Blame Cuddy.

This whole electronic system was her idea.

"What's wrong with a prescription pad and a pen?" House was slouched on the couch in Cuddy's office when she told him that he'd have to attend the training session - just like everyone else - on the new computer-based prescription ordering plan. It was fall then, and Cuddy was haloed by the autumn light shining golden through the leaves in the courtyard

"Nothing's wrong." She didn't even look up at him as she went through her emails. "You can still use pens and paper if you want to be stuck in the 20th century. There's no requirement to adapt to new technology."

House suspected this was the same lecture she'd delivered to at least a dozen doctors around the hospital before him. It sounded like she'd rehearsed it a few times.

"But the electronic system is hooked in with pharmacies all over New Jersey," she continued. "It's efficient, easy, saves time and money and it's quick for everyone involved."

"You always whine when I want a quickie," House mumbled.

Now she paid attention to him. "That's because there are some moments that are worth savoring," she said, and grinned.

House had slept through most of the forty-five minute session the hospital's insurance company had insisted everyone sit through on the new system, nodding off somewhere between the "everyone has his or her own identification code" and "keep a unique password." An orangutan could have figured it out by pointing and clicking. Even Taub could have done it.

Winter is putting up a fight on the streets outside now, the cold burrowing in through scar tissue and gristle and digging deep inside his bones. His leg aches. It's ached for months, but he's ignored it because that's what he's supposed to do - the unwritten rule that he and Cuddy never talked about, because there was no room for negotiation. No lie that he could hide behind. No trick to distract her.

And now another rule. He's supposed to be with her. That's what good boyfriends are supposed to do. Hell, even crap boyfriends showed up to stand dutifully alongside exam tables in the clinic and beds in the ER and sit in lousy chairs in ICU rooms. He'd seen them show up so many times, he could tell at a glance how quickly they'd turn tale and run once things got tough.

House tells himself that he isn't supposed to be that guy, though. That's not what she wants. Not what she expects. Cuddy expects him to be the guy who shows up, who takes care of her kid, who takes out the trash, who would be there now.

He isn't there now.

He's one story below her, sitting in the dark, staring out the window across the courtyard and up at the room where a a single light shines through the glass.

House had meant to go there. He'd made it into his car, when all he wanted to do was stay in the bar three towns south of her and order another beer. He'd made it the parking lot, and into the handicapped spaces outside the main entrance. He'd even made it out of the car.

Eventually.

But his leg had ached, and he'd taken the nearest elevator rather than crossing the building to the ones that were closest to Cuddy's room. The ibuprofen bottle in his desk was nearly empty. One capsule left. He'd taken it, and waited.

Nothing.

The pharmacy downstairs would be open for another hour. He could go there, grab a bottle off the shelf and take another one - or two - on the way to her. He could still be who he's supposed to be.

He doesn't get up, though. Doesn't go downstairs. He watches her window for ...

House forces himself to look away. He doesn't know what he's looking for. A sign? He doesn't believe in them, unless they're neon.

He turns on the computer instead, pulls up Cuddy's file. There must be something in there that will tell him what he needs. Whatever that is. She isn't even bothering to hide the file from him anymore. It's under her own name, with her own social security number attached.

House skips past the first pages. Personal data, physical history. He knows all that, from her appendectomy scar to the date of her last mammogram. She'd had him watch Rachel for her while the nanny had the morning off, while she went on a Saturday at a place across town.

He begins with the report from four days ago, studies the test results, the images from the ultrasound, the inconclusive biopsy. Wilson signed off the last ones, ordering the surgery, his scrawled initial on the imaging studies showing the mass in a kidney, and spots splattered on her lungs.

Wilson's name isn't on the next form. Instead there's just a series of numbers, split with a hyphen in the middle. An electronic prescription form, sent automatically to the pharmacy downstairs. Sleeping pills. House lets the cursor's arrow hover there over those numbers for a few moments before he clicks on to the next page.

There's not much more to see. Guidelines for Cuddy's admission, her room number, her surgery schedule.

House pages back. Stops again.

His leg aches, pain building with every heartbeat. Blood rushing through veins and arteries tangled in that gnarled mess of scar tissue, all too close to the surface.

He shouldn't be here. He can't seem to move. He wonders if Cuddy knows he's close. If that will be enough, even though he knows it isn't.

In the end, it's easy. It only takes three attempts to guess Wilson's password. Wilson's too predictable. House even knows what he'll say when he finds out. He'll stand there, in the doorway, hands on his hips and lecture about trust, and then he'll offer to take House to a meeting of some kind where addicts sit around and tell each other half-truths.

Maybe Wilson won't find out. It's just one night. One time. House ignores the part of his brain that calls him a bastard as he types in the dosage. It sounds like Nolan. And like Dad. And like himself.

He gives himself three refills, lying again when he tells himself that he'll never use them, but that the script will look strange with the refill box left blank.

He doesn't even pause before hitting the button that sends the order to the pharmacy for immediate action. He's got thirty minutes before it closes. Thirty minutes to pick it up. Or thirty minutes to change his mind and let the bottle sit there, unclaimed, as they lock up for the night.

House turns off the computer, and swivels around toward the window. The light is still there across the courtyard. It's dimmer, turned down as if Cuddy is trying to sleep, but won't turn it all the way off, as if she's waiting for someone she actually expects to be there.