DOCTOR, MAKE IT BETTER INSTANTLY

you're the only one who can

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Sunday morning, May 27
pensive
hbic_cuddy wrote in cuddys_house
At two weeks old, Emma had already changed. Cuddy knew some people would disagree with her but she was sure of it. They were small changes, admittedly, too subtle for anyone who wasn't paying attention to notice. She saw them, though. Emma had gained weight, for one thing. Again, it was a small amount of weight but when you only weighed seven pounds to begin with, even a small weight gain was noticeable. She'd lost a little of her hair, especially on the back of her head where it rubbed against the sheets in her crib. She was also, in Cuddy's mind, beginning to be more interactive with her environment. No, she couldn't play with her toys or move her own limbs with any coordination but she seemed more aware of the world around her.

The only thing that hadn't changed was Emma's insistence on nursing every three hours around the clock. It was as if she had an internal timer and when it went off, there was no pleasing her until she got what she wanted. Cuddy knew three hours wasn't unusual for a breastfed baby. Neither was it unusual that Emma hadn't sorted out the whole day/night thing. Emma was actually quite normal for a newborn. And Cuddy was beginning to think Emma was going to be the death of her.

It was early in the morning. How early, Cuddy didn't know. She didn't know much anymore. She could barely sort out the day/night thing herself. She definitely had lost track of what day it was...or month. She was so utterly exhausted, she couldn't think straight. Because of Emma's nursing schedule, Cuddy never got more than a couple hours of sleep at a time but she'd thought she was managing. She was tired, yes, but she was functioning. And then this morning, she suddenly felt like she was unraveling.

She sat in the rocking chair nursing Emma, tears streaming down her face. Emma was completely oblivious to her mother's distress...which was good. Cuddy didn't want her, or anyone else, to see how poorly she was coping with the strain. Millions of women throughout time had managed to take care of their babies. She should be able to do the same. Instead, all she could think about was how her back hurt from sitting in this chair nursing what seemed like 24/7 and how she felt like she just couldn't manage another five minutes without completely losing her grip.

A couple of tears fell on Emma's arm and Cuddy quickly wiped them away with the cloth diaper she used as a spit-up rag. Then she rubbed her hand over her face, telling herself to get a fucking grip, Lisa.... It didn't do any good. She knew she shouldn't be crying--she had nothing to cry about--but she couldn't make it stop. And the fact she couldn't make the tears stop only made her feel even worse.

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House had roused at the sound of Emma's cries but after opening one eye and seeing Cuddy getting out of bed to tend to her, he closed his eye again and fell straight back to sleep. Sleepless nights weren't a new thing for House but there was a difference between being kept awake because his mind wouldn't let him sleep and being woken up every few hours to a crying baby. A couple of times he seriously considered leaving Cuddy's place for a few days to stay in his own place, to sleep uninterrupted. He knew that would have been unfair on Cuddy, though. Still, the temptation had been strong.

He wasn't just kept awake or woken by Emma. His parents had been playing on his mind. Everything somehow ended up reminding him of them, too. A photo Cuddy took, a conversation she had on the phone to her mom, the cards and small gifts of congratulations that had been coming in since the birth, Emma herself. One of the things that took up his focus was cooking, something he'd been doing a lot of. Probably more than was necessary. Perhaps even a little obsessively. But it calmed him, it made him concentrate fully on the task and nothing else and each dish he'd made, he'd tried making again to see if he could outdo himself. Some cooking experiments ending up failing but some ended up being masterpieces.

House roused again slightly and shifted over onto his side but this time, instead of falling back to sleep, he found himself laying there, slowly becoming aware of his surroundings. Dawn had not long broken; beams of weak sunlight entered the room and he could hear birds chirping away at each other. Then he became aware that his bladder was full. He inwardly groaned to himself, not wanting to get up. But now that he was aware of the pressure pushing down, he was going to have to do something about it.

With a begrudging grunt, he sat up, throwing the covers off him, and he sat on the edge of the bed for a few seconds while he yawned and rolled his neck. He reached for his cane and stood. While he walked to the bathroom, he rubbed his bleary eyes and scratched his scruff. He'd pee, wash his hands and head straight back to bed. That was the plan, anyway.

The plan didn't quite go that way, though. Once he peed and washed his hands, he crossed the hall to go back to the bedroom. He stopped for a brief moment to poke his head around the nursery door, just to see his two favourite girls - and for once, he wasn't thinking of Cuddy's breasts. He did a bit of a double take at seeing Cuddy crying. He frowned, taking in the scene: the baby was fine - she was nursing quietly and contentedly. But Cuddy was red and puffy-eyed, her cheeks stained with tears and it looked like she'd been crying heavily for a while.

Well, he couldn't just leave her like that. "You okay?" he asked her, quiet and uncertain.

Cuddy nearly jumped out of the rocking chair when House spoke. Or she would have if her body didn't feel like it was weighed down with rocks. She was so deep into her own mixed up head, she hadn't heard him coming down the hall. The last thing she'd wanted was for him to catch her like this, looking like a mess. Being a mess.

Her movement did disturb Emma slightly and Cuddy took advantage of that to remove her from her breast and gather her to her shoulder to burp her. It also gave her an opportunity to try and hide the fact she's been crying. She couldn't hide it, of course, but she tried.

"No," she said, rubbing her hand over her face. "I mean, yes, I'm fine." She kept her face turned down and away from him, trying to hide against Emma's little body. Damn it, why couldn't she get herself under control? This was ridiculous. She didn't lose control like this even over big things and right then, she was crying over nothing. Nothing. She patted Emma's back almost in an apology for being such a mess. Not that Emma noticed, but Cuddy did, and that only added to her misery.

"I don't know," she finally admitted in a watery voice. She took her hand from Emma's back long enough to make another futile attempt at wiping away her tears. "I don't even know why I'm crying."

Her first answer was the right one - she was less than fine and it was too late to hide it from him. He stayed by the doorway for a few moments, watching her hide her face from him while she patted Emma's back. He'd seen Cuddy shed a few tears since the baby had been born. It wasn't anything unusual and he attributed it to hormonal changes her body was going through, having had just given birth and feeding.

He wasn't so sure what was causing it this morning, though. It could have been any number of things: hormones still, tiredness and exhaustion, something else he wasn't aware of. He hated seeing her cry but this time he was pretty certain her tears wasn't because of him.

Her admission of not knowing what was wrong didn't really answer his concern, but at the same time it did. Maybe she was upset because she was simply overwhelmed with tiredness and the change of life. He lifted a hand and rubbed his forehead, then slowly limped into the room.

When he reached her side, he put his hand on her shoulder and gave it a rub. His eyes landed on the box of tissues by the changing table; he left her side for a second to grab her a couple of tissues, which he handed to her. Not knowing what was wrong didn't help him in knowing what to do. He bit his lip as he eyed Emma, then put his cane aside.

"Here," he said. "Give her to me." Given the baby seemed content, he gathered she must have had her fill. Taking the baby from Cuddy's arms, he drew Emma up to his shoulder and settled her there. He opened his mouth to say something to Cuddy but decided against it for the moment. Instead, he turned his head to Emma, who was wide awake, alert and ready for a play.

"How about we give Mom some space?" he said to Emma. Her head bobbed against his shoulder and she cooed happily, oblivious to how upset Cuddy was. Giving Cuddy space was probably a good idea for now. "I'll be back," he told Cuddy before he turned and headed out of the room with Emma.

When he reached the living room, he dragged her playmat out and lay her down on it. He placed the toy gym over her so she had something interesting to look at, and she kicked her feet and waved her arms. She'd be fine on her own for a minute or so, he decided. It wasn't like she could get anywhere. Still, he made sure the area around her was clear and safe before he went back to the nursery.

Cuddy was still crying when he returned. He wiped a bit of sleep out of the corner of his eye as he approached her. Again, he wasn't sure what to do, so he reached for her shoulder again and rubbed it gently. "You're a new mom, that's what wrong with you," he said.

Cuddy was too distraught to stop House from taking Emma from her but she didn't like it. In the current bleak chaos of her mind, he was confirming her fear there was something wrong with her. He was saying she was inadequate as a mother and Emma was better off away from her.

The small part of her mind that was still operating rationally knew that wasn't right. It knew she was being irrational...which was no comfort at all. Knowing she was irrational only made it worse because she was confirming for herself that there was something wrong with her and, worse, that she was being no good for Emma. It was a vicious, self-defeating circle and she didn't have the mental or physical resources to break it.

She pulled her legs up and planted her heels on the edge of the seat, wrapping her arms around her legs. The tissues he'd given her were soaked in seconds and she grabbed Emma's spit rag. She scrubbed at her face. It didn't do any good but she was desperate to stop the tears, or at least hide the evidence of them. She didn't know why she'd come so completely unglued that morning. It was no different to any other morning since Emma's birth but for some reason, something had given way.

"That's no excuse," she said in a thick voice. "Other mothers manage. They take care of their kids and they go about their lives like normal." She'd seen them. She knew other mothers managed to go about their business and take care of their families and their homes and they even managed to shower and comb their hair. They certainly weren't sitting in the corner of a dimly lit room crying over nothing.

"Look at me," she demanded tearfully. "I'm a mess." She hadn't looked all that bad, not up to her usual standards but not awful. The crying, though, made her look as miserable as she felt. Her eyes were red and swollen, her skin was blotchy, and just to add insult to injury, she now had a pounding headache. "If I can't manage myself, then how can I possibly do a good job taking care of Emma?"

"You think they started out that way?" he pointed out. He was about to add that she'd never been a fly on any of those mothers' walls and seen that they, too, all had their moments of losing it. Cuddy cut him off, though, demanding him to take note of how she looked.

"No, you're not," he replied to her claim she was a mess. Again, she gave him no time to explain why she wasn't a mess. He wanted to roll his eyes; she was blowing it way out of proportion. Just because she was a mess right at this very moment didn't mean she was a mess of a mother.

Truthfully, he'd never quite seen her like this. He'd seen her crying in happiness, crying in sadness, in pain, in distress. He hadn't seen her this unglued, though. And he had to admit, her lack of control was a bit like how he sometimes felt. He'd been adjusting to life with Emma but it hadn't been an easy adjustment. There'd been plenty of times already where he didn't know what he was doing and felt frustrated and defeated as a result.

He heard Emma out in the living room. She'd let out a noise that was a bit like a squeal. She didn't sound unhappy, though, so he decided she'd be fine out there on her for a few minutes more. "Of course you can manage yourself," he said. "You do a good job taking care of Emma, too. You've been doing both of those things ever since we brought her home. You're just having a bad start to the day. That doesn't make you a mess. It makes you human."

"Barely."

She was barely managing. And she barely felt human. Even through her current, inexplicable misery, she recognized that she didn't feel this way all the time. Most of the time she did manage. She got things done. It was the bare minimum of what she needed to do but still, she got something done. She expected too much of herself. She expected to be able to handle a newborn and make it look effortless and that was very much not the case. Naturally she felt like a failure.

She truly did enjoy her time with Emma, though. Yes, sometimes she resented being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night after only a couple hours sleep but she resented the lack of sleep, not Emma. She was still fascinated by Emma and her innocence and her funny reactions to the world she hadn't even begun to explore. She just wished she could enjoy her time with Emma without feeling like she'd been flattened by a steamroller.

"I'm just so...tired," she said in a hoarse voice. She rubbed her face with the spit rag again. The tears had slowed but she felt like hell. She was exhausted and her sinuses were clogged and her nose was running and her eyes felt like sandpaper. She hadn't done herself any favors by going on a crying jag...but she hadn't had any control over it.

"I feel like I'm in a fog all the time." Cuddy flapped the damp cloth in the direction of the living room, where Emma occasionally let out one of her repetoire of strange noises. "She deserves better. So do you."

Well, he couldn't argue that Cuddy probably felt barely human. Feeling barely human was hardly anything uncommon when it came to new mothers. He'd encountered plenty of overtired mothers who'd come into the clinic, not coping and at their wit's end. He wanted to tell her again that she was managing just fine, no different to any other new mother, but right now he knew she'd argue with him that she wasn't managing, simply because of the frame of mind she was in.

He listened to her say how tired she was, that she felt like she was in a fog. He felt a bit that way himself, had done for the last two weeks. And currently, he was still groggy from having just got out of bed. He was rubbing his forefinger and thumb into his scratchy, tired eyes just when Cuddy started going on about Emma and him deserving better.

He dropped his arm to his side with a mildly exasperated sigh. "Now, that's crazy talk," he retorted. "Deserve better than what? Emma's happy, she's always fed, she recognises you as someone important."

He sighed again while looking down at Cuddy's fragile, haggard state. "You're not supermom. This is the part of parenthood nobody can prepare for." He glanced in Emma's direction and added in a mutter, "I certainly wasn't."

House had known there'd be fatigue and frustration involved in being a parent but he'd had no concept of what that would be like until Emma had come home. Now he understood why new moms came into clinic feeling so overwhelmed. He hadn't reached any point of distress like Cuddy had now but he'd had his moments of thinking it was all too much to cope with. Lack of sleep really didn't help, either. But while he could go on about lack of sleep, he wasn't facing anywhere near as much physical demand as Cuddy was. He didn't have to feed every few hours. His body wasn't working constantly to produce milk.

"Come on," he said, his tone softer. He held his hand out for Cuddy to take. "Come here." He leaned over and grasped Cuddy's hand to pull her up from the chair whether she wanted to stand or not and once she was on her feet, he drew her into a comforting embrace. He rubbed her back at the same time, kneading his fingers into the tight muscles in between her shoulder blades and spine.

She knew she wasn't supermom. No one was. Except some part of her thought she should be. Other than her poor record at relationships, she'd always been able to manage her life. Not just manage, she'd been successful. She expected she should be able to do the same with motherhood. She'd expected to be able to manage her schedule to accommodate a new baby while keeping the rest of her life running as smoothly as ever.

She obviously wasn't capable of sustaining that kind of life. She wasn't supermom and worse, she wasn't even Normal!Mom. She was taking care of Emma's needs--she made sure of that--but she wasn't taking care of herself. She showered every day, dressed, combed her hair, brushed her teeth...and she'd grown to consider that a good day. Her standards had dropped considerably.

Being her, she felt guilty she was worrying about her standards for herself. She should be able to ignore her own discomfort as long as Emma was okay. Emma's well-being was what mattered, not whether Cuddy had put on her make-up. She was being selfish, thinking about her own comfort.

She let House pull her up even though she felt like she was moving through mud. Crying had sucked the last of her energy from her body, which made her crying jag even more stupid than she already thought it was. She leaned into him, wrapping her arms around him and holding on. It was comforting to be held. It had even helped to simply voice some of what she was feeling. It didn't fix it or make it go away but it felt just that little bit better.

"I don't...." She swallowed hard, her face pressed to his chest. "I just need some sleep...which I can't get."

He rocked ever so slightly with her, still rubbing and massaging her back to silently tell her everything would be okay. "I know," he murmured when she said she was tired. He shifted his arms up a little higher around her shoulders so he was hugging her tight. "I know," he murmured again.

Emma made another few sounds out in the living room, still happily playing and oblivious to anything that was going on. When he'd gone to the bathroom, he was going to head straight back to bed but now after finding Cuddy like this and hearing her tell him how tired and overwhelmed she was, sleep was going to have to wait for him. "Tell you what," he said. He pulled back enough so he could look down at her. "Go back to bed. I'll stay with Emma.

"And don't argue with me," he added before Cuddy could get any potential ideas about saying she had to keep going. He knew what she was like, always feeling she had to be doing something. Well, she was going to have to learn that sometimes, she was just going to have to stop if she wanted to be able to function. He dropped his arms from around her and pressed the crook of his finger under her chin to urge her to look up at him. "Don't do anything today. Forget about any laundry, any cleaning, just rest. The world's not going to fall apart if you let things go for a day."

He gave her a small, thin-lipped smile. With all the crying she'd been doing, she looked like she could easily sleep for an entire week. He lifted a hand and lightly caressed her cheek, then leaned in and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "You're a good mom," he told her when he pulled away. He pulled a thoughtful look for a moment. "No, actually, scrap that. You're a great mom. Believe me, I'd tell you if I thought you weren't."

House looked towards the living room, hearing Emma let out a mildly fussy noise. "I'll deal with her," he said before Cuddy got any ideas about doing so herself. "Do something that relaxes you. Have some breakfast, have a hot bath, then go back to bed. Sleep as long as you need to."

Cuddy pulled back slight to argue that it was her job to look after Emma when House preempted her by telling her not to argue. Telling her not to do anything. That was all well and good but just because he said it didn't make it so. She had responsibilities no matter how tired or out of sorts she might feel. She couldn't just dump Emma on someone else because she couldn't cope.

Then again, she really couldn't cope just then. She needed to gather her frayed edges together before she could be a good mother to Emma. And it wasn't as if she was dumping Emma on just anyone. House was her father. There was nothing wrong with him taking over for a while. In fact, if he still thought he wanted to take Emma to his apartment at some point, he was going to have to learn to take over.

She gave a faint nod when he told her she was a good mother. It was nice to hear even if she didn't fully believe it at the moment. She shook her head, though, when he suggested she do something to relax. "If I take a bath, I'll fall asleep and drown." Her voice had a nasal quality because of the sinus congestion caused by the crying. She reached up and impatiently wiped away a few more stray tears. A hot bath sounded like bliss...and like too much work. She just wanted to sleep. Preferably for a month.

"She's liable to be awake for a while," Cuddy warned, hearing Emma make some demanding sounding noises. Emma was an early bird and as far as she was concerned--it was play time. Sure, she had no concept of time and she didn't really play, but she was starting to be more awake during the daylight hours and less so at night. It was a start--hopefully she'd continue that trend and get to a point where she was sleeping longer periods at night. Cuddy's sanity was depending on it.

Edited at 2009-11-12 04:33 am (UTC)

"Cuddy," House replied with slight impatience. "I've been basically living here for the last two weeks. I think I'm getting the picture what she's liable to do or not do."

He wasn't sure what Cuddy's point was in telling him that. Was she doubting he couldn't actually deal with Emma for any length of time on his own? Was she simply warning him because she knew he was tired to? Was she trying to point out that he couldn't cope without her? He was itching to demand to know what she meant. He forced himself to hold it back, though. Now wasn't a good time to go picking fights. Difficult as it was to let it go, he dismissed it from his mind as best he could, lowering his hand to take Cuddy's in his.

"Come on," he said. He tugged her hand and led her out of the nursery and into the bedroom. He guided her right up to the side of the bed and said, "Get in. I'll be back in a second."

Leaving her to climb into bed, he went into the bathroom and fetched a washcloth, which he wet with warm water and wrung out. "Here, wash your face. Might make you feel a bit better," he said when he returned to the bedroom, holding the washcloth out to Cuddy. Just as he did, he heard Emma let out a sound that was somewhere between a wail and a squeal of frustration. He ignored it. Emma was fine and her cry didn't sound urgent. When Cuddy finished with the washcloth, he took it back.

"Now sleep," he told her. "Don't worry about us." Once he dropped a quick kiss to her lips, he stepped out of the room and closed the door. He tossed the washcloth into the bathroom, where it landed on the floor with a light slap, and continued down the hall to the living room where Emma was really starting to kick up a fuss.

"Alright, alright," he said over the top of her. He bent over and scooped her up, and he held her up in front of him to look at her. She squirmed and kicked her legs with an unhappy expression on her face. House drew her closer and frowned. "Guess what? It's just you and me, kiddo. It's Mom's day to rest, so we both have to be very quiet."

Emma screwed her face up and grizzled. When Emma got like this, he usually passed her onto Cuddy because he was more comfortable with letting her settle the baby. He was going to have to suck it up and deal now, though. He brought her to his shoulder and patted her back, and she instantly calmed down a little. He yawned while he felt her head bobbing against the side of his neck and the top of his shoulder.

"So, now what?" he asked Emma once his yawn tapered off. He could easily go back to bed himself and sleep, which meant he needed a strong cup of coffee. "Come on," he added, turning towards the kitchen, "let's go and get Dad a caffeine fix."

Keeping Emma pinned to his shoulder with one hand, he went about getting the coffee ready to brew and took his morning meds while he waited. He'd had enough practice in the past two weeks with multitasking while holding Emma. He leaned back against the counter and pulled Emma down from his shoulder to cradle her in his arms, looking down at her peering back up at him with a much happier look on her face.

"So, what'll we do today?" he asked her. Emma gazed up at him curiously. "Yeah, I don't know, either. We could play chess. Or cards. Maybe I could teach you to play poker. Though, don't tell your mom I told you that." The coffee finished brewing and House returned Emma to the living room on her playmat and went back to pour himself a cup.

The next couple of hours went fairly slowly. House ate breakfast and read the paper while Emma continued to kick on the floor, and he joined her once he'd finished reading the world news section. He dangled toys over her, tickled her belly and let her grasp his fingers. He also encouraged her to grasp onto some of her toys - a set of bright coloured plastic keys, a rattle, a plush toy that had a hard plastic handle on it. While she gripped onto them, not really aware of what she was holding, he also encouraged her to move her arm to make the toys make noise.

Surprisingly to him, watching her on his own was a lot easier than he thought it would be. Even putting her to bed didn't end up being any kind of spectacle - she'd played for so long during the morning that by the time he put her into the cot she was already half asleep. He checked on Cuddy, too, who was dead to the world and he decided to leave her be.

For the next couple of hours, he did several things from watching TV to putting a load of washing on, to sorting the dry laundry out - a job he didn't like but one less job for Cuddy to do whenever she woke up. He also sat down at his laptop at one point with an email open and 'Dear Mom and Dad' written in it. He stared at the opening greeting for about ten minutes before he shut the laptop and tried to yet again push thoughts of his parents aside.

It was when he was dozing off in the armchair that he heard Emma stirring. "Hello, monster," he said when he reached the nursery and found her wide awake and calm. The first thing he did was change her diaper, making comments about the huge poop she'd left deposited in it while he cleaned her up. Freshly changed, he carried her to Cuddy's room but upon seeing Cuddy still fast asleep, he changed his mind about waking her. She was going to be very engorged by the time she woke up but that was nothing expressing wouldn't fix. She had said she wanted to express so maybe that would be a good time to start.

To feed Emma, who was rapidly getting fussy, he decided to break out the formula Cuddy had in the pantry. After he read the instructions while holding a hungry Emma against his shoulder, he shook up a bottle and heated it in a jug of hot water, tested it on his wrist to make sure it wasn't too hot and took it out to the living room. Having never fed a baby before, he wasn't exactly sure how to hold Emma, so ended up just letting her sit cradled in his arm on his lap. When he stuck the bottle in her mouth, she made a few confused sucks, not used to the plastic teat but she very quickly adapted and was soon sucking away happily.

He watched her while she feed, the way her hand caressed the side of the bottle and the quiet gulping noises she made each time she swallowed. He actually found feeding her more enjoyable than he thought he would. He quite liked the quiet time of simply holding her. In fact, as he drew the bottle away when she'd downed about half of it to burp her, he moved her up to his shoulder for a few moments and gently cuddled her.

He fed her the rest of the bottle and with her in a lazy, content stupor and a belly full of milk, he let her stay seated on his lap while he turned the TV on. She hiccuped and dribbled, at one point puked a slight amount of her dinner up, which House quickly wiped away with the spit towel. But she was otherwise happy sitting with him and he was happy to have her sitting with him.

Eventually, however, she started to get restless. He put her on the floor to play and finally decided to get himself showered. It was a quick in-and-out wash; he dried, dressed and when he came back into the living room Emma was getting fussy and tired again. He put her back down for another sleep and it wasn't until almost two o'clock that she awoke. This time, after changing her, he took Emma into Cuddy's bedroom.

He walked her around to his side of the bed and carefully crawled onto it, laying Emma down beside Cuddy. "Cuddy," he said softly, giving her a gentle shake. "I brought someone in to visit you." He cocked his head to peek at her face when he saw her eyes open. Between them, Emma was starting to get demanding for food.

"Want to feed her lying here?" he asked. "You can take your time waking up that way."

There was something a touch humiliating about being led off to bed like a recalcitrant child. No, not just a touch humiliating--it was just plain humiliating to be handled like a child who didn't know any better.

Unfortunately, although she didn't want to admit it, she wasn't functioning well enough to argue the point. She'd gotten to a point where she needed to be treated like a child, and the dim realization of that fact only reinforced her sense that she was failing. If she couldn't keep herself together enough to put herself to bed, then how could she possibly keep it together enough to take care of a child? The obvious answer to that, in her mind, was that she couldn't.

Under House's direction, she settled into bed and fell fast asleep. It wasn't even like falling asleep--it was moe like a collapse, a complete shut-down. She couldn't have been any deeper asleep if she'd been drugged. The house could've collapsed around her and she wouldn't have twitched.

Eventually, though, as her body got some rest, her sleep became more normal. She was even vaguely aware of hearing Emma through the baby monitor at some point. Some part of her brain that actually paid attention to things like that was also aware of hearing House's voice. That part of her brain decided he must be taking care of Emma for the moment and she could continue to sleep until she needed to nurse.

The next thing she knew, she was hearing Emma not through the monitor but right next to her. As she nodded in response to House shaking her shoulder, she became aware of another fact that had been lurking in her mind and that was that her breasts hurt. They were so fully engorged they felt like they were going to explode. She let out a faint grunt of discomfort and pressed her hand to one breast. It felt hard as a rock and incredibly tender...and wet. The front of her nightgown was thoroughly wet from leaking breast milk, which was leaking all the more in response to Emma's hungry cries.

"It's okay, Emma," she said in a voice thick with sleep. She couldn't believe House had managed to delay Emma's mealtime so long that her breasts felt this engorged but that wasn't important at the moment. What mattered was there was a single way to solve both her and Emma's discomfort.

Cuddy shifted fully on her side and opened the concealed slit in her nightgown. She pulled Emma close to her and guided her to her breast. "Careful, kiddo--you're liable to get a mouthful." Sure enough, Emma sputtered as she practically inhaled a mouthful. She latched right back on, though, sucking more gently. Truth was, she probably didn't have to suck much at all. The milk was practically pouring out on its own now that they'd been triggered to release it.

Emma's nursing actually increased the pain for a moment and Cuddy winced slightly when the baby sucked too hard. As some of the pressure was relieved, though, she felt more comfortable. She rubbed at her heavy eyes and twisted her head around to look at the alarm clock. She stared at it for a moment, certain she must be seeing wrong. It couldn't possibly be that late in the day.

"Is that time right?" she asked House. "Emma surely hasn't gone that long without nursing."

As Cuddy roused and pulled Emma in to attach, House shifted onto the bed and stretched out on his back. He stared up at the ceiling, legs partly splayed, an arm draped over his middle, and listened to Emma spluttering at the mouthful of milk she got before she was steadily nursing. Just like when he'd fed her the bottle, she was making quiet, grateful gulping noises with almost every swallow.

He lifted his head to look at the clock at Cuddy's mention of the time, then dropped his head back to the pillow with a soft plop. "No. I changed the time to disorientate you." He paused for a beat, then added, "Yeah, that's the time. You've been asleep for almost eight hours."

He lolled his head towards Cuddy and looked at her. "And yeah, she surely has gone that long without nursing." He pulled a innocent face, expecting Cuddy to start telling him off about being irresponsible for letting her starve. The next moment, he relaxed again. "Don't worry. She was fed at around ten. She nursed from me instead."

To 'demonstrate' how he'd fed her, he patted and rubbed his chest, over his left pectoral. Of course he was joking and he smirked as he lifted his hands behind his head, fingers laced together. "I gave her formula," he explained seriously this time. "I was going to bring her to you but you were more or less comatose. Decided to let you keep sleeping. You needed it."

He turned his eyes down to Emma. Her little head, bald at the back, bobbed slightly with each suck she drew on Cuddy's nipple. Her hand caressed and opened and closed on Cuddy's breast. "We had fun, didn't we?" he said to Emma. "Played poker. Blew up Mom's favourite pots in the backyard. Scared some nuisance kids of the lawn with Dad's shotgun."

Cuddy glanced at House when he claimed to have changed the clock. She wouldn't put it past him--he'd probably enjoy messing with her head that way. The problem was her head was pre-messed today and she couldn't quite read him. She couldn't tell if he was joking or not.

Her mind was still groggy from sleep. She had a sort of sleep hangover. It was almost as bad as not having enough sleep. Almost, but not really. She still felt fuzzy headed and useless but having gotten some rest made it easier for her to cope with those feelings.

She opened her mouth to protest when he finally explained he'd given Emma formula...but she closed it again without saying anything. She'd bought the formula to have 'just in case'--for an emergency. She supposed, though, that today had been a sort of emergency. She'd come unraveled and although she'd physically been able to nurse Emma, it was probably more important that she get some sleep.

"Mommy's been pretty worthless today, huh?" she said quietly to Emma, gently rubbing her finger along Emma's arm. Emma didn't care. She was getting what she needed--either from Cuddy or from House--and that's all that mattered to her at this stage of her life.

"How did she do with the bottle?" Cuddy asked House, ignoring his tall tales of his adventures with Emma.

"Not worthless," he corrected her without missing a beat, watching her trace her finger down Emma's arm. "Exhausted."

Typical she'd view tiredness and feeling overwhelmed as failure and worthlessness. Typical she'd focus on one particular bad day as a measure of how she'd been coping these past two weeks instead of focusing on every other day in the last fortnight. Every other day where she'd been tired and sometimes had succumbed to tears but still got on with it and still found energy to give herself emotionally to Emma. So long as she kept viewing tiredness as a weakness, he was going to keep contradicting her with the actual fact she was simply tired.

Pulling his hands from behind his head, he rolled onto his side towards Cuddy and propped his head up on his hand. He gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Fine," he answered. "She drank from it like a pro. Drank the whole bottle, too."

He looked at Emma, who hadn't missed a beat with drinking. She was still steadily sucking, still rhythmically and contentedly gulping. God, she was small. She was so small and fragile-looking. Without warning or reason, his chest suddenly seized with a swell of pride. His little girl. A sudden impulse to kiss her head and touch her overcame him but he staved it back. Instead, he snagged her tiny foot and gave it a gentle squeeze and toyed with it for a minute.

Then he looked up to Cuddy. She was puffy-eyed from all the crying, pale, dark circles under her eyes. But she also looked rested, despite grogginess. He'd genuinely hated seeing her so upset this morning. If she hadn't allowed him to take over, he wouldn't have known what to do. Letting Emma's foot go, he reached over to Cuddy's hip and caressed it.

He lightly patted it, too. "How're you feeling?" he asked, idly patting her hip another couple of times.

"Greedy little girl," Cuddy said fondly when House reported Emma had taken the entire bottle. She was slightly bothered that Emma would take so easily to a bottle. She liked to think breastfeeding was a special thing between the two of them. It was special, to Cuddy, but expecting Emma to think or feel the same way was silly. Emma was simply seeking to fill her basic needs. All that mattered was she was eating well and gaining weight.

Cuddy drew her finger up to Emma's head, stroking the fine, brown hair. She glanced over at House when he asked how she was. "I feel like I was drugged." She pursed her lips and pondered that possibility for a moment, but no, House hadn't had an opportunity to drug her. She gave herself a little shake to dismiss the idea.

"When I finish waking up all the way, I think I'll feel pretty decent." One night--or day--of sleep wasn't going to solve her sleep deprivation problem. After all those hours of sleep, she still felt tired. It helped, though. It helped a lot. She no longer felt like she was exhausted to the point of collapse. She felt more in control, more functional. For someone like her who needed to feel in control, that sorely needed mental boost.

"Thank you," she said, pushing her hair back from her face to look at him. Whatever issues he had with fatherhood, he'd been there when she needed him. More importantly, he'd been there for Emma, taken care of her and he'd clearly done a decent job. She was clean, content and all in one piece. She and House had both survived the experience.

"Maybe it's time to get the breast pump out," she said. She'd planned to wait just a bit longer for that but she realized she simply wasn't going to be able to handle this feeding schedule for long. However, House normally went to bed later than she did. If she could go to sleep early and let him give Emma a bottle before he went to bed, that would easily give her a good six or seven hours of sleep. She knew she could function on that.

"If you gave her even just one of her nighttime feedings, it would be a big help to me."

Edited at 2009-11-13 12:35 am (UTC)

House just rubbed and patted her hip again in acknowledgement of her thanks. Thanks wasn't necessary. The thing that mattered most was that Cuddy felt like she could cope again. It wasn't going to go in anyone's benefit if she was an exhausted, overwhelmed wreck. And the thing was if he hadn't have walked in and found her in the state she was in this morning, he knew she never would have told him about it. As long as she'd been able to put on a front that she was able to cope, he'd never have known how much she was beginning to struggle.

He nodded when Cuddy mentioned the breast pump. "I was going to say something about that, actually," he said. "I'm glad you brought it up, though. 'Cos if I had, you would've insisted there'd be no need regardless how tired you felt."

He gave her a pointed look. Even if he had recognised that she wasn't coping before walking in on her this morning, she would have been determined to prove that she was just fine and god only knew what kind of arguments would have surmounted from that. Cuddy was damn stubborn; despite the fact that she'd already said before the baby was born that she planned to express for the times he was with Emma on his own, she would have only decided to start expressing on her own terms.

He considered what she said next for a moment, then nodded slowly. Looking after Emma on his own had been easier than he thought it would be. In fact, he'd enjoyed it. He'd enjoyed feeding her and he'd enjoyed even more having her sit with him while he watched TV. He'd really liked the way she'd been happy and content to sit on his lap, cuddled up against him. Not that he'd ever tell Cuddy that. For a start, she bring up that whole snugglebunny crap again.

"Okay," he agreed. He suddenly yawned, tired again now he was lying down on the bed, comfortable. He dropped his head from his hand to his pillow and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, and it was a little bit of a struggle to do so with the way a fuzzy grogginess was settling over him, he looked at the back of Emma's head, still nodding up and down in rhythm with nursing.

Pulling his hand from Cuddy's hip, he shifted in closer to Emma and Cuddy and wriggled down a little until he was lying with his face just by the back of her little head, cuddled up behind her. So much for not wanting to be seen as a snugglebunny, though he reasoned in his head that this was the closest he could get to cuddling up with Cuddy, while Emma was between them.

Up this close, he could smell that sweet, comforting scent Emma had. He closed his eyes again and quietly breathed in. "Now it's my turn to be tired," he murmured.

Cuddy pursed her lips when House gave her a mini-lecture on her inability to accept failure. Because she still saw her collapse that morning as a sign of failure. She wasn't as upset about it now that she'd had some sleep but she still believed she should've been able to handle it.

Still, she had to accept she couldn't handle it, not without help. As much as it hurt her ego, she had to recognize she couldn't do it all on her own. The truth was, though, she'd only decided to start pumping because allowing House to take over some of the feeding duties was easier than having to face another meltdown.

That had scared her. She'd certainly cried before. She'd felt like a failure. She'd had really, really bad days before, but it had always had a very specific cause. This had hit her seemingly out of nowhere. One minute she'd been nursing Emma like usual, tired but otherwise fine, and the next the floodgates had opened and she hadn't known why, let alone been able to control it.

She reached over and brushed her fingertips over his cheek when he snuggled up behind Emma. As disappointed as she was in her behavior, she couldn't fault him. He'd stepped in and taken over when she couldn't cope anymore. "Why don't you take a nap?" she suggested. "You've already done a full shift today. I'll be fine with Emma now."

He hummed quietly and thoughtfully at Cuddy's suggestion of a nap. A nap sounded like a fantastic idea right about now. The doze he'd had earlier had recharged his batteries a little but those batteries were rapidly depleting. He opened one eye at the touch of Cuddy's hand to his cheek.

Instead of answering her, he lifted his hand and grasped hers and laced their fingers together. He brought her hand down to kiss the back of it, a lingering press of his lips, then looked up at her. Whether he wanted to nap or not, succumbing to sleep was going to become inevitable as long as he remained comfortably curled up on the bed with Cuddy close by and Emma right there in front of him.

His eyes drooped while he was looking at Cuddy; he quickly stretched them open wide in attempt to stay awake. "You sure?" he finally asked her. "'Cos I mean, I don't mind..."

He didn't mind... He suddenly couldn't really remember what he was going to say. His brain was too fuzzy with sleepiness. His eyes drifted closed again for a moment and almost instantly he was tugged towards the beginning of sleep. A cough from Emma jerked him awake. She'd pulled away, milk having gone down the wrong way and House eyed the back of her with one eye screwed shut.

"Can't you do that quietly?" he complained to Emma. But as she was sat up to help clear her throat and to be burped, House turned his head up to look at her. Emma was looking a little sleepy herself. She looked content, the way she slumped with her head lolled to the side, eyes shut. "You have a good life," House told her. "Sleep whenever you want, get fed whenever you demand it, don't even have to go to the bathroom."

She let out a small hiccup, which stirred her from her momentary milk-induced doze. Blinking her eyes open lazily, she made equally lazy sucking motions with her tongue. House wasn't really aware that he was smiling fondly at her. His little girl, he was thinking to himself again. He reached his hand up and pressed his finger into her palm, which she instinctively grasped.

"So, what's next on the menu? Seconds? Mom's got a whole other jug of milk waiting for you." He glanced over at Cuddy and she did indeed have a whole other jug of milk waiting. In fact, the other jug hadn't even waited. Feeding Emma had caused a let-down reflex and her shirt was soaked where milk had seeped out of the other breast. "And she's participated in her own wet one-woman t-shirt competition just for me."

He suddenly scoffed in surprise and jerked his head back as Emma suddenly got an apparent surge of energy and kicked her legs, kicking him right in the eye. "Ow," he exclaimed mildly, his eye scrwed shut. "What was that for?"

"Of course, I'm sure," Cuddy said quickly. Did he think she couldn't handle Emma at all now? Yes, she'd gone a little off the rails that morning but she was feeling better now. And even then, no matter how badly she'd felt, she would've found a way to take care of Emma. There was no way she'd let her baby be harmed.

"We'll be fine," she repeated, a little less sharply. She needed to shower and dress and she really needed to eat something but she could do that while watching Emma. It wasn't always easy, obviously, but she could do it.

She looked down as Emma pulled away to cough. Cuddy took advantage of Emma's distraction to shift around and sit up. She picked Emma up and set her on her lap, gently patting her back. Emma went boneless in her hands. Not just the usual floppy lack of control but the state of utter relaxation she got when she was well-fed, warm, sleepy and comfortable.

She looked down when House drew attention to how damp she was. She'd noticed it herself--the damp fabric clinging to her skin wasn't the most pleasant feeling--but she'd been ignoring it while Emma fed.

"Seems like a pretty wasteful milk delivery system," she commented just as Emma's leg jerked out and caught House in the face. Cuddy let out a soft laugh. Emma had a slightly dopey look on her face that made it look like she was puzzled by House's reaction. Cuddy took her little hand stretched it out to touch his cheek.

"You shouldn't go around kicking boys," she told Emma as she drew her hand down his cheek. Emma stiffened slightly when her fingers encountered the prickly stubble low on his face--another strange sensation she didn't understand.

"Not until you're old enough to date and a boy does something you don't like," Cuddy continued. "Then you can kick all you want."

Emma hiccuped up a little milk and Cuddy looked around for something to wipe her chin. She looked down at herself again and shrugged. Her gown was already soaked so she laid Emma on the bed next to House again and pulled her gown over her head. She used the bottom of it to wipe Emma's face, then set it aside so she could pick the baby up again.

"Please tell me you're not full yet," she told Emma as she encouraged her to latch on to the other breast. "Because Mommy really needs some relief here."

House blinked his eye a few times and rubbed it just as Cuddy brought Emma's hand down to his face. Feeling her warm, little palm on his cheek, he turned his attention to her. He tilted his chin up to let her hand be moved down over his stubble. Even though it was Cuddy making Emma touch his face, her touch was still incredibly gentle and soft.

"And when you're old enough to date, I'll can kick all the boys you bring home that I don't like as much as I want." When Emma was laid down beside him, he propped his head up on his hand again and looked down at her, catching her little hand in his at the same time. Her fist grasped onto his thumb tightly. She looked satisfied and full, the way she was laying there calmly.

He watched Cuddy bring Emma back up to her chest. Emma latched on and started to suck but within a minute or so, it became apparent that she was full. House could see that the sucks she was making weren't for feeding but for comfort. "I think that answers that, then," he observed.

He shifted a little closer to Cuddy so he was pressed up by her side. Propping his chin on her arm, he added to Emma, "Mind hopping off so I can have a go?" He flashed Cuddy a quick smirk to say he was joking, then said, "Maybe now is a good time to break out the pump."

"Poor Emma's going to be lucky to get a date with you standing guard," Cuddy said. However House felt about the whole fatherhood thing, he tended to be very possessive and protective of the people he considered 'his.' And there was no doubt he considered Emma his to protect. Cuddy couldn't help but feel a bit sympathetic toward Emma's future boyfriends.

She got Emma positioned at her breast but there was a definite lack of enthusiasm on Emma's part. She latched on but her nursing had a lazy quality to it; she obviously didn't need or want more milk. She was simply nursing because it was comforting to her.

She gave House a dirty look when he asked for his turn. Although breastfeeding was perfectly natural and although his attraction to her breasts was also perfectly natural, the combination pushed a real squick button for her. If that made her sound uptight, well, then fine--she was uptight.

"You little stinker," she told Emma as she held her up in front of her face. Cuddy brought her closer and placed a kiss on her forehead. "When I want you to feed, you won't. You're contrary, just like your father."

She laid Emma back on the bed next to House. "Keep an eye on her for a second," she said, scooting to the side of the bed and getting to her feet. "I'm just going to get dressed and then I'll take her so you can nap."

Cuddy pulled a shirt and slacks from the closet and took them into the bathroom. She decided to put off her shower for now but she did run a warm washcloth over her breasts so they'd be clean when she pumped. Other than that, she just splashed some cold water on her face to wash away the lingering sleepiness. Then she pulled on her clothes and combed her hair. Her image in the mirror still appeared haggard to her eyes but she definitely felt more human. For now, she was willing to give up looking good as long as she could feel good.

House pulled away and rolled onto his back while Cuddy put Emma beside him. "Sure," he replied, his voice strained as he stretched. Beside him, Emma seemed to be stretching, too. Both arms were jerking about and she'd pulled her legs out straight for a moment before kicking them back into a bowed position.

When he relaxed, he turned his head to look at Emma. Her legs were tucked up towards her body, her arms close to her chest and her hands opening and closing against the material of her onesie. He rolled towards her onto his side and just as he was getting comfortable, Emma got a burst of energy and let out a kind of whooping sound, throwing her arms out and lightly catching House against his nose with her hand.

He flinched but then caught her hand with his finger in her palm. She grasped onto it immediately. "Easy for you to say," he said to her. "You've had two naps. I've had..." He paused to stifle another yawn. "None."

Pulling his finger from her hand, he rested his hand on her belly and closed his eyes. Staying awake was becoming a harder and harder feat. And even though Emma was awake and ready to play for the next half-hour, there was something relaxing about having her lie next to him. He toyed with her little foot, squeezing and lightly ticking it, then let his tired eyes shut again while he absently rubbed her belly.

He was drowsy enough that he was starting to slip into the beginnings of sleep. His head felt heavy and fuzzy with fatigue and his whole body was easing into a relaxed state. Without being all that conscious of what he was doing, he drew his arm around the length of her body so that she was cradled close to him, his face tucked in by the side of hers, and it took only another minute or so before he was lightly snoring.

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