by Ticcy

"You ready to go home?" Cuddy asked quietly from the door.

House looked up from where he was seated on the edge of the hospital bed. He stared at her, his hands resting limp on his thighs, his shoulders hunched. He didn't know whether to be angry at Cuddy just for the sake of finding something to be angry at, or to cower and hide himself away from her gaze. Anger would've been safer, more familiar. After all, he'd spent the last God only knew how many years feeling angry. But after the ordeal of everything that had happened, he just couldn't find it in himself to be angry right now. Just tired. Defeated. Ashamed.

He looked away and nodded almost imperceptibly. "I'll take your things out to the car, then," Cuddy said.

He listened to the sound of her heels clicking across the floor, an almost timid sound as though she was trying to tiptoe. Walking on eggshells. Every noise around him seemed disconnected, like he was hearing everything from underwater. Mental breakdown, his attending psychiatrist had called it. Depression. Post-traumatic stress. Adjustment disorder. Acute stress. Names House understood well medically but refused to believe applied to him. "You ready?"

Pulled out of his thoughts, House glanced up at Cuddy. He nodded again, then rose from the bed and followed her out of the room he'd called home for the past several weeks. He could feel people's eyes on him as he passed through the corridors - or at least, he was sure they were looking at him - and the cold wind that greeted him when he stepped out of the psychiatric hospital cut through his clothes and felt like cold fingers crawling all over his skin. He let Cuddy take his arm in her hand as she guided him to her car.

He didn't say anything during the hour-long trip home. He watched the scenery rush by while Cuddy drove, of trees covered in dying leaves, cars parked in the streets, people walking to or from the places they were headed, and it was as though he was observing it all through frosted glass - shapes and colours that all bled into each other, without any meaning. He was aware of Cuddy glancing at him every so often, perhaps waiting for an explanation, a reason, maybe an apology. God knew he owed her one. He owed her a lot of things and none of them would undo the past several weeks he'd put her through.

She finally pulled into his street and parked a little further down from his apartment. "We're here," she said unnecessarily. Apart from the car engine, her voice was the first thing to break the silence between them.

House said nothing. Instead, he opened the door and climbed out and went to reach for the back door handle to fetch his bags from the back seat where Cuddy had stashed them.

"I'll get those," she said as she got out.

House shook his head. "It's fine," he murmured. The first words he'd said to her since she arrived at the hospital to pick him up. "I got them."

"House..." She hurried around the car and stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Go inside. I've got the bags."

"I'm not an invalid."

"I never said you were. Just--"

"Go home."

"You know I can't do that, House."

"I don't need a babysitter."

He felt her hand squeeze his arm. "You need someone to take care of you."

"No, I don't."

"House, I'm under strict instructions to keep a close eye on your for the next fortnight--"

"You have a kid. The kid needs you more than me."

Cuddy pressed her lips into a thin line. "Our kid is with my parents for the next two weeks. What matters is getting you better--"

"Go home, Cuddy."

"Don't. Don't dismiss me." The sharpness of her tone made House look straight at Cuddy. Her eyes were reddening with tears, her face twisted in anguish and her lower lip trembling slightly. "You don't get to attempt suicide and then dismiss me, House."

He stared at her, struck with a sudden blow of guilt and shame to his gut. Cuddy drew in a shaky breath and House watched her use every vestige of her self-control to collect herself. He saw her throat flex as she swallowed thickly.

"Go inside," she said in a controlled voice. She released his arm. "I'll bring your bags in."

He looked away, then stepped back and limped slowly for the steps. He opened the front door and as he stepped into his apartment, an eerie feeling of deja vu hit him. His apartment was exactly as it was the last time he'd been here. He could almost believe just by looking around that the last few weeks had never happened. His eyes drifted down the hall, to the direction of his bedroom, the last place he'd been after he washed all those pills down with a bottle of bourbon. The same place Cuddy had found him. He didn't remember that part, though. All he could remember was wanting to drown everything out - the nightmares, the flashbacks, everything.

He heard Cuddy's footsteps approach the front door and he quickly pulled out of his thoughts and walked further into the room, tugging his scarf from around his neck. Behind him, Cuddy closed the doors and dumped his bags on the floor. Again, he was aware of her eyes on him, could feel her watching his back. He couldn't bring himself to face her.

"I'll... I'll put some coffee on," she said in a quiet voice after a stifling pause.

House just nodded. He shrugged out of his coat and draped it over the back of his couch and made the mistake of looking in the direction of the kitchen. Cuddy had stopped by the kitchen doorway and was watching him again. He felt like a deer caught in the headlights. The past few weeks had paid its toll on her, he could tell. She had bags under her eyes, her skin was pale and she was wringing her hands together anxiously, something she always did when she was uptight or upset. Something she'd probably been doing a lot of lately. He hadn't meant to hurt her. In fact, he hadn't been thinking about that at all when he'd done it. All he'd been able to think about was escape, a way out, sick of being trapped so deeply in darkness that he felt like he was drowning. At the time, he'd believed Cuddy would be better off without him, anyway. Everyone would've been. But that was three, almost four weeks ago. He'd had time to do a lot of thinking since then. A lot.

"I'm sorry," he found himself saying in a hollow voice.

Cuddy shook her head, quick and terse. "Don't," she repeated. She shook her head again and crossed her arms protectively over her middle, huddling in on herself. She sighed another shaky sigh and in the next instant, her arms were reaching out for him as she strode across the room. He was grabbed into an embrace, one that almost toppled him off balance, with Cuddy clinging onto him like she was terrified of ever letting go. "Don't ever do that to me again," she whispered hoarsely into his neck.

House stood still, uncertain how to react or what to do. He swallowed and shuffled awkwardly on the spot while Cuddy's arms squeezed him harder, tighter, a quiet shuddering breath buried against the side of his neck. "I'm sorry," was all he could think to repeat.

"No." Cuddy pulled back and abruptly seized his face in her hands, giving him no choice but to look down at her. Her cheeks were smudged with tears and a single line of clear mucus was running down from her nose. "Don't ever be sorry. Don't... Just don't." She tugged him towards her until his forehead met hers. "Just don't."

He swallowed again. He thought maybe he was supposed to feel something besides shame. Gladness that Cuddy was here, that she wasn't angry at him, even anger that she wasn't angry with him. Something. Anything. But shame blocked everything else out like white noise. He numbly stared at her while she ran her hands down the sides of his face and leaned up to press a quivering kiss to his lips.

"I wish you'd talk to me," she whispered. "Why didn't you tell me--"

"Cuddy," he murmured. The last thing he wanted was to get into a discussion about this. Not now. Not ever if he could help it.

"I'm here for you, I've always been here for you."

He pushed her back slightly. "Don't."



"Talk to me." She grabbed his head firmly in her hands, startling him. "Don't push me away."

He opened his mouth to argue, ready to shove her back again. He couldn't bring himself to fight, though. He closed his eyes, then nodded. "Later," he said. He opened his eyes again, suddenly so overcome with weariness his bones ached to their core. "Later," he said again. "Just not now."

Cuddy licked her lips. She then likewise nodded. "Okay," she agreed, sounding equal parts relenting and reluctant. "Okay." She slid her hands from his face down to his chest and rested them there. The warmth of her palms through his clothes was comforting. "Get some rest. I'll be here when you wake up."

"I know," he replied. He stepped to the side and brushed past Cuddy, dragging his feet towards the direction of his bedroom, and he felt the weight of Cuddy's gaze on him the entire way there.