for House. No matter how close the two men were, saying the words, "I'm hallucinating," had been harder than he'd imagined. And no amount of friendship could remove the hint of embarrassment that had been in his tone.

By the same token, it had seemed that no amount of friendship had been enough to make Wilson want to trust him. Because as soon as he'd confessed that something was terribly wrong, House had seen a change in his friend.

Fear had begun to pool in Wilson's dark brown irises along with dread. And though he hadn't said it, it had been obvious that Wilson, in that second, had been thinking: Not again.

It had to be bad enough that his brother was schizophrenic and just now once again getting the treatment he needed. But now, to also have House's issues on top of that...

Maybe it had been too much to hope for understanding, he'd thought as Wilson's immediate silence had continued to linger on. Because of everything he'd been through in the last year – hell, because of everything he had been going through at that moment, perhaps he hadn't been the right person to confide this particular truth into.

However, it had become almost immediately obvious that Wilson's silence had more to do with his incredulity than anything else. "You're serious?"

House had only been able to nod his head.

Almost dumbfounded, Wilson had repeated, "You're serious." This time no question mark at the end, House had been relieved to know that he wouldn't have to try and convince his best friend that he wasn't just saying that for attention.

Breaking through House's thoughts, Wilson had said, standing up from behind his desk, "You need to call your psychiatrist."

It hadn't been the reaction House had been hoping for. But then, he'd conceded that he hadn't really had a specific idea of how he'd wanted Wilson to respond. His eyes widening slightly as he'd watched his friend put on his lab coat, he had asked, "That's it?"

"I have rounds," Wilson had replied, as though making little bald children smile were more important than this. "And I'm not the right doctor to treat you anyway." Holding his hands in front of him as though to show he'd meant no offense, he'd continued, "You need to go home and call a psychiatrist… Actually, you need to be admitted. But I know you don't want that. So… if you need someone to chat with, drink beer and eat pizza with, I'm here. But I can't be the one to treat you – I can't make this go away - even if I really wish I could help."

In all honesty, House hadn't been able to deny his irritation at Wilson. Here his friend was, acting like House had come in there looking for drugs, looking for a doctor when that had actually been the last thing on his mind.

Following Wilson into the hallway, he'd forced himself to ask for what he'd come for. His voice low, he'd said, "I need you to sit in on my differentials, double check everything I do."

Holding his hands in the air, Wilson had looked visibly taken aback by his words. "You can't treat patients."

House had hoped that he'd just get a blanketed "yes," get the kind of enabling he was used to.

That Wilson hadn't given it to him had made him feel ill at ease, because it had meant that Wilson thought this was serious.

Nervously rubbing a thumb along his forehead, House had tried to write off his hallucinations as nothing to be worried over. His gaze on the floor, he'd explained, "It's gotta be sleep apnea. Got a good night's sleep, and I still feel exhausted. Lack of delta sleep can lead to hallucinations."

It almost sounded good enough to convince himself, House had thought.

Shaking his head, Wilson had seemed to think it was a little far-fetched. But nonetheless, he'd been willing to play along. "Do you have any other neurological symptoms?"

"I don't think so." Although at that point, House had wondered if he'd even know.


He had shaken his head once. "No."

"Memory loss?"

"Nope." At that moment, he hadn't been able to stop from wondering just how many more neurological symptoms they'd have to go through before his friend agreed to watch over him.

Wilson had then suggested, "Irritability?"

"Yeah, that one," he'd snapped in reaction, unable to contain himself.

As Wilson had sighed, rolling his shoulders to lose some of the tension in them, Amber ordered, "Don't deflect. He cares about you."

And as she'd reminded House, "You care about him," Wilson had said on top of her, "You shouldn't be practicing." The two voices overlapping one another, it had been impossible to pay attention to both conversations. Their words mingling into something he couldn't understand, House had tried to push Amber away long enough to concentrate on the one person speaking who was real.

But it hadn't worked. And the sense of failure tugging at him, he'd snapped, "Enough." Which had made Wilson look at him as though he was completely insane. "Don't give me the look. I told you I was hallucinating."

Only a couple of days had passed since then, but the look Wilson was giving him now was the same he'd had that day, was the same one he'd had when House had lied and said he'd been hallucinating Kutner. One of confusion, surprise, and pity, the look was one House was all too familiar with at this point.

"Are you going to say something?" Wilson asked confused, pulling House away from his thoughts.

He nodded his head in response. "Yeah. I'm going home."

"You can't. You nearly killed yourself," Wilson replied, his voice filled with frustration and emotion.

"Yes, but not completely," House said easily. "I mean I can't really be sure, but I'm pretty confident I'm not a zombie." Gesturing with his hand to show that he was reaching the end of the thought process, he concluded, "Which means I can go home."

For a second, Wilson didn't respond at all. Instead preferring to give him a bemused look, he said nothing. Which made House suspect that he was about to be lectured.

However, that wasn't what happened. Instead, Wilson sighed, the little noise escaping him one of defeat. "Here. At least drink this first."

Taking the can of orange juice from him, House still wasn't entirely used to the new Wilson. This version was, for the most part, just as fun as the old one, but he was also more… aloof. He cared about House but only to a certain extent, only involved himself when he wanted to, and that was completely different than how things had been before Amber.

"You can't blame everything on me," she interrupted loudly, a hand on her hip. "And besides, having boundaries with you isn't the same thing as not caring about you at all."

Chugging the juice down quickly, House handed the empty can to Wilson, whose watchful eyes hadn't wavered the entire time. Burping loudly, House told him, "Time to go."

As he walked away, the sugar in the orange juice already making him feel better, he heard Wilson call after him, "Your patient's alive, by the way."

Under normal circumstances, those words would have piqued House's curiosity in the worst way possible; he would have demanded the details, would have needed a thorough play-by-play of what he'd missed. That he was able to continue walking without much consideration for his patient said it all, he decided.

Certainly, it was all the proof he needed to be able to see that his hallucinations were getting the better of him, were distracting him to the point that it was becoming all that he could focus on.

And between that and the fact that his leg ached and stomach churned, he wasn't sure how exactly he made it home in one piece.

But he did. Despite being completely distracted by what was roiling inside of him, he was able to make the short journey.

On the other hand, because he was so busy thinking about his current mental state, he didn't even notice that there was another real person in his apartment until Cuddy, who was sitting on his couch, spoke up, "We need to talk."

In all honesty, he would have jumped if he weren't too dizzy and tired to do it. Dropping his keys in such a way to show his annoyance, House slowly turned to face her. "If this is about the mustache you've suddenly started growing, I haven't noticed that at all."

"Sit down," she ordered gently, ignoring the quip. "Before you pass out."

He did as he was told. Not to be obedient, he reassured himself, but because he didn't think his legs would hold him if he stood up for much longer. Plopping down on the couch, House quickly read between her lines. "So Wilson told you I injected myself with insulin."

She nodded her head before gesturing to the fast food laid out neatly on the table. "I brought you food, because you're an idiot, and I was sure you wouldn't take the time to take care of yourself."

House ignored the accusation and reached for the cheeseburger wrapped messily in thin, yellow paper. His fingers shook slightly as he pulled the food out, noting that two sets of eyes, Amber's and Cuddy's, were watching him intently as he did so.

It was too much for him, being under that kind of surveillance; it made him feel… completely out of his mind.

Although maybe he was, a small voice that had no name or identity or person attached to it (thank God) whispered inside of him.

"Don't you have an actual baby to mother," he asked irritably, teeth eagerly sinking into the burger.

Cuddy shrugged. "My mother's in town till the end of the week. She'll watch Rachel." As an afterthought, she added, "And at the moment, I'm more worried about you."

The food seemed to get stuck in his throat, his mouth too parched to swallow the greasy cheeseburger effectively. Feeling as though he was about to choke, House reached for the drink on the table. It was cold in his hands, the clear plastic top showing him that she'd gotten him a chocolate milkshake.

After he'd drunk a bit, he set the cup back down and dismissed her concern. "I'm fine."

However, Cuddy looked unconvinced. Her brow furrowing in sadness, she said, her voice wavering with emotion, "You tell me that you haven't been sleeping. You tell Wilson that you're hallucinating," she stressed, choking over the last word. "And you injected yourself with insulin and had a seizure." Reaching for his hand, she told him, although she sounded pained to have to say it, "You are not fine."

He ate a few more bites of food, using the time spent chewing to come up with some sort of response.

It didn't come naturally to him; there was no instant, go-to one liner that he could toss out that would satisfy her. There was no amount of sarcasm or anger that could make her tuck her tail between her legs and disappear from his home. He understood that much.

So too did he understand that both women were waiting for a reaction though, albeit different ones. Cuddy wanted him to talk, to confess all his secrets as though the key to solving all of his problems was her.

Amber, of course, just wanted him to stay quiet, her tense posture and expectant look saying as much.

And it didn't help, House realized, that he felt the pull of both. As much as he'd been trying to do the exact opposite of what his hallucinations were telling him, it was much harder to stay quiet than he thought it would be. Granted, he didn't want to tell Cuddy everything; he wasn't sure he could trust her like that.

More importantly, he wasn't sure it would do any good. He could tell her everything, sure, but would it make him feel any better at the end of the day?

He wasn't convinced that it would. But there was something incredibly tempting anyway about the idea of having someone else to talk to.

It was so tempting that he couldn't help himself, surprisingly enough. Almost hesitantly, he glanced towards her, his gaze silently trying to quantify just how much he could tell her.

"You should…" He shook his head a little, finishing the thought quietly, "Add 'nearly killing Chase' to your list."

Her lips parted slightly at the comment. The lines in her forehead becoming more pronounced, she was clearly trying to decipher his words. "I…" Her voice trailed off, her eyes widening a little, the confusion laid bare for him to see. "What are you talking about?"

Perched on the piano, Amber gave him a warning look. She didn't speak – thankfully – but the way her eyes bore holes into him said everything he needed to know.

She didn't want their secret to get out.

But it was too late for her. He'd already started talking, admitting to what he'd – she'd – done. And he wouldn't be able to leave the conversation there; Cuddy wasn't going to let that happen. "The bachelor party," House explained. "I hired the stripper with the strawberries on her."

She shook her head, dark curls whipping around her face. "That's not –"

"I knew Chase was allergic. I also knew that Karamel used –"

Cuddy interrupted, "Who?"

"The stripper," he explained, letting his annoyance known. "Her name was Karamel. With a K."

"Of course." She sounded snide but didn't say anything else.

"She did Wilson's second bachelor party."

Her response was a sarcastic "Well, at least you remember the important things in life."

Not falling for the bait, he simply continued, "I didn't really remember that she liked strawberries, but I must have, because she insisted that I hire her."

Having actually lived through the experience, House thought what he was saying made perfect sense. But one quick look at Cuddy and he could tell that she had no idea what he was trying to tell her.

Before she could even open her mouth, he sighed loudly. "I lied to Wilson," he confessed, ashamed by that fact but even more embarrassed at what the truth was. "I'm not hallucinating Kutner."

She looked taken back by the admission, visibly unsure of what he meant. Carefully, she asked, "You mean you're not hallucinating at all or that you're hallucinating –"

He didn't look at her when he nearly whispered, "I'm seeing Amber."

His gaze glued to the nearly finished cheeseburger in his hands, House waited for her to say something, waited for the judgment he was sure would come. He was seeing his best friend's dead girlfriend, seeing the woman he'd had a hand in killing, after all; how could Cuddy not judge him for that?

At the same time, he knew he couldn't wait for her to say something. He'd started something here; he'd opened Pandora's box, and now he had to finish what he'd begun to say.

Even if he was beginning to regret it.

"She – the hallucination," he instinctively corrected, understanding that it sounded way more insane to talk about it as though it were real. "It knew everything I'd ever done – read in my life. It was the one who brought up that specific stripper, wanted me to hire her for Chase's bachelor party." Polishing off the rest of the hamburger, House finished, sounding completely nuts even to his own ears, "I subconsciously tried to kill Chase."

Too curious to see how she was reacting to him, he couldn't help but look at Cuddy then. He needed to know just how crazy he really was becoming, how far he'd disintegrated without hardly anyone noticing. Although on that last point, he thought he didn't really want to know just how little his friends and coworkers paid attention to him.

But surprisingly, what he saw in her eyes was not judgment. Instead a look of disbelief was beginning to settle in her features. Shaking her head, she told him tentatively but firmly nonetheless, "That… is ridiculous, House."

"No, it's –"

Placing a warm hand on his elbow, she tried to reassure him, "People forget things all the time." Relenting a little, she admitted prematurely, "I know that your memory is better than most, but you do forget things. You're not immune to that. Especially if you're sleep deprived and hallucinating, you're not going to remember the kind of body butter a stripper you met once while you were trashed likes to wear."

Her words were clearly chosen to make his theory sound absolutely preposterous, but that didn't put him at ease in the least. Because as much as he wanted to know that he wasn't crazy, House also hated feeling as though he was being dismissed. And that was what her tone was – dismissive of what he knew to be true. "This wasn't like that," he muttered irritably. "I remembered that she let people do body shots off of her. I remembered that she had a cat. I didn't just forget."

"You remembered the body shots, because you're a pervert. And you remembered the cat, because, I don't know, you got to make pussy jokes all night long while she stripped for you," Cuddy speculated quickly.

And that made him snap. "Would you stop doing that?"

Looking at him curiously as though she weren't sure he was talking to her, she started to ask, "What am –"

But he interrupted, "You're making this sound like it's nothing. It's not nothing."

There was an urgency, a desperation to his voice that he didn't like. He sounded like someone on the verge of doing something incredibly stupid, although he supposed that, considering he'd injected himself with all of that insulin, he was already beyond that.

He'd already done something really stupid.

And unless he pulled himself together soon, he understood that the insulin would only be the first act of idiocy related to this.

Knowing that, he could only feel as though he were working on borrowed time, as though, if someone didn't understand what was happening to him soon, he would be lost forever.

The fingers around his elbow squeezed reassuringly, pulling him from his thoughts. "I don't think this is nothing," Cuddy told him firmly. "I think you are… very sick right now." Her voice hitched as she uttered the words, all the proof he needed to know that she thought he was ready to be shipped off to the loony bin.

"But I don't believe for a second that you wanted to hurt Chase." Frowning sadly, she tried to reiterate that fact. "You care about him. You're his friend, and I understand if you feel guilty about what happened, but you're not to blame for that. Nobody is to blame for that."

He sneered at her. "You think I'm the kind of person to feel guilty over things I can't control?" He scoffed at the idea, adding, "I'm not you, Cuddy. I don't take the blame unless there's a reason to."

"You're hallucinating," she reminded him hurriedly. She wasn't trying to hurt him with her words, but part of him thought she was doing that anyway when she told him, "As much as you might like to pretend that you have a hold on that, the truth is you don't necessarily –"

Shoving her hand away from him, House said haughtily, "I'm not crazy."

Her eyes widened at the comment. Stressing each word, Cuddy repeated, pushing a dark strand of hair out of her face, "You're hallucinating, House. I don't think you're crazy. But what you're going through… that's a sign that something is seriously wrong."

As much as he knew that she was right, he didn't want to believe her. He didn't want to be dismissed, but at the same time, he didn't want to hear how serious this actually was.

Honestly, at this point, he had no idea what he wanted, he thought with exasperation. All he knew was that this had been a mistake; telling Cuddy the truth had been a mistake.

Amber, who was seated on the piano, didn't say anything – thankfully, although he could practically hear her "I told you so."

Working hard to fight the urge to tell her to go to hell, he tried to gauge what her reaction Cuddy's words had been. And it was obvious what Amber thought; he could tell that she believed Cuddy was overreacting just by the incredulous look on the non-existent woman's face.

But, in the end, Amber didn't need to say anything, because House began to speak for her, for them. "Hallucinations can be the result of a lot of things," he said, waving the other real person in the room off, trying to sound as scientific about it as possible.

Cuddy prompted him, her eyebrows raised, "Such as?"

"Acanthamoeba infection. The amoeba enters my lungs, travels through by bloodstream to my central nervous system where it writes its own little episode of the Ghost Whisperer for me to live through," he explained dryly. Almost mournfully, he added, "Only without Jennifer Love Hewitt's breasts."

She shook her head. "You'd have other symptoms first. Corneal infection or ulcer if it came in contact with your eyes. Skin lesions, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, loss of balance and bodily control."

So he suggested, "M.S."

"You'd most likely have other neurological symptoms. You would –"

"Lupus," he interrupted, abandoning multiple sclerosis just as quickly as he'd diagnosed himself with it.

Once again, she shook her head. Placing a hand on his, Cuddy gently steered him toward a different conclusion. "I know you want to believe that this is a… strictly physical illness, because it's easier to accept that way. But don't you think that there are more simple explanations?"

Yes, he thought to himself, but he wasn't going to say that out loud. "Like?"

She hesitated to answer the question, her body shifting a little on the couch. But eventually, she did offer, "Depression over Kutner killing himself."

Immediately, he shot it down. "I'm not depressed."

And she shuffled around the sofa some more at his reaction, almost as though she wanted to push the matter further but was afraid to do so. Glancing down at her fingers, she tentatively revealed, "Wilson said… you'd been seeing a psychiatrist."

"Wilson likes to run around town without pants on," House pointed out bitterly. "He's done dirty things to ducks. You can't believe a word he says."

But even as the words came out of his mouth, he was, in the back of his mind, deciding that it was time to change the subject. He didn't want to dwell on Wilson's penchant for telling secrets he had no right to divulge, and that was precisely what would happen if they kept talking about his depression.

As though she could even say either way whether or not he was depressed, he thought snidely.

Acid churning inside of him, House wasn't if it was the burger or the uncomfortable conversation that was making him feel sick. But at the moment, he didn't exactly care; he was going to use it to his advantage. "I'm gonna puke," he said unceremoniously.

Cuddy was on her feet in an instant. "Stay right there. I'll get a trashcan for you."

Of course, he knew, as she disappeared into the kitchen, that the conversation was anything but over. She was too worried, too persistent, and too damn annoying for that to be the case.

So he might as well get comfortable, he thought, taking off his suit jacket. Crumpling it up, he tossed it onto the floor. And just as he began to untie his shoes, she returned. "Here," she told putting a black bucket at his feet.

Settling back down on the couch next to him, Cuddy watched him intently – as though the possibility of him puking was fascinating to her. He rolled his eyes at her. "What – you wanna hold my hair back?"

She shook her head no once. "I'm wondering why you saw a psychiatrist if –"

"Triskaidekaphobia," he replied easily, completely seriously, leaning back against the couch. "It haunts my every waking move."

He didn't need to look at her to know that she wasn't falling for it. "Your only fear involving the number thirteen is the idea that she might not let you watch her have sex with another woman."

"True. But I don't think your lazy libido can quite grasp the horror of being left out of something so beautiful," House told her with a sigh.

Dryly, she said, "We're not having this conversation anymore."

"Good," he nearly snapped, annoyed that her presence was interrupting the fantasy of Thirteen making out with Cameron that was beginning to play out for him in his head.

The tone of his voice made the word sound incredibly angry, and that made her sigh in response. Apologetically, Cuddy tried to take back what she'd said. "Listen… I'm not trying to invade your privacy."

He gave her a look of doubt but said nothing.

"If you don't want to tell me why you went to a psychiatrist, okay," she conceded in a soft voice. "I can't torture the information out of you." Her hands reached for his, her warm fingertips running along his knuckles and against the flat of his palm. "All I'm saying is that maybe whatever drove you to see a psychiatrist – whether it be Amber or Kutner or your father dying or something else – is having an effect on your wellbeing… is making you see things that aren't there."

Opening his eyes, House glanced down at the way her hands were wrapped around one of his own. Truth be told, it always made him a little uncomfortable when she touched him. The yearning it could elicit inside of him never failed to surprise and embarrass him.

But it wasn't weird enough to make him want to pull away, yet, so he let it go. Instead, he mentioned, "You know, it's interesting that you'd rather chalk this up to depression than say it's the opiate I'm taking, which has the known side effect of causing hallucinations."

"No," she disagreed. "What's interesting is that you'd rather blame it on the Vicodin than admit that you might be more affected by the horrible things in your life than you thought."

Not waiting for him to say anything back, Cuddy said in all seriousness, completely reversing her position, "If you truly believe that the drugs are responsible, you need to stop taking them."

If he were her, House understood that he too would probably come to the same conclusion. Because he was also that kind of person – the kind who subscribed to the idea that if something was a problem, was making you sick, you changed that behavior, changed something.

He was also the kind of person who hated weakness.

That he could be so irrationally attached to a bottle of pills was a weakness. Years ago, he'd told Wilson that he had an addiction, not a problem, but now… it didn't seem like those two things were separate.

And all signs pointed to flushing all the Vicodin down the toilet at this point. He could acknowledge that much to himself.


He wasn't sure he could do that.

He wasn't sure the pain would let him.

Just the idea of hurting without any way to stop the ache made his thigh twinge, made his body crave the Vicodin.

His fingers twitched a little in Cuddy's hands. Unbidden the words spilled out, "I don't know if that's possible."

Pulling his hand onto her thigh, she disagreed with him in a gentle tone, "Of course, it's possible…"

"It's not that simple." The fact that she wanted to make it that simple irritated him, offended him in a way. Physical dependency didn't just disappear because you wanted it to. Certainly, his pain wouldn't disappear even if the drugs did, which made the decision to go cold turkey even more complicated than it should have been. Because it meant that he had to ask himself what was more important: his mind or his leg?

Since he couldn't have both in working order, he would have to choose what mattered more, being pain free or being sane, and frankly, there was no easy answer for him.

"Tell me what's stopping you," Cuddy pleaded in an earnest tone. Judgment was again remarkably absent, he noted. But at the same time, he couldn't ignore the confusion in her eyes. The way she looked at him… it was full of the desire to understand but the inability to do so fully.

And that made him reluctant to explain himself. Because, while he could recognize that she was doing her best to be a good friend, there was still something between them – a gap in their experiences that made it hard for her to relate. And if she couldn't sympathize, then what was the point?

Affronted by his silence, Cuddy interrupted his thoughts, "House… I want to help you. But if you don't talk to me, I can't do that. I need you to talk to me," she practically begged, her voice filled with a palpable amount of desperation.

Her tone piquing his curiosity, he had to ask, his gaze fixed on her face, "Why do you care so much?"

She rolled her eyes in response to the question. "You're my friend, you moron. I care about you."

It just wasn't enough for him though. He needed more than that, especially if she were asking him to trust her.

Granted, he didn't know what the words he wanted to hear were. There was no magic phrase immediately coming to mind, and House realized that there probably wasn't one. Because the exact words didn't truly matter, he supposed. Although, truth be told, he wasn't sure what he was trying to unearth, he simply knew intuitively that he needed to hear something else, something more.

Shaking his head, he told her in an urgent tone, "I need more than that."

"No," she replied flatly, letting go of his hand.

The move surprising him, he had to ask, "No?"

"This entire year you've been provoking me," Cuddy accused lightly. "You've been toying with me to get some sort of reaction. To get my attention," she clarified, her arms folded across her chest. "Well, you've had it. You have it."

House couldn't deny what she was saying; he knew she was right, because the fact was he had been testing the waters.

For a while now, she had been the only one he wanted. And where the hell that began he didn't know. She'd always been attractive, and he'd always been aware of that fact. But she'd never been anything more than fantasy material. He might have jerked off to her image occasionally, might have had a dream every now and then that had left him so turned on and crazed that his own hand no longer sufficed and he had to turn elsewhere.

But that was different than this. Before, he'd think about her every now and then. Now he found himself wanting her all of the time – and not just her body either. He wanted all of it, body and mind, the incredible sex they'd once had and an intimacy that he was beginning to wish they had.

He didn't like that fact.

He hated it.

Relationships had never been his forte… obviously. And after Stacy, he hadn't had any desire to put himself in the position of being left. He'd decided that it was preferable to live a lonely existence, relying on prostitutes for fun, than to be hurt like that again.

And he'd gone for so long doing just that, being complacent, if not happy, with his life being like that. He'd accepted his life for what it was – miserable.

But now he had this coursing through his veins, this crush on Cuddy.

It made him feel not entirely unlike the man he'd one been, the kind of guy who had joined the cheerleading squad to get a girlfriend. That, nearly thirty years later, he hadn't learned anything made his heart heavy with self-loathing.

He should have been stronger than that, House thought. He should have been able to resist.

But he couldn't.

And Cuddy was right; despite his best efforts to just get over it, he'd been provoking her, seeing just how much she liked him. She'd gotten under his skin, as cliché as that was, and he couldn't see, no matter how hard he tried, himself thinking differently in the near future.

The thought was a depressing one, to be completely honest. The image it conjured in House's head was one of a homeless mutt with mange all over its body. The parasite left to its own devices, there was no cure after a certain point, besides putting the animal out of its misery. And right now, House couldn't help but feel like one of those dogs; he might not have had mites all over his body, but it didn't matter. He too had an itch he was desperate to scratch, despite knowing that it would offer him no relief.

The whole situation suddenly made him feel incredibly bitter. It was bad enough that he was in constant pain, thanks to his thigh. It was bad enough that he had to deal with an abrupt and unwanted change in his team. It was bad enough that he was hallucinating.

And now he had this melodrama, straight out of an episode of 90210.

His lips turning down into a deep frown, House told Cuddy, "You should go."

But that was obviously not what she wanted to hear, because her response was to viciously shake her head. Not angry at him but visibly hurt, she looked at him with sad eyes and the same frown he had. "Don't do this," she half-whispered. "Don't push me away, House. Please."

He said nothing, which clearly said it all for her.

Yet, she didn't get up and leave as he thought she would. Instead, she leaned back on the couch, the sadness in her gaze quickly funneling into something darker, angrier, more determined. "Fine," she said challengingly. "If you're so sure it's the Vicodin, then I'm not going to give you a choice in the matter." Standing up, hands on her hips, Cuddy told him, "Consider yourself cut off."

House scoffed at the threat. "Last I checked, you didn't have the right to –"

Picking the bucket up off of the floor so she could move in front of him, she explained in harsh tones, "You've been trying to ask for my help. Well, now, you're getting it." Leaning down so that he could see the hardness in her eyes, Cuddy added, "Whether you like it or not."

He was almost amused by her confidence. Considering she always ended up caving in, he thought it was kind of hilarious that she was grand standing like this. A smirk on his face, he asked, "So… what, you're going to make me go cold turkey for –"

"Of course not," she interrupted, almost surprised at his words.

And that made him take a step back. What he'd been trying to ask was whether she was going to make him suffer for a few days before caving in and giving him the pills. But apparently, he hadn't even gotten the first part right. She was already caving in.

He gave her a careful look and tried to sound as uninterested as possible when he asked, "Then what's your plan? Prayer perhaps?"

She rolled her eyes. "Completely taking you off the pills in the past hasn't worked. It's not going to work now – not when Kutner has just killed himself and you're… not well," she tried to say tactfully to no avail.

"So now I'm too weak and crazy to detox, is that it?"

He didn't know why he was taking offense to what she was saying. After all, if he were being honest with himself…

She was right about that as well.

But then, she wasn't right about everything, because she of all people should know that he'd never been a fan of word, can't.

Honestly, his hate for being denied what he wanted to do knew no bounds. He despised hearing the word, detested being placed under restrictions that he had no desire to abide by. If anything, when he was told that he couldn't do something, he made it his mission to do just that. And right now, hearing her say that he wasn't well enough to go cold turkey was all the motivation he needed to want to do just that.

Even if doing so would nearly kill him.

"That's not what I'm saying," Cuddy replied quickly. "It's not a matter of weakness. I just… want to make sure that, if you're really serious about being sober, it sticks. And more importantly," she added after a beat. "I don't want to detox you so fast that you have seizures."

Her gaze softened considerably as she looked at him. "Especially if the reason you're hallucinating is the Vicodin, I don't want to make things worse or so bad that you start taking pills again."

"She's being reasonable, you know," Amber said speaking up suddenly. Which was odd, because for the most part, the Bitch was quiet when the other bitch was in the room.

Making it even weirder was the fact that Amber agreed with Cuddy. And why would his hallucination do that?

He didn't have an answer to that question, so he did what he did best; he disagreed with both of them. "If the Vicodin is the cause of my hallucinations, I'd rather just get rid of it completely. I mean, as fun as it is to play chicken with death… I've reached my quota for the year. For the day even."

His words had been dripping with sarcasm, but Cuddy clearly seemed bolstered by them nonetheless. Honestly, it was almost as though she was glad to hear that he didn't want to die.

But if she felt that way, thankfully, she didn't say it. Instead she replied with a slow bob of the head, "Okay… I'll take everything you have with me." She waited for a second to see if he would change his mind. However, he had no intention of doing that.

As afraid as part of him was to let the Vicodin go…

He would do it if it meant seeing only the living.

Recognizing that he wasn't going to back down, Cuddy nodded her head once more. "Then… I guess I'll start searching for drugs," she said, unsure of the situation. Giving him another minute to change his mind, she eventually added comfortingly, "Just relax here, okay?"

He nodded his head, sprawling his body out on the couch, as she began to search his bookshelf for drugs. She would be horrified by the amount of drugs she would find in his apartment. Especially when she considered that the number of pills he had now was at least twice the amount of what he'd had when Tritter arrested him, she would be appalled.

But she couldn't understand the feeling he got when he thought about being without pain relief. It made his palms sweat and his fingers twitchy. It made his heart race and pound with the knowledge that he would be stuck hurting until he found some way to relieve the ache in his thigh.

Cuddy could understand the science and medicine behind his pain, but she couldn't understand the way it felt.

"And yet," Amber said tauntingly. "You're willing to embrace a future filled with pain – just to prove how big and manly you are."

He didn't bother to respond to her. Knowing that Cuddy was in the room, House didn't want to start chatting with his hallucination. Especially not about this, despite the fact that Amber was wrong: he wasn't just doing this to impress Cuddy.

The truth was something Wilson had said in a hallucination years ago, back when hallucinations were still rare for House. When he'd been shot, he'd imagined a lot of things had happened. At least he thought he had; he couldn't really remember much from that day.

But one of the things he could recall was the fact that, in the hallucination, Wilson had said that House had decided the physical things couldn't matter after the infarction. "The only way you could come to terms with your disability was to some way make it mean nothing," the non-existent person had said. "You have dismissed anything physical, anything not coldly, calculatingly intellectual."

And House understood now, when he had to once more choose between one or the other, sanity or comfort, he could only ever choose the former. Maybe if the choice were between his sanity and regaining the full use of his leg, the decision would be harder. But as it were, he could see, now that the choice was laid out before him, that only his mind had any promise of making him less miserable.

That he'd be proving Cuddy wrong was just an added bonus, he told himself.

The thought giving him just enough peace of mind, he fell asleep to the sounds of Cuddy grabbing the tin of morphine off the top of his bookshelf.

When he woke up, it was darker in the apartment than it had been, making him believe that it was night. He was cold, tired, and hungry, and his leg felt as though it had been put through a meat grinder. Instinctively rolling over on the couch to grab the bottle of Vicodin off the coffee table, House was shocked to see Cuddy standing in the middle of the room.

The last few hours funneling into his consciousness quickly, he started to remember what had happened. She'd come to make sure he was okay. He'd told her to get rid of the drugs, and knowing her… she had.

Panic starting to weasel its way into the pit of his stomach, House forced himself to not think about it. If he'd said he wouldn't take Vicodin anymore, then he was going to try to save face as best as possible; he was a drug addict, yes, but he didn't want to act like one and have to face the humiliation of begging for his pills back only a couple hours after he'd said he didn't need them.

Forcing himself to focus on what Cuddy was doing, he was pleased ­– very pleased – to see that she was taking off her suit coat. Apparently warm (her hair was frizzier than normal, which only happened when she'd been working out, was flustered or hot), she was pulling the bluish material off her shoulders. Which made him say, with a smirk, "Oh, yeah, baby. Take it off."

Her body instantly tensing, she turned to face him. "I'm hot. Stop being a pervert."

"Now, now. Don't be jealous that I hired Karamel for Chase's bachelor party. I'll let you dance on my pole if you want," he said seriously, mirth dancing in his eyes. Because, interestingly enough, he was in a good mood.

He felt like shit, but at the moment, he couldn't spot Amber. Nor did he feel her presence lurking behind him. And if that meant that she was gone for good, he was happy.

"I promise you," Cuddy told him dryly. "I'm not jealous of anyone named after a dessert topping."

She moved closer to him then, her demeanor suddenly becoming much more serious. "How are you feeling?" The deadpan look he gave her was, thankfully, all the answer she needed. "Do you need something?"

House wasn't sure if she was implying Vicodin, but either way, he told her in complete seriousness, "I would like a lap dance."

Scoffing she replied, "I'll get you a glass of water instead."

He wondered how in the hell she thought that was an acceptable substitute. Seeing as how he was thirsty, though, he was willing to take what he could get.

He watched her ass for a brief moment as she walked away from him.

"You're never going to get over her if you keep staring at her ass every time she's near you," Amber pointed out, suddenly appearing before him.

Standing up to get away from his hallucination, House retorted, "I don't stare at her ass every time she's near me." He added haughtily as he headed towards the bathroom, "Sometimes I look at her tits."

Although he didn't turn his head, he could hear Amber's footsteps on the ground behind him; she was following him. Unsure of where this was literally headed, he asked, "You gonna watch me pee?"

"You don't have to pee. You're checking to see if she really cleaned out your stash," she replied knowingly. "Are you going to grow your balls back and tell Cuddy to go away?"

He didn't bother to close the bathroom door behind him; Amber was right about that, after all. He was more interested in seeing just how empty the cookie jar had become than in peeing or doing anything else.

Opening the medicine cabinet, he was a little dismayed to see how bare it was. Save for the sleeping pills Cuddy had prescribed him and a couple OTC meds, the shelves were empty. And although he'd suspected that they would be, there was still a certain amount of shock coursing through him. Simply put, it was one thing knowing that something was happening, something else to actually see it.

And staring at the nearly empty cabinet before him, House couldn't help but be shocked.

"You could always tell her you changed her mind," Amber pointed out.

Which was probably true, he conceded. But the act of saying, "I want my pills back," was pathetic, he realized, and if he could go without it, he would; he didn't want to have to admit that he was wrong.

And of way more importance, if the Vicodin were responsible for his hallucinations… he couldn't take it. He couldn't give into temptation, no matter how much pain he was in.

He would simply have to suffer.

The thought made him feel dizzyingly nauseous. His hand suddenly feeling heavy, he accidentally knocked the bottle of sleeping pills onto the floor. Glancing down towards his feet, he was dismayed to feel the ground shift underneath him. The pattern in the tile swayed back and forth, the normally straight lines appearing as though they were beginning to curl and loop.

His vision slowly began to tunnel in, and House knew that he was about to pass out. Opening his mouth to call for Cuddy, he tried to say her name loudly. But the word getting caught in the back of his throat, he had no choice but to helplessly fall to the ground.

He didn't know what happened next; he could only try to piece the puzzle back together. He must have passed out, and Cuddy must have found him, so worried that something had happened that she dropped the glass of water onto the ground when she discovered him, he would conclude later on. Because when he woke up, not only was she there, tears and fear in her eyes, but his feet were wet as well.

A moan escaped him as he tried to sit up.

"No, no," Cuddy told him, her hands pressed against his chest so he couldn't move. "Don't move."

His gaze moving wildly around the room, he tried to recall what had happened. But he couldn't exactly grasp the situation. His brow furrowing in confusion, he muttered dumbly, "My feet are wet."

"Don't move them," she insisted immediately. One of her hands brushed a sweaty strand of hair out of his face.

He didn't understand. "Why –"

"I saw you on the ground, and I dropped the glass in my hands." Cuddy was aiming to sound detached, but each word was rounded out with emotion.

At first he thought she was just worried about him. Terror in her tone, he hadn't heard her talk like that since she and Wilson had given him CPR. But then her demeanor changed completely. She became… cooler towards him. Holding the bottle of sleeping pills up for him to see, she asked, "How many of these did you take?"

House was dumbfounded. Squinting his eyes a little, he tried to recall whether or not he'd taken any of the pills. She was making it sound like he definitely had, but he couldn't remember doing that. "Didn't take any," he replied eventually.

But she still seemed doubtful of that. "Are you sure?"

He nodded his head very slowly, afraid that too much movement would make him sick. "I wanted to see what you took. Didn't take anything," he practically slurred, his head beginning to swim.

"All right." Cuddy sounded convinced enough, he supposed. He hoped, because if she didn't believe him… well, that couldn't well.

Standing up, she told him, "Stay where you are. Your blood sugar's probably low," she explained gently. "I'm going to get something for you to eat." As she moved towards the door, he lazily watched her bare feet try and maneuver around the glass. Intrigued by her concern, he barely heard her reiterate, "Don't move, House."

He had no energy to disobey. At the moment, he didn't even think he could sit up, much less move around. His cheek pressed firmly against the cold tile, he waited till she came back, a jar of honey (that had to be at least five years old) and a spoon in her hand.

Squatting beside him, Cuddy held both items out for him. "Eat some of this." Truth be told, he had no desire to do that. And that fact must have flashed across his face, because she somehow picked up on his hesitation. "I know it's disgusting, but it'll help." Giving him a small smile, she threatened, "Or do I need to feed you like a baby?"

Begrudgingly he took the honey and spoon. "The only time that question will answer with a yes is if your breasts are involved," he replied dryly, scooping a decent amount of the viscous liquid into his mouth.

It was disgusting, way too sweet for his taste. But he continued to eat it anyway, spoonful after spoonful, as he silently watched Cuddy clean up the glass on the floor. The broken cup making tinkling noises as she wiped it up, it was a quick job, one finished in a matter of minutes. However, seeing her carefully sweep the glass away, House couldn't help but wonder and eventually ask out of curiosity, "Why'd you drop the cup?"

"I told you," she said with a shrug. "I saw you on the ground and –"

"What – you thought I was dead?" There was no judgment in his question, although he did feel that believing he'd overdosed on sleeping pills was ridiculous. He might have been desperate to get rid of the Bitch, but he wasn't that desperate.

She rolled her eyes. "Of course not. But maybe it's not completely out of the realm of possibilities that you would be, considering what you did today."

"I wasn't trying to kill myself," House bit back, standing up with effort.

She instinctively reached out for him then, her hand wrapping around his elbow to give him support. Her fingers giving him a comforting squeeze, she asked, "Then why did you inject yourself with insulin?"

Not pulling away from her, he allowed Cuddy to steer him towards his bedroom. And although he considered refusing to answer the question, he knew that she wouldn't stop asking until he gave her something.

Of course, what his response should be was much harder to figure out. The conflict he'd been feeling acutely the last few months becoming even more obvious, it was impossible to deny that he was torn between telling her the truth and lying, between letting her in and keeping her at a safe distance.

Thinking about it as they took a few more steps together, he considered that telling her the truth wasn't necessarily that big a sacrifice. Considering her penchant for viewing him as sympathetically as a person possibly could, there probably wasn't anything he could say that would make himself look any more pathetic.

Unless he lied, he told himself, because then she would be able to see through that. And knowing that he'd purposely tried to mislead her, Cuddy would assume, he knew it, that the real reason was something he was ashamed of.

So he explained, "I was tired of hallucinating."

And although it was the truth, she clearly didn't believe him. Incredulity flitting across her features, she asked in a dry tone, "That's it? That's your reason? You were tired of hallucinating."

"Yes," he snapped, annoyed. "As fun as it is to see Wilson's dead girlfriend, it's a little exhausting trying to hold onto my sanity." Slipping out of her grasp, he said, "Let me know how it feels when you lose your mind."

He didn't give her a chance to respond. Shutting his bedroom door in her face, House didn't want to talk to her anymore. As much as he could deal with Cuddy, sometimes, she just irritated the hell out of him. And in those instances, the best thing he could do for both of them was get away from her.

She didn't agree, however. Because when he emerged from the room twenty minutes or so later, she was still in his apartment. Now in his pajama pants, he eyed her curiously. "You're still here?"

As she dumped a couple bottles of pills into the black bucket she'd retrieved a while ago, Cuddy explained, "You have a lot of drugs to get rid of."

He had to concede on that point. Having lost count years ago, House had no idea how many pills he had in the apartment. So long as he'd felt that there was enough, that was all he cared about.

"I don't even want to know where you got all of them," she said warningly as he settled back down on the sofa. The action piquing her curiosity, she immediately asked, "You're sleeping out here?"

He gave her a curt nod. Shoving one of the pillows underneath his head, he explained, "It's easier this way."

But she didn't understand what he meant. Her voice hesitant, she said, "I don't follow."

Too tired to come up with a lie, House told her, "Amber's the first thing I see when I wake up." She murmured his name, but he kept talking. "It's just… less irritating to greet her out here."

He could tell all too well that that sounded insane. Hell, it was insane. But it was the truth in any case; waking up to her standing over him in his bedroom made him feel more intruded upon than he could ever accept. Not that he ever felt comfortable with Amber's presence. It just felt less crazy to have someone in his living room than his bedroom.

Cuddy didn't press the matter any further, and for that, he was grateful. Her voice even and calm, she merely asked, "Is there anything else you need?" He sleepily shook his head but said nothing. "Okay. Get some sleep."

Not even Amber could stop him from obeying.

When he woke up, House instinctively knew he was late for work. The amount of light filtering in through the window was too great for it to be the usual hour he got up for work. Which was usually way past the hour he should have been at the hospital anyway, he understood, so it must have been really late.

Either way, he didn't particularly care until he stood up and saw: Cuddy was curled up on his chaise. Her bangs messily falling in her eyes, her suit coat stuffed under her head for support, the bucket of drugs was at her feet.

And immediately he felt the temptation to take something back overwhelm him. Moving hotly through his blood, the need to have a Vicodin, to have a bottle of Vicodin in his hands pulsed loudly in his ears. It suddenly becoming all he could think of, pain rippled through his thigh, wave upon wave of the fierce ache battering his resolve, wearing it down.

Until he had to reach into the bucket and grab two orange bottles of the pills.

He wanted to resist, wanted to believe he could go without the Vicodin and be okay with that. But apparently, he couldn't, the weight of the drugs in his hand offering too much comfort for the possibility of a drug-free life to be true.

"Oh, that's a relief," Amber said enthusiastically as he headed towards the bedroom to squirrel away the two bottles. "I'd really hate to have to deal with you detoxing."

Popping a Vicodin before shoving the remainder under the covers of his bed, House replied dryly, "Well, as long as you're happy."

And she was, he could feel her relief inside of him, and he knew she was thrilled about the Vicodin. Of course, she'd practically known, in her own way, that this was going to happen. She'd known that he was too addicted to resist in the end.

But then again, he thought as he stepped into the shower, he'd probably known it as well, too caught up in the desire to pull one over on Cuddy to see that fact.

"So you're going to tell her you've changed your mind about the Vicodin?" Amber's voice echoed in the small shower stall, and he knew, just from the acoustics, that she was behind him, in the shower with him. Sighing bitterly he really wished that he had some privacy. "I'm in your subconscious," she reminded him. "I'm from your mind. There's nothing going on here that I haven't seen already in some –"

"I don't care about that," he snarled. "It's just that, if you're going to annoy me here, you might as well make yourself useful and –"

"What – scrub your back?" The tone of her voice made it sound as though she thought the idea was completely preposterous. Which it was, he supposed, when she reminded him, "I'm a hallucination. Not a ghost. I can't pick up the soap." Not unlike a five-year-old boy accusing another boy of having cooties, Amber suggested, "Why don't you get your girlfriend to do that for you?"

He turned around to glare at her, thankful that she was wearing clothes. Truthfully, House hadn't considered that she might be naked until mid-spin, and by then it was too late.

But no – she was wearing the clothes she usually wore (in his hallucinations, anyway). Her white lab coat was perfectly pressed and dry, despite the fact that she was in the shower with him.

The oddity temporarily throwing him off his game, the only retort he had for her was to say, "She's not my girlfriend."

Hands on her hips, Amber pointed out, "But you want her to be."

"No." Even though some part of him, a part that wasn't appearing before him, sort of did want that, the majority of himself, he forced himself to believe, did not. "I'd like to tie her to my headboard and leave her there until I decide it's time to get laid. I'd like to look at her breasts and use her in the dirtiest ways imaginable," he said as crassly as possible. "But just because I occasionally want to tap that hard doesn't mean I want to date her."

She considered what he was saying for a moment before shaking her head emphatically. "Yeah, that doesn't even sound remotely convincing."

"Lucky me – I don't have to convince non-existent people of anything."

"Well, if you keep talking that loudly, the only convincing you're going to be doing is to Cuddy when she tries to ship you off to the loony bin."

Pausing House strained to hear whether or not she was awake and moving around. But it was impossible to tell with the pitter-patter of water all around him. "I can't hear anything."


Inhaling deeply, he immediately noticed something different; the smell of fresh pancakes overpowering the scent of soap, it was proof that Cuddy (or maybe Wilson even) was awake and moving around. Amber's point echoing in his mind, House immediately shut his mouth and finished getting ready for the day.

As he got dressed, he couldn't help but consider whether or not Cuddy was actually going to let him go to work. She hadn't said anything that made him believe she thought that he was a danger. If anything, she'd been the one trying to prove to him that he was sane.

But she'd been doing that as a friend.

And what her feelings were as his boss, he didn't know. However, not in the mood to ask whether he should come in to the hospital today, he simply got ready for work; if she didn't want him there, he thought bitterly, then she would have to tell him herself.

It seemed unlikely that she was going to do that, though. The second he stepped out into the hallway, he could see her lugging the bucket of drugs towards the open front door. "You're leaving?"

Letting go of the white handle, Cuddy looked up at him. Brushing a couple strands of hair out of her face, she nodded her head. "Yeah. If I don't leave now, I'll make it in after you. And then I'll get to spend the rest of the day listening to you imply that I got laid last night." An eyebrow arched, she added, "Even though you obviously already know what I was doing last night."

He scoffed as he moved towards her. "That's really smart. Leave now, so you'll get into work before me. Makes sense, I guess, except for the fact that you look like crap."

"Thank you," she replied tersely, a scowl on her face.

"Which means you'll be wearing two inches worth of concealer. Which means I'll be making those jokes no matter when you leave," he concluded, leaning a little against the open door.

Looking at his carefully for a second, Cuddy asked him in confusion, "Are you asking me to stay?"

"No," he said a little too quickly to sound convincing. "I just think if you're going to cook in my kitchen, it's only appropriate that you make me something."

She rolled her eyes. "I did. There are pancakes warming in the oven. For you."


There was genuine surprise in the single word. And part of him thought that he should think more of her, think better of her. Sure, there'd been times where she'd hurt him, refused to believe in him. But for every instance where she'd swapped his Vicodin with laxatives, where she'd set up tripwires in his office and yelled at him, there were just as many moments where she'd defended him.

Protected him.

From Vogler, Tritter… himself – Cuddy had regularly shielded him from everyone and everything else.

And looking at her now, that fact in the forefront of his mind, House couldn't avoid thinking about just how much he wanted her.

All of the feelings he'd been trying to forget for months now pushed their way to the surface. No amount of self-control could stop the desire from pooling in his groin and flashing in his eyes. The need to kiss her so intense and overwhelming, it was unlike anything he'd ever experienced.

Not even the craving for Vicodin he'd had this morning felt like this. Because with the drugs, he needed them literally to be able to function, and he didn't need Cuddy in the same way.

But that didn't seem to matter to his body or to his mind. Every fiber of his being wanted her. Rationality be damned – he wanted to kiss her so badly.

And that thought must have read on his face, because she looked at him in faint surprise. "You want to kiss me, don't you?"

His response was one he had no intention of saying aloud. But given that his mind was like a sieve right now, the thought and words escaped him anyway. "I always want to kiss you."

The revelation made her demeanor shift from knowing to completely unsure. Her footing just as weak as his own in the rocky terrain of romance, particularly what constituted their own, her mouth opened slightly. A soft "oh" escaped her parted lips, and he knew, even before she gave him an expectant look, that he was going to kiss her.

Through half-lidded eyes, Cuddy watched him lean towards her, the intent clear in his own gaze. He moved slowly, giving her just enough of an opening to pull away if she wanted. As much as he didn't want to put himself in a position of being rejected, he understood that it was so much better to have her stop him now than later.

But she didn't.

His lips met her gently parted ones, and she did not pull back as he kissed her. Nor did either of them speak. Instead preferring to silently suss one another out, they communicated through their actions, through the way they began to touch one another.

It was so much easier to understand her that way, and she would probably say the same for him as well. When they spoke, there was the tendency to devolve into sarcasm and quips and words that meant nothing more often than not. Actual talking was a game they played, the rules unknown but somehow understood to them both.

This was different, though. There was no confusion, no need or desire to conceal anything from one another. In the way he eagerly pressed his lips into hers, she clearly knew that he wanted her. From the way she kissed back, parting her mouth further to allow his tongue access, he understood that she wanted him as well.

One of her hands gently slid across his cheek until her fingertips were buried in his hair. His own hands pressed into her shoulder blades, he used their combined grip to pull her out of the doorway. Their desire boiling over the edges of their normally cool exteriors, House had no interest in letting her go now. Her feet teetered in her heels as he took a couple steps backwards.

Pressing her body against his, Cuddy quickly regained her balance – enough so to kick the front door shut behind her, anyway. That act alone was all he needed to know that she had no interest in backing down, in walking away.

And that fact sent what little self-control and reserve he had left hurling into the abyss. One hand tightly gripping her dark curls, the other groping her breast through her suit coat, he wanted it to be absolutely clear that he had no intention of walking away either.

Their fingertips beginning to claw at one another's clothes, it was no small feat that they both remained standing. They were too selfish to stop kissing; to even temporarily end that connection was too much of a sacrifice. And he was too afraid, despite himself, that to break away, to give her even the slightest bit of room would mean one of them would come to their senses.

It was stupid to even consider that happening though, he would later concede. They were feverish with desire, their blood rushing hotly and quickly to the places he wishes he could touch and she were already touching. And the fact was nothing was going to make them stop. As she started to push his suit coat and open dress shirt down his arms, it was so clear that they were barely going to have foreplay, no build up necessary; not doing this wasn't an option.

Violently, he began to yank her suit jacket open, the thread holding the buttons on her coat nearly breaking at the force. Which she was clearly aware of, her fingers pushing his aside so she could finish the job for him. Her tongue caressing his, there was an insistence radiating off of her – off of him – that declared loudly that, if she stopped him from ripping her coat, it wasn't because she liked the jacket; it was because he was being too damn slow.

Where half her clothes ended up, he had no idea, no desire to even really consider the matter. Her coat was gone, probably on the floor, his own jacket eventually ending up somewhere in the hallway. The light bluish-green sweater she'd been wearing was stuck on her forearm as she threw her arms around his neck, hands pulling him in closer.

They were breathing heavily; every time she exhaled, he could feel it on his skin. So close to her, he could smell her, the scent of her shampoo and body, an intoxicating mix that made him crave more.

The silky tank top she was wearing riding up on her stomach, they stumbled towards the bedroom. His eyes opening a little so that he could guide her, he could see a hint of her bra, her cleavage displayed for him in a way he hadn't seen in years. The sight before him so beautiful and hot, it made his heart pound with anticipation, with the knowledge that in a matter of minutes (if they held off that long) he would be taking – no, he would be ripping it off of her.

That thought in his mind, House picked up the pace, his feet moving quicker than she was prepared for. She stumbled backwards, pulling him along with her, until her back and ass crashed into his closet door. His lips finally pulling away from hers, he started to kiss along her jaw line, down her neck to the bare expanse of skin. Nipping along her collarbone, he slid a hand underneath her silky tank top. Roughly cupping a breast, his thumb running along a hard nipple that he could feel through her bra, he wanted to make her as crazed as he felt.

A whimper escaped her amidst her heavy breathing, her body reacting quickly to what he was doing. Whether that was because she hadn't gotten any in years or because of the way he knew how to work her body, he didn't know. But either way, it didn't really matter; her hands were tangling in his hair, in his dress shirt, the sky-blue one she'd encouraged him to wear all those years ago when he'd taken Cameron to dinner.

That period of time seemed so distant when he thought of where they all were now. Of course, any moment where he wasn't doing exactly what he was doing right now to Cuddy seemed gone forever.

Descending further in his need for her, he sought her mouth out once more. His lips firmly pressing into her again, he yanked her away from the door, spinning her around, so he could push her towards the bedroom. Her hands clutched him with bruising force, not that he cared.

He had a goal in sight, and that was all he wanted to consider. Just as he was with his job, with treating his patients, he didn't care about the collateral damage. He wasn't concerned with how she was bruising him, didn't give a crap about the marks he'd probably left on her neckline.

Nor did he think much about picking Cuddy up and carrying her the remaining distance towards the bed. She was moving too slowly, too clumsily, and his dick was so hard that he thought he was going to explode in his pants if they didn't move this along.

Practically throwing her down on the bed, House didn't waste any time. He pulled off his t-shirt as quickly as he could, surprised that she sat up in response. Quickly scurrying to the edge of the mattress, she moved so that he was standing between her legs, her head level with his navel.

Kissing his now bare stomach, she began to undo his pants. And he was a little shocked to see that she could be so careful about it. His own hands frantically pulling her tank top off, fingertips harshly separating the clasp of her bra, her movements seemed so different than his own.

But the second she managed to push his pants and underwear past his hard cock and injured leg, her motions became increasingly forceful. And this time he was the one to shove her hands away. His gaze might have been glued to the way her breasts swayed slightly with each breath she took, but he had enough coordination to undress himself the rest of the way.

Having undone her own fly, Cuddy looked up at him, noticing that he was standing naked before her. This wasn't the first time she'd seen him that way. They'd had sex before, and she'd been his doctor as well, and frankly, he didn't think that she should be looking at him the way she was – like he was the only person in the world that she wanted.

It was odd that she did but not so oddly intoxicating. House had a reputation for having a huge ego, which he would never deny. But seeing the way she looked at him… it was hot. Flattering and something he'd file away to jerk off to later, the look she was giving him gave him all motivation he needed to pull off her pants and thong in a frenzy.

And then they were both naked, absolutely nothing to stop them from molding their bodies to one another.

Cuddy moved back on the bed, grabbing one of his hands to pull her with him. Two sets of bright blue eyes meeting as he moved with her, they shared a knowing gaze.

They were doing this.

Neither said those words; neither needed to. The small smile they gave one another was confirmation enough that they were both thinking it.

Pulling out of her grasp, House nudged her thighs apart with one of his hands. His fingertips lightly rubbing along her creamy, pale skin, his smile widened when she gasped. Because he wasn't even touching her pussy, and it was still making her hot; he could tell.

In any other situation, he would have used that against her. He would have teased her a little more before giving her what she wanted. But since he was just as desperate as she was, he couldn't toy with her any longer. Settling between her legs, he took the time to align their bodies.

His cock poised at her moist opening, he didn't give her the chance to beg for it. Although he knew she would have, he didn't have the self-control for that. And thrusting forward, he slid into her easily.

They moaned simultaneously, one of his hands blindly searching for one of her breasts. It felt good, he thought to himself, to be buried inside of her like this, her warm wetness surrounding him tightly. Completely different than all of the prostitutes he'd indulged in in the last couple of years, thrusting in and out of Cuddy was so much better.

It wasn't just the fact that she had the most perfect pair of tits he'd ever seen that made it so. It wasn't just the way she so easily wrapped her legs around his back and welcomed him further inside of her body or the way she whimpered in his mouth when he pinched one of her sensitive nipples.

Descending further into his desire for her, House realized what it was that made this whole thing so incredible. Burying his face in her neck, he understood that it was the combined effect of everything she was doing at the moment. It was the noises she made and the way she could fit her body to his. It was the history between them and affection that they shared that made it so damn good.

They didn't speak, didn't say anything for once in their lives. But the silent dialogue going on between them said everything they needed to know.

The heat building between him was beginning to make his head swim. His balls tightening, that crazed feeling he got when he was so close to the edge – the one where he felt like he was unraveling, falling apart slowly and quickly – pooling inside of him.

Cuddy's hands suddenly digging into his back, he could tell she was close as well. He pumped his hips in response. He knew how to take a hint. Pushing into her in deep, hard strokes, he made her come quickly. Her entire body gripped him hard. Her fingertips on him, pulling him closer, she buried her face and moaned into his shoulder.

Her pussy squeezed him almost painfully tight, and between that and the sounds she was making, he couldn't stave off his own desire any longer. One last thrust into her, he came. The noise inside of him reaching its peak, the crescendo echoing in every part of his body, he let go of everything going around him, his control being wrested from him.

The pleasure slowly tapering off for both of them, he rode out his orgasm with Cuddy, his lips on her as he rocked back and forth inside of her. Her internal muscles twitched against him, the satisfied feeling it gave him making him want to stay exactly where he was indefinitely.

But as the after effects of his orgasm began to recede, as the pain in his thigh began to niggle at his consciousness, House knew that he couldn't stay like this with her forever.

Sighing he rolled off of her, knowing that it was over. Both of them lying silently on their backs, he shifted a little, the beads of sweat that had formed along his body making him uncomfortable.

Or maybe it wasn't the moisture collecting in the lines of his body but rather the way the quiet had settled over them that bothered him.

For two people who had shared as much banter as they had, it was weird that they should be able to be so quiet with one another. He supposed that she just didn't know what to say; her silence didn't necessarily mean she was regretting it, he tried to believe.

Certainly, that wasn't the case with him. Unless he'd accidentally gotten her pregnant, which thanks to her age seemed an unlikely outcome, he wasn't going to regret this. If anything, he planned on filing this morning away in the back of his mind for masturbatory purposes later on.

He considered telling her that but decided against it; given that she'd known him for decades now, unless she were a complete idiot, she would already know that.

He didn't have a chance to think about saying anything else, though, because at that moment, Cuddy got up and left the room.

The move immediately piqued his curiosity. After all, she was naked, her clothes strewn about his apartment, so it wasn't like she could go anywhere.

Well, he thought, cocking his head to the side, he supposed she could leave his apartment naked. But unfortunately, he'd never taken her for a nudist, and more importantly, he doubted that she would want anyone to draw conclusions about her being at his place.

Interested to see what she was doing but ultimately too lazy to get up to find out, he remained sprawled out on his bed until she came back. His gaze trained on her, he was way too interested in memorizing the look of her breasts to notice the pancake in her hands until she gave it to him. "Eat this," she told him, pressing the lukewarm food into his palms. "Before you pass out."

House smirked. "You weren't that good."

She raised an eyebrow at him, her hands going to her bare hips. He appreciated the pose, desire stirring within him once more. Damn, he thought to himself; she really was that good. "Yes, I am," she interrupted matter of factly. "But I'm more concerned with your blood sugar – not my sexual prowess, such as it is. Or isn't," she explained wryly.

Too sated to discuss the matter any longer, House simply did what she wanted. His fingers ripped off a piece of the cooled pancake and popped it in his mouth. Realizing that he actually kind of liked this, he told her, "I've decided: you should bring me my meals naked from now on."

"No," she replied breathily, her eyes on the ground as she began to search for her clothing.

He pressed a little harder. "What if I refuse to eat until you agree?"

Rolling her eyes, Cuddy said dryly, "Probably not a good idea to mix hunger strikes with hallucinations."

As soon as the words escaped her, House noticed a difference in her demeanor. Almost as though she were just remembering that he was hallucinating, a frown formed on her face. Sadness, panic, and regret visible in her light irises, she quickly snatched her bra up off of the floor.

She easily forced her arms through the straps. Her fingers shaking slightly, she fumbled around with the clasp. Nervous she said, "I…" She shook her head. "Should we have done that?" He was about to ask her in return if she ever thought that there was a situation in which he would say sex was inappropriate, but he didn't have the chance to speak. Because she added, "I mean, did I… I don't know, take advantage of you?"

It was a ridiculous question, one made even more so when he considered that she was asking it while only wearing her bra. Not that he was complaining about that, of course; a naked Cuddy, no matter the context, was always a good thing.

Nevertheless, he pointed out, "I'd take that question a lot more seriously if I couldn't tell that you like to shave your beaver." She stiffened a little at the comment, making him add, "Not that I'm complaining. I'm just saying – you sound ridiculous."

"Then I guess your dream of seeing 'Naked Thursdays' instituted at the hospital will never come true," she said in mock sadness. "And I was being serious, so there's no need to act like a five year old; I just don't want you to feel like I –"

"Took advantage of me?"

"Yes." The look in her eyes was one of worry, and he knew then that she wouldn't be able to move on until he told her that she hadn't done anything wrong.

His penetrating gaze set on her, he ordered her none too gently, "Come here." His tone made her hesitate to listen. So he repeated himself. "Come here." Still she didn't move, so he told her, "Your thong's on the floor right next to me. Come pick it up."

Looking over to a spot on the rug, Cuddy could clearly see that he wasn't lying about that; her underwear had been within his view the entire time. But in any case, she seemed reluctant to go anywhere near him, sensing a trap.

And she was right, of course, but the fact of the matter was this: she was too shrewd a woman to leave her thong behind. She wasn't going to leave him proof that she'd been here and that they'd slept together. Seriously, she probably would have taken the sheets to burn them if she could. So, in the end, she had no choice but to begrudgingly stalk towards the underwear.

Which put her exactly where he wanted her.

Sitting up quickly, he reached over for her. His index and middle finger slipped underneath the band of her bra. "If you snap that," she warned through gritted teeth. "I will hit you."

Her threat had no effect on him, though. Turning it back on her, House said, "Turn around, and I won't snap it."

She was tentative at first. Obviously weighing her options, Cuddy eventually sighed, spinning around to look at him.

Her breasts were right in his face, and he couldn't stop himself from recalling how he'd once said that the perfect way to die was to be suffocated in her cleavage. Right about now, those words seemed more truthful than he'd known at the time. Cause at this moment, he really couldn't think of a better way to go. Perfectly sized and still perky, her boobs had absolutely no flaws.

Well, okay, he thought, conceding a point, the funbags were currently hiding behind a bra that was just sheer enough for him to make out the shape of her nipples. But he could easily remedy that.

Reaching forward House yanked the bra up, her breasts spilling out underneath the underwire in a very satisfying way. At the same time, he mockingly called out, "Rape!"

Which made her furious, lips turning downward into a sexy pout. The whole image before him was just too much, and in an instant, his dick was hard again. "All right, you've proved your point," she snapped, trying to stuff her chest back into the cups of her bra. "Are you done now?"

Gesturing towards his erection, he told her, "You tell me."

Her gaze traveled the length of his body, her lips instinctively parting when she stopped at his groin. Immediately her eyes snapped back to look him in the eye. Snottily she informed him, "That is the worst proposition I've ever heard in my life."

He ignored the quip. "Whatever. Are you in or out? Or should I say am I in or out?"

"You are an idiot," Cuddy answered with a sigh, tossing her bra onto the floor once more. Straddling him on the bed, she said in a voice that sounded as though she were completely resigned to the situation, "And you are going to make me so late."

She was sitting on his lower stomach, up higher on his body than she normally would have been probably to avoid putting pressure on his thigh. Her warm juices slick against his skin, the sensation was making it hard to think, because it meant that, for all of her talk, she wanted this.

His hands immediately went to her ass, fingers squeezing and kneading the muscle eagerly. "It's not my fault you find me irresistible," he defended, a smirk on his face.

Her palms splayed across his chest, she pushed him back onto the mattress. "You're hardly irresistible."

Eyes widening in surprise, House asked, "Oh really?" Following the curve of her hip and thigh, his fingers wormed their way towards her inner thighs. Running his thumb through her slick folds, he flicked her clit a few times. "Then explain this," he ordered, holding his wet finger up for her to see. Her juices practically glistened in the sunlight. "Tell me why you're so wet then if it's not for me."

A wave of possessiveness surged through him. And if he'd been rough with her their first go-around in any way, he thought that was nothing compared to the things he suddenly felt like doing to her now. He'd always joked about Cuddy liking bondage and being a dominatrix, but God, right now he did have half a mind to tie her up and make her beg for him.

Cuddy being Cuddy though, she didn't give him a chance. Insistently guiding him towards her opening, she furrowed her brow in concentration as she sank down on top of him. And everything he'd been thinking of doing to her immediately disappeared from his mind. Because he was inside of her – again – and nothing felt as good as that.

As she began to move, her hips slowly rocking against his, she gave him a self-satisfied smile.

They both knew she'd won the argument.

But she wasn't finished with him. Leaning down so her nipples grazed his chest with each of her movements, she ordered him, throwing the question back at him, "Why are you so hard if it's not for me?"

He didn't want to answer that. So he sought out one of her breasts. Kissing his way down towards one of her nipples, he sucked the sensitive flesh into his mouth. His tongue laving over it, House could feel it stiffen from his movements. And it was clearly turning her on, because she made a sound that said she was totally enjoying it.

And even though she was trying to play it cool, trying to act like she was doing this just to placate him, this was all the proof they both needed to know that wasn't true.

Increasing the speed with which she was riding him, though, Cuddy wasn't willing to give up the fight. Her hands roughly grabbing his hair, she pulled him away from her chest. Her voice low and flirty, she told him, "You… didn't answer my question."

He gripped her hips, helping her keep the pace he wanted. "You didn't answer mine," he said, gritting his teeth to try and maintain some semblance of control over himself; he was so close.

And it was kind of odd that that should be the case. They were going slower this time, the rhythm Cuddy had set out for them much more relaxed than the frantic one he'd chosen. They were talking this time, trying to trap each other into admitting just how turned on they were. And when he looked at that from an outsider's point of view, House thought that it should be easier to hold off on coming.

But the fact was the sex this time was so much better. House could tell she agreed with him on that; this was just infinitely better, because this time they weren't just screwing one another as quickly as possible. The conversation a game they liked to play with one another, it was as tantalizing as the way her breasts swayed with each movement.

Heat building within him, sweat collecting on the backs of his knees, he wanted her so badly, wanted all of her. His hands roaming with no particular destination in mind, he wanted to touch every bit of her; underneath her breasts, along her spine, around her hips, one hand settled on her mound, his thumb slowly circling her clit.

The gentle touch got under her skin in the same way she had with him. "Oh God," she half-whispered, half-moaned. "I'm so close."

Pressing his lips to her collarbone, he nodded his head in agreement; he was right there with her. But he wasn't willing to give up the possibility of hearing her say that she wanted him yet. "Tell me," House urged.

She shook her head, increasing the motion of her hips.

"I want to hear you say it," he repeated, his voice thick with desire. "Tell me. Now." Adding his own thrusts into the action, he pushed her dangerously close to the edge but would not let her tumble over just yet.

Their bodies moving in synch, their combined efforts made it impossible for her to refuse him. Her mouth opening, she panted loudly, little groans escaping her with each roll of her hips.

House snarled, ordered her one more time, "Tell me you want me."

"I…" She swallowed hard, her head lolling back. His eyes wide open, he watched her closely, watched her, so turned on, moving above him. She was going to give in, he knew. Her voice uneven, she tried again, "I-I want…" Trailing off into a whimper, she didn't finish the sentence.

So House did something he'd always wanted to: he slapped her ass, spanked her as hard as he could. The snapping sound was loud over the hushed sounds of their breathing, and for a brief moment, she fumbled in shock, in surprise at the obvious desire the act had made her feel, forcing him to take over the heavy lifting. Pumping into her as hard as he could from this angle, he demanded, "Say it, Cuddy."

"No," she gasped.

Her refusal only egged him on. Raising his hand to give her another tap, he wasn't prepared for Cuddy's fingers to clamp around his wrists. "I don't think so," she told her breathily, an arrogant smile on her face. He tried to pull away, but she wouldn't let him. Being on top, she had the upper hand, had the ability to pin both of his hands above his head on the mattress.

But he didn't mind.

At all.

Because she was so small, the only way she could hold him down like that was to lean forward as best as she could. Her breasts literally in front of him, swaying millimeters from his face, it was the most erotic thing he'd ever seen.

And it was the thing that ended it for him. Thrusting upward as hard as he could, he came, tugging Cuddy along with him. His entire body tensing, pleasure pulsated through this prick, his orgasm being wrenched from him.

Shaking from the force, House felt completely drained by the time she collapsed on top of him. Their breathing coming out in loud heaves, if someone had walked in on them now, it would be absolutely impossible to deny that they'd just had mind-blowing sex. Neither had admitted that the other had turned them on, but the fact was:

They didn't need to say it.

What they'd just done twice had said it all.

And put in the context of how she'd come to him yesterday, concerned for him, for his wellbeing, it was impossible to deny that… this wasn't simply sex.

Which was truly terrifying, he thought, reality slowly beginning to filter into his consciousness. They cared about one another. A lot, and no matter how good they were in bed, he was still hallucinating, still miserable, still not right for her.

He thought he should say something to her. But the exhaustion he seemed to always feel these days was a stronger force. And for better or worse, not a single word escaped him before he fell into a deep slumber.

When he woke up a couple hours later, he wasn't surprised that Cuddy wasn't around. Nor was he surprised, though he was dismayed, to see that Amber had returned. Perched on the chair in his room, she seemed displeased. "Are you happy now, now that you've gotten your little booty call?"

He ignored her question, instead preferring to stand up and get ready for work… again.

But Amber persisted. "You realize now she's going to be looking over your shoulder during cases, don't you?"

"Wilson told her I was hallucinating," he replied quickly. "Cuddy was going to be babysitting anyway. Thought it might be a good idea to at least get laid if it was gonna be happening either way." Turning on the shower, House turned to look his hallucination in the eye. "Now, go away."

"Fine," she replied haughtily. But before she did, she added knowingly, warning him, "But the next time you see me, you won't like it."

At the time, he brushed her comment off. Considering he never liked seeing the proof that he was nuts, what she was saying didn't seem all that bad. And when nothing bad happened for the next few days, the worst incident being that Cuddy forced him into fulfilling his clinic duty after he'd declared loudly that he'd slept with her (no one believed him except Wilson), he completely forgot about what Amber had said.

Until he was driving home four days later afterwards.

His latest case had been solved. He'd been rationing the Vicodin he'd stolen from Cuddy pretty effectively. Things with Wilson were slowly beginning to go back to how they were, his friend gradually forgiving him for nearly killing himself (again).

And as for Cuddy, well, things hadn't gone back to normal yet.

Sometimes House had caught her watching him silently, indecision and concern in her gaze. But given that their relationship had been screwed up for a while, he hadn't worried too much about it. Because, he thought, for the foreseeable future anyway, it just seemed like they were destined to be in this state of limbo.

Nothing had been perfect – nothing would ever be perfect, but the last few days had been good, he realized. Especially since he hadn't seen Amber once, he'd been almost… happy, to be completely honest. Certainly, if he'd had to live the rest of his life like this, House knew that he'd be okay with that.

So when he left the hospital that day in his car (his bike hadn't been fixed from his accident, yet), Amber's words were the last thing on his mind. He'd put that out of his mind almost completely, not even remotely curious as to what she'd meant, and instead he was thinking about Cuddy's cleavage. She'd worn a push-up bra that day, a red one by his count, and somehow when compared to that, nothing else seemed quite as important to dwell on.

And that was what brought her back with a vengeance.

House's gaze was on the traffic when she spoke up. Her voice biting, she said, "Oh totally. Think about Cuddy's breasts and not the fact that you can't even completely deny yourself Vicodin for a week."

His head snapped towards the rearview window. But where as he'd only expected to see her….

He'd been so wrong.

Two sets of eyes were glancing back at him – Amber's and Kutner's.

The latter lounging next to the Bitch in the backseat, he said nothing. Blood dripping down the side of his face, onto his shirt and hands, he didn't need to. Kutner's angry, accusing eyes that were still somehow blank, devoid of life said it all.

Disbelief coursing through House's body, he blinked once, twice, hoping that each time he opened his eyes, Kutner would be gone.

But Kutner stayed.

Blood and brain matter, pain and sadness all over the younger man, he continued to sit next to Amber, both lifeless testaments to the fact that House had failed.

Guilt and fear seizing hold of him, he cringed when she reminded him, "I told you the next time you saw me, you wouldn't like it."

At that moment, a million questions ran through him. He wanted to ask why she was doing this, why she had warned him for something she couldn't possibly know was going to happen. He wanted to know why she wasn't going away, why he was so crazy that he was now seeing Kutner as well…

House wanted to know what it was, exactly, that he'd done wrong to deserve this.

But he didn't say any of those things aloud. Somehow knowing that he would never be able to trust her answer, he didn't bother.

Forcing himself to stay quiet, he tried to will the two hallucinations away. No longer paying attention to the traffic, he was only concerned with that, with making them go away. Fingers clutching the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles were turning white, House tried to fight off the feeling that he was completely losing his mind.

Minutes passed slowly – agonizingly slowly. Each second filled with the knowledge that they weren't going away, panic crept up on him not unlike how a spider maneuvered on its own web. Slipping past all of his defenses, all of his rationality, fear tugged at him firmly.

And it was that emotion, not Kutner or Amber, that began to whisper inside House's head, "There's nothing you can do to stop it. This is just going to keep happening. You can't will this away."

Swallowing the bitter taste of adrenaline, he knew – knew with everything he had – that that was true; this wasn't going to go away simply because he wanted it to.

This wasn't going to go away ever.

Unless he did something that they – he – didn't expect.

His mind made up in an instant, he completely changed directions. No longer headed towards his home, he said nothing, the knowledge that he was about to check himself into the hospital the only thing keeping him going.

But now he's been here for three days, and he's only seen Amber, and House is beginning to wonder if he made a mistake. "You're not crazy," she pipes up, interrupting his mental version of story time, her head resting on his pillow. "You don't belong here."

He cocks his head towards her. "Guess I am," he tells her wryly. "Since they're letting me stay."

She looks as though she's pondering his words for a second. However, when she speaks up next, it's clear that she's decided the matter isn't worth fighting over, because she's changed the subject… sort of. "You know, it's funny that you start the story with the fact that you've been seeing me." Her voice is very matter of fact as she points out, "You've hallucinated before."

House scoffs. "That was different. There were actual medical reasons why –"

"I don't mean when you were shot or got hit by a bus." She sounds annoyed but at the same time, almost amused by his thinking.


"After you kissed Cuddy," Amber immediately replies. "The mosquito bites." She laughs a little. "I'm surprised you haven't realized it yet – even after Wilson suggested that you were hallucinating it."

Her words make him feel as though he's been doused with ice water. The chill of realization reaching to his core, it snakes through him as House slowly begins to understand what she's saying.

She's not the first false image he's seen recently.

This problem has been going on for a while now, and she's just the first one he's actually noticed.

His stomach clenches painfully at the thought. He's been hallucinating all of this time, and there's no telling what's been real and what hasn't. Before he thought that he could distinguish real and fake by touch, but if what Amber's saying is true…

Then there isn't a way to determine what's real around him, the mosquito bites feeling so real at the time.

No such test exists when he can hear, see, and now feel his hallucinations.

And that makes him wonder:

Have his patients been real?

Did he really sleep with Cuddy?

Is this – everything around him, from the hospital bed to the fly – is that real?

He doesn't have any answers to those questions.

And he's suddenly terrified of everything around him and within him. He has no idea what's real and what's not, and House is painfully aware of that fact. Because he's seeing "psychiatric hospital" all around him, but a part of him is now whispering in his ear that maybe that's not where he is at all. He could be wandering around naked in a park for all he knows, for all he can tell.

Agitation thrums through his body, infecting every fiber of his being with the desire to lash out, to fight everything around him until he's found some bit of truth to cling to. The emotion blinds him to everything and everyone around him.

So much so that he, twisting and turning in his bed, nearly jumps out of his skin when Cuddy – or is it Cuddy? – says his name gently. "House."

His bright blue eyes snap towards the source of the voice. She's standing in the hospital room with him, though he's not sure how she got in here exactly. Arms folded across her chest, her gaze beginning to fill with tears, she looks as afraid as he feels. And maybe, he thinks, there's a reason for that. If she's just a product of his imagination, then maybe it makes sense that her emotions reflect his own.

He looks around the room, looks past her for some sort of sign either way. His confusion blatant, her feet move quickly to be closer to him. She sits on the bed eagerly, instantly taking his hand in hers. "House," she repeats in a tear-filled voice. "I'm here."

But he can't be sure of that, he tells himself. He can't know without a doubt, and unfortunately, there aren't any tests he can perform to determine whether or not she's a hallucination; there's no amount of logic that can help him weed his way through the situation sadly.

Visibly taken aback by his reaction, Cuddy, if it is her, leans down and kisses him. Her lips meeting his very briefly, she cups his cheek as she does so. The touch is soft, gentle, and he's almost ashamed to be so comforted by something he can't even be sure is real.

"I would have come sooner," she tells him quietly. "They called me for your medical records, and I wanted to come see you. But they wanted to observe you for seventy-two hours," she explains insistently, squeezing his hand in the hope that he'll understand.

He says nothing, because he isn't sure how he should react to her. Which makes her scrunch her face in confusion.

But she isn't willing to give up that easily. Licking her lips, Cuddy approaches the subject again. "House… why are you here? Why did you check yourself in here?"

His instinct is to react with bitterness, with anger. "You think I'm the poster child for sanity? I'm hallucinating dead people," he reminds her in a voice that he barely recognizes as his own. Because he was going for angry and bitter, but instead, what comes out is the sound of someone completely defeated, completely worn down by his own madness.

It seems appropriate that he should have absolutely no idea how far he's disintegrated until he's forced to confront it. He's not entirely sure why he feels that way; he just has this idea in his head that he's always prided himself on seeing patterns when no one else could and it seems right, in a way, that he should be clueless about his own health and body.

And he's not sure if it's that fact or the way Cuddy's mascara is beginning to mingle with her tears that makes him confess, "I'm losing my mind, Cuddy;" the reason doesn't matter.

That's what he's always said. Rationalizations don't matter; rationality does, and in this case, there's only one thing a reasonable person can conclude: he's insane. Although Cuddy doesn't seem to be aware of this fact. Leaning down, she pulls him into a fierce hug. "That's not true," she denies in a voice that's probably stronger than she feels. Lips pressing into his neck, she repeats, "That's not true."

But he knows that it is.

And he tells her so. "I'm seeing Kutner too," he confesses uneasily, trying to pull away from her. If she's not real, he doesn't want her touching him, doesn't want to take comfort in her.

Or perhaps that's not precisely true. He does want to be comforted by her. Right now, he's too terrified by the knowledge that he's completely lost it to want to refuse what little refuge she's offering him. He just thinks he shouldn't accept it.

However, Cuddy doesn't give him the option. Her arms around him refusing to let go, she reassures him, "It will be okay."

He repeats himself, fear infused in every word, "I'm losing my mind."

"No." She shakes her head vehemently. "You're not. I won't let that happen. Do you understand?" One of her hands beginning to rub circles on his back, she reiterates, "I won't let that happen. It will be okay."

There's a determination in her voice that he's not used to associating with her. She's always been a strong woman, but House doesn't think she's usually like this – absolutely single-minded about how this is going to turn out. And he wonders then if she's acting like this, because she's too afraid to think of the other options involved.

God knows he is.

He also wonders if maybe she only sounds this way, because she's a product of his own mind, because she's somehow representing that part of himself.

But House doesn't think about it too much, the desire to believe her overriding all sense of logic. She might not be real, he understands, but his need to believe what she's saying is. It overrides everything inside of him, tearing down the barriers he so often erects when she's around.

Burying his face into her dark hair, he allows himself to take comfort in what she's saying. He might not be able to stop himself from losing his mind, but he can and will allow himself this temporary reprieve. He tells himself not to forget that she might not be real, the sparse kisses she's planting on his temple potentially figments of his imagination.

But it's impossible to forget that this could all be fake.

Amber's ever-present and non-existent gaze won't let him.

The End