A/N: I would like to thank everyone who has read this fic, everyone who has taken the time to review, and everyone who will read this fic. Also, this final chapter, has references to the episode "House Training".
House hauled himself from the chair and began to pace the office. He stopped, back facing her desk when the thought occurred to him that human emotion led to nothing but embarrassment. He had considered giving voice to his observation when he felt her fingers wrap around his arm. "This side of you is nice, House. Its been in hiding for a while." She knew it was a dangerous observation to make, especially since it could possibly send him right back to misanthrope mode and undo any progress made in the last several hours. But she missed this side of him. There had been glimpses of a sweeter, gentler House in college, especially during their time together. And after Stacy and the infarction, his kinder side faded into the shadows.
He grunted in response, not entirely comfortable with this personality. "Careful, Cuddy, I have an image to maintain."
Cuddy stepped around to stand in front of him, her hand never leaving his arm. "Does the offer for dinner still stand?"
"Yeah," he answered a little more gruffly than he meant to. "If you promise not to grin at me the whole time."
"I'll try to maintain my best neutral expression." Her hand dropped and she moved back to her desk, switching off her computer and straightening the files.
He used his cane to hook her purse straps and lift the bag from the floor to the desktop. "This isn't a date unless someone loses their panties."
Cuddy dropped her head and smiled, holding back a laugh. "If you're wearing panties we have a lot to discuss over dinner."
"Good thing I wasn't talking about me," House shot back from the coatrack where he was gathering his bag.
She switched off the lamp and met him at the door, passing under his arm when he opened the door. She waited until they were both standing in the outer office and she had her back turned to him until she smoothly responded to his last comment. "I would have thought you would be all too aware that every Thursday is No Panties Thursday for hospital administration."
It didn't surprise her when House tried to lift her skirt with his cane. She reached behind her and swatted the cane away. "You can't tell a man something like that and not let him look for himself."
Cuddy turned around, changing the subject. "I have never, for one moment, entertained the idea of becoming the next Mrs. James Wilson."
"We should ride my bike," he suggested, all too obviously changing the subject yet again.
"Nice try. I'll drive in my car." House shrugged and followed behind her all the way to the parking lot, mesmerized by the sway in her step.
Their waiter came up to the table, ready to take their starting order. "Its about time," House grumbled into the menu before setting it aside. "For starters, she'll have a bottle of your finest wine and I'll take a scotch. We'll also have the aphrodisiac sampler as an appetizer. We'll need a few minutes for the rest of the order."
The waiter protested slightly to House's order. "Sir, we don't have an . . . aphrodisiac sampler." As he said this, his nose crinkled and he spat out the last two words as if they were poisoning his mouth.
"Then bring anything with a few oysters, an avocado, and," House looked across the table to Cuddy and suddenly stopped speaking.
"A glass of wine will do," Cuddy amended. "And we won't be ordering an appetizer. Can we please have a few more minutes to look over the menu?"
She turned her attention back to House. She didn't have to say a word, as her look said it all. "Sorry," he grunted. "But how much do you want to bet he won't be dropping by every ten seconds to ask about our meal."
"What do you want to bet he spits in your food."
Bored with the subject, House decided to make a switch. "So if you had no interest in changing your last name to Wilson, why are the two of you so chummy lately?"
Cuddy glared at him, "I have a better question. Why can't you just admit that you like me, and you're worried I'll find someone else before you muster the courage to do something about it?"
"I like my question better."
The waiter returned, delivering their drinks and they placed their food order before continuing their conversation. When the young man left, Cuddy sipped her wine slowly and leaned back in her chair. "Wilson and I have always been friends, and you know that. And being the only two people on the planet that have a clue about how to deal with you, its important that we band together from time to time." Another slow sip of her wine, then, "now you can answer mine."
House shook his head, "I'm not really one for sharing. But thanks for the opportunity."
"House," she warned. "I didn't agree to have dinner with you so I can get the same crap I get at work."
He fiddled with his napkin and studied the table intently. "I'm no good with this touchy feely crap, Lisa. Never have been, and don't look for it to change anytime soon."
Fair enough, she thought. "Can you just agree without compromising your image? I'm not saying I need this to go somewhere right this second or I need you to profess your feelings for me on a regular basis. I just need to know we're here for the same reason."
A shrug and he leaned back in his chair. It was obvious he was having trouble maintaining his usual level of smugness. "I'm here for dinner and good company."
Releasing an exasperated sigh, Cuddy took another sip of her wine. "I think we are here for the same reason, House. And I also think you aren't the only one that has found their way under someone's skin, and that's exactly why I'm the one sitting on this side of the table."
"The wine might be going to your head, Cuddy."
She shot him a look that let him know the challenge was received and accepted, and the game had officially begun. Slipping her foot from her shoe and flexing her toes, happy to be free from the stiletto confines even if for a mischievous moment. "That may be the case, Greg," Cuddy said softly as she extended her foot, running her toes up and down House's calf, smirking wickedly when he flinched at the unexpected contact. As quickly as her toes had reached across and danced along his calf, she retracted her foot and slipped it back in her shoe. "Then again, maybe not."
"I'm beginning to recall what got you the nickname PartyPants," House recalled almost wistfully.
"Like you ever forgot," she snorted, spotting the waiter approaching the table.
Giving his steak an appreciative once over, House snatched his fork and knife. "True, but its always nice to have a vivid reminder. There's a lot to be said for the comfort of an old friend that knows about all the skeletons in your closet and agrees to have dinner with you anyway."
"And for the record, a couple of sips of wine is not enough to even begin to get me drunk, House." Cuddy corrected once the waiter slipped away from the table.
House took a bite of steak and smiled appreciatively as he began cutting another. "So, Lisa, where do you like to take your dates after dinner."
"That depends on the date and the dinner."
Taking another bite of steak, House nodded. "I'll spare no expense if it will get me into Cuddy Park with an all night hand stamp." He waggled his eyebrows in a suggestive manner, and suddenly the smug confidence was back in full force.
Cuddy spun a noodle neatly around her fork and brought it to her lips. "I think you've mistaken me for one of your . . . paid dates, House."
House shrugged, "I understand." Cuddy thought he was giving up a bit too easily, until he opened his mouth to continue. "You're probably just afraid of having the time of your life. Which would explain why you've been avoiding me by hiding behind this train of losers."
She put her fork down and laughed out loud, "House, you're forgetting something. I've already had 'the time of my life' with you back in college, and believe me, I have nothing to be afraid of."
"Ouch, that hurts deep," he retorted in mock offense. "Fine, have it your way, but I'm still paying for dinner, and you still have to take me back to the hospital to get my bike."
"That's it?" Cuddy questioned, confused if she should be offended or relieved, disappointed or overjoyed. House nodded. "No clever persuasion? No crude comments at a volume suitable for someone very hard of hearing? No insults to try to bully me into agreeing?"
"Nope," he answered sincerely, turning his attention to the remainder of his dinner.
Cuddy reached out and brushed his forehead with her hand, "you don't feel feverish. Are you sure you're feeling okay?"
A bite of potato washed down with a sip of wine and House responded with a simple, "I'm fine, why?"
"You are never this nice," Cuddy accused almost playfully.
"It's the new me," he responded with a shrug.
With a smile playing at the corner of her lips, Cuddy turned her attention back to her dinner. The rest of the meal continued with their usual patter and when the waiter came back for a dessert order, House and Cuddy both declined in unison. "It's late," Cuddy said almost reluctantly, "and I have early meetings tomorrow."
"Ah, but you can sleep through those meetings like everyone else and we can party the night away," House suggested slyly.
"But House," she replied softly, leaning across the table to create a more intimate moment. "You can't sleep through clinic duty."
House furrowed his brow and frowned in disapproval. "You really know how to kill a mood, Cuddy," he groused. Pushing back his chair and grabbing his cane, pulling himself to his feet. "I'll be right back."
The check arrived and Cuddy slipped the waiter a generous tip as a 'thank you' for putting up with House, assuring the man House would be back momentarily to pay the bill.
The parking lot looked empty compared to how it looked when they had left. Cuddy pulled her car into a spot near House's bike. She shut off her car and tossed her keys into her purse, then quickly retrieved her office keys from their spot in the cup holder. "Thanks for dinner. I had a really nice time."
House fiddled with his cane, "you don't have to sound so surprised about it."
They hadn't been maintaining eye contact and when House's voice had an unmistakable wounded tone to it, Cuddy's blue eyes caught and held his gaze. "I didn't mean it that way, Greg, I'm sorry. I'm not surprised at all. If anything tonight was very refreshing."
"Then we'll do this again sometime soon?" Wounded turned hopeful and there was an almost childlike twinkle in his eye. Before Cuddy could respond further than "I" House interrupted her, "and if you say no and blame it on this hospital, I swear I'll burn it to the ground."
Cuddy shot him one of her many trademark looks, reserved just for him. One that told him she was annoyed, semi-stunned, and oddly flattered all at once by his comment. "Before you so rudely interrupted me," she began sternly then continued on in a softer tone, "I was going to say I would really like that."
His first instinct was to retort with a very House-like barb, but had already worked too hard to get to this point. Instead he nodded, "I'll call you. Or drop by your office." A long pause followed by, "I might even swing by your place if I'm in the area."
"I'm sure." It was weak on her part but she was too busy trying not to kiss him to come up with anything better. Everything he had done in the past twenty-four hours, even in the past forty-eight hours, was making the task more and more difficult, and the way he was looking at her helped nothing at all. "I have some things to sign off on before I go home. Thanks again for dinner, I really did have a nice evening." Tentatively Cuddy reached out and squeezed House's hand, reaching behind her with her free hand to open her car door.
She opened the door and stepped out of the car, prompting House to do the same. And while Cuddy hurried inside the hospital, House made for his bike. Just as he was about to put his cane away and climb onto his motorcycle, House had second thoughts and hobbled inside after Cuddy. She went straight into her office, hanging her purse on the coat rack just inside the door. House came in just before she sat down behind her desk. "House?"
"I forgot something," he said from the doorway, then limped toward her, leaving only her desk to separate them. Cuddy responded with questioning eyes dancing over his serious features, then moved to stand at the side of her desk instead of behind it. House walked over so they were standing toe to toe, then hooked his cane on the edge of the work table. He then reached out and brushed Cuddy's hip with his fingertips before resting his hand there, then cupped her face with his other hand, in an attempt to steady them both.
She could barely remember to breathe and keep her heart from beating out of her chest. But after a few steadying breaths, she smiled coyly while looking into his eyes. Then in a husky whisper said, "I thought you had a reputation to protect, Dr. House."
In an almost anti-House fashion, he pulled her closer to him. "I'm not too worried. The place is closed and you don't know about the hidden cameras in here, so I'm not worried about anything getting out on YouTube."
Cuddy wanted to say something, anything to bring a sliver of normalcy to this situation. Not that there was anything normal about her relationship with House, or about him holding her body close to his, a look of desire in his eyes that she was fairly certain was mirrored in her own. But with his hands on her hip and face, most of her brain cells were busy focusing on her need to have him closer rather than driving him further away with a cutting remark. Instead, she found her hands coming up, fingertips brushing the scruff on his face, on their way to meet at the nape of his neck.
The moment had been a dream unknowingly shared between the two former lovers, and now that it was reality, it still felt too good to be true. His lips captured hers in a surprisingly gentle manner and it was all she could do to not melt into him and cause them both to tumble to the ground. Their lips parted, slowly and reluctantly. A genuine smile crossed the lips that had just been dancing with hers moments ago. "Well, I'll see you tomorrow," House said smoothly, seemingly unaffected by the kiss they had shared.
He had made it to the door before she called out to him. "House . . ." She grabbed a pen and quickly skimmed and signed the first file she came to. "I can call it a night if . . ." That caused him to turn around. Cuddy shrugged a shoulder and tilted her head in a manner that alone could have been rather suggestive, but when coupled with the expression on her face there was no mistaking how she had intended to finish her sentence. He leaned on his cane and raised his eyebrows in what could have been an accepting manner. She stepped forward and retrieved her purse and coat from the rack behind the door. A small part of her hoped they weren't rushing into things and making a mistake. But the larger part of Lisa Cuddy knew this moment was destiny fulfilled, and while she would never tell House, she was happy he had broken into her home and sent her date running. As they walked through the lobby and into the parking lot together, Cuddy fought the urge to reach out for him. Instead she reached out for dreams being realized and dates being interrupted. As she slid into the driver's seat of her car, she smiled. I never thought I would see the day where I am this happy for House being House, Cuddy thought, turning the key over and backing out of her parking space. All the way to her driveway, House tailgated her car, smirking every time she glanced back in her rearview mirror.
Once again, House hobbled up the walk, this time following closely behind Cuddy. When she stopped to unlock the front door, he allowed his fingertips to dance along the small of her back. "So . . . are you gonna invite me in for coffee?"
Cuddy shot a glance over her shoulder. "Wanna come in for breakfast, House?"
A rare, genuine smile crossed his lips, "nice," he said in a traditional, drawn out manner.