Roused from sleep, Cuddy rolled into a warm, empty space. She raised her head and squinted in the darkness to find House dressed and tying his shoes.
"Hey," she murmured, her voice scratchy and sleep-heavy.
House whirled to face her. His eyebrows rose with surprise. "Hey. You're awake," he said and sat beside her. He fidgeted; his fingers toyed with the sheet, the strap of her camisole, a fly-away strand of her hair.
Her eyes drifted shut as his knuckles brushed her cheek—an echo of the gesture he had made during the night when he'd settled his hips between her legs and studied the lines of her face. House had kissed her, tender and slow, eyes grey in the dark. Had drawn a ragged whisper from her mouth as he had filled her. His arms had slid beneath her to hold her to him, hands never gripping too hard. Cuddy's limbs had wrapped around him, and she had felt his body shudder, heard a trio of gasped words for which her heart had always hoped.
When he spoke again, her eyes fluttered open. On the tail of a short sigh, he said, "I have to go."
"No, you don't," she whined, tugging on his hand. "Stay for a while."
"Cuddy, I can't. My bike will turn into a pumpkin if I don't leave before the sun comes up, you know. Besides," he paused and dropped a kiss on her lips, "I should quit while I'm ahead."
"You never quit," she said, trailing her finger along the back of his hand. "And the carriage turned into a pumpkin at midnight, not sunrise."
"Not when I tell it," he replied. House tilted his head and held her drowsy gaze for a moment. He offered her a half-hearted grin before he squeezed her hand, stood, and turned for the door.
As her front door closed, Cuddy shifted to her side and reached for her alarm clock, but her hand fell on a leather bundle. House had forgotten his wallet. Cuddy sat against the headboard as she nosed through the pockets, unfolding old receipts and uncovering pieces of his past—gym membership cards, university library cards. He had tucked paper fragments of their relationship behind credit cards and insurance cards. She extracted several movie stubs and spread them on her lap, feeling along the worn serrated edges. Hidden behind his driver's license, she found a small scrap of paper. The fold was crisp and new. House had written her name neatly across the front.
A grin tugged at her mouth, and she unfolded the paper. But, as her eyes read the written words, her heart dropped to the soles of her feet, and she scrambled out of bed and out of her house, desperate to arrive at his apartment before he did.
House's motorcycle was parked along the curb when she dashed to his front door, barefoot and barely dressed. Cuddy never bothered to close his apartment door. Chest heaving with harsh breaths, she scanned the living room, the kitchen. Her voice broke when she called for him.
She tore through the hall and into his bedroom, halting when her eyes spied an empty syringe marooned on the rug beside his bed. His name fell from her lips as she crawled onto the bed and glimpsed his face, still and as colorless as the pillow beneath him. She doubled over his body and pressed her face into the bedcovers, lips and arms trembling.
Her fingers curled around the note, his apology, that he had left her. Between dry sobs, Cuddy cried her reply into his stomach, muffled and indiscernible in her own ears, as her foolish, fairytale hopes died with the dawn.