The bars on the side of the crib cast a shadow on the sickly yellow wall that reminds Cuddy of a prison cell.
She hasn't slept, of course. How could she sleep when her head was full of a baby's tiny, grasping hand and the explosive mess of kissing House?
The morning light is weak, she was up and showered even before dawn had a chance to break. Thirty minutes wasted as she stared at her wardrobe, resisting the urge for black, knowing the funereal colors would simply fuel the whispering and pitying glances.
Defiantly, she plucked red and then soft brown checks from the perfectly ordered rails. Heels on just the right side of precarious, giving her height and the artificial confidence that made doctors and nurses scatter as she prowled the hallways.
Unable to bear the proximity of the useless nursery any longer, she packs her briefcase swiftly and leaves a note for her cleaning lady to get rid of everything, a generous tip underneath the words to sweeten the deal.
Distraction is proving her nemesis, she knows she'll be fighting it for the rest of the day and beyond, and so she forces her thoughts to donors and budget shortfalls. All the while she hears her own thundering heartbeat, a rhythmical reminder that when her focus fails her she'll be at the mercy of baby blankets and ugly yellow walls again.
The hospital has yet to awaken as she arrives, everywhere but the ER entrance dimmed and subdued. The nightshift has its own volume, a sort of steady shuffling that lets her know the appropriate work is still being done; everything is as it should be.
Cuddy is surprised to see Wilson ahead of her at the reception desk, but she steps across to the clinic entrance before he notices her. The conversations are coming, and she can no more avoid them than she can stop breathing, but she can forestall as long as possible.
When she opens her office doors, she risks one last look and catches Wilson's tired eyes through the glass. Their instinctive smiles are as weak as the cafeteria coffee, but it's something.
Wilson watches his boss slip into her sanctuary, too exhausted to breach it for answers, to offer sympathy. He knows, of course, that no baby is going home with her. He understands pain, even if not in that particular flavor; after all, he's never wanted kids.
For now, it's all he can handle just to be back. Back to the hospital, back to routine. It's back to normal that continues to elude him.
He lived decades without Amber in his life, and now it feels like he can't remember a second before she waltzed into his office and asked him out for drinks. His whole existence has been reduced to a few short months and he has no idea what to do about that.
There's House, of course, the worst of their war wounds healing. They bicker and compete and make salacious comments about the nurses, but Wilson's heart isn't in it. It helps to pass the days in this building that reminds Wilson too much of her, of how her body felt colder in death than it did when almost frozen.
At night, when the shadows shift on the walls of the apartment that Wilson can't think of as anything but Amber's, he replays the moment when he asked his best friend to trade his life for hers. It's almost an intellectual exercise – by re-examining Wilson is really trying to discover if he would change anything.
House never needs to know that he would not.
Walking to his office, Wilson sees Taub at House's desk, furiously scribbling on something. It's either some wordy graffiti or Taub has been roped into secretarial duties. Either way he's in before he needs to be, the diligence bound to go unnoticed by House.
Taub raises his head at the sound of footsteps in the echoing corridor, and Wilson raises his hand half-heartedly by way of greeting. He hurries a little, anxious to reach his office without interruption.
He succeeds, not least because Taub has no intention of talking to him, not without at least a second cup of coffee in his system.
Taub has been finding it hard to sleep lately, since the sofa that cost thousands of dollars makes for a crappy bed. He could sleep in the guest room of course, but this is about penitence, about showing Rachel that he's willing to jump through whichever hoops she wants to lay out for him.
So he grabs a few hours each night on the overstuffed cushions and makes sure to book an appointment with his chiropractor to undo the damage. He gets up early and spends as many hours as possible at work, figuring it will be easier for Rachel's pain to ease if she isn't confronted with his cheating ass too often.
He doesn't know if it's ever going to work. Taub can see a future of studio apartments and ready meals for one in his future and it scares the crap out of him.
In need of diversion, he turns back to the pile of consultation requests that House has been 'filing' in the bin. It was Cameron who tipped him off about it, letting him know that occasionally interesting cases could be lurking in there. If nothing else, it passed the time when they had no patient.
In the midst of the 'chronic coughs' and 'mysterious pains' he finds a bleeding disorder that has to be something good and smiles to himself. He'll take Cameron a cup of coffee when her shift starts to say thank you.
As the fall morning finally breaks into watery sunshine, Cameron is entering the ER with a smile on her face. She left Chase naked and sleeping amidst rumpled sheets and enjoyed a brisk walk to work on her own.
Like every shift, she barely clears the first set of doors before a flurry of nurses and interns are jostling for her attention, and she pulls her earphones out with a sigh. Some mornings she misses the calm of diagnostics, the carefree start to the day of banter and placing bets on exactly how late House would be. She'd rarely won those bets, foolishly believing that House wouldn't keep testing Cuddy's patience.
He's not her problem anymore, save for his occasional invasion of the ER. There are excuses for their paths to cross, but she's happy with Chase and so she doesn't risk it.
She flips through the charts that have been foisted on to her, without even a chance to remove her jacket. It's early to be focusing on compound fractures and calls to social services, but Cameron knows it needs to be done.
Taking one last moment for herself, she finally disentangles herself from both purse and jacket, throwing them into the glorified cupboard she calls an office. For a second, she thinks she feels someone behind her, and she braces herself for the interruption.
There's nobody there.
It keeps happening of late, and while she doesn't believe in ghosts, she foolishly mentioned it to her mother, who unashamedly does.
Of course, her mom believes it's Brian; because it's quite possible her mom loved Cameron's dead husband even more than she did. He casts such a long shadow over her life, even, or especially in death. By not being around long enough to be anything other than a hero, it's a lot like he jumped straight to sainthood. Cameron has always tried so hard not to compare her other partners to him.
And every time she fails.
It's coming, the unavoidable questions about commitment and living together; she can see the determination in Chase's eyes when he talks about the future. Sweet of him, she supposes, that he keeps it vague and tries not to spook her. Shrugging off the doubts, Cameron remembers one pit-stop she wants to make before the ER swallows her day.
The NICU isn't somewhere that troubles her unduly, not being the sap that everyone assumes she is. Where others see suffering and panic, she likes to think of the tiny incubators as giving a chance to families where they might never have had one. It should be a place of hope, not just of fear, but people think 'sick babies' and rarely get beyond that.
Becca's baby is doing great according to the marks on the chart made overnight. Cameron notes the vitals on a post-it and leaves quickly, eager to get on with her day.
It doesn't take long, before visiting hours and the start of rounds, the hallways are still relatively clear. In minutes, Cameron is standing outside Cuddy's office, surprised to see her boss already behind the desk and engrossed in files.
Knocking softly, she lets herself in, the yellow slip of paper feeling fragile against her fingers. Cuddy looks up, and there's no hiding the dark circles or the faint shimmer of unspent tears. Cameron feels insensitive, intrusive, and considers leaving without a word.
But Cuddy sees the post-it and waves her forward with an almost boneless hand.
I thought you'd want to know.
Saves you having to go up there.
In case you didn't want to cry in front of the nurses again.
Plenty of ways to explain, but instead she hands the note over and retreats. Cameron watches the dull gray eyes light up for a moment with understanding, then return to lifelessness. There's a nod: of acknowledgment, of thanks, of dismissal; Cameron takes her cue and leaves.
Cuddy looks at the numbers and abbreviated words once more with a clinical eye, before crumpling the paper tightly in her left hand and throwing it into the trashcan in the corner for a clear three-pointer.
There is no prison sentence; no eighteen years without time off for good behavior. House will tell her she dodged a bullet, and she'll hate him for it while secretly wondering if he's right.
In the meantime, there's work. And the small fact of kissing House, but when it comes to that all she has is a folder filled with takeout menus and no idea what to say.
She'll think of something, when he finally shows up. Cuddy already knows that she'll dismiss their moment, when she'd like nothing more than to collapse into his arms and let someone else be the strong one for five minutes. Not that he'd ever let her, but the thought is enough sometimes.
Right now, enough is all she can hope for.