A/N: Hi everyone, I know I said four parts, but on re-reading it, I decided it worked better in three. So this is the final chapter! Thank you all so much for your lovely comments.

If you squint hard, you can see this month's Fox Forum Friday Night OC Challenge prompt in this chapter: 'House admits he's happy'.

--


Kelly was starting to get weary and weak from the contractions. Just when she thought they'd let up, her breath finally caught, she only had a few moments before another one came along. He'd been right – if they'd left organizing the bed and towels even a few minutes longer she wouldn't have been able to manage it.

She realized she was still leaning against him. He was letting her, but he seemed distant, in another world. She pulled away from him and lay herself down on the bed, head on the pillows, facing him. Her eyes closed for a moment, just relishing a few seconds of peace. When she opened them again, he was still sitting there, in the same position, staring off into space.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

"Pain," he answered eventually, sounding distracted.

"That must be fun."

"Hmm. Fun, no. Practical, yes."

"Practical?"

"Hmm."

He wasn't going to share his thoughts. That was fine with her. But talking helped keep her mind off what was happening. About the fact that all the lovely pain relief options she'd discussed with her doctor were no longer available to her. He might want to think about pain: she wanted to think about anything but.

"What's nephrology?" she asked, once another contraction had passed.

"Huh?" He seemed to come to, his eyes refocusing on the room.

"Nephrology – I think that's what you said. Your specialty."

"Kidneys."

"Doctors specialize in kidneys?" Kelly was surprised, she'd never heard of that.

"Doctors specialize in all parts of the body," he said condescendingly, making her feel stupid again. "Haven't you heard of cardiologists? Neurologists? Proctologists?"

"Yeah, but not nephrologists." She paused but decided to plow on. "I know you've read the book, but have you delivered a baby before?" she asked nervously, remembering the fury in his eyes when he'd thrown the textbook at her.

He rolled his eyes. "Yes, I have."

"That's good." Kelly did feel relieved to know that. "It must be the best job of being a doctor."

"Why does everyone think that?" he said irritably.

"Because the rest of it is sickness and death, and this is about life."

"Yeah, but it's boring."

"Boring?" That certainly hadn't been what she'd expected him to say. "Why?"

"Because it's always the same. There's nothing to figure out. Nothing to solve."

"Solve? You sound like more of a detective than a doctor."

"Now that's the best part of the job."

"What, being a detective?"

"Yeah. Getting a patient with symptoms that don't add up and finding a way to make them make sense."

"Is that a specialty?"

"Diagnostics, I guess."

"So why don't you do that?"

He fell silent again and his gaze did that thing again, looking as if he was somewhere else entirely. Completely absorbed by his own thoughts.

Kelly squirmed as she felt her body gather itself together and then the contraction hit, making her curl into it. Without thinking, she reached out and grabbed his hand in hers, putting all her focus into that. She stared at his hand, made herself notice his long fingers, lumpy knuckles, the veins that made prominent tracks under his pale-ish skin. She counted the lines in his skin where it gathered against her fingers, watched the beds of her fingernails turn white and pink with effort.

When the contraction eased she released him and he took his hand back with a muttered "ow".

Kelly wanted to keep talking, but found she didn't have the energy. She lay there, curling into contractions as they came, and he sat by her side, careful not to let his hand stray within grabbing distance again. He stared off into space a while longer, but then he pulled a pen and notepad out of a drawer and began writing, drawing circles in some kind of diagram. She wanted to ask him what it was about, but just watching him concentrate and watching the pen move over the paper was somehow hypnotic.

After a while he got up and Kelly swallowed down a sudden panic that he was leaving. Of course he wasn't, she told herself, where would he go? She heard him peeing in the bathroom – he didn't bother to close the door behind him. Then he went into the kitchen and he came back with another glass of apple juice.

"Try to drink at least some of this. I've watered it down."

Kelly sat up a little and took a few sips, nervous about how it might settle in her stomach, but relishing the cold liquid in her dry mouth. "I am thirsty," she said. "Thanks."

At that, he disappeared into the kitchen again and she heard loud banging. He returned a few minutes later with a coffee mug full of broken up ice. "This might be easier."

She was in the middle of another contraction, so he put it on the nightstand.

Kelly had lost track of time, but she knew at least a few hours had passed since they'd been sitting together on his bed. Now all that existed was the pain of the contractions, the moments between them when she would suck on some ice, and the silent man next to her. It was still dark, though, and the wind still howled menacingly outside.

"That TV is really annoying me," she said suddenly. It had barely been a conscious thought, but as soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized that the drifting noise of canned laughter from the other room was enough to put her teeth on edge.

"I'll turn it off."

"Did you bring down my CDs? I didn't see them."

"No, I, ah . . . couldn't fit them in. Don't worry, I'll put some music on."

He got up from the bed, grimacing, as he always did when he had to put weight on his leg. Kelly wondered how much pain he was in. Would he really be like that forever?

A few moments later the irritating noise ceased and Kelly blew out a breath she hadn't been aware of holding. Then came the sound of a gentle guitar strum and a low male voice singing, something she didn't recognize, but it was nice enough.

She felt the urge to get up and walk around again, but once she was on her feet, she realized she was pretty unsteady. She held the bedpost with one hand and took the few steps available to her without letting go, back and forward. When he returned to the room he stood in the doorway and looked at her for a moment.

"You should probably lie down again."

"Why?" She remembered one of the women in her birthing class telling her about how doctors always wanted women to lie down, but only because it was more convenient for them.

"Because if you fall or faint, I can't catch you or pick you up."

"Oh." She had been all ready with an argument about obeying her body's needs, but what he said made sense. She was about to climb onto the bed again when another contraction made her freeze where she was, gripping the bed tightly. Once it passed, she looked up and her eye was caught by a gap between the curtains. A street light shone onto a world of whipping white, and it made her swallow hard.

An idea came to her. "Do you have a car?"

He gave her a suspicious look. "Yes, why?"

"Is it close by?"

"It's the third lump of white on the left," he said, standing closer to her and peering out to see what she was looking at.

"We should drive to the hospital," she said, turning to face him. "Why didn't we think of that earlier?"

He made an exasperated sound. "Because it's a 'once in a century' killer blizzard out there?"

"But—"

"Even if we could manage to dig out the car – which, I might add, would be a few hours work for a non-pregnant and non-crippled person – we'd then have to clear the roads ourselves."

Kelly felt the burn of tears behind her eyes and a lump rise in her throat that made swallowing painful. All of a sudden she felt very, very sorry for herself. "But I can't—" She stopped herself, her bottom lip trembling.

His shoulders slumped. "Come on, get back on the bed." His voice was kinder than she'd heard it before, and she let him direct her back onto the mattress, piling up pillows behind her back.

"Greg?"

"Kelly?"

"Alex was supposed to be here. He was supposed to be helping me."

"I know."

"What if I can't do it without him?" The idea terrified her. She missed Alex, but she didn't want a man like him in her life either. Watching her mother bounce from one abusive relationship to another had been enough to make Kelly vow she'd never do the same. But what if it was a pattern that was impossible to escape?

"He was an asshole."

"I know. But . . ." Kelly felt fidgety, irritated, panicked. She squirmed against the pillows behind her, unable to get comfortable. It felt like she'd never be comfortable again.

"I think it would be a good idea to put on that nightgown," he said, nodding to the table next to her. "The buttons will make it easier for later. And then I probably need to look at you."

"No." Kelly shook her head. She knew what he was saying. It was almost time. But she wasn't ready.

He ignored her. "Can you do it by yourself?"

"Of course I can!" Her shouting surprised her, but he didn't even blink.

"You get changed and I'll go wash my hands."

Bottom lip pouting like a petulant teenager, Kelly managed to undress and slip the nightshirt over her head, only pausing awkwardly once with her dress over her head when her stomach convulsed again. She sat back down against the nest of pillows, trying to calm herself down; trying find a way to sit comfortably.

He returned to the room and the first thing she noticed was that the shirt he'd been wearing over his t-shirt was gone. And he had on a pair of those yellowish gloves, the kind that doctors wore. For no logical reason, the sight of that produced a flood of pure terror inside her.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God," she muttered, inching across the bed as if she was going to run away, while another contraction seized her, longer than ever before.

"Kelly," he sounded exasperated with her again. The kindness from before had vanished. "Remember your classes? Did they talk about transition?"

Yes, she definitely remembered that word. Her brain felt as if it wasn't working properly, because it took a few moments before she made the connections. Transition – it happened just before you started pushing. The teacher had said that sometimes it was the worst part of labor, because it often created overwhelming feelings of . . . "Panic," she whispered, finishing her thinking aloud.

Somehow he'd followed her rambling train of thought. "Exactly. So it's not real, just a reaction."

"Feels pretty fucking real to me," she ground out.

He lifted one eyebrow, looking entirely amused by her swearing.

"Just so you know," she warned, "I'm gonna cry."

"If you must," he sighed, and she promptly burst into tears.

He examined her while she cried, which was good in a way, because although she was near hysterical she was still acutely aware of the embarrassment of having him look at her like that. The tears were a distraction and also blurred her vision, so she could pretend that because she couldn't see it, it wasn't happening.

She heard the snap of him taking the gloves off and he went back into the bathroom for a moment, returning with a wet washcloth that he pressed into her hands. "Here."

Her breath was coming in hiccupping sobs now, and she could only manage a strangled gulp when the next pain seized her.

"Kelly! You need to calm down."

She felt him grab her wrist and realized faintly that he was taking her pulse. He then put on a stethoscope and pressed it to her belly.

"Shush!"

At his barked command Kelly didn't know whether to be quiet or cry harder. She just felt totally out of control. This was the drop in the rollercoaster she'd been dreading and it was even worse than she'd expected.

He grabbed her chin with one hand, forcing her look at him. "Kelly? Listen to me. You have to calm down. You're making the baby's heart rate go up with these hysterics."

"No-o-o," she wailed. She was doing everything wrong.

"You need to think about the . . . Gumby. Think about Gumby."

Gumby.

Kelly held the cool washcloth against her eyes, trying hard to bring herself back together. It was hard, because the pain was barely even letting up for a minute, but she forced herself to swallow hard and to try to focus on the cool pressure of the cloth against her hot face. She felt hot all over, shaky and sick.

"That's better," he said, and Kelly figured that counted as praise, but she wasn't sure. She felt like she'd lost all ability to think or reason. All she could do was swim from one fog of pain to the next.

"It's too soon to push, but it won't be long."

His words seemed to come from a long way away. "I don't care." Did she say that?

"Yes you do. You really do, or you wouldn't be here in the first place."

"No. Take it away." She pushed the washcloth towards him, it was hot and messy now, no longer comforting. But she wasn't sure if that was what she actually meant by her words.

"Do you want—"

"Just be quiet!" she snapped.

He was silent for a moment, but then he chuckled. Kelly managed to haul her eyes open for a moment to find him sitting at the end of the bed, watching her, amused but somehow sad.

"It's not nice to laugh at me," she said, pulling on her nightshirt, not sure why she'd been worried earlier about him looking at her, because suddenly her modesty didn't seem nearly so important as making it through this alive.

"I'm not laughing at you."

"Certainly sounds like it."

"Nope. I'm just thrilled to hear the real you."

"What?"

"You should have told me to shut up about a million times tonight, but that's the first time you've actually managed it. Good for you."

The fact that he sounded so calm, bored almost – just as he'd predicted – actually made Kelly feel a little better. If he was relaxed, then things must be okay. This must be normal.

But a noise, halfway between a whimper and a moan, was all she could provide in response.

"What do you need?"

What did she need? She wasn't entirely sure. "Ice," she gasped. It was a start.

He shifted up the bed and grabbed the mug, holding it for her as she sipped, most of it melted to liquid now.

She fell back against the pillows; a moment of peace.

It didn't last long.

Another pain seized her, and she leaned forward, as best she could in her seated position. He was still next to her and she grabbed him convulsively, hanging on to his surprisingly solid arm. In a hazy part of her mind, she expected him to pull away, as he had when she'd impulsively grabbed his hand. But instead he shifted closer, raising himself somehow, and she let her weight hang from his strength.

When she had breath, she spoke. "That. That's what I need."

He nodded; she felt the movement rather than saw it. "Okay."

--


Kelly's transition phase of labor lasted for almost an hour. It wasn't abnormal, but it had to count as one of the longest hours of House's life.

His thigh was burning with pain from supporting her, and his arm ached, but she wouldn't let go even long enough for him to take a Vicodin. By the time she did, falling back into the pillows, taking that brief moment of rest mother nature occasionally granted the laboring woman, he wasn't sure which of them would have won the prize for being in the most pain. Still, she couldn't pop a pill the way he could, so for now he had to give her the ribbon.

He got up and paced around, shook his arm to restore the circulation and stretched out his leg as much as it would allow. He refilled the cup with ice and collected the now-sterilized items from the kitchen, putting them out of sight for the time being.

He shook out a couple of towels and Kelly barely twitched when he slid a fresh one under her legs.

Belatedly he realized his cell phone was still out in the living room, so he grabbed it and brought in back into the bedroom – in easy reach if he had to call that OB.

In the bathroom, he washed his hands as if scrubbing in; having a strange flashback to a surgeon he'd once done a rotation with. First and last skill of a surgeon, House, he'd lectured as they scrubbed. House had been warned by fellow students about this particular doctor. Get your scrub right, and you'll ace with him – it's the only thing he grades. Yes, yet another of those doctors who only paid attention to one thing. When there was so much more to look at, each disease was a jigsaw, pieces needing to be put together to see the whole.

The notes and scribbling he'd done earlier were to capture his thoughts on exactly that point. He had an idea for a department, a group of specialists that would only take the most complicated cases, the ones no one else had been able to solve. And using the process of differential diagnosis, they'd dissect the case, testing theories, trying treatments, solving the puzzle. His obsessive compulsion to read case studies and new research, along with his almost photographic memory, would be perfectly suited. No rounds and no surgeries and no stinking clinic duty – less standing and walking. Fewer patients to interact with – a happy side benefit.

It just might work.

"Greg!" The plaintive wail from the other room disturbed his thoughts.

Show time.

"Just a minute." He pulled on gloves and then went through the same washing ritual all over again because they'd come from a cardboard box and weren't the sterile surgical kind. Perhaps that old fart surgeon had had an impact on him after all.

When he'd left her she'd been dozing, but now it was clearly all systems go.

"It's coming," she said, panting heavily. "I need to push."

"Wait, just let me make sure you're fully dilated."

House parted her knees but didn't need to look any closer. "Whoa Kelly, Gumby's about to make an entrance. I hope you've got a better name picked out, 'cause he's going to need it soon." The hour of agonizing transition had done its job, and the baby's head was almost crowning.

Kelly pushed her body up, her elbows back against the pillows. She let out a long howl and House was reminded of his joke to Wilson – what felt like days ago – about a catcher's mitt. Because within a minute he had the baby's head in his hands, and a few seconds after that, his whole little body was out.

Kelly was sobbing or laughing, he wasn't quite sure which, but House's attention was focused on the baby. He quickly cleaned off its face, cleared its mouth and nose, and rubbed its torso vigorously with a towel. It was terrifyingly still for what felt like a very long time, but all of a sudden the little face screwed up and turned pink, uttering its – his – first weak cry.

"Give him to me. Please, I want to hold him."

House lifted the mewling infant and lowered him on to Kelly's stomach.

"You got him?"

"Yes. Oh, God, yes." She was definitely sobbing now.

Once he was satisfied Kelly had decent grip on the slippery little kid, he opened up the last clean towel and spread it over them both. "Keep him warm, okay?"

House quickly got up and located his stethoscope and the sterilized things he'd put away earlier. He moved easily, his aching thigh completely forgotten in an unexpected surge of adrenaline.

"Right, let's check Gumby over," he said, returning to Kelly's side. He pulled back the towel and carefully turned the baby onto his back, still resting him on Kelly's stomach, taking care with the umbilical cord that was still attached. He tucked the towel back around him and then checked the baby's hands and feet, listened to his heart with the stethoscope, and gave him a tickle. In response, the baby sneezed and kicked his legs.

"Bless you," House said, and Kelly laughed through her tears. He looked at her and smiled. "Perfect score."

"He's perfect."

"Looks all right to me. For a baby," House admitted grudgingly. But he knew his smile gave him away.

House tied off the umbilical cord in two places with the shoelaces he'd boiled earlier and then, after a moment, cut it between. "Put one of those little hats on him," he said to Kelly, and she carefully leaned over to the nightstand and grabbed one of the blue ones she'd set out. The baby stopped crying for a moment while Kelly gently fitted the hat over his head, but as soon as that was done, he picked up the squawky wailing again.

"Try to get him to nurse."

Kelly's own crying had abated and now she murmured quietly, soothing little noises, and House watched the infant come to terms with his environment. He seemed to look intently at his mother as he suckled, almost staring at her, although House knew it was unlikely he could actually focus well enough to see her. But the two of them gazed at each other and House had the distinct feeling of being the third wheel in the room. He shook his head and bustled around to clear the thought.

It wasn't like he cared, anyway.

"What's the time?" Kelly asked suddenly, looking up at him. Her voice was hoarse.

House frowned and looked at the clock on the nightstand. "Six thirty-eight."

"I should write that down, I'll never remember it. My brain's mush."

"I'll write it down. What's his name? I'm not going to call him Gumby. Anymore," he added hurriedly, realizing he'd already used the nickname several times.

"Benjamin. His name's Benjamin." House duly wrote it down: Benjamin, 6.38am.

After five minutes of nursing Kelly began to wince again.

"You should probably put him down for this part," House suggested.

She shook her head. "No, I want to hold him."

"What if you need to move around?"

She looked uncertain, testing House's patience. "Look, just put him down here on the bed, next to us." House made a little nest out of the quilt, to make sure the baby couldn't accidentally roll off. Not that that was remotely a possibility, but he knew it would make Kelly feel more secure.

By the time he took the baby and settled him, House was only just in time to catch the afterbirth in the bowl he'd brought in for that purpose. Like the baby it came fast, which wasn't necessarily a good thing, but it seemed intact and after a quick inspection House came to the conclusion that Kelly's body was remarkably unharmed. Not a bad thing when he had absolutely no way to do anything about it if she wasn't.

"You're all done, now. Put on a pad and that men's underwear you're so hot for." House went into the bathroom and stripped off the gloves and washed his hands again. His t-shirt had a couple of spots of gore, so he returned to the bedroom and stripped it off, quickly pulling a fresh one over his head.

"I want to have a shower," Kelly said, looking up from her rapt admiration of Benjamin.

House shook his head. "Nah. You might faint. And someone needs to watch this little guy."

"Please," she pleaded. "I feel revolting. I'll make it lukewarm and really quick. If I do it now I'll be fine. I know I won't be in about ten minutes, I'm going to crash, but right now I'm fine."

"Yeah, okay, but take it slow," House agreed reluctantly.

She stood up gingerly and grimaced. "I feel like my insides are going to fall out."

"Just remember I was the one who said this wasn't a good idea."

She was true to her word though, the water only ran for a minute or two and when she returned she was wearing the other set of pajamas he'd brought down from her hospital bag. Her hair was combed and tied back, no longer sticking wetly to her skin, and her face had a healthy pink glow. House realized she was actually quite pretty.

In the meanwhile House had piled all the dirty laundry in a corner, happy to note that the bed probably didn't need to be changed right away. He repeated the Apgar tests, put a diaper on the still-mewling Benjamin and then swaddled him up tightly in the blue baby wrap which seemed to quickly calm him down.

Kelly crawled back onto the bed and carefully settled herself. "I was wrong about the ten minutes," she said, her head tilting to one side to look at her son. "I'm exhausted."

"Exhausted? After that? Pft, that was a walk in the park." He quirked up one side of his mouth so she knew he was joking. "Apart from that bit when you tried to rip my arm off."

"A walk in the park?" Kelly's eyebrows rose in disbelief.

"That was one of the easiest births I've ever seen." He was being honest. It really had been.

"Totally boring, huh?" She gave him a cheeky smile.

House pretended to stifle a yawn and she gave him a playful swat on the arm.

Kelly's attention returned to the baby. "I want to hold him, but I think I'm too tired. I'm scared I might drop him."

"You can hold him later."

"Yeah. He looks like he's napping now."

They both looked at the sleeping infant.

"Where can we put him?" she asked.

"Ah!" House got up and walked over to his drawers. He pulled out one of the lighter, smaller drawers at the top and put it down vertically at the end of the bed. It was filled with t-shirts, so it already had lots of padding in place. House rearranged them and then opened one out like a sheet. He picked up the sleeping baby and gently transferred him into the makeshift crib. "Just like Little House on the Prairie," he said, for a moment stupidly proud of himself.

Kelly had watched him with a hawk-like gaze as he moved her son around, but now that he was safe and settled, she squirmed lower in the bed, resting her head on the pillows. Her eyes closed and House was sure she was asleep just seconds later, her exhaustion overwhelming all else.

As for him, the adrenaline that had been keeping him energized and pain-free was definitely starting to wear off. He pulled out his Vicodin vial, trying to remember the last time he'd taken one. He'd been taking them regularly throughout the night, he knew, so he'd have to watch his dosage through the next day. It probably didn't matter too much, he thought, shrugging and popping a pill anyway. The Vicodin was a short-term thing, in a couple of weeks he was due to swap it for something less dangerous to his liver.

He lay down on the other side of the bed, tiredness and exhaustion creeping into him bit by bit. Careful to place his feet so they didn't knock the drawer, House closed his eyes and moments later was asleep.

--


The chime of his cell phone woke him. He grabbed it instinctively, before he remembered everything that had happened, and realized there were the sounds of other breathing in the room. The facts came back in a rush.

He looked at the caller ID and flipped open the phone. "Wilson." He kept his voice low.

"House, how are you? Hadn't heard from you for a while so I started to worry."

"Good. Tired. What's the time?"

"Around eight."

"Too early to be awake yet."

"Why are you whispering?"

"The mom's sleeping."

"Oh. How's she doing?"

House sat up and looked at his two unexpected bedmates. Kelly was sleeping deeply; the cell phone ring hadn't disturbed her. Thankfully House seemed to have got to it before it woke the sleeping baby too. He was still swaddled and looking just as tired as his mother.

"Wilson, meet Benjamin. Benjamin, meet Wilson." He held the phone close to the baby and right on cue he made one of those gurgly-squeaky noises in his sleep – unmistakably the sound of a newborn. "Good boy," House praised.

House put the phone back to his ear.

"It's a boy?" Wilson asked.

"Yep."

"Damn it, House, I could swear you sound almost happy."

"Happy? Don't be ridiculous."

"Go on, admit it, it's a relief that everything worked out okay. You should be happy."

"I am not, and never will be, happy. But I have two healthy patients. That's as close as I get."

"You are a stubborn asshole," Wilson said with a fond chuckle.

"With pride."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

House eyed the pile of soiled towels in the corner. "Actually . . . You could come over later and do some laundry for me."

"Sure." His tone got more serious. "I was back in the ER and I spoke to the crew I talked to last night. They think they can get someone out to you sometime this morning. They're waiting on a report from the snow plows, but you're definitely on the list."

"Thanks, Wilson."

"Welcome."

"Now, can you bugger off, so I can get some sleep?"

Wilson laughed. "Get some sleep, House."

--


By the time the paramedics arrived around lunchtime, Benjamin had had his first proper feed, first diaper change, and was once again asleep. Kelly was uncomfortable but otherwise fine. The briefing from Wilson hadn't seemed to get through to the paramedic crew, though, because they insisted on heaping applause on both of them for managing so well alone – praising neighborliness they said they rarely saw. Once House realized they didn't know he was a doctor, he held up a hand. "But I'm a—"

"—detective," Kelly interrupted, giving him a conspiratorial grin.

The paramedics nodded as if that explained everything and continued with preparing Kelly and Benjamin for transport to the hospital.

"I don't even feel like I need to go hospital," she remarked.

"What, you haven't bothered me enough?" House grumbled.

Kelly hesitated for a moment and she looked uncertain, embarrassed, just like when she'd first knocked on his door, but then she smiled. "Don't forget to leave me a key and your grocery list," she replied smartly.

House couldn't help smiling in return.

"Ready?" the paramedic interrupted.

Her smiled faded and she grew serious. "Greg? I don't even know how to say this, but, thank you."

He shrugged. "You did most of it."

"You helped." She reached out and squeezed his hand briefly before the paramedics started to wheel her away. "You can do it too, you know," she said over her shoulder.

House frowned as he watched them disappear out through his front door. What did she mean? He could have a baby too? Yeah, right. When hell froze over – icing up the flying pigs along the way.

After they were gone, House realized his apartment was strangely silent. He sat down on the sofa, a strange mix of feelings running through him – although tiredness was pretty high on the list. Automatically he reached for the bottle of bourbon still sitting out from last night's aborted plans. He lifted the bottle and was about to pour a shot, but then he paused and set it back down.

Instead, he reached for his cell phone and dialed.

"House? Everything okay?" The female voice was crisp, but he heard the underlying concern.

"Yeah, fine." He paused. "Cuddy? I think I'm ready to come back to work." He took in a deep breath and let it go in a rush. "I've got this idea for a new department."

.

The End