And here we come to the end of the line, readers. This is the last chapter of Desperado. Thank you so much for the reviews; I can't believe it's got over 850. There most probably will be another, but it won't be for a while. I've got some other time commitments I've got to catch up on. Thanks for everything.
Cuddy normally enjoyed the polished presentation she put on at functions, the appearance of the totally organized professional selling the positive points and emphasizing the needs of her hospital. There might be a mental soundtrack, as House had put it, although she was sure hers couldn't compete with his, but she really did enjoy having a big function come together, knowing that it was going well. Donors individually could get on her nerves, but to put a banquet together and have it run like clockwork usually was fun for her.
Tonight, however, the facade was purely a facade. She was consumed with worry about House. What exactly was going on? Something major, clearly. Equally obviously something involving his apartment, since he didn't want her to come over. What had Blythe done? She had already decided that today would be the end of her forbearance; by tomorrow, she would go over to see him, even if just through a cracked door, to make sure he was all right.
"Earth to Cuddy," Wilson said at her elbow. She jumped, nearly spilling her drink. "You okay? You looked like you were a million miles away."
She sighed. "Only eight. Something's up with House. Something new, I mean."
Wilson trusted her judgment, but he was still a bit surprised at her statement. "Really? I saw him about an hour ago, and he seemed fine."
She nearly spilled her drink for the second time. "Tonight? Where?"
"He came over to my place. He had the locks changed today and wanted to give me a new key." Wilson smiled again, unable to help it, glad that he still had an invitation into House's life after the last few weeks, not to mention the last few years. "He only stayed a minute, said he knew I was getting ready." The oncologist saw the slight hurt in her eyes. "I'm sure that's why he didn't go see you. He knew you were getting ready, too, and it, um, takes you longer."
"How did he seem to you?" Cuddy asked anxiously.
"He looked tired, and he was moving like everything hurt. He said he'd spent the day straightening up his apartment. But underneath it all, he seemed . . . good. Content, almost."
Maybe he'd exorcised whatever demon he'd had to handle on his own, then. "He seemed okay physically, though? Aside from being tired and sore?"
"He certainly didn't seem sick. Just like he'd spent the day cleaning, like he said. I invited him to tonight, but he said he was going to go take a hot soak and sleep for a while. Actually admitted he was tired."
Cuddy felt a little bit better, although still somewhat worried. Apparently the new private crisis was over. "I'll leave him alone tonight, then. I'll go see him tomorrow."
"Dr. Cuddy!" She turned, administrator front clicking firmly into place, to face Mr. Whitson. "I'm so glad to see you here tonight."
"Mr. Whitson, I apologize for being unavailable Thursday."
"Oh, it doesn't matter at all. I quite understand. In fact, it almost worked to my advantage that you were out, because if you hadn't been, I never would have had the pleasure of speaking to Dr. House." Mr. Whitson's voice was far was soft, and all conversation within a 20-foot radius screeched to a shocked halt at least on the part of the PPTH faculty as they replayed that, thinking they couldn't possibly have heard it right. "Such a true gentleman, so courteous and understanding of my position." Someone from OB/GYN dropped her plate at the food bar. Cuddy was biting her tongue to keep from laughing, and Wilson backed away a few feet to get out of Whitson's sight line in case he totally lost control of his features. "Yes, indeed, I was most impressed. I hope to have the pleasure of an introduction some time at one of these functions."
Cuddy firmly schooled her features into pleasant agreement. "He's not here tonight, unfortunately, but as soon as I get the chance at a banquet, I'll introduce you to him."
"I'd appreciate that. May I have the honor of a dance?"
Cuddy nodded and turned to hand her wine glass off to the nearest doctor. "Close your mouth; you look like a fish," she accosted under her breath. Smile and charm in place, she turned again to Mr. Whitson and headed out for another administrative function, the obligatory single dance with a big-name donor.
What Whitson did not know is that mentally, she wasn't dancing with him. No, her thoughts were about 8 miles away.
Cuddy drove by House's apartment when she left PPTH, but all the lights were off. She didn't even park the car. If he'd really spent all day today straightening, he needed the rest tonight. She wished him pleasant drugged dreams and drove on to her house instead.
For the third time in the last month, she all but fell over him. House was sitting propped against her door frame, long legs outstretched, a sack on the concrete next to him. His eyes were closed. "House!" Cuddy dropped to her knees, not caring what it did to her party dress. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing." He had opened his eyes the instant she called his name. "Just waiting for you." Cuddy was running a frantic assessment, checking his forehead for a fever, taking his pulse. He batted her hands away. "Quit it. I'm fine."
"Then WHAT THE HELL are you doing sitting outside on my porch again? At least it isn't raining and isn't that cold tonight."
"Like I said, I was waiting for you."
"Which, like I said before, you ought to do inside. You should have knocked; the sitter is here. How long have you been out here?"
He hit the light on his watch. "Only about 25 minutes. I figured this was close to time, based on when the banquet ended."
"Wilson said you were going to take a hot soak and sleep."
"Which I did. Had a nice nap. Now can we please skip the physical assessment and get on to the point of this conversation?"
"Sorry. I wasn't aware yet that it had a point." She sighed and settled down on her porch next to him, leaning against the other doorpost. "Okay, I'm all ears."
"I . . . apologize for being out of touch last night and today. It wasn't that I didn't want you. I had something . . . very special for you on Rachel's behalf, and Mom had lost it. I spent all day today tearing that place apart looking."
"But you found it?"
He nodded. "I didn't want to give it to you like that. Not when I'd lost it. I'd meant for it to be special, not a joke."
She reached out to brush his right hand with her fingers. "House, you didn't lose it; your mother did. I wouldn't have been disappointed at you. I would have been mad at her. But what is it?"
He pulled away from her grasp enough to pick up the sack next to him. "It's for Rachel, but she's too young to get the significance. It's a getting-well present. I was thinking a week ago Friday after I left PPTH how strong she was, how she was beating that virus. I wanted something as unique and special as she was."
Cuddy started to smile, then froze halfway. "A week ago Friday? The day you left the hospital near collapse that morning to go rest all day and then had the bike wreck that night?"
He looked down, avoiding her eyes. "I didn't quite rest all that day."
"Did you rest at all?"
"It took me longer than I thought to find the perfect one."
"House!" She wasn't sure whether to hug him or shake him. She was touched that he would put that much effort into a present for Rachel, but no doubt his activities from that day had contributed to his bike wreck that night, too.
"It's all over, Cuddy. We're both fine, Rachel and I. Now do you want to see the present?"
She gave an exasperated sigh. "This had better be good, for all it cost you."
"She's worth it," he replied simply. He handed the sack across to her, his slightly anxious eyes watching her expression for any clue.
Cuddy pulled out the bear and stared at it in the dim light from the street lights. The bear stared back at her with that curious, inquisitive expression that she had maybe once or twice seen on Rachel - and that she had seen a thousand times on House. This was the bear. She realized instantly why he hadn't wanted to share it, hadn't wanted to give it out of weakness but had wanted a presentation like he'd dreamed of. She wouldn't have minded, but he would have - and she loved him more for his effort to wait for the right moment. If he was willing to try that hard at this . . .
"Do you like it?" he said anxiously, worried by her silence.
Cuddy answered in actions, not words, flinging her arms around him and pulling him over into a firm if careful embrace. "It's absolutely perfect, House. Totally unique. Just like her. Just like you. I don't want a mass production run."
She felt him smile against her, felt his cheek muscles twitch, and he pulled back slightly to see her face. "I'll probably make a million mistakes along the way, but I'm willing to try, Cuddy. With her and with you."
"Oh, House." She silenced him with a deep kiss that both satisfied and left them hungry for more. "That's all I'll ever ask," she said as they broke apart for air. "I don't want to change you. Just knowing that you're trying for us is all I need." She smiled at him, and he reached out to trace the teardrops on her cheeks.
"You're crying again. Good tears this time, I hope?"
"The best. I love you, House."
"I love you, Cuddy. And I love Rachel." No hesitation behind the reply.
They melded together again, so engrossed with each other that they never heard the click of the lock, and they literally fell inside as the door opened. The sitter stared down at two full-grown adults making out at her feet in a way that put hormonal teenagers to shame. "Dr. Cuddy? DR. CUDDY!" Cuddy broke away and looked up, startled. "Is everything okay?"
It was House who answered, giving the sitter his mischievous grin as he looked up from the floor. "Draw your own conclusions." He immediately returned to his former activities, getting Cuddy's attention and wholehearted participation after a few seconds. He wasn't even feeling his sore spots. Beside their feet, the bear sat on the porch and studied the two with its curious grin.
The sitter, after a moment, quietly turned away and went back down the hall to the nursery. She would gather her things and leave when they paused long enough to come all the way in and close the door, but she figured that even that was going to take a while.