Author's Notes: This fic was written for akemi19 for her birthday. Her request was for a piece set after "Joy." She wanted House to actually go into Cuddy's house or for their relationship to go in a different direction than the canon took it. As such, this is set between 5x8 and 5x9. There is some sexual dialogue, so if that offends you, don't read.

Disclaimer: The show does not belong to me.

The Thrill and the Hurting
By Duckie Nicks

Fingers slip into the handle of a mug filled with hot tea. That's all she can drink in the days after she loses Joy – cup after cup of hot herbal tea. Caffeine and solid foods make her sick to her stomach, but her body welcomes the bitter taste of chamomile and peppermint.

Outwardly she is cool with her grief, focused on moving on. In truth she is constantly cold, desperate for a warmth she cannot find. She is frozen every time she passes what should be her nursery, her daughter's bedroom, and constantly chilled by reminders that Joy is not hers as she was promised.

Tea offers Cuddy the slightest bit of a reprieve, gives her the illusion that her cold fingers and goose bumps will go away if she just drinks enough. But the second she finishes her mug, she always finds herself reaching for another cup, for the kettle – for another moment where the ache in her heart doesn't seem dangerous enough to kill her.

This particular cup is harsh on her throat. She distracts herself with paperwork, but with each sip, her mouth feels dry. Each swallow makes her parched, which means this will have to be her last mug of the day. Cuddy supposes she's okay with that. It's late; she should sleep; she needs sleep. From exhaustion, the last several days have passed in a creeping blur. Moments are somehow excruciatingly slow to end and simultaneously move so fast that she barely has time to take in the details of the event before it's over. And through it all, she's only had a few hours of sleep in total each night, so she's okay with setting aside the tea and heading to bed.

Of course, she understands that actually falling asleep won't be as simple as that. Her years have taught her that nothing is simple; nothing comes easy, not anymore. She knows that she will toss and turn for hours. She'll think of… the baby she doesn't have, the crib that is empty, the space on the bed beside her that holds no man, no partner to get through this with. During the day she has work to distract her. At night she has no illusions about how lonely her life really is.

And that keeps her awake at night. She knows it won't be any different tonight. But she's at that point where exhaustion is making her nearly delirious, where the words she's reading have no meaning and she'll have to go over them again in the morning, so she really has no choice but to go to bed.

Standing up, Cuddy wobbles on her feet for a fraction of a second. She's made it through the day, her façade seamless. Now though her mask is slipping; grief is beginning to barrel its way through the walls she's built around herself. Work is no longer a refuge, and exhaustion brings weakness and, with it, painful memory.

She braces herself for the tunnel vision that comes with flashback. She waits for the sickening feeling of loss to hit her all over again, for the emptiness to extinguish any control she has over herself.

But that moment is put on hold as she catches movement out of the corner of her eye. Curiosity tugs her attention away from what she doesn't have. Squinting as she looks out onto the dark street, she tries to make out what she sees. Her gaze is slow to focus. Yet when it does, she recognizes the shape quickly.

It's House.

Without thinking, she heads for the door. Her steps are quick, dignity (or what little she still has) the only thing stopping her from running to him. To be honest, there's nothing personal about her eagerness; she would be the same way with anyone at this point. Someone else being around is a distraction, which is all she wants these days.

That House has kissed her means… little. She won't say she didn't like it on some level. But more than anything, she appreciates that he's given her something else to think about.

She's relying on the same thing to happen now.

"House?" she calls out as he's about to get on his bike.

He looks over at her, the fact that he's been caught crossing every feature he possesses.

She walks onto the street in her bare feet to get to him. It doesn't bother her that her soles are touching the asphalt. It doesn't concern her that she might step on broken glass or a sharp rock. She used to think House was insane, the way he had no problem putting his own physical well being at risk in order to get… an answer, freedom from pain – whatever he wanted. Now she knows what it's like, to not care about your own self, just as long as you get what you want.

Nevertheless Cuddy forces herself to seem calm, cool on the outside. He doesn't seem fooled at first, because she sees him look down at her feet of the ground. But she is quick to draw attention away from that.

"What are you doing here?" she asks, folding her arms across her chest.

"I was leaving" is his non-answer.

"Why are you here?" She repeats the question. She does her best to avoid sounding demanding, but she's not sure she succeeds.

He shrugs in response. "DVD player broke. So… can't watch porn. Don't have Wilson's credit card, so no hookers. Watching you change was the next best thing. Only that didn't happen."

"So you drove all the way over here and now you're leaving," she says incredulously.

"Well, I would have stayed, but it didn't seem worth getting arrested after the neighbors spot me jerking off in your bushes."

She looks up and down the street instinctively. It's dark out; the road is empty, save for a cat slinking into a sewer twenty or so feet away. There's no one out though. There are only a few lights on in the homes around here, and it's obvious that he's in absolutely no danger of getting caught.

"Right," she says doubtfully. "You didn't think about that beforehand."

He waves his hand through the air, as though her point isn't one he should bother addressing. But in doing so, the light from one of the street lamps illuminates the back of his hand. Blood is soaking through the bandage he's slapped on the wound.

"House, your hand."

As if on cue, a single crimson droplet spills out from underneath the band-aid and trickles over one of his knuckles. For his part though, he is unconcerned.

"It's just a bug bite."

She grabs his hand as he starts to drop his arm. Before he can even protest, she rips the bandage off. "What did you do – lance it?"

"Gnawed it open with my teeth."

Cuddy ignores the attempt at a joke. She doesn't expect a straight answer from him, so she's not surprised that he takes the predicted path.

"That's going to need a stitch," she says clinically. At this point, she's not sure if he cut himself open or merely scratched the wound into his flesh; the edges are ragged, like he's been itching this thing for days, but it's hard for her to imagine someone scratching themselves this much and creating a wound this deep.

"I'll keep that in mind."

She drops his hand. "Come inside. I'll suture you up."

"You're inviting me inside." The way he says the words… he's placing heavy importance on the words, which she doesn't want.

"To stitch you," she tells him impatiently.

"Is that what they're calling it these days?"

"No. I'm talking about the medical procedure."

"You know how to do those?"

"And then you can leave."

There's a moment's worth of consideration before he shrugs. "Fine."

He follows her back in to the house with enough reluctance that it seems as though she's forcing him into this. She easily ignores this though; he may not want to be here now, but the fact is that he is here. She's willing to deal with his sour mood if it means she's not alone for a few moments in time.

After she closes the front door behind them, she ushers him into the living room. "Let me get my kit," she tells him, the implication that she wants him to stay where he is clear.

As she heads towards her bathroom, she realizes there's a good chance he'll leave. It's that possibility that she focuses on as she passes by the empty room that should be a nursery – that he won't be there when she returns. He hasn't complained (nor should he, because she's doing something nice for him), but he's clearly uninterested in being here now. Cuddy's not sure how any of that makes sense; he comes here on his own and then suddenly wants to leave. But she knows that that's precisely what has happened. And if she considers the matter further at all, it's not because she cares but because she appreciates the diversion.

That's all she finds interest in these days: the next thing to pull her attention from what's not in her life. She doesn't have goals or an overreaching end to achieve. She simply walks around, hoping for one moment of freedom from the grief inside her. Constantly searching for the slightest break, she welcomes House's odd behavior with open arms.

It helps that he needs a few stitches. It's menial work, but she likes the opportunity to do something with her hands. Reaching in to her medicine cabinet, she grabs the first aid kit she's kept in there for years.

Cuddy fights off the memory of her restocking her supplies the night before Joy was supposed to come home. Her hands shake as she leaves the bathroom, but she forces herself to maintain control. House has seen her come undone before; she will not let that happen again if she can help it.

Her resolve doesn't last long.

She's heading back down the hallway to the living room. She's assuming he's either there or gone, which is why she is completely taken aback by the light coming from the nursery.

The door is open further than where she left it.

The light is on, she thinks once more, that fact weighing heavily on her.

She nearly drops the kit in her hands as it hits her:

House is in there.

He hasn't stayed where he's been told. He hasn't left.

He's there.

Her skin crawls at the very idea of it. Every fiber of her being is disgusted, repulsed by him being in that room. Her stomach squeezes together painfully; the urges to vomit and scream and kill him all mingle inside of her in a blurred rage she can't even begin to understand. At that moment, she's not sure if she should burst into the room and throw him out or walk away as though nothing has happened. The violation for her is too great to consider the logical response. There is no logical response. Absolutely nothing about any of this makes sense, a thought she has had many times since Becca changed her mind.

It doesn't make any sense.

That Cuddy has gone through all the obstacles to become a parent yet remains childless.

That someone should see how much she loved her daughter and… punish – not celebrate, not congratulate, not accept that adoption had been the right choice – but to actually punish her for it.

That she should come home empty-handed and alone only so House could show up and offer up lies and a kiss.

That he should be here now, in what could have been her daughter's room.

None of it makes sense.

There's no proper way to react or to handle what has happened, what is happening. She's clung to the few things that feel right, the tiny scraps of driftwood to keep her from being swallowed whole by the raging tide of loss. But whether that's right or wrong, she doesn't know. She doesn't care. She simply moves on instinct, which for whatever reason dictates that she quietly enters the room.

Her fingers clinging to the kit tightly, she looks at him for a moment. He's standing in front of the crib, staring at the collection of stuffed animals currently nestled in it. His expression is sad, maybe even a little mournful.

And that is the only reason her question comes out as calmly as it does. "What are you doing in here?" she asks in even tones.

He turns his head in her direction. Again he hesitates to respond, his head bobbing a little. Later she'll think that maybe he just didn't know how to answer the question. In the moment though, she's not thinking anything. She doesn't trust her mind to stick to its narrow path so instead she stoically waits.

Eventually he says, "I was curious. Everything's still here."

She exhales raggedly. "My sister's coming on Monday to handle the returns for me." She doesn't say that she doesn't want to handle it herself; she suspects that that doesn't need to be said.

"Oh." Without pausing he heads straight towards the oversized loveseat she put in the room. He sits down on it as she remembers thinking the sofa would be a nice place to share midnight feedings with Joy, to rock her….

"My hand?" House interrupts.

Her attention is forced back in to the present. But the damage for her is already done. Whatever calm she exhibited is gone. She can't stay in this room and pretend like she knows how to process any of it. It's too much for her to handle, and she's not going to embarrass herself by pretending like this is something she can control.

Cuddy takes a few steps further into the room – but only to hand him the first aid kit. Her voice wavers, but she manages to force out anyway, "I can't do this."

If he says something, she doesn't hear it. If he gives her a look, she doesn't see it. She's too busy getting out of the nursery as quickly as she can to notice anything about him. Heading back into the hallway, she doesn't glance back, doesn't even breathe until she shuts her bedroom door behind her.

She gasps for air, even as her hand covers her mouth to silence the sound. She can hear the cry catch in the back of her throat before the tears skew her gaze. Her guard is slipping; she has only moments before it comes crashing down completely, and she starts to prepare for that inevitability.

That's the best she can do these days – ready herself for what must happen. If that qualifies as managing her pain, then she guesses that's what she's doing, but she doubts it does. In her mind, there's absolutely no managing going on. She is at the mercy of her own emotions. They are what are in control. And she can only do her best to minimize what damage she does.

Quickly she locks the door behind her. If House bothers to follow her, he won't get in. He won't see.

She changes into a sweatshirt and pajama pants as hastily as she can. There's no point, really, in doing that. But the act of changing out of her jeans and cardigan give her something to focus on, make her feel like, if she's not dressed for the rest of the world, everything outside of her will disappear or leave her alone.

Crawling into bed, Cuddy knows that she couldn't be more wrong. House of all people is still in her home. No locked door, no choice in clothing will deter him. If he's curious enough and she doesn't consider herself lucky enough to believe he's not, he will be in here in minutes.

She keeps her attention on that to buy more time, to avoid being caught off guard. And without fail, he's picking the lock in within five minutes of her locking it.

"It was shut for a reason," she mumbles into her pillow when he finally manages to push the door open.

"I opened it for a reason." He moves to stand next to her. With her lying down, he seems to tower over her. "You gonna stitch my hand or let me bleed to death?"

"Please go," she insists quietly.

But that seems to be just the thing that makes him stay.

He walks around to the other side of the bed and sits down.

"Don't," she warns. She rolls on to her side to look at him more clearly. "Don't do this."

He looks as though he has no idea what she's talking about. "What am I doing?" he asks like he's clueless. She knows he's not.

"I'm not in the mood to play games, House."

"Me neither." He opens the first aid kit on his lap and begins to pull out a bandage.

Much to her chagrin, she can feel her mood lightening. She's not even sure how he manages it, but somehow he's working her irritation to his advantage. The feelings she thought were unstoppable are somehow taking a backseat to him. As though not even her sense of loss can withstand his sheer force of will, the vice around her heart seems to loosen as he rebandages his wound. And for that reason alone, she suddenly doesn't want him to leave.

It makes her feel insane, to go from one extreme to the other. To tell him to go and then want him to stay, to be on the verge of tears one moment, calm the next, and vice versa – it makes her feel like she's losing her mind.

She thinks she probably is.

Because regardless of what she said moments ago, she finds herself sitting up, offering, "Let me do that."

"No," he says, holding his hand away from her.

"No?"

He ignores her confusion and asks, "When was the last time you slept?"

"What?" She doesn't understand the point of the question, but she finds herself answering it instinctually anyway. "Last night. I don't –"

"Obviously didn't sleep much," he says, as much to himself as the words are for her. "Extra concealer at work, bags under your eyes –"

"I'm confused," she interrupts. He's sitting on her bed and wrapping his hand with gauze, and… what, he's here to talk about how little sleep she's gotten?

"Makes sense. Lack of sleep can cause –"

"No. I mean: you're in my bed –"

"Technically sitting on it."

"Talking to me about my sleeping habits," she continues undeterred. "I don't understand why."

This time he's the one who seems confused. "You're acting erratic," he explains. "I'm noting why."

She lays her head back down on the pillow. "Go make notes elsewhere."

The bed shifts as he presumably bristles at the comment. "You're the one who invited me in."

"And then told you to leave."

"And I'm supposed to act like that's completely normal."

She hates having to give the obvious explanation. Having to say the words, speak a truth she feels she cannot escape, only makes her feel more beholden to that reality. As though voicing what has happened will make it more real, she resents having to do it. So she chooses words that are vague.

"It's been a bad week, all right?"

"I know," he says in a soft voice, but she barely hears him for reasons that have nothing to do with the way he speaks.

Her thoughts have already shifted on her. She is aware that he's next to her, but her mind is fixated on the past. There is no decision to remember, no obvious segue to what has happened. Her mind just takes her back to that moment, the one where her hands are on her daughter and she's saying goodbye.

Cuddy remembers clinging to the idea that Becca would change her mind. If she just wanted it enough, if she just wished for it enough, Becca would stop. Maybe she still thinks that, Cuddy considers at that moment. If she doesn't get rid of the crib, if she keeps the nursery set up, if she keeps hoping for it, Joy will be hers again.

Rationally Cuddy knows that that will… never happen. She feels herself forcing to hold on to that hope, but she knows that it's pointless. She participates in the ritual out of desperation because of the niggling worry about what might happen if she doesn't. But she doesn't believe Joy will be hers.

Cuddy's stuck somewhere between being unable to deny and unable to accept. It is an uncomfortable place to be, the worst place to be, she thinks as the days wear on, and it's no different for her now. It doesn't change, even if she wishes it would, because House is right next to her. She may physically be there, but his presence isn't enough to stop her mind from wandering elsewhere.

He does his best, of course. He must see the sudden shift in her mood. He must sense that something isn't right.

"I didn't realize kissing me was that bad," he says in a serious voice.

And she can't help but laugh then. The joke isn't all that funny, especially since it means they both know that kissing each other was anything but bad. But she is nothing these days if not capable of seizing the opportunity to exist outside of her painful mind.

"It was awful," she lies with a small smile on her face. There is more honesty in her voice when she adds, "I can't believe we did that."

The comment clearly makes him uncomfortable. He moves the first aid kit and trash over to the nightstand without looking glancing at her.

"You really don't want to talk about this, do you?" she asks in surprise. "We can do it, but we can't talk about it."

"We can definitely do it," he says in a way that almost sounds lascivious.

She realizes that, given the number of times he's talked about having sex with her, chances are that he doesn't mean it. It is his way to use their past and attraction for one another to his advantage. But all week, she's gotten the feeling that maybe he does mean it. The fact that he doesn't want to talk about it, that he's shown up at her house twice in the middle of the night… it all adds up to the conclusion that he wants her.

Right?

It seems very clear to her that that's the case, which bears within her a whole new level of confusion.

"Why?" she asks suddenly, her gaze trained on his uneasy form. "Why now?"

"Sad chicks turn me on."

"Then you must be orgasming as we speak." A fraction of a second passes before she realizes how pathetic her words are. "That sounded better in my head," she says rolling away from him once more.

Her eyes focus on an arbitrary spot on the wall. She is tired and embarrassed, ashamed for reasons she can't even begin to articulate. The clichéd rollercoaster of emotion she's been riding for days now has once again dropped her, and she doesn't feel like looking at him as she adjusts to the change inside her.

"Yeah," he agrees. "You want to give me an orgasm, okay, but talking about is pretty lame."

"Right."

"It is."

"I believe you."

"I can prove it."

She opens her mouth to say that proving it isn't necessary; she's already said she believes him. But as she goes to speak, it strikes her – what he's actually saying.

"You're offering to give me orgasms and talk about it for comparison –"

"Actually, it was just the latter," he interrupts, intrigue caught on every syllable. "I suppose if you want the former though…."

She looks over her shoulder back at him. "That's how you're going to propose we have sex."

"Sorry," he snipes, detecting the judgment in her voice. "I don't know what the protocol is for sorry-you-didn't-get-the-kid sex."

She exhales like he's slapped her. That's how it feels to her – like he has assaulted her. For all of the good he's done the past few days, he undoes it easily with his abruptness.

"You had to put it like that," she says with disgust. She focuses her attention on the wall once more.

"No," he admits honestly, apologetically.

"Then why –"

"Because I'm an idiot." He pauses, sighs loudly. "I don't know what I'm supposed to tell you."

"Yet you keep coming here… to talk to me."

"You're sad. Depressed. You're trying to act like nothing's wrong, but only a moron would actually believe that." Before she has a chance to say anything, he continues, "And normally I'd be okay with letting you pretend you're fine, but sooner or later, you're not going to be able to ignore that."

Denial isn't an option. Secretly she knows he's right. As much as she's been coping, trying to cope, at some point, it won't work. At some point, something will be a painful reminder, and she won't be able to ignore her loss then. She's barely able to hold it together as it is; odd things trigger her, upset her. It's not difficult to imagine that there will be a time when she is pushed far beyond what she can handle.

"So you're here because –"

"Because at some point it's going to affect me," he explains simply. "You're gonna have a breakdown, start carrying around a sack of flour, and make a bad decision that leads me to killing my patient."

She ignores the picture he paints. She doesn't want to think about that.

"And here I thought you were here out of friendly concern for me."

"I'm in your bed," he points out. "Talking about giving you orgasms. I don't think that falls under the umbrella of besties."

Her reply comes out calmly. "By that logic, it's also not professional." She shrugs a little. "Whatever we are, we're not just employer/employee."

"I know."

They fall into silence with that admittance. It makes her neither comfortable nor uncomfortable to lie here with him, both of them knowing they are acting this way for reasons they are too cowardly to name. She is too tired, too leaden to move much less care about the territory they're treading in.

Which is why she has no problem telling him, "Well, if you want to help me, write me a prescription."

It's a breech of everything she believes in. To ask another doctor, not her doctor but one of her employees, for a scrip… it goes against everything she knows is right. It doesn't help that she's asking him, the addict. That just adds a seedy note to the whole thing. But she prefers to think about that than how she is letting him see a piece of her she has tried to hide all week. She would rather focus on that than think that she is allowing her guard to slip around him.

"For what?" he asks with only mild surprise in his voice.

"Eszopiclone, zolpidem, zaleplon or –"

"Insomnia?"

"Yes," she admits quietly.

"No."

She sits up, because she's sure she hasn't heard him right. "No?" He doesn't explain or defend his actions. "Why not?"

"Those medications have a tendency to decrease sexual appetite, and I need you to –"

"No," she says knowingly, her mind racing to a conclusion. "You're telling me no because –"

"Hypnotic drugs are contraindicated at the moment."

He's hedging. She knows he knows what he wants to say, but he doesn't say it. He's actually being cautious with her, tiptoeing around the subject, which is so bizarre she can hardly believe he's behaving that way.

"You think I'm depressed," she concludes, saying what he won't.

He shrugs. "It wouldn't be out of the question."

"Insomnia can cause –"

"Right. It's far more likely lack of sleep is the problem, not the lack of crotchling –"

"Point taken," she interrupts before he can finish the thought. She tenses at the idea that he will keep talking anyway.

"Point made."

"Fine. I admit that I haven't been… myself lately," she tells him, forcing herself to calm down. "I can't eat… can't sleep. You can help me with the one."

"All right, but it's gonna take me a while to get my hands on some weed for –"

"I meant sleeping pills."

"Really?" he asks as though he's surprised. "I thought you wanted something to make you eat."

She rolls her eyes. "Don't be obtuse."

"Obtuse? I thought I was being acute." He emphasizes his last syllable, cute, as if to say he's being adorable.

"Stop," she says quietly. "Just stop. If you don't want to help me –"

"I would love to do that. Really. I would." He nods his head emphatically. "The problem is your solution is a bad one."

She is so tired and tired of this conversation that the question is earnest when she asks, "Then what would be a good one?"

"Let me see if I can remember it right. It's very complicated." He pretends to think for a moment. "Oh right! You lie down and go to sleep."

"If only I'd thought of that," she says sarcastically. "Wait a minute, I did. That's why I came in here. And then you joined me."

"If I recall correctly, you were the one who invited me in to begin with. If you didn't want me here, you didn't have to ask me inside."

Her frustration feels all consuming, but she doesn't have any chance to vent it. Her attention instinctively shifts to the pillow he's patting.

"Lie down."

She doesn't. "What, you're going to tuck me in bed?"

"Well, we could have sex, but loss of my penis can also cause depression in women. I'd never forgive little Greg if he was the reason you offed yourself."

She smiles in spite of herself. Lying back down, she asks, "You think talking about your penis is going to help me sleep? Or are you trying to give me nightmares?"

"As long as you're dreaming about my dick, I'm okay with it either –"

"Are you helping me fall asleep or discussing your penis with me?"

He looks confused. "I can't do both?"

"How can you possibly do both?"

He seems to think about it for a moment. And then, as if coming to some sort of conclusion, he tells her, "Close your eyes."

"Why?" she asks, her suspicion making her keep her eyes open.

"So you can sleep. Why else?"

"I don't know, House. I imagine I close my eyes and a few seconds later I have your testicles on my –"

"Let's be clear: if my balls ever find their way on any part of you, it'll be because you want them there," he says firmly.

"That will never happen," she replies as her eyelids flutter shut.

He makes a sound as though her words pain him. "You're breaking my heart," he says dramatically. "Gonna need an antidepressant to get over that one."

"I'm sure."

He doesn't say anything in response. Part of her suspects that he's trying to give her time to fall asleep. Because of that, she's tempted to say that it's not going to happen. If it were that simple to get some rest, she wouldn't be as exhausted as she is.

In the end though, she doesn't need to say anything. After a few minutes, the problem is obvious.

"Still awake?" he whispers.

She nods her head, just enough to accidentally brush against his hand, which has, apparently, come to rest on her pillow.

"Want a bedtime story?"

Cuddy glances at him then, because it's such an odd offer that she wants to make sure that he's being serious. One look at him confirms, bizarrely enough, that he is.

"Seriously?" she asks in confusion.

"Why not?" He shrugs and tries to entice her by saying, "I've got a good one."

"Let me guess: it involves a goat and… I don't know, a legion of prostitutes –"

"Well now you've gone and spoiled the story," he says with a frown. "I'll have to cut out the goat now. You like sheep right?"

She shakes her head. "No. No sheep. Or goats." A large yawn escapes her. "No prostitutes."

"All right," he concedes. "It'll be a pretty boring story though."

"Isn't that the point?"

"To get you to sleep, yeah. To bore me into a coma, no."

"No hookers," she mumbles. "No animals. That's all I ask."

"Fine."

She's aware of how stupid it all is. She's a middle-aged woman acting like a five year old at bedtime. Never mind that she has demands or preferences; she's lying in bed with House. His hand has begun to play with a few strands of her hair, and the fact of the matter is: if she's acting like a child, then he is the father in this situation.

Cuddy refuses to take that analogy any further, because incest is the next stop on that train, and she'd prefer to avoid thinking about that.

If House has come up with similar ideas in his head, he doesn't let it show. She has no doubt that part of him is uncomfortable with the position she has put him in... or the position he has volunteered himself for; at this point, she has no idea how they got to the place they are in, just that it's not exactly where he probably intended to be when he came over here. But he never voices that to her.

Thankfully.

She's not sure if that's due to some inherent kindness or because he thinks he can get something out of helping her. She wants to believe the former but cannot deny the possibility of the latter. And if she really thinks about it, she leans towards manipulation since it makes far more sense. Because really, who would be interested in her? Especially when she's like this.

But there's no hint of deception in his voice when he speaks. His words are casual... maybe a little sarcastic when he says, "Once upon a time there was a woman named... Uddy." And she knows the bite in his tone has nothing to do with his objectives; he just can't help but be amused at himself, particularly when he explains, "She was called that cause she had a great rack."

"Are you kidding me?" She keeps her eyes closed but mentally rolls them.

"Absolutely – stop talking – everyone in the land knew she had nice tits, which is why everyone called her 'Udders' behind her back when they were talking about her."

"That's never happened."

He ignores her comment. "See, Uddy had a huge crush on... Ows. Know why he was called that?"

"Do I want to know?"

"His dick was so big it made women cry 'ow' when he first had sex with –"

"This is the worst story I've ever heard in my life."

"So one day, Uddy and Ows –"

"If you're going to talk about us," she interrupts, feeling obligated to put a stop to this ridiculousness. "Just use our real names."

He pretends he has no idea what she's talking about. "Who said I'm talking about us? I mean... the guy with the giant penis is clearly representative of me, but your breasts aren't –"

"Finish that sentence and Ows is going to have that nickname for completely different reasons."

He sighs dramatically. "Well, I for one am disappointed in you. I offer, out of the goodness in my heart –"

She laughs.

"To tell you a bedtime story," he continues, ignoring her. "And all you want to do is criticize and complain. No animals, no prostitutes, no nicknames. Are there any other things I can't include in my story, princess, or can I get on with the story?"

"I just think that if you're going to talk about us, you should say that. Don't act like we're talking about other people."

He doesn't agree to do that, but then he doesn't fight her on it either. Surprisingly, he backs down at that moment. She's not sure why he does it or even that he has really done that; part of her is prepared for him to continue unabated, as ignoring her is his go-to when he can't convince her of his point.

But it seems he has backed down when he picks up his story.

Then again, when he speaks, it's no longer fiction he's telling. There's nothing story-like about his words when he says, "It's funny. I used to have this fantasy about you."

She is tempted to interrupt again. If she wants to pretend like they're just friends, nothing more, she knows she needs to stop him by making a joke of it or stopping him.

She doesn't.

Curiosity or maybe actual interest shut her mouth tightly, allowing him to keep going.

"Endocrinology. You were the only one who would partner with me –"

"And then you made me do all the work," she mutters. Apparently, curiosity can't keep her quiet for too long.

"Yeah, well… I was too busy staring at your ass to care about the actual project," he admits.

"I got that."

"We were in your room, and you were sitting at your desk. You were pissed at me, because I was making you do all the research." His hand creeps further into her hair, the sensation one she can't ignore now. It's gentle and soothing, the soft tone of his voice represented perfectly in this one physical act.

Perhaps she should question it… or put a stop to it. She told Wilson why a relationship with House would never work, and nothing's happened to change that. Crossing whatever line they're flirting with is a bad idea. She should stop him, ask what he's doing – something.

But what she does is say nothing. What she does is let him continue on without any repercussions. Without a single protestation on her part, she lets him do what he wants. And selfishly, she lets herself indulge in the attention.

"I was watching you and trying to figure out how long I would have before your roommate came back," he says in a low voice. "Your desk, you remember it?"

She tiredly nods her head. "I had that desk through med school."

"It had those two little cubbies on the backside, and I was thinking about doing the dirtiest things to you on that desk."

Again, there is, if not the impulse, then the knowledge that she should stop him. Shutting him up and kicking him out seems like the right thing to do, the obvious thing to do.

And then what?

She gets to spend another night alone with little to no sleep and an empty nursery?

No.

She's been doing that for what seems like forever now; she's not going to do it again when she can have something else. Even if that something else is infinitely stupid, even if "bad idea" doesn't even begin to cover the sheer enormity of wrong she's embracing, she'll still take it.

Anything is better than what she's had lately.

And frankly, his words don't bother her at all. If anything there's something lulling about the way he's talking to her. His voice is low, gravelly. She doubts turning her on is the goal, but he clearly has no problem treading into that territory.

"I wanted you to put your feet in those cubicles and bend over that desk, so I could…." He exhales loudly. "Well, you know where I'm headed with this."

She assumes that he's fishing for feedback, for some indication that she might be asleep and not aware of any of this. As such Cuddy stays silent.

She would like to blame that choice solely on curiosity. And it's true: she wants to hear where he will take this. But that's not the only reason.

It's hard to understand why, but she can feel herself being invested in what he's saying. Maybe she's just that desperate to share her life with someone. Yet she finds herself wondering what he will say, how much he'll admit to. That might sound like curiosity, but her interest isn't nearly that passive. If he says he wants her, if he approaches the topic of a relationship…

She knows she'll act on it.

Cuddy's not even sure she has a good reason for it. Most relationships don't need a reason to happen, of course, but she needs a great one if she wants to date an employee. Being attracted to House isn't irrelevant or something she's ever ignored, but it's also never seemed worth potentially sacrificing everything for. And now she's willing to do that; if he says he wants to date her, she's willing to put it all on the line.

And she's willing to do it on what essentially mounts to a whim.

There's no logic behind it, little rationale, which is why she knows it's wrong to pretend she's asleep.

Why she knows it's stupid.

But she does it anyway.

Somehow not knowing that, House keeps talking. "I used to wonder how difficult it would be get you to beg me for it. Probably wouldn't take as long as it would to peel those jeans you used to wear off your body. Then again, those things were so tight you couldn't even wear underwear – yeah, I checked."

She senses him observing her carefully. His gaze is one she can't see, but the heat of it is something she can feel. It takes every fiber of her being to stay still, to not flinch while he is clearly assessing her.

"When I made you feel dumb," he emphasizes the word to get a response, no doubt. She doesn't give him the satisfaction. "You would squirm just a tiny bit in your chair," he eventually says. "Clitoris has over eight thousand sensory nerve endings. Those jeans had to be touching a bunch of them. I wondered how that felt. Good? Make you wet?"

He scoots a little closer to her. Now she can feel his breath on her cheek.

"See, I was pretty sure if I'd ever slipped my hand into your pants, you'd be creaming before I even had a chance to touch you."

In her mind, she tells herself that he's not far off. Forget the pants; being around him back then was all it took. He was smarter – far more intelligent – than any other person she'd ever met, and that genius scared and intrigued her. Sitting next to him in class, being his partner for those few weeks, being a witness to his mind… that was all she needed to be turned on. He was good looking and smart and bold, and she didn't need anything else.

Truth be told, she doesn't think much has changed. She's still attracted to that mind of his; she still gets a contact high from the way he can unearth answers and diagnoses. Now though she's smarter about it, doesn't let herself get wrapped up in his insanity.

Well, until now anyway.

"I'd go so slow with you," he practically whispers. "Just let my fingers explore you for a while. Wouldn't let you come. You tend to spread your legs for the kind of guy who likes to get in and get out as quickly as possible."

Again, he lingers on the thought to see if she'll respond. Because of that, she's sure he knows she's awake. Why else would he be so intent on determining her state of consciousness every couple of minutes? Why else would he say things that could only piss her off?

But if he knows that she's aware of what he's saying… why hasn't he stopped? Why does he keep talking about this old desire of his?

Because he doesn't mean a word he's saying?

She doesn't believe that. He can be an ass, but toying with her would be cruel even for him. He might not want to date her, but if he's not attracted, he's not going to pretend otherwise now.

Even if he does have that level of malice in him, she can hear the honesty in his voice. He means what he says.

"Even then, you needed someone who would take their time. And I would have," he says huskily. "I would have pumped your pussy so slowly." He sighs again. "But I didn't. 'Cept for that one time, I guess. Because I knew… even if your roommate didn't come home that night… one day, I'd want a pantheon of goat-herding prostitutes to join us and you'd say no."

She knows she's been caught then.

Opening her eyes, she sees his smirk first.

"How'd you know?"

The hand in her hair frees itself. As he strokes the apple of her cheek with his thumb once, he explains, "You blushed. It was obvious."

"I didn't –"

"You did," he insists. "A little bit."

She won't fight the point. Maybe she didn't blush, but he knew somehow – obviously. There's no reason to discuss it any further.

And yet, she begins to understand that, if he's known for a while, she can't be sure how much truth is in his words. She thought he was being honest, and maybe he was. But she has to wonder if she's right about that. Because if he knew she was awake and he was saying those things… why?

Perhaps that's the more important question: why? Why say those things if he knew the truth?

She can't answer the question; she needs more information.

"Did you mean any of it?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

It's as close to a yes as she'll ever get, she thinks. Hell, that she's not getting a strict denial is proof enough that he meant it.

And she's not sure if that's why she says what she does then or not. But whatever the reason, she looks him in the eye and says in all seriousness, "You know you could have, right?" She bites her lip for a split second. "You could have done all of those things. Can," she corrects.

"Not the goats."

"No," she agrees.

"And the prostitutes aren't –"

"Forget about that part," she snaps. "I meant the rest of it."

He nods his head. "I know."

Later on, she'll think that he was hedging with this part of the conversation. He either didn't know how to interpret her words or how to respond, so he created a distraction to buy himself time. But in the actual moment, she's just confused… and a little irritated.

"And?" she prompts him impatiently.

His gaze seems wearily cast on her, like he's already tired of a point he has yet to make. He smiles slightly and then shakes his head. "You don't mean that."

She's taken aback by his assertion. Whether it's true or not doesn't even enter her mind; she's too busy caught up in what he's just said. "Excuse me?"

"You don't mean it."

"You don't know that," she replies impetuously.

"I do."

"No, you –"

"Like I told you, you're prone to bad choices right now," he explains.

That may be true, but she is confused by his behavior. If he's aware that she's not in the right frame of mind, if he thinks she is incapable of making a good decision, why behave this way?

She decides to ask.

"Then why say those things?" He doesn't answer right away. "Why encourage me to make that choice?"

"I didn't."

"You said –"

"I wasn't encouraging," he says earnestly.

"But you were talking about it," she points out.

"I thought you were asleep."

"No you didn't. You knew I was awake. But you said those things anyway. And you said you meant them, House."

His answer is an easy one and not entirely something she believes. "Yeah. I did," he agrees. "Because I thought it would be something else for you to think about. Obviously I'm irresistible, but I thought you would resist."

No, she mentally corrects as soon as he finishes talking; his answer might be easy, but it's not something she believes at all.

"Oh, so sweet of you," she says sarcastically. "Doing all of that to make me feel better. Too bad I'm just out of my mind with desire for you, right?" She hopes she's making it sound as ridiculous as it is. "It's funny how absolutely none of this is your fault."

His face scrunches with irritation. "That's not what I said."

"That's –"

"I'm not blaming you," he interrupts before she can say anything. "I didn't say that."

"Then –"

"Like I said, I thought it would be a good distraction. I didn't think beyond that."

"Really," she says doubtfully. With anyone else, it might have been believable. But with House? He's too precise, too smart for a slip up like that. "You didn't think that –"

"That you would want a relationship? No. I didn't think that would happen."

Her immediate response is to laugh – loudly, freely... mockingly. Maybe part of her has toyed with the idea of a relationship recently. She won't deny that the thought has crossed her mind in her weaker moments, when being alone and without child is too much to bear. She won't deny that she was forced to consider the idea when Wilson asked her why she would never pursue a relationship with House. She had done that, sure.

But she's not doing that now.

Not at all.

If he meant it as a distraction, then she feels as though she has received it as such. In the past several minutes, she hasn't considered what a relationship with him would be like... not really. She hasn't pictured dating or getting married. She has thought about his honesty, his motives, whether or not she should let him continue to describe how he wants to fuck her.

She has not entertained dreams of them being soul mates like he seems to assume. She has not thought of having a lasting relationship with him. As painful as it is to be alone, she is all too freshly familiar with the sting of loss. She knows what it is like to love something with all her heart and to lose it for reasons she can't explain or control. She is not prepared to date him, where the inevitability of a painful ending is recognized as fact.

"I don't want to date you," she practically hisses out. It is obvious even to her that she is overreacting. Her exhaustion has made her frustration all the more potent, and she doesn't bother to hide this fact.

"Oh. Well... that's good."

He seems oddly disappointed, but she doesn't care all that much about that.

"All I said was that you could have had sex with me," she reminds him.

"You said I can."

"Right."

"Which means –"

"I want to have sex," she says bluntly. "Yeah."

The disappointment on his face gives way to surprise. His eyes are wide with shock and disbelief, as though, in all of his calculations, he didn't think of that possibility. And for a brief second, she is smug thanks to his behavior. He wasn't expecting that. The great Greg House who likes to think he can understand and predict anyone's actions has been surprised by her, someone he tends to write off as being boring. Yes, she enjoys – relishes even – in his shock.

But he is quick to bury that emotion deep.

"That would be understandable since I've got a big penis and it's been... how long now?" She won't answer the question, which is apparently fine with him since he doesn't even give her time to answer it. "No," he says after a beat, having reconsidered her words. "No, you don't mean that."

"I do."

"No."

"Touch me," she challenges, pushing the covers off of her body. "You'll see I'm not lying."

He doesn't. All he does is say, "I didn't say you were lying. I said you didn't mean it. You don't."

"But I do mean it."

"I'm sure you think that."

She scowls. "Are you ever not patronizing?"

"No," he says easily. "Of course not."

"You don't know me better than I do."

He shrugs like that's not an important point to make. "Sure," he concedes. "But being you, especially right now, means you don't always see –"

"Screw you."

Even when he's not trying to insult her, he somehow manages to do it. Here, she understands his point: you can't always see your behavior for what it is or the motivations behind it. But it's still offensive in her mind when she hears him attempt to say that. Because at this point, she is nothing if not self-aware; that's what trying to hide your pain does to you – make you aware of every facial tick, every stray, dangerous thought or act. She may be willing to ignore the ramifications of her behavior, but she's not oblivious to what she's doing.

She knows she's making a mistake.

"You think this is going to end well?" he asks in frustration. She can't quite manage to say yes or no, and he capitalizes on that. "We both know this is a disaster. I shouldn't have said anything; it was a mistake, yeah."

He scratches at the hand that's not bandaged, and she suddenly begins to suspect that his obvious attraction for her has been bothering him more than usual lately. Hell, she's beginning to think there was no bug bite at all.

"Sure, we could have sex. I think we also both know that there are far worse things to do in life than have sex with each other. Last time though, I left," he points out. "I didn't stick around for the aftermath, so neither of us had to deal with it."

"Yes," she says dryly, sitting up so that the headboard supports her back. "I remember that part of our history."

"It's not going to be like that this time. We have sex, we see each other the next day. We'll have to work together."

"You think I don't know that?"

He shakes his head. "I think… you're looking for a distraction, which I can understand, but you're not thinking of what happens afterwards."

"We kissed," she reminds him. "A couple days ago. I'm pretty aware of how things will be afterward."

"Yeah, we kissed. That's a little different than having sex. That's like… a whole baseball field different, right?"

She understands what he's saying. Part of her doesn't want to, but she gets it; kissing is different than having sex.

Admittedly, kissing was problematic enough. The second he'd pulled away from, she'd been sent into a tailspin of confusion, of wondering what would happen if they pursued a relationship. In the following days, they were awkward, both trying to ignore or get through their discomfort as quickly as possible. Just the fact that he's here now… it's an indication that they're still not back to normal.

And if they have sex, she can see how that will be ten times worse at least. Instead of remembering how they rushed to kiss one another, she'll remember what he felt like inside of her. Instead of her lips on hers, she'll think about how wet she was, how hard he was, his mouth on her breast, how good it felt to have him thrusting in and out of her, and how satisfying it was to come clenched tightly around his dick.

The rewards will be far better than a kiss, but there will be more complications, more problems.

They'll still want to get through their unease with one another as quickly as they can, of course. She doesn't think that will change. The awkwardness will still be there, as it probably should be. But if they have sex, getting through to the other side will take longer, be far more difficult. And she supposes that he's right; she's not ready for that or for the questions sex will create in her mind.

"I don't care," she says simply.

It's the truth.

She doesn't care.

It will be difficult and problematic, and for a while, it will be harder for them to do their jobs – especially since their awkwardness will be noted by anyone who cares enough to pay attention. But that's sort of what she's banking on. The sex itself will be a temporary distraction. The aftermath will be a more permanent one.

She wants that.

"That's not true," he denies. "I mean, I'm sure you think that's true. But it's not."

"It is."

"Really?" He doesn't sound convinced. Folding his hands and placing them on his lap, he says calmly, "Let's say we have sex. We have fun; it's great. You come like a gazillion times." She smirks but says nothing. "Then what? Then things get uncomfortable and weird." He cocks his head to the side. "I suppose that's what you want. Makes sense. But we're not something that's fun and casual to think about. You'll use it to distract yourself from..." He doesn't say missing baby or some other awful way of putting it. He stops himself before that happens, and she's grateful. "You know," he simply says. "But then that becomes a problem on its own, and before you know it, somehow this is my fault."

"You think I'm going to get mad at you."

"Yeah."

"That's stupid."

He nods his head. "Yup. But it'll still happen. You'll resent me for taking advantage of you."

"You're not –"

"I know. But that's not going to matter. You'll blame me for not giving you time to sort things out. You'll be mad that I've distracted you... even though that's what you want right now."

"That's not true."

"It is," he insists. "Sounds insane, sure, but it's what's going to happen. And then you'll hate me. And whatever we have," he says, gesturing between their close bodies. "Is ruined. We've blown it."

Perhaps without even realizing it, he has given her what she wants: something else to mull over in her mind. It's not sex, which means it's not as fun. But the end result is still the same; it's a way to avoid thinking about things she knows she can't handle. And in this case, he's given her plenty to consider.

He doesn't want to ruin whatever potential there is between them… which means, regardless of what he might say, he wants her. Not just in a cheap sexual way, because he could have that now easily, but in a way that he clearly doesn't want to jeopardize.

She doesn't go so far as to say he wants her in a relationship, because she's not sure they will ever be that person for one another. But he's more than said enough to hold her attention.

If he hasn't realized that yet though, Cuddy knows she can't let him figure it out. He learns the truth; he'll deny everything. Which won't make it any less true, obviously, but if she's trying to sleep, irritating him, which will lead to him irritating her, isn't going to help. So she has to act as though her needs haven't been satisfied. She has to make it seem like she still wants to sleep with him.

The way to do that is simple. For all of the words she could say, none of them will be as effective as a kiss. He'll resist if he figures out that that's what she has planned. Out of the necessity then, she is fast.

She leans over towards him swiftly. As her eyes flutter shut, she sees the surprise in his gaze. Her heart beats harshly in her ears; the fear that his mouth won't be there to meet hers hits her at full force. But greedily she seeks him out anyway.

And she is rewarded by the soft brush of his lips against hers. He is not tentative with his response. His fingers grip at her chin, his tongue forcing her mouth open. Without any reluctance on his part, he kisses her deeply. He may be surprised, but he will take the kiss as it is offered to him. No, not just take, she corrects. He's not passively sitting here, letting her do as she wants.

He's participating.

And then her heart seems to flutter for entirely different reasons.

He wants her, and she wants him, and the hungry noises escaping their kiss are a testament to that fact. As if they would even try to deny it at this point.

Well, okay, she thinks as they part once more, they would. This is still them after all, which means a certain amount of denial is expected if not entirely factual.

Proving that point, House sighs, scratches at his hand once more. "We have to stop doing that."

"Right," she agrees with a small nod. But her point in kissing him is to distract from the peek at his feelings he's given her. So she knows she has to act unsatisfied. Casually she adds, "My mother has that desk in storage... if you're interested."

It's probably the least graceful way of making a point. Then again, that's sort of what she wants. Sure, it's desperate sounding, and that carries an embarrassment all its own. But she is willing to shoulder that burden if it keeps House from deciding to take back everything he's just said.

"Now you're just trying to make me miserable," he mutters.

"You can always change your mind."

He stares at her for a long time, the mood between them suddenly somber. The shift should feel awkward, unwanted, given how abrupt it has happened. But she is calm waiting him out.

"Timing's bad," he says eventually. "It can't happen."

That should be enough for her; really, it is enough for her, which is why she surprises herself by asking, "And when the timing's right?"

"Then…." He seems serious at first, contemplative. But when that seems to become too much for him, he goes for what he clearly hopes is the easy joke. "I'll pull that desk out of storage myself."

Inwardly she suspects that he actually means what he says. If he's going to go for humor though, she understands she has to follow suit. She can't be the only one who means what she says; she can't back down.

"I'll hold my breath until that day," she says sarcastically.

"I know you will."

"I wasn't being serious."

"You kinda were."

She's not all that irritated, but at the same time, now is a good point to kick him out. She's gotten what she's wanted, and if he stays, he'll just annoy her.

With a mirthless smile on her face, she tells him, "You can go now."

"Yeah?" There's a hint of seriousness in his voice. But it's momentary. "You're not gonna cry yourself to sleep because I left you, right?"

"Well, it'll be difficult, but I'm sure I'll manage."

"Fine," he says, standing up. "I'll go. If you can keep your hands off me long enough for me to get out the door."

"I'll try."

She watches him leave the room, her gaze trained on his back. And for the tiniest of moments, after she hears the front door shut, she is okay. She thinks she can manage.

Her body is instinctively wary of the feeling; when she thinks she's all right, she rarely stays that way. But in that fraction of a second, Cuddy is amused enough by his behavior, intrigued enough by the future, to feel as though…

Things might be all right.

For the first time in what seems like forever, she feels warded against the chill she has been unable to fight for weeks.

Of course, it doesn't escape her how pathetic it all is. That House should swoop into her home and be the reason behind this reprieve… she understands how it looks. But as she lies back down, she supposes it's not that awful. For all of the bad that has happened, House's behavior has been one of the nicer things in the last several days. Regardless of his possible interest in her, he has demonstrated more concern for her well being than she knew he possessed. He has been sympathetic if not always kind, comforting if not always soft with his words.

And she didn't anticipate any of that.

It has been a gift she didn't realize she wanted.

It goes without saying though: she would give all of that up to have Joy back. But for a moment, Cuddy is warmed by his actions. Lulled by this change in him, she falls asleep before the grief has a chance to grab hold of her once more.

She wakes up at four a.m. with sweat dripping down her back and fear making her wild. She shivers, pants as she tries to figure out what is going on.

And then she remembers.

Like a song she knows the lyrics to, like a well-worn sweater being slipped over her body once more, her pain finds her and settles into her conscious as though it never left. It weighs on her heavily. The sadness is never far from her, but the briefest break from it always makes her feel exponentially better.

But that's over now.

The cold surrounding her once more, she heads to the kitchen for a cup of peppermint tea.

The End