"This better be good," Cuddy sighed as she opened the front door.
House stamped his cane impatiently on the welcome mat and hunched his shoulders against the blistering winter air. "That's no way to greet a guest."
"With the number of times you've invited yourself over these past few months, you've gone past the title of guest and achieved the title of pest." She opened the door wider. "You're letting in all the cold air."
House stepped inside, glad to get out of the cold. As New Jersey settled into late January, the short days of sunlight bled into each other in a blur of snow and frost. Sunset had already descended on Princeton now, the last weak rays of light quickly being smothered by snow clouds looming in the distance.
He lowered his eyes to Cuddy's belly while she closed the door behind him. Eight and a half months pregnant, her stomach protruded at an alarmingly uncomfortable-looking size underneath her dark grey sweater. Not for the first time, House thought himself lucky not to have to be part of the human gender that got lumbered with playing host to human parasites. "You're looking as rotund as ever," he observed as he tugged his scarf off from around his neck.
"And by 'rotund', I take it you mean big and beautiful."
"No. Just rotund."
"I can always count on you to be flattering and supportive," she replied dryly. She turned and waddled down the hall. "Help yourself to a drink if you're thirsty. I'm just getting a few last minute touches done on the baby's room."
He shrugged out of his overcoat and hung it up on the hook. "I'd offer to help, but I'm not going to."
"I wasn't holding my breath."
House glanced around the front hall once Cuddy was out of sight. Her place was littered with all the obvious signs of an impending baby. A dark blue stroller the size of a small SUV was parked just inside the dining room. A playyard still in its box stood next to that. He wandered across to the dining room. The table was covered in an array of unopened baby goods, probably from the baby shower her sister had thrown several weeks back. There were packs of newborn diapers, baby bottles, teething rings, bunny rugs, breast pads, clothes and brightly coloured plush toys--some of which rattled, House noticed--as he picked up a pink elephant and gave it a shake.
He put it back down and turned a large box towards him – a breast pump pack that boasted in big letters, 'Medela Pump In Style Advanced Breastpump Backpack 2008'. The box looked like it hadn't been opened yet, but House didn't need to look inside to know that the pump was not only state-of-the-art, according to the description on the side of the box, but also stylish. Trust Cuddy to want to pump milk only in style, he thought to himself with a wry snort. Over the months, he'd witnessed her place gradually turn into the equivalent of a baby museum. He hadn't intended to witness anything: when he'd agreed to be the sperm donor, he'd intended to remain solely a donor and nothing more. But the few brief visits he initially paid out of curiosity had turned into frequent visits the further Cuddy's pregnancy progressed, until he found himself making a regular habit of showing up unannounced. Just like he had today.
He put the breast pump back on the table and shook himself out of his thoughts. He moved out into the kitchen and fetched himself a glass of orange juice from Cuddy's fridge, as well as an apple from the fruit crisper.
"House," he heard Cuddy calling out in a warning tone. "What're you up to out there? You're being alarmingly quiet."
"Nothing," he called back.
"Doesn't sound like nothing."
"Silence sounds like I'm up to something?"
"Silence means you're definitely up to something. Get your ass in here, where I can keep an eye on you."
He rolled his eyes. He made his way through the house to the baby's room and stopped in the doorway. The room was bright yellow, with alphabet patterns running in a straight consecutive line along all four walls. The crib stood in the corner with the sheets tucked neatly over the mattress. The changing table stood against the opposite wall, stocked with diapers and wipes, towels and tissues. A dark wooden rocking chair sat beside the table. Piles of baby clothes lay folded and stacked on the floor by the chest of drawers, ready to be put away, and stuffed animals and other baby toys were placed in the corner near the window. The room smelled of fresh paint and had a warm, inviting glow to it -- a room that he, thankfully, would never have to set foot in once it was occupied with a seven-pound inhabitant.
Cuddy looked over her shoulder from where she sat cross-legged on the floor, feeding an alphabet pattern curtain onto a curtain rod. "What were you doing out there?" she asked suspiciously.
"Nothing. Just helping myself to your fridge." He saluted his half-finished orange juice at her. "You're all out of beer."
"Not helping yourself to anything else, I hope. Like my underwear drawer."
"Now why would I do that?"
She cocked a disbelieving eyebrow at him, then gestured to the curtains. "You can help me put this up once I'm done here. I can't reach the curtain hooks."
"Why didn't you do annoying things like finishing the decorating sooner?"
"Because I'm still working full-time." She shot him another look. "I'm run off my feet trying to organise everything before I go on maternity leave. I don't get a lot of time to finish the odd jobs that need finishing."
"Could've hired a decorator."
"That wouldn't be anywhere near as fun. I've waited a long time to have this baby. It's the only baby I'm probably going to have. I want to enjoy and make the most of every bit of it, and that includes preparing for it." Cuddy grabbed the other part of the curtain waiting to be slotted onto the rod and held it up. "Here, make yourself useful and help me. I'm getting cramped sitting here like this. My back hurts."
"That's your fault, not mine."
"If you're not going to make yourself useful, you know where the front door is."
"Too cold. Don't want to go back out there."
"In that case..." Cuddy tossed the curtain towards him and it landed in a heap by his feet. "Make yourself useful. Otherwise, why are you here?"
"To annoy you."
"I know you're here to annoy me, but I'd much rather you be useful at the same time."
"But then I wouldn't be annoying."
"Believe me – you never stop being annoying."
House reluctantly stooped for the curtain and stepped around Cuddy. He took a seat on the edge of the rocking chair, set his orange juice and his half eaten apple on the floor, and reached for the curtain rod. "You could've lured Wilson into helping you. Make out you're a damsel in distress. He and his Messiah complex would be your knight in shining armour."
She gave him a dirty look. "Why do you always insist that other people's good qualities are little more than vices?"
"Because they usually are."
"Vices to them, or vices to you?"
"Vice is a vice. Nobody ever does anything without an ulterior reason."
"So, what's your ulterior reason?"
"Sex." He reached for his apple and bit into it with a loud crunch. "And failing that, free food."
Cuddy gestured to her swollen belly. "The sex that resulted in this wasn't enough?"
He eyed her stomach but brushed her question off as he swallowed and returned the apple to the floor. "Beside the point. Why didn't you lure Wilson into helping you?"
"He has helped me."
She waved a hand at the crib. "He helped me put that together. He helped me pick it out, too, along with the rest of the furniture in this room."
House frowned. "If you were planning on enlisting him as the paternal do-gooder, why didn't you ask him to be the daddy?"
Cuddy raised her brows at him. "You saying you're the 'daddy' now?"
"No," he replied immediately.
"Thought not." She looked back down to the curtain with a dismissive snort. "And I did ask Wilson... sort of. He wasn't interested."
"So?" Cuddy turned her eyes back up to him. "So, I couldn't very well lure him into my bed just to get a sperm sample."
"Why not? It's not like he hasn't been led by the balls before. How do you think the guy married so many times?"
"It wouldn't have been right. I wanted a donor who wanted to donate." She gave him a pointed look.
"Hey, don't look at me. You're the one who asked."
"And you're the one who agreed."
"Free sex. Who'd turn that down?"
"Free sex for almost six months?"
"Saved me a lot of money on hookers."
"Nice to know I was a bargain," Cuddy replied in a dry tone. She settled the curtain in her lap, forgotten for the moment. "But be honest with me: why did you agree?"
"Is this the part where I plead the Fifth?"
"You always plead the Fifth."
"In that case, I plead the Fifth."
He shrugged again. He didn't want to discuss it. "Would you rather have had faceless sperm in a cup?"
"Well... no. But why does that matter to you?"
House glanced away. "Kid has a right to know who their dad is."
"That still doesn't explain--"
"You're pregnant, you got what you wanted. Who cares what matters to me."
"Well, don't. My role in this ended the moment one of my sperm opened the pod bay doors to one of your eggs."
"If that's where your role ended, then why are you here?"
House stared at her before looking down. He motioned to the curtain. "You want me to put this thing up or not?"
"It wasn't 'free sex', House," Cuddy pressed. "It was practically a relationship."
"You know it was."
"Are you done?" he snapped.
She fixed him with a calculating look that made him feel uneasy, before she returned her attention to the curtain in her lap. As much as he'd joked about finally getting to 'tap that' again, and frequently, he'd hoped she'd magically fall pregnant after the first try. But between issues of his being unable to maintain an erection at times, thanks to the Vicodin, and Cuddy simply not falling pregnant on demand, sex became a regular pattern in their lives. By the two-month mark, House had wondered what he'd gotten himself into, and by the three-month mark he had begun to think agreeing to supply Cuddy with the raw material for a baby was an all-out bad decision.
When Cuddy announced that she was pregnant, House abruptly cut himself off from her because she no longer needed him. He'd thought he'd be relieved that it was finished. Instead, he'd felt empty, like his life was missing something – someone – important. For the few months that followed, he'd downright resented Cuddy for that. But now he was here, sitting in her kid's bedroom and helping her thread alphabet curtains onto a curtain rod as though those six months of weirdness between them hadn't happened.
House looked up at Cuddy. She'd finished threading the curtain onto the rod and was now waiting for him to finish his end, which he hadn't even started.
"Hurry up," she scolded. She leaned across for his orange juice. "I want to get this finished so I can put some dinner on. I'm starving."
"Why don't you eat first?"
She paused to take a long gulp. "Because I'm almost done. I don't want to stop now. I don't have time to stop. This kid may come a little earlier than expected and I don't want to risk leaving anything unprepared." She drained the last of the juice. "Though, being it's half your genes, it'll probably be late, just like you're late for everything."
"Hey. At least I'm fashionable about it." He began tugging the curtain onto the rod. All the while, Cuddy sat and watched him, now munching on his apple. "Done," he announced a few minutes later.
"Good." She pointed at the brackets on the window where the rod was supposed to go. "Put it up there, patterns facing towards me."
House got to his feet while Cuddy struggled to hers, and he arched up to hook the rod in place. After a couple of tries and a few frustrated grunts, he got it secured and he stepped back with a puff of air. "There."
"Perfect," she said, clasping her hands together at her chest with a big smile. She studied the curtains and then let out a blissful sigh, her smile broadening and brightening into one of sudden excitement. "Everything is going to be perfect."
"Shall I note that down as famous last words?" he asked dryly.
"Shut up. Not even your perpetual pessimism can ruin this for me." She rubbed her hands over her belly in slow, caressing circles. "Everything is going to be perfect," she repeated. She turned her eyes down to her stomach and cradled it in her hands like she was cuddling it close. "We'll be our own little family," she murmured to it.
House rolled his eyes. Any time Cuddy had a 'bonding' moment with the baby made him feel uncomfortable. "Please. Save your Lifetime movie moments for when I'm far out of tooth decay range."
"If you don't want to hear it, you know where the front door is."
"Well, you know it's not going to be perfect. There's no such thing as perfect."
"I know there's no such thing as perfect." Cuddy glanced up at him sharply. "But I have a right to enjoy this. I have a right to be happy. I'm not going to let you and your insane need to inflict misery on everyone around you to rob me of the happiness I deserve."
"I never said you didn't deserve--"
"Then shut up and let me be happy. It's not a lot to ask."
He opened his mouth to argue but closed it again. He saw nothing wrong with trying to inject a dose of reality into Cuddy's baby bubble, but he recognised a losing battle when he spotted one. "Well, I'm done here," he said, brushing past her. "I'm going home."
"Already? You only just got here."
"I wouldn't want to go from title of pest to Cuddy's odd jobs man. I'm sticking to pest."
"Pests never leave."
"I'm only a part-time pest. I spend the rest of my time avoiding being pestered by you."
"Why do you keep coming here, then?"
"To be a pest."
"If you were a real pest, I would've called the exterminator guy by now. House."
He stopped at the door and looked back at her.
Cuddy smiled. "Thanks."
He didn't want to hear it. He turned away without so much as a dismissive snort and stepped out into the hall to fetch his coat.
"Add these to the bill, too." House tossed a bag of cheese and onion potato chips onto Wilson's lunch tray just as he was handing a few crisp dollar bills over to the cashier.
Wilson looked over his shoulder. "Damn. I thought I'd disconnected the green light."
"Nope. I saw the light turn green all the way up from my office and knew it was feeding time."
"You know, I read about something like that once. An experiment on rats and how they responded to visual cues – they knew there was food to be found in the maze every time the light went on."
"You saying I'm a pest?"
"I think that would be an understatement of the year."
"Speaking of lights, the orange one just came on." House grabbed up a bottle of juice and dropped it onto the tray. "Beverage light."
"Shall we move onto the red light while we're at it?"
"I told you once before – that light burns out once every two weeks. Although..." He leaned towards Wilson and sniffed curiously. "You also give off a strange odour every time a new nurse starts in radiology. Did you mistakenly drink cologne this morning instead of coffee?"
Wilson rolled his eyes and faced back to the cashier. "Add those to the bill," he sighed, waving at the chips and juice. Once he paid, House followed him through the cafeteria to a vacant table. "How's Cuddy?"
House took a seat opposite Wilson and reached for one of his fries. "Amost 39 weeks pregnant."
"Aside from the obvious."
He shrugged. "Same as always. Bossy, annoying, showing even more cleavage these days now her boobs are going into the dairy business."
Opening a sachet of pepper, Wilson gave him a look. "You know, if I wanted a run down on what I already know, I would've gone to ask her how she was doing myself."
"Well, why don't you? Her office is just over there." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
"Because I know you've been spending time with her. Figured you'd have better insight into how she was doing than me parading into her office and making small talk."
House glanced around him self-consciously. Nobody knew who the contributing party towards Cuddy's baby bulge was and he wanted to keep it that way. "Why do you care how Cuddy's doing? You do parade into her office and make small talk." He plucked up another fry and pointed it accusingly at Wilson. "You went shopping with her. Got all pseudo-paternal. Bought baby stuff. You can't tell me you didn't make any small talk with her then."
Wilson stopped in mid-sprinkle of pepper over his food. "That wasn't 'pseudo-paternal'. That was me being there for her as a friend. I went with her to offer my opinion on things she needed to get, because she doesn't have anybody else to do that with." He motioned at House. "Apart from you. And given your extreme reluctance to do anything helpful, that technically means she only has me."
"She's got friends," House retorted.
"Not the sort she feels close enough to, to involve in her life this intimately."
"If she's involving you in her life so intimately, why are you asking me how she's doing?"
"She isn't involving me. And besides, I'm not the father of her child."
"I'm not, either," he replied, indignant.
Wilson raised his brows. "Technically, you are."
House threw another self-conscious glance around the cafeteria. "Biologically. Otherwise? No."
"So, why have you been hanging out with her more these past few months, then?"
House opened his mouth but faltered. "Figured maybe she'd be a sure thing," he settled on answering. "She was for six months or so there, before that thing in her uterus spoiled all the fun."
"That 'thing' you were helping her fall pregnant with."
House waved his hand.
"Are you spending more time with her because you want to be involved?"
He stared at Wilson for a moment, then pulled an affronted look. "God, no."
"There's nothing wrong with it if you do. In fact, it might do you some good, involving yourself in someone's else's life rather than focusing so much on yourself for a change."
"I'm not interested in focusing on anyone else but myself. I'm all the company I need."
Wilson's face dropped into a deadpan expression. "Right. Which is why you need me to have lunch dates with." He shook his head and forked up some more food. "Look. I'm not saying you have to commit yourself to Cuddy, or marry her, or even care about her that much. All I'm saying is it wouldn't hurt to think about involving yourself in the kid's life a little."
"You've known what the arrangement between Cuddy and me has been for the last nine months. Why the sudden change in tune now?" He narrowed his eyes. "Has Cuddy said something to you that she hasn't told me?"
"No." Wilson held his hands up. "Absolutely not."
"It's just something to think about."
"I don't want to think about it."
"I know you don't. Which is why I'm prompting you to. No harm in that, is there?" Wilson gestured to him. "The birth, for example. Last I heard, she'll be doing it completely on her own. Childbirth is a big thing. A little support could go a long way."
"If you're so concerned about Cuddy's support network, why don't you be there for the birth?"
"Again. Not the father. She's never asked me, anyway."
"Meaning you would if she did?" House stared at Wilson incredulously.
"I would... do what I can to support Cuddy," he replied slowly, sounding taken a little off-guard by the question. "Within reason."
"You mean you'd be too chicken to be there at the birth."
"You can talk."
House eyed him suspiciously as he pried his bag of chips open. "You're wasting your time." He fished a chip out of the bag. "Involving myself was never part of the agreement. And that includes the birth."
"So, why are you involved at all?"
Again, House stared. It suddenly occurred to him how much Wilson talked and how annoying the sound of his voice was at times. Like right now.
"Priorities change," Wilson continued. "Contrary to what you think, change isn't always a bad thing, House."
After popping a chip into his mouth, he reached over the table again to snatch another of Wilson's fries. He contemplated picking all the fries up at once and gagging Wilson with them. "My priorities haven't changed. And they're not going to."
Wilson sighed and picked his fork up again. "Evidently not."
House was in the middle of changing the light bulb in the hall when a knock sounded at the door. He was balanced precariously on a stool he'd dragged from the kitchen, fresh bulb out of the box held between his teeth while he kept one hand braced against the wall for balance as he unscrewed the blown one from its socket.
"Wait," he shouted when the knock sounded on the door a second time. He switched the broken bulb with the one between his teeth, grunting as he screwed it into place. Carefully, he climbed off the stool and flicked the light switch on.
"God damn it," he muttered just as the knock sounded at the door again. He grabbed his cane from where he'd left it standing against the bookshelf. "All right. I'm coming!"
Wiping an arm across his brow, he reached the door and yanked it open with an annoyed retort on the tip of his tongue. Instead, he frowned in surprise. "What're you doing here?"
"I need to discuss something with you," Cuddy replied briskly. "I'll only take a minute."
House poked his head out the door and glanced around the foyer, searching for some clue as to why Cuddy was here. "What is it?"
"You going to let me in?"
"Why should I?"
She opened her mouth but then waved her hand at him. "Fine." She fished out an envelope from her handbag and held it out to him. "Read over this."
He eyed it. "I'm not accepting anything that could contain anthrax."
"I knew there was something I forgot to lace this with." She motioned to it insistently.
"You going to tell me what it is? It could be a trap for all I know."
"Paternity affidavit papers," she said.
House stared at her and she appeared suddenly uncomfortable under his gaze. He decided this wasn't a conversation he wanted his entire apartment complex to hear. He stepped back and yanked the door open wider for her. She stepped inside, unbuttoning her thick overcoat and fanning her pregnancy-flushed face.
"Why?" he demanded once he shut the door.
"I know we agreed your only role in this was to be the sperm donor," she began, "but I've been doing some rethinking lately, about how there's only me around for the baby. And if something should happen--"
"You've got family. Make them suffer the consequences of your desire to breed if you should ever get hit by a bus."
Cuddy gave him a stern look. "They live in a different state. If something happened to me, I'd need someone within immediate contact to deal with everything until my family could be reached to take over."
"Ask Wilson to do it. He'd be tickled pink."
"He's not the biological father."
"So? Nobody needs to know who the biological father is."
"Exactly. Meaning nobody would have to even know you are the biological father."
"Wasn't part of the deal that I'd be signing my life over to anything. Ergo, no deal."
"You're not 'signing your life over' to anything," Cuddy exclaimed. "Nothing probably will happen to me, but I like to keep all my bases covered because I want what's best for this child."
"If you want what's best for your kid, you're looking at the wrong guy. I'm the last person you want being in charge of your kid."
"I asked you to be the father, didn't I?" she replied with a pointed look.
"Not the father. The contributing party. Big difference."
"Oh, for God's sake, House. You're--"
"Don't you get how impractical this stupid idea of yours is? You get my name notarised on the kid's birth certificate, you're going to need my signature on other things. Kid's passport, official documents..."
Her expression grew incredulous. "You'd rather focus on how much it inconveniences you instead of what's best for this kid?"
"I'm not obliged to give a crap about this kid," he replied. "Putting my name on a birth certificate means I am obliged."
"I'm not asking you to give a crap about this kid. I'm asking you to give a crap about me."
House shook his head. "No deal. I did my bit. I'm not doing you any more favours."
Cuddy lowered the envelope to her side and gazed up at him with a look that made House's insides squirm with defensiveness. "You're right," she said quietly. She stuffed the envelope back into her handbag. "This was a stupid idea. I should've known you'd be an asshole about this."
"Bad judgement has always been a strong point of yours," he agreed. "Especially when it comes to men."
"I'd hoped you'd be a bit more understanding about this, seeing you've been going out of your way to spend time with me. At my house. Something you weren't obliged to do. Trust you to twist that into something to humiliate me with." She faced towards the door, buttoning her coat back up aggressively.
House wasn't sure where to look. A part of him was already regretting half the things he'd just said. Another part of him wanted Cuddy out of his apartment and fast. "Why'd you wait until now to hit me with this affidavit crap?"
"No, I have a better question." Cuddy reeled around to face him, fingers fumbling with the top button on her coat. The coat itself barely fitted around her stomach; the buttonholes were stretched taut. "Why did you agree to help me out, House? Why did you agree to father this child? Surely not for my benefit? My benefit doesn't even matter to you, right?"
He frowned, shuffling back as Cuddy took a step towards him. He had to make room for her huge belly, but that didn't explain why the angry expression on her face intimidated him.
"What is it you want, House? You cut me off after I fell pregnant, you ignored me for at least two months, and then you began not only intruding on my life but inviting yourself into it as though you wanted to be a part of everything."
"And then, when I turn to you for support, you knock me back as though I'm the one who's intruding."
He closed his mouth again and set his jaw, unable to tear his eyes away from Cuddy's. He felt glued to the spot, cornered like a deer in the headlights.
"You know, it's a good thing you didn't decide to be part of this kid's life," she continued crisply. "Being a single mother is going to be hard enough as it is, let alone if I'd been foolish enough to hope I could count on you."
He defensively straightened his shoulders. "So, why are you here, then?"
"Because I don't have a lot of people I can turn to. And seeing you've been giving me mixed signals with voluntarily hanging around, I thought maybe you were offering to be a person that I could turn to."
"You knew you were flying solo from the beginning. Don't blame me if you think you can't handle it."
She glared at him. "Of course I can handle it. That doesn't mean I can't hope for a little extra support."
"Support, right," House scoffed. "So, you've sprung the affidavit on me. Next thing you'll be asking me to be there for the birth."
"As if I'd be stupid enough to ask something like that of you."
"Well, who knows. You were stupid enough to ask me to provide voluntary paternity acknowledgement."
"Stupid, yes. Thanks so much for making me feel like even more of an idiot than I already do." She threw her hands up and turned back to the door. "Forget it. Forget everything. I won't bother you again."
"More famous last words."
She shot him a fierce look over her shoulder as she yanked the door open. "I'm sticking to my word this time. Trust me. I wouldn't want to give you that satisfaction."
The sound of the door slamming echoed through his apartment.
House rolled the stool back from the exam table and snapped a glove off his hand. "Next time you get vaginal candidiasis, just go straight to the doctor. You've put me off yoghurt for life. And I happen to like yoghurt."
The young woman unhooked her feet from the stirrups and sat up with a perplexed look on her face. "I have vaginal candidiasis? Is that bad? I thought I had a yeast infection."
He stopped tugging the other glove off to peer at her. How did some of his patients manage to get through life being so stupid? "Vaginal candidiasis is a yeast infection."
"Oh." She frowned. "But I thought yoghurt was a natural remedy for that."
He tossed her the blanket she'd used to cover herself up when removing her underwear before the examination. "You were almost on the right track. But it amazes me that you didn't stop to think that maybe the fruit lumps found in strawberry yoghurt was a bad idea. In fact, strawberry yoghurt itself is a bad idea when you try to eat it with your hoo-hoo instead of your mouth."
"But I thought..."
"And that's exactly where you went wrong. You thought. But not with your brain." He tossed the gloves in the trash and reached for his prescription pad. He scribbled out a scrip and held it out to her. "Diflucan, twice a day for two weeks. Are you allergic to penicillin?"
"Not that I know of."
He wrote another scrip. "You're going to need some of that, too, before experimentation with strawberry yoghurt turns into a bacterial funfair for the rest of your body." He grabbed his cane and stood up. "Repeat after me," he said when he reached the door. "'All strawberry yoghurt and no brains makes me an annoying patient'."
"All strawberry yoghurt and no brains..." The woman trailed off and frowned at him.
He yanked the door open. "Good enough," he dismissed. He went to step out of the exam room to fetch another clinic file, only to be stopped short in surprise by Cuddy standing right in front of him. "Whoa."
Cuddy tilted her chin up, a defiant look on her face. "We need to talk."
"No, we don't."
"I'm the boss. What I say goes."
"Who says I have to listen to you? Besides." He lifted the file and waved it. "Got more morons to see."
"Those 'morons' can wait five another minutes." She grasped his arm and steered him out of the exam room, while he closed the door behind him. The clinic bustled with people, ranging from those wiping their nose caused by a winter cold, to mothers nursing their sick children on their lap. Clinic was no busier than usual, except more than busy enough for House: an hour of clinic rotation and he was already developing a splitting headache.
She pulled him up next to a gurney kept vacant in the hall for any emergencies that needed to be rushed to another part of the hospital. "You were right," she began in a low voice, leaning in as close as her belly would allow. "I shouldn't have sprung the affidavit on you last night. That was unfair of me to do that."
House blinked. He threw a quick look around the corridor to make sure no one was listening, then turned back to Cuddy. "Okay," he replied slowly. He tilted his head, eyes narrowed. "You seemed pretty certain about it last night."
"I know. I thought it was the right thing to do. Clearly, it wasn't and... and I'm sorry."
"Now who's giving mixed signals?"
"I'm not giving you any mixed signals. I'm apologising for being out of line."
"You're apologising for wanting what's best for your kid?"
"I'm not..." She squinted. "'What's best for my kid'? Now you're saying I wasn't being an idiot?"
"I'm not saying anything. What you think is best for your kid is your thing." Cuddy opened her mouth but he quickly interrupted, "Of course, that's not going to stop me from thinking you're an idiot."
Cuddy pressed her lips into a thin line. She grabbed his arm again and House found himself being steered towards an exam room across the hallway. Cuddy checked to make sure the coast was clear. She then tugged him inside and shut the door.
"Why do you do this?" she demanded.
"Twist everything. Contradict everything. Make everything so damn difficult."
"You're the one contradicting. You barged into my apartment last night, waving affidavit papers, when you knew I wasn't going to sign them. I don't want to be part of this kid's life. You knew that."
"I explained to you why I hoped you'd sign those papers," Cuddy angrily replied. "I wasn't trying to trick you into being a father. It was simply a matter of legal convenience in case anything should happen to me."
"So you claimed."
Cuddy stared at him. "You think I'd trick you into being a father to this kid?"
"Who knows. Single moms can do some pretty desperate things."
"I'm not desperate. I'm..." Cuddy drew in a sharp breath. "I can't believe you think I'd do something like that."
"If it's that unbelievable, then why do you feel the need to apologise about springing the affidavit on me? You obviously feel guilty about something, otherwise you would've stuck to what you said last night."
"Who told you?"
"House..." She opened her mouth and formed a few silent vowels like she was struggling to find the right words to say. She looked away and pressed her lips together again, then stepped back towards the door. "I have nothing more to say to you."
"Just this," House said to the cashier, waving a magazine at her.
"That'll be $3.95."
He slapped the magazine down to the counter and reached into his coat pocket for his wallet. It had been a long day. Between his confrontation with Cuddy and being unable to take his mind off it for the rest of the afternoon, all he wanted to do now was go home and absorb himself in something mindless and inane. Supermarket tabloids were good for that, especially ones that claimed in sensationalised print across the cover, Dwarf Slays Bigfoot!
"A dollar and five change," the woman said once he handed over a five dollar bill. He pocketed the change, grabbed the magazine and reached a hand up to tug his toque over his ears to brace himself against the icy cold evening outside.
"You told Cuddy that you think she's trying to trick you into being a father?"
House startled and looked over his shoulder to see Wilson standing just behind him, buttoned up in his long overcoat, a scarf around his neck and his briefcase clutched in his gloved hand. House glanced at the cashier, hoping she hadn't overheard. She appeared oblivious to anything Wilson just said. House turned back to him. "When'd you get here?"
"Just now. House, you told Cuddy--"
"I heard you the first time." He started around the magazine stand towards the exit.
He heard Wilson's footsteps catching up behind him briskly. "House."
"Negative." Just as he reached the door, Wilson cut in front of him. The doors slid open and a gust of icy wind blew in. "This afternoon, I walked in on Cuddy crying at her desk."
"So? She's pregnant. Pregnant women cry all the time."
"Cuddy doesn't cry. Not easily. The woman's almost as stubborn about showing weakness as you are."
House pushed past Wilson. If he had to insist on having this conversation, House didn't want to have it while standing right in the middle of the hospital where others could overhear. More than that, he definitely didn't want to hear about Cuddy crying. He hunched his shoulders against the cold, negotiating the distance between the front entrance and his car. He wondered if he could make a quick getaway before Wilson could get on his case any further.
No such luck. Wilson fell into step beside him. "Why would you tell her that? You know that's not true."
Stopping at the edge of the pavement, House turned to him. "I didn't say anything to her. She made some assumptions that turned around and bit her on her ample ass, because she didn't have the common sense to think them through properly."
"What kind of assumptions?"
"The affidavit kind."
Wilson frowned. "Paternity affidavit?"
House waved Wilson off and turned back to his car, determined not to be dragged into a conversation about this. Wilson, however, wasn't so easy to be dismissed. "Whoa, whoa." He was cut off again by Wilson rounding himself in his path. "She asked you to sign an affidavit?"
"No. She just came to my apartment to wave one in my face for fun."
A look of realisation dawned on Wilson's face. "And you took it to the extreme, like you always do, and assumed her to be tricking you into being a father to this kid." He lifted a hand and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Seemed pretty fishy to me."
"House," Wilson sighed, dropping his hand back to his side, "do you know Cuddy at all? Do you honestly think she would go out of her way to deceive you like that?"
"She's gone out of her way to deceive me in the past."
Wilson raised a gloved hand and pointed accusingly. "You, of all people, can talk about deceiving people. That's how you operate – by tricking people into doing things so you get your way."
"You can talk," he countered. "You're a serial manipulator."
"And you're a serial deflector."
"That's because you're serially annoying." House stepped around him in another attempt to head to his car, stopping short again with an aggravated sigh when Wilson intercepted him.
"Cuddy is about to become a single mother. She's alone. She's excited about being a new mom, but she's probably a bit scared, too. Understandably so. She probably turned to you for some kind of support in hope you'd be there for her.... which, admittedly, was a bit foolish on her part, given your track record with supporting people."
"Seeing you care so much about her welfare, you support her."
"It's not up to me to decide who gets to support her. It's up to her to decide who she wants to be a support for her. I can only do so much. She turned to you, House. Not me."
"But it's up to me to decide if I'm going to."
"Which you're not." Wilson threw a hand up and shook his head.
"At last. We understand each other."
"Doesn't it matter to you that maybe Cuddy might actually need some support?"
"Nope." He brushed past Wilson, determined to make it to his car this time. "It's not my problem if she didn't think things through until it was too late."
"Do you have to be an asshole?"
He stopped in the middle of the road and turned to look back at Wilson. "I don't have to do or be anything. But I get things my way if I do things my way."
"How exactly is being an asshole 'getting your way'?"
"Means I don't have to give a crap. I mean, why would I want to give one of those?"
He raised his brows with mock incredulity, then turned back to his car, leaving Wilson standing on the footpath with a dumbfounded look on his face.
House jolted awake at the sound of the phone ringing. Lifting his face from the pillow, he peered blearily at the clock on his bedside table. 2.35am. He reached out, slapping various things – the stack of books next to his clock, a Vicodin bottle, the clock itself – before his fingers came in contact with the phone.
"This better be good," he mumbled, answering after the sixth ring.
"House, it's me."
All grogginess was immediately shaken away at the sound of Cuddy's voice. An ominous feeling hit his stomach. "What do you want?"
"Nothing." He heard Cuddy clear her throat on the other end of the line. "I just called to tell you that I've started having contractions. They're ten minutes apart. I'm going into the hospital."
House paused. He hadn't anticipated on Cuddy calling him. He didn't know why she was calling him. He bit back the urge to ask. "Have fun," he settled on replying.
Cuddy snorted quietly. "Fun. Right." Another pause. "Just thought you ought to know."
The phone line cut off, leaving him listening to the busy tone beeping in his ear. He slowly returned the phone to its cradle and settled back down to the pillow, his stomach twisting in knots. Plenty of times, he'd pictured the moment where he found out Cuddy was in labour. He'd tried to imagine how he'd feel, how he'd react, and he always came to the conclusion that he wouldn't care. He wasn't supposed to care, after all.
But now the actual moment had arrived. He turned his head the other way and closed his eyes, then rolled over onto his side to go back to sleep. By daylight, he was still wide awake.