A/N: This one-shot is part of the Pranks universe, taking place shortly after Onslaught. There is no long 5th Pranks story yet. This one doesn't go on, just a snapshot look at one day in the life of the House family and how they are coping with things. I still think there might be a 5th long story out there someday, but right now, real life is quite hectic, and my muse is happily working on other, "real" fic things. She calls the shots, including this one, which came out of the blue this last week. If you haven't read the rest of the Pranks stories, you can read this one and fill in the blanks, but it will mean a lot more if you have the background from the others.
About the title, I am using equinox in its literal translation of "equal night" - i.e. half daylight, half darkness, split 50/50. I am using it metaphorically, not using it to specifically date this story at the vernal equinox, which would be in March, while the story takes place in the second half of February. My muse just liked the word as a description of how Cuddy was feeling on this particular day, kind of restless, balancing positives and negatives, balancing good memories and bad, aware of seasons changing, eager to head on to days with longer periods of "daylight."
Cuddy snapped out of sleep, both grateful to be dragged out of her nightmare and worried to realize that the wail of a medical monitor had followed her out of it. She quickly sat up and turned on the lamp, then hurried the two steps to the small crib beside the bed.
Another false alarm. She shut it off, checked and tightened the leads, and stood with both hands locked on the edge of the crib, watching her daughter's breaths. Deep, even, relentless. Most apnea alarms by the time a premie goes home are false ones, caused by a monitor lead shifting a bit or just by computerized moodiness, but no parent ever can take it for granted. Cuddy sagged against the crib slightly, feeling her own breathing and pulse returning gradually to normal. She glanced behind her to the other side of the bed - the empty other side of the bed - and sighed with dual relief, both that Abby was okay and thriving at home and that House was healthy and out in relentless pursuit of the answer on a case. In her dream, he had been in a hospital bed, put there by her own prank, and the wail of his monitors as they flatlined at the end had not been a false alarm.
She ran one hand across her face, feeling the numbness of fatigue and a restless night. It was odd for her to have nightmares, and she was getting much more practiced at sleeping in between other things lately. She knew what had triggered the nightmare, of course. Just last night, she had realized that it had been just over a year since her trip wire had sent House hurtling into his desk, therapy, and a relationship with her. Her dream had probably just inserted Abby's monitor at the end.
But it was okay. He was fine. She hadn't killed him. She could have, though. She really could have. She shuddered again, remembering the end of the dream, House dying on the hospital bed, the monitors wailing, and Cuddy unable to find the paddles, finally screaming at him that she loved him, hoping that her too-late admission would bring him back.
Abby stirred, making sucking sounds, and Cuddy smiled, then glanced at the clock. It was 3:00 a.m. Abby was still fed a few times a night and probably would want some attention pretty soon. Cuddy reached into the crib and touched her daughter, stroking back the peach-fuzz chestnut hair, and Abby's blue eyes opened and looked back at her. "Hello, little girl," Cuddy cooed at her. "Ready for something to eat?" Abby's smile broke out, lighting her face, and Cuddy smiled in return. Abby was technically four months old, but that included her extensive NICU course. Compared to normal babies, she was still undersized, but she was active and gaining weight, already bigger than she had been 3 weeks ago when they had finally brought her home. Her eyes, which had been one of the major complications in her course, seemed functional and tracking post a few surgeries, although a formal full assessment would have to come later. But Cuddy was always reassured by her daughter's gaze fixing on her, following her.
House's eyes. She knew that an infant's eyes often changed color, and House himself reminded her of it any time she commented, but medical facts be damned, she was sure those were his eyes in there. That wasn't just routine blue like anybody had.
After changing Abby, Cuddy disconnected the monitors and lifted her out of the crib, taking her back into the big bed. Abby latched on hungrily as her mother sat up, back resting against the headboard. Once again, Cuddy looked at the empty side, feeling an odd twist of longing, not just for House's presence here but that she herself could be out at work with him.
Stop it, she told herself firmly. You'll be back at work in another week. You wouldn't be out at work at 3:00 a.m. anyway.
She remembered her first maternal leave after adopting Rachel. This wasn't like that one, when she had been frustrated at the slowness to bond with Rachel. Abby was a delight, Rachel got cuter every day, and Cuddy had truly enjoyed spending time with her family. Besides, there were medical reasons for this interval. She had taken a month off, and House had taken two weeks, following bringing Abby home so they could make certain things were stabilized. But even in the first part of it, Cuddy found herself thinking wistfully, not just worriedly, about PPTH once in a while, and since House had returned to work, it had gotten worse. Guilt sliced through her, guilt that the children she had always wanted, the life she had always wanted, even the man she had always wanted still left her a bit restless at times when the job was unavailable.
Abby finished nursing, and Cuddy burped her and felt her thoughts again flying to PPTH. House had shortly after his return plunged into one of the most challenging cases of his career, and she'd barely seen him for the last 3 days. He'd tried to keep in touch with her, offered to pay help at night when he wasn't there to split duties, called to check on her, been through a few times to see her and the girls briefly, but he was also a hound on a hot trail, caught up in all the passion that fired him at his job. She loved watching him work too much to chide him for it, and besides, it truly was a critical case. Someone else's child had a life hanging in the balance. He was needed.
No, she didn't want him here; she wanted herself there.
She shook her head again, looking down at her miracle child. Abby had been through so much. Cuddy wondered at times what sort of a mother she was if she were getting tired of staying at home after only 3 weeks. Shouldn't she be doting on this child? Counting every breath? Immersed in the moment?
Well, she had been counting breaths a few minutes ago, and she did that regularly. But shouldn't it be enough? It wasn't that she would be staying home forever. Why did even 3 weeks away from work, even with her precious survivor of a child, even with her other daughter, seem not quite enough at times?
With a sigh, Cuddy reached for the cell phone on the nightstand, suddenly wanting to talk to House, but her fingers froze just above the keypad. He would either be locked in furious differential, pursuing tests that really were time-critical as the patient's sands ran out through the medical hourglass, or catching a few snatched and badly needed minutes of sleep in his Eames chair. At none of that should she disturb him just because she wanted some intelligent company. She settled for a less-intrusive text, something he could respond to when convenient.
Good morning at 3:15 a.m. from your daughter.
The reply came within a minute. He obviously was neither asleep nor with the patient just now.
Pretty precocious. Already using texts at 4 months.
Cuddy grinned and rolled her eyes, hearing the tone behind the text.
She did enlist help from me. How's it going?
Dead ends. Running out of time.
She sighed, wishing she could be there to support and reassure him in person. You'll get the answer. You're a genius, remember?
Know I'll get it. Hope pt is still alive.
Cuddy hoped so too, hoped that he wouldn't lose a child, that some other parents wouldn't lose their son. While she was still trying to think of what reply would help encourage him, her phone beeped again.
She smiled and pushed back the restlessness. He had enough on his mind. I'm fine, Greg. Just feeding Abby. About to go back to sleep.
Pleasant dreams. I'll call later. Tests just in.
She left him to his life-saving and put the phone back on the nightstand. Abby was already asleep again in her arms. Cuddy debated for a minute simply keeping the child in bed with her, less lonely than the whole bed to herself, but she was afraid of falling back deeply asleep and missing a crisis that was not a false alarm. The fact that Abby had been stable and thriving for 3 weeks at home did not mean that they were completely out of the woods and able to let down their guard. Cuddy stood up, tucked her daughter back in the crib, and reattached the monitor, then climbed back into the large bed alone. Her hand crept out toward his side, moving of its own volition, and Cuddy stared at his pillow and wondered how things were going at the hospital. She fell asleep into administrative dreams.
"Belle!" Rachel toddle-ran down the hall in pursuit of the white kitten. She was faster than she was steady, and she wound up in a heap on the floor, but she was back on her feet in seconds, changing direction again. "Belle!"
"No, lunch," Cuddy said, pursuing her daughter. The nanny, holding Abby, smiled.
"Every day she gets faster."
Cuddy caught Rachel and returned to the table with her captive under one arm. "Do you understand about . . ."
"Relax, Dr. Cuddy. We've been over it, and you wrote it all down besides." Marina was here just during the mornings at the moment. She had been scheduled to return the next week anyway part-time to get Abby's needs and schedule and precautions down; her presence this week had been at House's instigation, trying to give Cuddy more support and a chance to rest since he himself wasn't there as much to give her breaks. Cuddy, of course, hadn't used the interval to rest but to start Abby boot camp early. The nanny by this point was anticipating all of her questions, which should have reassured Cuddy but didn't. Because Marina would be here handling things on her own during the days in another week. What if Abby had a crisis while her mother was back at work? She was too little, too fragile still.
Maybe Cuddy should take another month off.
No, she would go insane with another month off. But shouldn't she at least consider it longer before reaching that decision? Wouldn't most mothers?
Rachel was in her high chair eating apple slices now. "Belle," she called, tossing one into the floor in front of the kitten.
Marina snickered. "Rachel," Cuddy admonished, going over quickly to pick up the slice and throw it away. "Don't throw your food. Besides, Belle doesn't like apples."
Rachel laughed, paying more attention to Marina's amusement than to her mother's correction, and Cuddy glared at the nanny. Just then, her cell phone rang. She glanced at caller ID, then answered eagerly. "Greg?"
"Hi." His voice sounded absolutely flat.
Her heart plummeted. "Is the patient . . ."
"Got it. He'll be fine."
She let out a sigh of relief. "Are you okay? You sound tired." He sounded beyond tired. She realized now that his tone was a product of 3 days of near-constant, frantic work on the case and the adrenaline abruptly wearing off, not a product of failure.
"Fine," he replied automatically. "Gotta tie up a few loose ends. Just wanted to tell you I'd be home in about 30 minutes."
The longer speech revealed that his words were actually slurring slightly. Concern twisted in her. "Greg, get Wilson to drive you home."
Silence for a moment, then acquiescence without a fight, which was its own indication of the level of his exhaustion. "Good idea." Silence again, and she was starting to wonder if he had fallen asleep while holding the phone. He spoke just when she was about to. "See you soon."
"See you soon, Greg."
Rachel stretched out her hands. "Dada!"
"No, Rachel. He'll be home soon."
"Oh, let her . . . "
Cuddy cut him off. His return home didn't need to be delayed any more than it had to be. "No. He'll be home soon. Go talk to Wilson, Greg."
"Okay." Pure weariness. He hit the wrong button to end the call, and she heard the phone beep and his half-hearted curse before the line went dead.
Cuddy put her own phone down and turned to Marina, reaching out for Abby. "I'll take her, Marina. Thank you; you can go now. See you Monday morning."
Marina tickled Abby as she handed her over, and the infant smiled. "Beautiful," Marina said. She gave Rachel a kiss on her way by the high chair. "Beautiful. Two beautiful girls. See you Monday, Dr. Cuddy."
Cuddy found herself smiling as she looked from one of her daughters to the other. Yes, even given Abby being undersized, they were both beautiful.
The door opened, and House lurched in. He was almost walking in spurts, like a car running out of gas, lurching up the final hill to the station. Wilson was just behind him but stopped in the doorway. "Special delivery," the oncologist said brightly.
House stopped in front of Cuddy, nearly falling against her as he kissed her. "Hi."
Rachel banged the high chair. "Dada!" He turned toward her and tripped slightly.
"Go to bed before you fall over," Wilson advised.
"Got to see my girls first." House recovered his balance and went to the high chair, and Cuddy walked over to Wilson, lowering her voice.
"Thanks for bringing him home."
"Anytime. I've saved one life today, anyway. Although I doubt he would have wrecked driving home; he probably would have fallen asleep in the parking garage and still been there in the morning."
House heard him and turned. "I wouldn't have fallen asleep in the parking garage. Too much waiting for me at home."
Wilson had started drifting over toward Abby, tucked under a blanket in the playpen, and House cut him off. "I get to see her first." He scooped his daughter up out of the pen. "Hi, Abby." She smiled and reached out, running both hands along his shaggier-than-usual scruff. "Yeah, I know," he told her. "Need to shave."
"After you sleep for a while," Cuddy said. "Go to bed, Greg." He gave Abby a final squeeze, then handed her into Wilson's eager hands and limped down the hall toward the bathroom.
Wilson studied the infant. "She's growing." He tickled her under her chin, and she smiled. "You sure this is House's kid? She smiles an awful lot to be his."
Cuddy smacked him lightly. "Go back to work before your boss gets on your case. Thanks again, Wilson."
He surrendered Abby to her and turned for the door. "You're welcome. Take care of House; he's just short of dead."
Just short of dead. The shadow of her dream from last night returned briefly, and she shook it off, but she was quick to set Rachel down out of the high chair, lifting her out while holding Abby with the other hand - she was getting quite efficient at handling two of them. Rachel scampered on down the hall, followed by Belle, heading unerringly for the bedroom. Cuddy followed. "Rachel, leave him alone. He's tired."
House was already asleep, nearly spread-eagled in the middle of the bed as if he had simply fallen into the mattress. Rachel paced around the edges of the bed, unable to reach him, unable to climb up yet, getting impatient with it. Belle the cat, not so inhibited in movement, had jumped up and was on House's back, kneading his shoulders in a feline massage, purring up a storm. Her success at reaching him only made Rachel more annoyed. "Rachel." Cuddy caught her daughter. "He's right here; he'll play later. Why don't we watch the Aristocats?"
"Rist-cats!" Rachel repeated enthusiastically and trotted on out the bedroom door, heading back to the living room to fish out the DVD - which she could identify from pictures - from her own personal collection.
"Be there in a minute!" Cuddy called. She carefully set Abby down in her crib, then tried to straighten House out, taking off his shoes, getting his leg into a more comfortable position. He shifted slightly.
"Sorry . . . wasn't here," he mumbled.
She flinched at his use of sorry. "It's okay, Greg. You were saving a life. I understand the cases get demanding sometimes." He was already asleep again. Belle curled up against his side, her hyperpurr diminishing into a drowsy rumble. Cuddy bent over to kiss him, then picked up Abby again and left the bedroom.
Her family all home, and she had a whole afternoon to play with her two daughters. Yes, this was what she had always wanted.
But part of her still felt restless.
It was a little later, with Rachel happily tied up watching the Disney film and with Abby asleep in her lap, Cuddy serving as her own apnea monitor because she didn't want to hook up her daughter and risk waking up House with a false alarm, that she realized it was Friday. She looked quickly at her watch - 12:50 p.m. - did her own differential, and pulled out her cell phone, calling Jensen's office. He answered himself, which surprised her until she realized that his secretary was probably at lunch.
"Dr. Jensen, this is Dr. Cuddy. I just wanted to let you know that Greg isn't going to make his appointment this afternoon. He's okay, just dead tired. He's been on a case for 3 days straight, 24/7." No way did House need 4 hours of driving today, and he needed sleep more than a session at the moment.
Jensen sounded unflappable as always. "Actually, I already knew that. He called a while ago to cancel, and I talked to him briefly."
That must have been one of his loose ends he'd mentioned needing to tie up before leaving the hospital. "Good. I mean, that he realized himself he wasn't up to it."
"He did sound exhausted," Jensen agreed. "It sounded like he's had quite a reintroduction to work this week after his break. How is Abby getting along?'
"She's great." Cuddy looked down at the sleeping infant in her lap. "Gaining weight, alert and interactive with us. We won't know for a while, of course, since you can't really test thoroughly this young, but we think she's not going to have any long-term deficits."
"Excellent. And how are you doing?"
Jensen sounded quite chatty today, in no hurry to hang up after getting her message. Maybe he was still on lunch break himself; he certainly wasn't with a patient. "I'm doing fine," Cuddy replied. "Enjoying spending time with the girls." Her tone sounded slightly flat even to herself.
"But ready to get back to work?" Jensen suggested.
She sighed. "It's probably just seeing him dive back into it full speed."
"Or that you are a very good administrator who is used to multitasking. You do your job well, and you know it. There's nothing wrong with having a life that isn't with your children every second."
Cuddy stared at Abby. "I just feel . . . wait a minute. Trying to have Greg's session with me instead?"
Jensen chuckled. "No charge. You just sounded a little down on yourself. You're doing a great job with everything, Dr. Cuddy. Any child would be fortunate to have parents like the two of you."
She felt herself relaxing into the affirmation, in spite of her twinges of guilt. "Thank you."
"My next appointment is coming up, so I'll let you go. Enjoy the rest of your day, Dr. Cuddy, and make sure Dr. House takes care of himself."
She smiled. "I will. Sorry about the late notice on today."
"Not a problem. I'll just get out of the office early this afternoon. I like my job, but I like my family, too. With a little work, both of them fit nicely."
"Okay, okay, I get it. Bye."
She continued watching Abby sleep, counting breaths, until Rachel shrieked, "Belle!" Belle was still back asleep with House, but the white kitten on the TV was prancing. Cuddy found herself getting absorbed in the film again, enjoying watching Rachel watch it.
Several hours later, she felt ready to pull her hair out. Rachel, with her feline playmate as well as her father sacked out in the bedroom, was demanding more attention than usual to keep distracted from them. Abby was never a problem, but she did require fairly constant monitoring, and Cuddy was continually worried that without the electronic device, she would miss something. Then Rachel chose to be difficult about eating, wanting to wait for her father. Cuddy absolutely vetoed - and didn't eat yet herself, hoping herself that House would wake up at least briefly. He needed some food. She had just finished bathing Rachel, more difficult because she kept looking away to check Abby in her carrier on the bathroom floor, when she heard a sharp beep, followed by more. She nearly gave herself whiplash turning back to Abby, reacting instinctively before she remembered that her daughter wasn't hooked up to the monitor at the moment. So what was beeping? She realized after another second that it was her alarm clock, and she grabbed Rachel, naked and dripping, out of the tub, picked up Abby's carrier with the other hand, and darted for the bedroom, hoping to squelch the instrument before House was disturbed. And why on earth was it going off at 7:00 p.m. anyway?
Too late. House was fumbling for the offending instrument already by the time she made it into the room. Belle, disturbed by his half-asleep flails toward the nightstand, stood up and jumped off the bed, tail lashing. House finally connected with the clock a few seconds before Cuddy reached it. "I apologize, Greg, don't know what that thing is doing going off at this hour. Go back to sleep."
His face was still buried in the pillows, but she heard his sleep-roughened voice. "Differential: Why would an alarm clock go off?"
"Your case is solved; put away the whiteboard and go back to sleep."
Rachel was nearly doing flip flops at this point, scrambling to get out from under her mother's arm. "Dada!"
He rolled over, squinting up toward them. "Hi, kid."
"Dada!" Cuddy relented and put Rachel down on the bed, and her daughter immediately scrambled onto House, hugging him fiercely.
"Didn't answer the question," House protested, his eyes on Cuddy while he tickled Rachel, much to her delight.
"Why would an alarm clock go off?"
"Who knows, Greg? Some electronic quirk."
"You're missing the obvious solution."
"Somebody set it?"
"Head of the class," he said approvingly. He wiggled himself into a sitting position against the headboard of the bed, careful both of Rachel and his leg, then blinked at the child's outfit, or lack thereof. "New fashion statement?"
"I was giving her a bath. But I didn't set the clock, Greg."
"I know." His mischievous blue eyes, looking more alert although still too tired, laughed at her.
"You did? But why?"
He sighed. "Differential: Why would somebody set an alarm clock?"
"You wanted to get up?" She shook her head. "You haven't had enough sleep yet, Greg. You've got 3 days to catch up on."
"I know that, and I plan to resume being lazy in a few hours, extending on through the weekend. But I've had enough to be functional for a little bit, and you, on the other hand, have had too much of being cooped up here lately."
"I haven't been cooped up . . . I'm a mother."
"Who has been cooped up too much lately. You haven't been out of this house all month except for Abby's doctor appointment, which is why we're going out to eat."
She looked down instantly at Abby in her arms. "Abby doesn't need to be out in public around crowds, Greg. Too much exposure to infection still."
"Let me rephrase that: We, meaning you and I but not Rachel, Abby, or even Belle, are going out tonight. Haven't eaten yet, have you?"
"Greg, we can't just . . . no, I haven't, but we can't leave the girls here alone."
"Believe it or not, I realize that. Which is why Marina is due back here at 7:15. I figured you wouldn't have eaten yet at 7:00 - you'd still be hoping I'd wake up long enough to eat with you. Good news; you get your wish."
Cuddy was staring. "Greg, I can't just . . . " But it did sound deliciously inviting, leaving the girls and having a night out to themselves. Guilt warred with longing.
"Why not?" he asked.
"Why not? I'm their mother, for one."
"Who will make sure they are well supervised. Consider this Marina's trial run for a couple of hours with Abby. We'll be a cell phone call away. Come on, Lisa, admit that you want to. I've watched you this whole month."
She sighed. "Greg, I can't just play hookey from being a mother."
"You're not playing hookey. You're leaving the kids with a responsible, trusted sitter and going out for the evening. Lots of mothers all over America do it, and nobody's reported them to CPS yet." He carefully worked his way to the edge of the bed. "Marina will be here any minute - I gave you time to tell her to go after I called you, then called her. She thinks it's a great idea."
The sharp knock was heard on the door.
Cuddy sighed. House sat on the edge of the bed looking at her, adorably rumpled from sleep, his eyes laughing at her. "It's easy to say no, Lisa. All you have to do is walk down that hall, answer the door, and tell her you aren't going out after all."
She glared at him, then turned to leave the room. Guilt and longing were locked in a struggle on the mat, but there was a clear victor by the time she opened the door.
Cuddy still insisted on driving - even after 7 hours of sleep, House was worn out. He said he had already made a reservation for 8:15, giving them time to shower and dress after Marina got there. She asked him for directions, which he dutifully gave her, street by street, and it didn't take her long to pinpoint their destination.
"We're going out to eat at the hospital?"
"Catered meal there, arriving at your office at 8:15. Best of all worlds. You see your biggest baby, you can even admire the paperwork on the desk, and we get a night out. Win-win-win."
Cuddy smiled across at him at the next stoplight. "Greg, that is so thoughtful."
He grinned. "More husbands should take their wives out to work for dinner. Most of America just hasn't found out what a turn-on paperwork is."
She laughed, feeling tension shedding like a waterfall from her shoulders. "Thank you, Greg. But I'm sure I've been out of the house at some point this last month."
"Nope. You've even sent me - and Wilson twice - to the store every time. You're trying to be Supermom 24/7, which to you means full time, and I do mean full time, with them. You even lie there supervising the whole time when it's my turn at night with Abby, and I can feel the guilt clear across the room that you aren't doing it yourself. Abby does need a lot, but you're trying too hard at this, trying to make up in advance for 'abandoning' her to go back to work by doing absolutely everything now. Relax, Lisa. You're a great mom. Nobody but yourself is requiring more."
She pulled into PPTH, parking in her prime parking spot. "You sound like Jensen."
"We were talking about it last week. I've been worried about you, but I wasn't sure what to do. He did suggest a nice restaurant, but I thought work was even better, at least while you're in work withdrawal at the moment. We both agreed it would work better to surprise you, though, so I didn't mention it. I couldn't have had a night out before this weekend, anyway; we had to get Marina exposed to the routine with Abby."
Cuddy looked over at him. "You've been plotting this for a week?"
"Yep. But then the case took off. I would have postponed it if I hadn't solved things this morning. Had to save the kid. But we would have done it the first available night. You have been on my mind all week."
Cuddy slid across the front seat, nearly tackling him, her lips finding his. If they hadn't been in a very public parking spot in front of a major hospital, dinner might have been postponed, but as it was, she finally reluctantly tore herself away from him as she heard a car go by. It was the van from their favorite Italian restaurant, heading for the front door, and House sent her to chase it down quickly and get the food as he pried himself out of the car - his leg wasn't happy with his 3-day marathon. She waited in the door for him, and they entered and crossed the lobby together, drawing a few looks from the night shift, but there weren't as many people on duty now as earlier in the day.
House unlocked her office as she held the food bags, and she stepped through the door, then stopped, just registering the smell of it. She'd been away 3 weeks. She'd never noticed the smell of her office before. It smelled like paperwork and reports and conferences and projects. She'd missed this place.
"Come on, come on," House urged. "I'm hungry even if you aren't."
She stepped on into the office, heading for the small couch, and he relocked the door behind them, then closed the blinds. "You can visit the paperwork and even hug it and tell it how much mommy has missed it, but I draw the line at conferences or employee meetings," he said firmly.
Cuddy grinned. "Deal. I'm glad you threw in visitation rights on the paperwork, though."
"Sure it's missed you as much as you've missed it." He rustled through the sacks, suddenly ravenous, and pulled out a bread stick. "Or there might even be other options in here for you to hug."
"You're right! The desk!" She replied, fielding his toss instantly, and then burst out laughing at his crestfallen look. Men had such fragile egos at times. "I'm kidding, you big lunk. I promise you'll get your full share. I can't believe you've planned this for a week and never let me suspect it."
"Not being home kind of helped that," he noted.
She poked him with an extra fork. "Quit it and eat. You'll need energy for later." He lit into the food like he had been starving, and she suddenly tilted her head in thought. "Have you eaten anything else today?" Or yesterday? Or Wednesday? She knew how locked in he could get on a case.
"One stale doughnut this morning. Wilson would have bought me lunch, but you wanted him to take me home instead. And no, to answer your next question, I did not take prescription-strength NSAIDs on an empty stomach."
"You just skipped them totally instead of adding them to the Vicodin."
He shrugged. "Too busy to feel it."
He was feeling it now, though. She'd watched his slow limp across the parking lot to join her at the door. "Take them now, Greg." He pulled out his multiple bottles and took a handful of pills. "Maybe I could give you a massage later, too."
He perked up. "Before or after we go back home?"
"What about both?" She looked over at the blinds, and he started eating spaghetti faster. "Slow down, Greg." She took a few bites herself, enjoying the taste and enjoying having a meal that didn't involve keeping a toddler from trying to feed apple slices to the cat. "Seriously, Greg, thank you. It does feel good to get out of the house."
"Jensen thinks we need to set up a regular night for it, every week. Not in your office every week, of course. We can go to a restaurant or something. But he said we both need regular time away from the girls, a little bit, anyway, especially since Abby takes so much care."
"Sounds good. What about Fridays? I can feed the girls while you're driving back from Middletown, and we can have a late reservation somewhere."
"It's a date. That's how I was going to do it today, actually, but I knew I had to get some sleep first. Only could fit one of you in today."
"I'm delighted that my husband would rather spend time with me than his psychiatrist." She saw the fleeting quip behind his eyes. "And don't you dare make a crack about hourly rates."
"I didn't say anything," he said, eyes laughing. He stuffed down another bread stick, taking half of it at once.
Cuddy finished off her own container and set it down on the coffee table. "I was thinking this morning," she started, then trailed off.
"At 3:00 a.m.?" he asked around a mouthful of bread stick. She looked at him, startled at his perception - and why should she be at this point? He could still catch her by surprise, though. "You weren't just up feeding Abby," he said definitely.
"You got that from a few texts?"
"I am that good," he replied.
She dropped the front. "I had a dream - okay, a nightmare." He instantly stopped eating, and his concerned eyes met hers. "Do you know what time it is?"
"At the moment, it's 8:45. It's also late February, and getting more to your point, I think, it's just over a year since you set the trip wire. I figured your guilt complex would rear its head over that."
"Right. Finish those bread sticks, Greg." He pulled them closer to him as she went on. "I had a dream that you were in the hospital bed after I'd tripped you. You were dying, all the monitors going off. I couldn't find the paddles. Couldn't do anything. Finally snapped out of it, and Abby's alarm was going off - just a false alarm again. I was just missing you more than usual after that."
His blue eyes were nearly luminous, studying her. "I had a dream myself night before last - I think. The last few days have run together. Anyway, I was catching a quick nap at one point, and I dreamed about falling."
Her guilt surged up again. Of course, House himself would probably dream it around the anniversary, too. He had been the one physically hurt, after all. He'd even been stuck dreaming alone, as she had, due to the demanding case. "I wish I'd been there for you."
"You were," he insisted. "That was the dream, Lisa. I dreamed that I tripped and was falling, and then you caught me. I woke up, at least dreamed that I woke up, and you were there. And when I really woke up, it wasn't jolting out of a nightmare. I woke up glad that I knew you were there." He stuffed the last bread stick into his mouth. "Enough guilt and psychoanalysis for tonight - we've already concluded that I picked you over Jensen today, and it wasn't so we can compare dreams. What about that massage - and anything else that may occur to us after that?"
The massage did lead to other ideas, and at 9:40 by the clock on the wall, they were both entwined on the floor of her office, pulses slowly returning to normal. Cuddy leaned her head against his shoulder and gave a happy sigh. She felt more loved, and relaxed, and fulfilled than she had all month, even though part of her was already anxious to get back to the girls, too. "Thank you, Greg," she said again. "I needed this night. I love you."
He didn't reply, and she shifted enough to look over into his face. He was sound asleep. They still had 20 minutes before they had to leave to head back home and take over from Marina. She could wake him up, or she could get up to go hug the paperwork. . .
Or she could just lie here and watch him breathe, no alarms, no flatlines, nothing wrong, and remember - positively and not just negatively - the last year.