A/N: This story is set before the series started, after the infarction, and just after Stacy left. I have made the assumption that House was already working at PPTH when he had the infarction, but hadn't formed the Diagnostic department yet. Needless to say, House is in a lot of pain and is at his darkest and most miserable.
Please note that, unlike most of my stories, this is not a romance. It's not a long story, really just a lengthy one-shot -- I'll be posting it in four parts. Thanks for reading!
"Uh, is Stacy here?"
She was hoping Stacy would have answered the door. Hoping that he might not even be home. No such luck.
"What, you one of her little charity cases?" he sneered. He leaned heavily against the door and Kelly didn't need the smell of bourbon wafting from him to know that he was drunk.
He narrowed his eyes to peer at her jaw line and Kelly's hand flew to her face, an automatic response. She'd forgotten she had no makeup on and her long dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, so it provided no camouflage either. The bruises were almost gone, invisible if she put concealer on, but without any foundation they were still a colorful reminder of last week's drama.
"I'm Kelly, I'm 2D." She gave him a small smile, trying to be polite. She really needed his help, after all, drunk or not. He watched her hand as she dropped it back by her side and Kelly knew he could see it was shaking. From the bone-deep cold or almost paralyzing fear – she wasn't sure.
"More like 36D," he leered.
Before she could stop herself, Kelly looked down at her body, following his gaze. It was a pointless comment: she was wearing at least four layers, topped with a huge winter coat buttoned up to her neck and a bulky scarf. No curves at all were visible – not even the big one at the front. She looked like the Michelin Man. Felt like it too.
"I was hoping I could speak to Stacy. Is she home?" she tried again.
"When will she be back?"
"The twelfth of never."
"Oh." Well that explained why she hadn't seen Stacy around lately. Not that they were close enough that Stacy would inform her that she was leaving. Just friendly neighbors – Stacy always asked after her health when they met in the hallway or near the mailboxes.
At hearing Stacy was no longer around, Kelly's anxiety went up a notch – something she hardly thought possible.
He started to close the door in her face and Kelly put a hand out to stop him. "I . . . I really needed to talk to Stacy," she said, her voice quavering.
He sighed exasperatedly. "Well, you can't. She's not here. Won't be gracing us with her presence this evening. Or ever again."
"Yeah, but—" She fell silent. How to explain?
He frowned. "Waddya want? Having this door open is letting in the cold. It's freezing out there. Talk or leave."
He really was just as awful as Maria had warned. Her fear bubbled over into babbling. "There's something wrong and my heating isn't working. I'm freezing up there and with the storm they told me they can't get a repair guy here for at least twenty-four hours, maybe longer. The 911 guy said I wasn't a real emergency. And Maria's at her daughter's place for the holidays and Frank's gone to Florida for a couple of weeks." She took a deep breath, having spoken all that without one. At least doing so had kept her from stuttering or her voice from breaking.
He looked genuinely – if drunkenly – confused. "Frank? Maria?"
"Your neighbors?" Kelly explained, starting to get exasperated. "Frank from 2A and Maria's in 2C. I'm in 2D. And you're in 2B – and the only one home tonight with heating that works." The warmth radiating out into the corridor was tantalizing, and Kelly could glimpse the flickering shadows of a wood fire. Her apartment didn't even have a fireplace, she rued. If it had, maybe she wouldn't have to be begging favors from this shmuck. Although even if she did have an open fire, she'd still have a problem on her hands. Worst snow storm in a century, so the TV reporters were saying. Icy and blocked roads preventing any emergency services getting through for several hours, the 911 operator had rudely told her. Once she'd finally gotten through.
"Frank and Maria, huh? What do they do?"
For someone who'd wanted to close the door in her face a moment ago, the guy was suddenly very chatty. He was playing with her, Kelly realized, but right now he held all the power. She had little choice but to play along. "Frank's retired. Maria works in a bookshop at the university."
Kelly was frantically running through back-up plans in her head. Nope, this was it. This was absolutely her last go-to option. She supposed she could try the building next door, but she didn't actually know if she could make the few steps required out there in the icy, howling wind. There was always retreat, she guessed, go back upstairs and just pile on the blankets and hope for the best. But, no. Someone – no matter how awful – was better than no one, right?
Don't stress Gumby, she whispered internally.
"And what about you?" A faint, grim amusement shone in his eyes and Kelly gave brief thought to what sort of breakup he and Stacy might have had. He didn't have bruises, so it couldn't have been as bad as her own. Unless Stacy did. Nah, Kelly corrected herself silently, she couldn't see the elegant, mannered woman anywhere near domestic violence of any kind.
"Look, I don't mean to intrude, but could I p-possibly come inside? I'm really cold."
He folded his arms, still leaning against the door jamb for balance. He was wearing jeans, a dark blue t-shirt and a paler blue shirt that looked as if it had never seen an iron. His hair was sticking up all over the place and he clearly hadn't shaved for several days. If she'd seen him on the street, she'd have avoided walking near him.
"Tell me what you do first." His manner was halfway between irritated and interested.
"I'm a-a-a bookkeeper at a law firm." Her shivering had started to become violent enough to interfere with speech. Mostly because of the cold. Mostly.
"You and Stacy work together, huh?"
"What? No." Now it was Kelly's turn to be confused. Maria had said the couple in 2B were a lawyer and a doctor. She'd just always assumed that the rude asshole was the lawyer and sweet and polite Stacy was the doctor. It matched to her personal experience. But learning that it was the other way around made her almost dizzy. With relief. It wasn't Stacy she wanted after all, it was him.
"So what, you've done cases together or something? How do you know Stacy?"
"I'm your neighbor, remember?" Her relief was short-lived. What help could he be even if he was a doctor? He was barely sober enough to stand up straight.
"And you want me to fix your heating?" he asked, blinking slowly.
"No. I mean, unless you can. Can you?"
"I didn't think so. I just need to be somewhere warm." That was enough for now, Kelly thought. She'd bring out the other reason she needed help only if he refused. Or once she was inside and was completely sure she was right.
We'll be fine Gumby, somehow, I promise you.
He begrudgingly held the door open and let her step inside. "You can come in for a while. Just until you get warm. But I'm watching TV and I don't want to be disturbed."
Kelly was shivering violently now, her whole body wracked with shaking. "I-I-I won't disturb you." She reached in and pulled a slim novel from her pocket she'd had the foresight to bring. Funny because she hadn't brought anything else she really might need.
He closed the door behind her and then turned away, limping over to the one sofa in the room, making her realize that his balance issues might not be entirely down to alcohol consumption. Belatedly she remembered the other news Maria had passed on the last time they'd spoken: the guy in 2B had recently had some kind of injury to his leg. Maria had been hazy on the details, but said that he was apparently in a lot of pain.
Kelly had been pretty caught up in her own dramas the past few weeks, so whatever had happened in apartment 2B had passed her by, although she had heard raised voices at nights sometimes. When that had happened, she couldn't help wondering what had drawn the two of them together in the first place – his pain might be an excuse now, but he'd always been a rude so-and-so.
Putting those thoughts to one side, Kelly took a few further steps inside and looked around. She had never been in the apartment before, but hers, one floor directly above, had an identical floor plan. Only this guy clearly had money to buy expensive furnishings, artwork, even a baby grand. Nice. Quite a difference to the second-hand, threadbare furnishings in her own place. Although at least she had two sofas.
He stretched out full length on the single couch, reclining in the position he'd probably been in before she'd made him get up and answer the door – complete with a glass of whisky sitting on his chest. He made no attempt to take her coat, invite her to sit down or any other niceties. Kelly wasn't much into chivalry – she could open her own door – but there was basic politeness. And given her current state, he could have offered her a place on the sofa. A chair even. Even total strangers gave her a seat on the bus occasionally.
Looking around the room, Kelly wondered where she could sit down. The piano stool seemed to be the only other option – and that wasn't going to be comfortable for very long. In the end she settled for the floor near the windows – a long radiator panel there probably made it the warmest place in the room anyway, apart from right in front of the open fire. But she could see the fire from there, even had a glimpse of the TV screen. And she could just see the top of her host's head – she could keep an eye on him and he couldn't see her. Which was probably all very well.
Getting down on the floor was a struggle, made even more difficult by her many layers, but she had to get a little heat into her freezing body before she was ready to take even one of them off.
"There we go Gumby," she whispered to herself, careful that he couldn't overhear. She didn't want to get off on the wrong foot with him thinking she was a lunatic.
It was pure bliss being surrounded by warmth again. She held her hands as close to the radiator as possible without burning them – they were so numb she was finding it difficult to judge temperature. For long moments she just sat, eyes closed, breathing slowly and trying to bring her shivering under control. She tried hard to blank her mind, not to think about anything else, just have a few minutes of peace and ignorance. Pretend she wasn't nauseated by her excitement and terror about what the next few hours might hold.
Slowly, piece by piece, she took off the coat, then the jacket, then the sweater. Until finally she was wearing what she'd put on that morning: thick leggings, a loose-fitting jersey dress and a wool cardigan. Everything was black, except the cardigan which had green stems and red roses embroidered on it, trailing up each panel in the front.
She created a little nest out of her discarded clothing and leaned against the wall, surprised to find she was quite comfortable. Well, as comfortable as she could be, given the circumstances. She scrunched up the sweater into a little ball and pressed it into the small of her back, relieving some of the tension there. She grabbed her book and lost herself in a couple of chapters while the TV blared – some sport that Kelly hadn't bothered to look hard enough to identify. She shifted every few minutes, readjusting her cramping back when the pain peaked, but she kept her movements small, her breathing quiet and he didn't seem to notice her at all.
Unfortunately it wasn't long before her body demanded his peace be disturbed.
"Uh, do you mind if I use your bathroom?" Calling out to him, Kelly felt a little ridiculous, like a disgraced pet or something, banished to the corner of the room. But just because he had no manners whatsoever didn't mean she had to stoop to his level. It had only been a matter of time – not very much time these days – until she'd need the bathroom and a drink of water. She figured she could do both if Mr Smarmy Lord And Master here gave permission for her to leave her little hovel in the corner.
Which she should be grateful for, she reminded herself. He could have just not let her in. And she'd be sitting upstairs slowly turning into an ice block. Gumby too.
He grunted and waved a hand towards the corridor.
She figured that was approval, so she got up carefully and padded out of the living room, hushed and inconspicuous as possible. If she could just stay quiet, mouse-like, in the corner until the storm was over and the roads were clear then everything would be fine.
The clear evidence that everything would not be fine struck her twice.
First in the bathroom when removing her leggings and panties let her know that she'd either not been quick enough to the bathroom or some other fluid had leaked from her. Quite a lot of it. She had no choice but to use one his towels, making him a silent promise that she'd buy a new one. It was really just confirmation of her suspicions – the growing heavy pulling in her belly had been getting worse all day. Bad enough to call 911 when she'd heard the weather report. She still remembered the exasperated tone of the operator. "You either are in labor or you're not. And if you're not, then you're wasting my time when I could be attending to real emergencies! Have you seen the weather out there lady?" Feeling embarrassed and ashamed of herself, Kelly had hung up.
The second time was when she walked back out into the living room to find him twisted around looking at her with an extremely displeased expression.
"You're pregnant." His tone was accusing.
"You're very pregnant."
"Yes. Thirty nine weeks yesterday."
"And I made you sit on the floor." Not a hint of apology in his voice.
"You could have told me."
Trust him to make his rudeness her fault. But, through force of habit, Kelly apologized. "Sorry, I thought you knew. I have been living in the apartment above you for more than a year."
"How was I supposed to know? I don't take any notice of stuff here."
"I'm sorry, I thought you knew," she repeated. And that you were just a total prick for making the pregnant lady sit on the floor in the corner. She left that part unsaid.
He pulled his legs off the sofa, supporting one of them with his hand, and sat up. He grimaced as he did so and Kelly was reminded again that he'd suffered some injury. But that wasn't really the most important thing on her mind right then. "Um, I have other news."
"Don't tell me, you're in labor." He was staring down at his right thigh, rubbing it with his hand.
His head snapped up to look at her. "What? Fuck, really? I was kidding."
"I'm really sorry." Kelly shrunk away from his swearing. "And . . . I . . . I think I owe you a new towel. My water just broke."
His eyes skimmed over her and seemed to take note that she was no longer wearing her leggings. Or her panties, although he couldn't see that. Bizarrely he seemed instantly sober, or else his drunken behavior earlier had been an affectation, Kelly wasn't sure.
"You'd better sit on the sofa instead of the floor then," he said begrudgingly. "But get a towel first; I don't want you ruining the leather."
"I can use my coat," Kelly offered, not wanting to cause more trouble.
He rolled his eyes, making her feel that if she'd been an imposition before, now she was a pure aggravation. She went back to the bathroom and collected a fresh towel, folding it on the sofa before sitting down on top of it. Her face flamed with embarrassment: no matter how natural the cause, sitting on a towel because you were in danger of leaking on a stranger's sofa was more than a little humiliating.
He seemed just as uncomfortable as she was. He got up and began pacing around the room, rubbing his right thigh and leaning heavily on an old-fashioned cane. "So are you going to call 911?"
"I already did, from home. They told me to call back."
"They said they had too many emergency calls and I wasn't a priority."
"That's . . ." He trailed off, muttering. "Let me try."
He picked up his cell phone and dialed as he paced, putting it on speaker so Kelly could hear.
The ring tone sounded over and over – too many times to Kelly's ears. Abruptly it switched to a recorded message. We are currently experiencing a large volume of calls and our system is congested. We will try to answer your call as soon as possible. If you do not have a true emergency please seek assistance elsewhere so we can attend to the most urgent situations. Otherwise, please hold.
"What the fuck?"
Kelly thought for a moment he might throw the phone against the wall. The man was angry, angrier than an unanswered phone deserved. She wondered if she should feel scared about being alone with him, but then the pain gripped her again, harder than before. She sucked in a breath but otherwise held in her reaction, not wanting to attract his anger her way.
He grabbed the TV remote and flipped on the news channel.
"—storm that meteorologists are calling 'once in a century'. All schools and universities are closed as are most public offices. Emergency services are struggling to respond due to the combination of thick ice and a new layer of heavy snow this afternoon. Police tell us that they are focusing on keeping the major roads around hospitals and fire stations clear, and that they don't expect to get to local roads for at least another twenty-four hours. People are urged to stay inside and keep warm. Back to you Michelle."
He swore again violently as the news program returned to the studio presenter.
"Didn't you realize?" Kelly asked. "There've been warnings out all day. That's why I called earlier, even when I wasn't sure if I really was in labor."
"Why are you alone? Where's the baby daddy?" He sat down heavily again next to her.
"Hopefully burning in the boiling pits of hell," she muttered, more to herself than him.
"Yeah, well no less than he deserves."
"He responsible for the bruises?" He didn't look at her as he asked.
"Yep. But his were worse."
He snorted a laugh and sat back on the sofa, relaxing slightly. "Good for you."
She supposed it was, although at the time she'd been horrified, wondered where on earth she'd picked up such violent tendencies. It was completely out of character and Kelly knew she would remember Alex's startled expression for a long time to come. In the end she put it down to hormones, figuring the self-protective instinct must be heightened when you have another life inside you.
They were silent for a while, watching the news program as it relayed one storm disaster story after another. People trapped in cars, multi-car pile ups, children crushed by falling trees laden with heavy loads of snow and ice.
"Let me try something else," he said after a while. He picked up his phone again and dialed.
Kelly could just make out the voice on the other end – certainly the concerned, slightly panicked tone to it came through clearly.
"House, I was going to call, but we're being slammed in the ER – it's all hands on deck. Are you okay? Are you at home?"
"Shut up Wilson. I'm fine."
"Have you got enough food to last you? They're saying the roads are closed, but I could see about trying to get someone out to—"
"That's why I'm calling."
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. But my pregnant neighbor's in labor and she's turned up on my doorstep – as if I can do anything about it."
Kelly was faintly surprised that the other voice didn't seem at all taken aback by his aggression. "Did you try 911?" the other doctor asked calmly.
"Shit, really? Okay, I'll talk to some paramedics here and see what I can do. What stage is she at?"
He looked over at her, the first time he'd properly met her eyes. She couldn't help noticing how blue they were – and how bloodshot. "How far apart are your contractions?"
"Seven or eight minutes," Kelly guessed, shrugging. She didn't have a watch and had been using the oven clock at home, so had lost track when she'd come downstairs.
"Still early stage one. Membranes have ruptured, but—" He broke off and looked at her again. "How old are you?"
"This your first?"
"Wilson? There's no rush. Looks like I'm going to be stuck with her for a while." He sighed heavily and Kelly once again had the embarrassing feeling of being nothing more than an awkward and unwanted problem. Which in his eyes, of course, she was.
The two men talked a little longer, but Kelly didn't pay attention, lost in her own thoughts. She felt angry with him, probably because he was closest and most convenient. Did he think this was how she wanted things? It wasn't like she was all that keen to be stranded with her irritable and snappy neighbor in the middle of a snowstorm. She'd had plans, goddamnit! A nice, neat birthing suite with a caring and friendly midwife. Alex by her side, practicing the breathing they'd learned in class together. But that was before. Before she'd discovered Alex's betrayal – before he'd got physical when she confronted him.
The entire world was different now.
"That was a friend of mine at Princeton Plainsboro hospital," he said, breaking into Kelly's thoughts. "He's going to try to organize an ambulance for you from there."
"Great, thanks." Through her gritted teeth she knew she didn't sound at all grateful. But maybe he figured she was having a contraction, or maybe he just didn't care, because he didn't react at all.
All of a sudden he got up and started pacing around, his face a mask of pain that he didn't bother to hide. His limp was heavier and he grabbed up a vial of pills from the small table next to the sofa, tilting them up to his mouth like they were candy.
Kelly found herself feeling some sympathy towards him, although she wasn't entirely sure why. She had enough going on without needing extra emotions crowding in. Her relief at finding herself conveniently stranded with a doctor had evaporated at knowing he was a drunk – and seemingly drugged – asshole who seemed to barely care that she existed, let alone that she was scared and in pain.
Up until today she'd been excited about labor, about finally getting to meet the little guy inside she'd dubbed Gumby. She'd felt confident in her ability to handle it. But now the excitement was diluted by terror – a little like being on a rollercoaster that had already pulled away from the dock just when you'd decided it might be too much for you. And knowing that it was more than likely that this man was going to be with her for the ride? It was like the rollercoaster had had its safety bars removed and she just had to hang on, white knuckled, hoping to reach the end in one piece.
Well, two pieces, really, in this case.
She realized she didn't know his name.
"I know. You said."
She blew out a breath in frustration. "Yeah, but I don't know your name."
"Greg, Greg House."
"Nice to meet you Greg."
His voice dripped with sarcasm, but Kelly wasn't sure what it implied. That meeting him wasn't a pleasure? Or that he was sure she must be incredibly grateful to be in his presence? Because bizarrely, both were true.
For another hour or so, they sat watching the TV in silence. Every few minutes Kelly would bite her lip or suck in her breath, but other than that and the noise from the TV the room was quiet. At some point he got up and grabbed a laptop, sitting it on his lap, careful to ensure she couldn't see the screen.
After the silence finally got too much, Kelly broke it.
"What you looking up?" She tried to sound friendly.
"Porn." His gruff, matter-of-fact answer was enough to shut down any possibility of further conversation and the silence descended again. Now the only other sound was the occasional tap of him typing on the computer.
Another half hour passed, a stupid sitcom on the screen. It was a show Kelly hated, but she figured she had no right to ask for it to be changed. It was getting more and more uncomfortable to sit on the sofa pretending nothing was happening. The pain from her contractions was getting more intense, more difficult to ignore. She had an almost irresistible urge to get up and walk around.
"I'm going to pee," he announced. He put the laptop down on the floor. "Don't touch it. I'm downloading Dykes on Trikes."
Once she heard the bathroom door closing, Kelly shifted the computer with her foot, leaning over to look at the screen, giving in to her curiosity. Sure enough, there was an explicit and ugly screen showing naked women, motorbikes and other items Kelly didn't want to think about. But at the bottom of the screen she could see other windows were open, the tabs showing various words, some of which she didn't recognize and others that appeared to be in a foreign language. Careful to listen for the sounds that would indicate he had finished in the bathroom, she leaned over and flicked the mouse and confirmed her suspicions. They were all related to childbirth – labor, delivery positions, complications.
She didn't know whether to feel pleased or sick. At least he was taking it seriously – the very real likelihood that she'd have to give birth before help arrived and he'd have to assist. But the fact that he was researching it also worried her. A sudden thought hit her: what kind of doctor was he anyway? He could be a podiatrist for all she knew! But he'd been talking to a doctor who was working in the ER at Princeton's top hospital, from what she'd overheard. Surely if he couldn't handle it, that doctor would have said something, seemed more concerned.
She heard the sound of flushing and quickly returned the computer to the screen he'd left it on and twisted it back the way he'd set it down. She stretched back, unkinking the knots she'd given herself just from leaning sideways. And right then she was hit with the strongest contraction she'd had so far. A sharp, biting cramp that wiped any other thought from her mind. She gasped, shocked, her hands clasping her belly instinctively.
On the periphery, she was aware of him returning to the room, heading into the kitchen and opening the fridge. He pulled out a couple of bottles of water and then plonked himself back down on the couch next to her.
Kelly pulled herself back in, making a deliberate effort to restrain herself. She'd watched him for the past few hours, she could see that he was in pain and making no effort to hide it. And whether it was that, or her own embarrassment, or just a need to try to keep control of something, when everything else was totally out of control, she just felt she had to keep her pain inside.
He handed her a bottle of water before twisting the top of his and drinking about half of it in one go.
"No more whisky?" Kelly asked after taking a sip of water, once she was sure her breath was under control, that her voice would come out normally.
"Figure if there's a chance I have to deliver a baby, I'd try it sober. Fewer issues for my lawyers that way." Once again his tone was brittle, accusing.
"Sorry I spoiled your evening." Once again she wasn't quite sure why she was apologizing, but she said it quietly anyway.
"Yeah, 'cause I was having such a sterling night before you arrived."
The bitterness of his comment surprised her, but she had no idea what to say in response.
They fell silent again, both sipping their water.
After a few minutes, Kelly had another contraction, not as strong as the last one, but still enough to make her grit her teeth and hold her breath. After it passed she slumped back into the sofa.
He gave her a bored look. "You know, I appreciate your avoiding the screaming, but holding it all in like that isn't good for you."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the fact that you must be in pain and you haven't made a peep for the past two hours. It's kind of annoying me, actually."
"You're in pain too."
He sighed. "Yeah."
"So if you can be stoic, so can I."
"Yeah, but me being stoic won't make any difference to how long I'll be in pain."
"What do you mean?"
"Trying to control yourself like that can make your labor longer. It can even stop you progressing."
"Yeah, so they say."
"So what? Should I scream? I don't think I want to scream."
"God, please, no screaming. But not holding your breath might be a start."
His voice was dismissive, cold and sarcastic, and he made Kelly feel stupid, as if what he was saying was obvious and she should apologize just for making him use up the oxygen having to state it aloud.
"Okay. Sorry." Her own voice was getting quieter and quieter. It was her usual pattern – when confronted by any conflict or aggression her natural response was just to try to make herself as small a target as possible. It was why she liked her job: she just had to process numbers and put them in spreadsheets and email them to people. She barely even attended meetings, which was just the way she liked it.
"Didn't you do a class or something?" he asked. "You look like the kind of person to do a class."
"Yeah, I did."
"So do whatever they told you. I imagine holding your breath wasn't advised."
"No, it wasn't." Seeing as they were having what passed for a conversation, Kelly asked the question on the top of her mind. "So, are you a real doctor?"
"What do you mean 'a real doctor'?"
"I mean a medical doctor? I thought Stacy was the doctor and you were a lawyer, but I didn't know what kind of doctor."
He gave a small, genuine smile, but it was only for a second, and then it disappeared behind his usual scowl. "Yeah, she probably has the better bedside manner. Not so good with the difficult patients, though," he added cryptically. He paused. "But in answer to your question, yes I'm a medical doctor. Specialties in infectious diseases and nephrology. Not obstetrics. But I can pull out my homework from med school if the snow doesn't let up."
His aggression made her feel small and silly, but his boasting just plain irritated her. "Excuse me if I don't think that's exactly reassuring."
"Do you need reassuring?"
Did she? She had the awful thought that she probably did, but the need to keep some semblance of control meant she just made a "pft" noise at him.
He got up and staggered over to a large bookshelf. He knelt down with agonizing slowness and reviewed the bottom shelves for a moment before selecting a large text book, at least two inches thick. He turned, more quickly than Kelly expected, and threw the book at her. She flinched, but he'd thrown precisely and the tome landed with a heavy thump on the cushion next to her – right where he'd been sitting.
Kelly looked at the cover: Williams Obstetrics 10th Edition.
"I've read it. Feel better?" he said dismissively.
"I read a book on space once, doesn't mean I can fly you to the moon." The retort came fast and was out of her lips before she had time to think whether or not it was wise.
He surprised her by chuckling at that. "Yeah, well if you don't have a baby and we avoid NASA, both of us will be just fine."
She couldn't help a smile at his lame joke and he smiled back. Well, some kind of facial expression that passed as a smile.
His cell phone rang out just then, interrupting the almost comradely atmosphere that had just developed.
He stood up, grasping the bookshelves for support. When his weight went on to his right leg, he staggered and let out a grunt of pain and the shelves wobbled ominously. Kelly gasped in apprehension, but he regained his balance before anything toppled over, then limped across to where his cell phone perched on the arm of the sofa.
The voice on the other end spoke for a few seconds before he switched the phone to loudspeaker so Kelly could hear it too.
"—telling me there's very little chance they'll get to you tonight."
"House, we just had a crew in here who'd attended an MVA around your neighborhood. They barely made it here, said the roads are all but impassable. They told me it would be more dangerous to try to get to you and then get her to the hospital than for you both to stay there and take your chances."
"You want me to get an OB on standby? I can get them to give you a call, talk you through it."
"I think I know how to deliver a baby, Wilson."
"You sure? It's been a while."
"You just need earplugs and a catcher's mitt, don't you?"
"House." The voice was concerned.
House sighed and gave Kelly a faintly disgusted look. "Text me the number of someone I can call if I need to."
"Okay, I'll send through Dawson's cell number. And call me any time."
"Yeah, the oncologist is sure to have a lot to offer."
The other man ignored the insult. "I've signed on to work in the ER til morning, so I'll be available."
"Sounds like fun."
"Take care, House. Don't . . . well . . . call me if you need to."
He hung up the call and sat down heavily. "Damn."
He seemed genuinely surprised by the news, whereas Kelly had already pretty much come to terms with it. After speaking to the 911 operator earlier, she'd almost resigned herself to giving birth alone. Now at least she had company. Medically trained company with an obstetrician on speed dial. It could be worse.
"It'll be okay," she said.
He sneered at her reassurance. "Oh yeah, it's gonna be a barrel of laughs."
She swallowed hard. "Do you want to . . . I mean, should you . . . examine me?"
"But I thought you would want to—"
He gave her a withering look. "Yeah, I was just sitting here minding my own business, thinking, gee I hope a pregnant woman turns up so I can look at some pussy."
His comment made her angry and flustered, but Kelly was annoyed with herself that her embarrassment won out over her anger. She cringed into the corner of the sofa. "I didn't mean—"
"Ah, forget it."
Kelly wondered if that was what passed as an apology for him.
He stood up again, turning away from her. He leaned one hand on the sofa for balance and stretched out his bad leg with a low groan, vigorously rubbing his thigh. "If everything's going okay, I don't need to look at you until the kid's about to come out," he said, his voice tight. "In fact it's better not to – we're not in a hospital, nothing's sterile. The less we poke around in your vagina the better."
"Oh." He could have just told her that in the first place?
Another contraction spasmed across her belly and Kelly let out an "ah" of pain, the first vocalization she'd allowed herself. Suddenly unable to keep herself contained any longer, she pushed up from the sofa and paced to the door, almost as if she planned to throw it open and run away. But instead she turned and walked back to the sofa, bracing her hands on the back of it while she struggled to gain control of her breathing again, her eyes closed and focused inwards.
When she opened them again she found him staring at her. They each leaned on opposite ends of the sofa for support, unknowingly echoing the other's pose.
Suddenly, more than anything, Kelly wanted to get away from him. Away from those hollowed, empty, blue eyes that did nothing but reflect and magnify pain. Even another room would do. Would have to do.
"Um, do you mind if I lie down?" She gestured towards the bedroom, uncertain, because she didn't know what to expect from him. He might just as easily tell her to lie on the floor.
He gave her a short nod and then looked away, back down at his leg.
Kelly gathered up her towel from the sofa and walked down the hallway, feeling that rollercoaster sensation once again. The car was slowly climbing the precipice and she had no idea how she'd react when the descent came.