Chapter One

"Tell me what I can do for you. Tell me what you need, what you want. I want to please you."

His warm breath on her skin was so comforting. How could she tell him what she needed, when he'd already given her more than she'd ever received from any man she'd ever been with.

"You've been too kind already, James, it's my turn."

Their lovemaking was passionate and sweet by turns, in his arms the safest she'd felt in so long. She buried her head in his chest and held him close, listening to his heart beat, tracing circles across his back.

He didn't consider himself an athletic lover, but he knew he was a considerate one. He desperately wanted to make this woman happy, satisfy her so she would come back to him. He was so lonely. He didn't want to scare her off.

Her long, light brown hair hung about her shoulders, draping across the pillow and framing her face in what appeared to be gold from his vantage point. He knew he was falling in love with her and he very much wanted her to reciprocate. He felt altogether alone. Her pale green eyes studied his every move, memorizing that crooked grin and his facial expressions which could so easily change from the seriousness of deadly diagnosis to the compassion of breaking horribly bad news to the hope of comfort, if not cure. All these things she had witnessed and admired.

Her fingers traced slowly up his naked body from his thigh to his collarbone, the goose bumps following. He closed his eyes, solely wanting to experience the sensation. The dimness of his hotel room added to the ambience. She had insisted on lighting a candle and it's glow softened the night, its fragrance filling the space.

"I like that." He whispered. Her lips followed her finger trail in the opposite direction. "Cherie," he breathed, shifting his position a bit, his fingers stroking her arm. Her breath, her mouth were so warm and soothing, He'd ardently missed the touch of another human being.

They had been dating for six weeks before Wilson finally felt comfortable asking her to his hotel room. He was a bit ashamed of the fact that he lived there, but it was easy to clean (by someone else), close to the hospital and somewhere House didn't like to visit.

House. So far, James had been able to keep Cherie a secret from his friend. It's not that he was ashamed of Cherie, he simply knew he'd invite disaster upon himself should House find out before the relationship had a chance to solidify. House would tear her apart and James with her. This was one battle he was going to win without interference.

"Where are you?" She murmured. "You've drifted away."

James slid his arms around her, pulling her closer to him. "I'm right here with you." They kissed for what seemed like days, neither one caring about time nor space nor reality, lost in the taste of the other. They drifted off to sleep, happy that tomorrow was a day that held no obligations for either of them.

Wilson had had a long talk with his ex-wife, Bonnie, soon after the Hector debacle. He'd found, not at all surprisingly, that House had lied to him. Bonnie had never said he was bad in bed, quite the contrary. She did finally admit to him the real reason for their break up. This time he wanted it to be different. This time he would try to be a little less himself.

Cherie Robertston was a well-educated woman with varied interests which included theater, music and dancing. She loved to dance. By day she was an accountant in a large firm in Princeton, but by night she was, in fact, a part-time dance instructor. That's how she and James had met. At a tea dance in a local hotel. James had been bored out of his mind and decided that if he couldn't be with someone, he could at least be in the same room with other people. Cherie saw a good looking man alone and couldn't pass up the opportunity. They had hit it off immediately.

He had seemed to be a bit needy. That was her first impression. She wouldn't be able to tolerate that for long. She liked men who could make their own decisions. However, after a few dates, she came to the realization that it wasn't he that was needy. He was looking for someone who was needy themselves. He needed to be needed. Well, she knew the remedy for that. Her own independence. If he couldn't tolerate that, oh well. Better to know early. And what she decided she wanted to know before she risked her heart was how compatible they were sexually. Finding that out had been Cherie's first order of business.

So, why had it taken six weeks? Cherie liked to take things slowly. As a top notch CPA, her habit was to allow things to unfold gradually. No use rushing into a burning building. Let the fire smolder awhile. She knew there was a reason he hadn't suggested sex sooner, she would wait to find out. She was nothing if not patient.

She was a bit concerned when she found he had three ex-wives. That didn't seem to be a good sign. However, she couldn't quite understand why they would leave him. Perhaps living with an enabler had its drawbacks. She would have to watch that. It's so easy to take advantage.

Chapter Two

Keeping House in the dark was the hardest part of all this. Wilson had been lucky so far. House's radar didn't seem to have picked up on anything. It was totally foolish for Wilson to worry about this, but then, not everyone had a House in their lives. The fact that Cherie had no connections to the hospital was a godsend. What was difficult was taking her places where he knew no one would see them. It's not like Princeton was New York City. It was like creating a whole new world. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep it up for long. He knew he would have to explain House to Cherie and he dreaded that conversation. How do you explain a problem like Gregory House?

Saturday morning dawned with James' arms wrapped around Cherie, her face nuzzled into his chest. He immediately wanted to jump out of bed and make breakfast for her, run her a bath, treat her like a queen. He stopped himself just in time. No, no, don't do that. Drink in her perfume, brush the hair from her face. Let her wake to something normal, like your arousal. That would be almost clichéd. But it would be normal.

The phone beside his bed shrilled, shattering the dream. Quickly reaching for it, his heart sank when he recognized the strident tones on the other end of the line. "Sorry, House, not today." Cherie raised her head, a confused look on her face. James gazed into her eyes and smiled. "House, I'm busy today, maybe next weekend. I'll talk to you on Monday." Hanging up the phone, he kissed her gently, hoping she wouldn't ask.

"Hospital business so early in the morning, Monsieur le docteur?" She smiled, not seeming the least bit alarmed.

"Something like that." James adjusted his position and pulled Cherie on top of him, smothering her face with kisses. The phone call was quickly forgotten, lost in waves of warmth.

Later that day, James decided he'd better begin explaining things to Cherie. She seemed to be in a good mood and he certainly was. "I'd like to tell you about that phone call this morning, Cherie."

Her quizzical look told him she either didn't think the incident worth explaining, or had forgotten the phone call altogether. "You see, I've told you about my job as head of the Oncology Department at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital."

She smiled, still confused. "Yes, I understand doctors get phone calls at all hours and their lives are interrupted constantly."

James sighed, "Well, what I haven't told you is that my best friend is the head of the Diagnostics Department at PPTH. His name is Greg House and he's what you might call possessive."

"Possessive of you? What are you trying to tell me, James? Are you and this House person involved with each other?" Cherie was now becoming alarmed.

"No, no! No, Cherie, it's not like that. That's not what I meant." He paused, "this is so hard to explain." He sat close to her and took her hands into his. She had the feeling she was about to hear news of a dear relative's death. Her hackles were up and he knew it.

"Greg House is a brilliant doctor, but a flawed human being. I'm not even sure why he is the way he is, and I've known him forever. His one burning need in life is a puzzle to solve. When one isn't handed to him, he creates one. He can't leave anything alone. He must know everything about everybody and he has very strong opinions." James felt like an idiot.

"You're telling me that this House person is going to try to come between us? Your personal life is none of his business, I don't care how old your friendship is. That's absurd. Besides, is there an us?" She wasn't sure about this anymore.

His face became very soft. "I'd like to think there is an 'us', Cherie. What I'm trying to do, and not very well, is warn you. Most people take an immediate dislike to House, and with good reason. But he's my friend and I love him like a brother. He's just a very intrusive brother. He will do and say things that are, to be quite frank, ugly, cruel and downright mean. In this case, he'll do them to try to protect me from myself."

"So, what, your friendship with him is more important than any relationship with me?" Cherie was becoming angry. This would not do. Too much baggage. Cut loose now. She stood, looking at him with sadness. "I have to go, James. This is a little too much to digest just now."

Damn it. This is what he had dreaded. "Please, Cherie, don't leave. I didn't mean to frighten you."

"I have to think, James. You're carrying a lot of emotional baggage that I'm not sure I can handle. Perhaps, well… I just have to think."

With that she was gone. He was alone. Again.

Cherie left the building, headed for her car. She was disappointed, but oddly calm. What surprised her was that she wasn't angry. She should be angry. She should be royally pissed. But she wasn't, she was heartbroken. Overwhelmed with a feeling of utter rejection. She didn't even know this House person and he had, even so, managed to ruin something beautiful. He was nothing if not formidable. That was frightening.

On the long ride home, Cherie pondered long and hard how she might handle this. James had been growing on her. She liked the way he cared for people, how he could somehow manage to know why they did what they did. He analyzed, but didn't criticize. That was important to her. Her world was full of critique of one sort or another. It was often difficult for her to separate the emotional from the impersonal. She'd learned to do so, however, in order to survive in her business. Statistics were everything. If you couldn't prove it with numbers, it didn't exist.

Chapter Three

"House, I need a referral." Wilson popped his head into House's office, hoping to hear no more about the weekend.

"Sorry, friend, I'm busy." House turned his attention back to his tabloid. Wilson's hopes vanished into thin air.

Wilson shook his head. "OK, fine. Bald-headed four-year old little boy doesn't need you that badly. I'll handle it myself."

"Cancerman can't handle cancer? What's the world coming to?" House snarked, still not looking at Wilson.

"Something else is going on. Something other than the cancer that's killing him."

"And it can't be explained by the chemo or radiation? Those two usually account for everything unusual." House was becoming intrigued in spite of himself.

"No chemo or radiation for six weeks now. No infection, no recurrence of the original tumor, no new abnormal growths. Nothing I can pin on cancer."

Wilson started to back out of the office.

"Hey, wait a minute! What are his symptoms?" House called out after him.

For about thirty minutes the two doctors talked about the unfortunate young boy's problems. House still wasn't convinced it wasn't cancer-related, but since he'd had no patients of his own since his team disbanded, he decided to play, just to ease the boredom. Wilson left the office with a new perspective and headed to the boy's room to start a series of tests.

He'd managed to escape without a single scratch.

Wilson hadn't heard from Cherie in three days and was worried. Should he call her? Would that send the wrong signal? Should he just wait it out and let her do the thinking she said she needed to do? He felt like a teenager again, all tied up in knots.

By lunchtime, Wilson was thinking he just might get away with ignoring House over the weekend. He shouldn't have gotten so comfortable.

"Wilson, who was the gorgeous woman you were with Saturday?" Cuddy was gushing as she slid into the chair at the table in the cafeteria. "I'm glad to see you're dating again."

"Yeah, Wilson, who is she?" Wilson groaned as House deposited his tray onto the table. "You've left me for another woman?" House was pouting furiously.

Cuddy looked at Wilson with a sheepish expression. "I'm sorry, Wilson, I thought House knew. I'll talk to you later." She quickly left the table and the cafeteria. House watched her leave as he always did.

House lazily munched his sandwich, watching Wilson squirm. However, Wilson didn't say anything, he just kept pushing food around on his plate. Truth be told, he was more concerned about Cherie than about House at the moment.

"Seriously, Wilson, who is she?" House was bemused by his friend's quandary.

"What?" Wilson had come to a decision and wasn't even listening to House anymore. "I gotta go, talk to you later." He left House to bus their table.

House watched, dumbfounded, as Wilson left the cafeteria. He was actually at a loss for words.

Wilson headed back to his office and locked both doors. He truly did not want to be interfered with. Picking up the phone, he dialed Cherie's cell. He was nearly holding his breath.

"Cherie Robertston, how may I help you?" Her soothing voice came through the line and stroked his cheek.

"Cherie, this is James." He paused, waiting to see if she'd hang up on him. When she didn't, he continued, "Cherie, I'd like to come over and see you tonight. Would that be alright?"

"Actually, James, I'd like that." He could hear a smile in her voice and was grateful. "Shall we say eight?"

"I'll be there. Thank you, Cherie." Wilson hung up just in time to see House peering at him through the balcony door, like a little kid at a toy store.

Reluctantly, he rose from his desk and opened the door, allowing House entrance to his office. He watched while his friend made himself comfortable.

"You going let me in on the secret, or am I going to have to follow you all over town until I find out?" House was smirking.

"Her name is Cherie Robertston. She's a CPA. I met her at a tea dance. I'm falling in love with her. Leave it alone, House." Wilson was not exactly confrontational, but he was not going to back down, either.

House was taken aback. "What the hell's a tea dance? You really think it'll work this time? When do I get to meet her?"

"Not until the wedding, with any luck." Wilson smiled.

House harrumphed and left the office, determined to meddle. But first, he needed to pry some information out of Cuddy.

Limping down the hall with a look on his face that dared anyone to as much as cross his path, he headed to the elevators. Once on the first floor, he saw Cuddy scurrying to her office, trying desperately to avoid him. Why she thought she was safe in there was anyone's guess.

"Okay, spill it. Where'd you see them?" House plopped down unceremoniously on Cuddy's office sofa, propping his leg on the coffee table.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Cuddy tried to get distracted in the paperwork on her desk.

"Don't give me that. Wilson and Cherie… where'd you see them?" House waited patiently, twirling his cane nonchalantly.

"House, did it ever occur to you that other people's personal business is personal? Perhaps Wilson doesn't want you nosing in on his life all the time! Just drop it, for heaven's sake." She continued scribbling.

House was gazing up at the ceiling. "Did it ever occur to you that this Cherie person could be the fourth ex-Mrs. Wilson? Even you can't be that heartless."

"House, get out of my office. Go do your clinic hours. You have no one to do them for you now. I will not be a party to your shenanigans. Shoo!" She tossed her hand toward the door, wishing she could physically toss him out as well.

Grumbling, House hoisted himself out of the sofa and headed toward the clinic, hell-bent on giving anyone he encountered there more than a hard time. Eight patients later, his job there was done. Two of the patients complained to Cuddy, three left crying and one kicked him in the shin. It was good to be king.

Wilson left the hospital at five thirty on the dot, looking forward to his date with Cherie. He planned on taking her to the finest French restaurant in Princeton. But first, a shower and a shave. He was smiling.

Pulling out just after Wilson did and staying far enough back so as not to attract attention, House followed on his motorcycle. He would get to the bottom of this if it killed Wilson. And, it just might.

Chapter Four

House waited with his version of patience outside Wilson's hotel. He waited and waited and waited. People came and went, permanent guests and out-of-towners, businessmen and women, the occasional call-person, but no Wilson.

He couldn't have slipped out the back door, that was not his style, thought House. What was he doing up there? Just how long does it take to blow dry your hair? Finally, at nine o'clock, House gave up and drove home, fuming.

What House couldn't have known and what had been a complete surprise to Wilson himself, was that Cherie had been waiting for him when he got back to his room. They had spent the last few hours talking.

"James, I've decided that I like this… thing… between us and I'd like it to develop and, hopefully grow. Each of us has our own demons and past. If you can learn about and accept mine, I have no right to discard yours out of hand. Whoever this House person is, he'll simply have to deal with your life as you live it. And, he'll have to deal with me." With that, Cherie wrapped her arms around James and didn't loosen them until morning. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Later that week, Cherie stopped in to her local herb shop, 'Herb's Herbs'. Herb was an old friend of the family and had inherited the shop from his grand-père. He mixed up a wonderful tea, the contents of which she didn't even bother to ask, which she rarely went without.

Browsing the shelves lined with luscious-smelling this-and-that's, Cherie noticed a dull thumping sound from somewhere toward the back of the store. As she made her way slowly in the direction of the sound, her attention was distracted by a shrill scream from the doorway.

The small, female body lay slumped in the floor, blocking the entrance. Cherie rushed forward, attempting to establish if she were conscious, if she were breathing. She was not. "Herb! Call 911!" Slowly and deftly, Cherie rolled the woman to her back, opened her airway and followed all the instructions she had memorized in CPR class.

"Did anyone see her collapse?" A deep, gravelly voice inquired.

"She just walked through the door, man, kind of looked around." Herb was wringing his hands, hoping the ambulance would get there soon. "Dude, she just fell out!"

The poor young woman's heart had stopped beating and Cherie had begun chest compressions. As she did so, she turned her head in the direction of the voice, hoping to enlist assistance. However, she caught sight of the fiery cane and decided against it. Cherie continued on alone.

"Check her pulse again." The voice commanded.

Without thinking, Cherie obliged. Nothing.

"No, move your fingers closer to the center." The voice was barking now.

"Why don't you just get down here and do it yourself, Doctor?" She was becoming a little irritated with what's-his-name.

"Can't… no good at kneeling, but you knew that." Was that a bit of sarcasm she noted?

Cherie went back to her CPR and, thankfully, the ambulance finally screamed to a stop in front of the store.

The paramedics stopped dead in their tracks, seemingly ignoring Cherie and the young woman. They appeared to be waiting for instructions.

"Twenty-something, heroin OD, probably a mule." What's-his-name stated rather flatly, stepped over the body, and left the store.

"You guys want to help here, or shall I just keep going?" Cherie was winded at this point and her wrists were throbbing.

Jumping as if out of a dream, the paramedics leapt forward and commenced 'paramedic-ing'. Herb helped Cherie out of the floor and pulled her back behind the counter, as if shielding her from some horror.

"How'd he know?" Herb whispered in her ear.

"How'd who know what?" Cherie replied.

"That guy with the cane, how'd he know about the heroin OD?" Herb was still whispering.

"You don't know him?"

Herb shook his head, "Never been in here before."

"Even morons make lucky guesses, Herb. Besides, we don't know whether he's right or not." Cherie just wanted her tea and an escape route.

As the paramedics were loading the young woman into the ambulance, one of them threw a look over his shoulder, "Oh, he's right Ma'am," rolling his eyes, he continued, "that one's always right."

Before she could ask, 'that one, who?', they were gone.

Walking home from the store, Cherie flipped open her cell phone to call James. He wasn't busy and was delighted to hear from her. She recounted her adventure, becoming more animated by the minute. As she ended her story, she noticed that James hadn't said anything and the line was silent. "James, did I lose you?"

Clearing his voice, he replied, "No, Cherie, I'm here and I have good and bad news for you."

"Oh dear, give me the bad news first, please." She'd gone tense all over.

"Well, my dear, you just met Dr. Greg House." He tried to sound jovial.

"And the good news?" She murmured into the phone.

"There is none. You have now been imprinted in his memory. I fully expect to hear his version of events when next we meet." Wilson was actually looking forward to it.

"Well, then, I fully expect to be hailed as the next Florence Nightingale." Somehow, she knew that wouldn't be the story, but laughed anyway.

"Trust me, I'll let you know!" James kissed her through the phone and hung up.

Bursting into his office, House plopped down in the 'bad news' chair and exclaimed, "You're not going to believe how stupid some people are!"