Author's Notes: This fic takes place sometime in the summer after Wilson's Heart, so obviously spoilers will be through that episode. Thanks to Olly for the beta. Please read and review

Disclaimer: They're not mine.

Losing Game
By Duckie Nicks

Her hair was pulled back into two loose pigtails, making her look like the Cuddy he'd seen in a schoolgirl uniform. So uncanny was the likeness that, for a moment, House was absolutely sure he was hallucinating again. But when he tried to imagine her jean shorts and white tank top off and she stayed clothed, he had to admit: this was, for better or worse, reality.

And the reality was… using Cuddy as a Wilson substitute wasn't exactly working. At least not at the moment. "You're late," he snapped, using his arm to block the entrance to his apartment.

She frowned, looking down at the silver watch on her slightly tanned wrist. "No, I'm not," Cuddy scoffed.

"You said you'd be here at one. It's 1:05. That means you're late," he said, gesturing with his hands, as he brought her to the end of his thought process.

Rolling her eyes, she retorted, "Five minutes."

"Exactly. Now we're going to be stuck behind sticky, crying kids."

She placed a hand on her hip in exasperation. "We're going miniature golfing, House. We're going to be surrounded by children no matter what. You should get used to that now."

There were many things he wanted to say in response to that, but before he could utter a word, Cuddy asked, "I can only assume that you're ready?"

"I was ready ten minutes ago," he said petulantly.

"Good for you. Of course, given the fact that I was unaware that this was a contest and also had to drive over here to pick you up, I was ready about twenty-five minutes ago." She offered him a sickly sweet smile then that forced his gaze to her stained lips.

The small grin he gave her in return was just as much for her as it was for the way her looks always seemed to provide him with ammo for his quips. "But only one of us is wearing the hooker lipstick that says, 'Daddy diddled me, and now I'm looking to empower myself by sleeping with anything not nailed to the floor,'" House pointed out.

"You only wish that were true – "

"It is – at least from where I'm standing," he said, talking over her.

She ignored him and finished her thought, "Because if that were true, you could be seeing me naked right now – instead of wishing I'd worn shorter shorts for you to check out my ass."

The smirk on her face was blatant.

"Next time you're five minutes late, you better be wearing shorter shorts. Tighter ones too. Better yet," he decided. "Just forget pants all together."

Her response was a dry "I'll keep that in mind… Can we go?"

At any other time, he might have said no. After all, they were at a point in the conversation where he was talking about Cuddy being pantless. And that was absolutely something House would have loved to dwell on.

But the truth was he'd spent too much of his summer cooped up in his apartment to want to stand in his doorway needling her. First, he'd had to recover from the bus crash, which had taken longer than he would have liked. And now, there was no reason to stay inside, no real need to "take it easy," but he didn't exactly have anyone to go out with.

Wilson wasn't talking to him.

Not that House had tried to do that, but he was sure that, if he had, Wilson would have hung up or slammed the door in his face. Because this wasn't one of House's normal screw ups, which his best friend had dealt with for years.

This was different.

Killing Amber was so much worse than that. Doing that was unforgivable, he understood all too well. And Wilson could forgive a lot, but… things had been pushed too far. Not intentionally so – it was almost ironic that their friendship should break over a bizarre set of circumstances that no one could have foreseen. Despite having called Cuddy a narcissist, House had always believed that his friends would leave because of something he'd done.

Only part of Amber's death was directly caused by his hand, but that fact didn't matter. Well, it mattered but not to Wilson, who had left the hospital room without a single glance back.

And now with his best friend gone, House needed – no, that sounded desperate even to his own mind. He wanted a replacement, although he was convinced he didn't deserve one.

Of course wanting and getting were two completely distinct things, seemingly mutually exclusive at this point. Especially in his casting sessions for "Replacement Wilson," he found it impossible to find someone who was just right. The only people who came even remotely close were Chase and Cuddy, and they were far from being perfect.

While House could go to strip clubs with him (and that was a big plus), Dr. Peach Fuzz was young, so much so that sometimes House felt like Grandpa getting a day out of the nursing home. And that alone didn't mean much, although it did suck a little. The real problem with Chase was the other half of the blonde monster.

Cameron also had her hands in the cookie jar (why was that analogy never as dirty as it sounded?), which meant House had to share. It meant, or at least it would at some point mean, Chase would have to choose. And the diagnostician didn't need a fortuneteller to know which way that would end.

Really, was there anyone who would choose him over Cameron?

Chase wouldn't, which made him potential friend material but not really a dependable choice.

Which left Cuddy, whose social life was just as pathetic as House's. Not that she would ever admit – she was still in denial over the state of her life – but really, Cuddy was as miserable as he was. Certainly just as alone, and since neither J-Date nor turkey basters had alleviated that loneliness, she was free to keep him entertained and clean his cage.

If anything, House thought she might have been better equipped to handle those responsibilities than Wilson ever had. It wasn't fair, but the way the world worked pretty much excluded Cuddy ever finding Mr. Right and always guaranteed that Wilson would keep finding women to wed.

A male doctor who cared about his patients and the person he dated? Absolute gold, and bitterly House couldn't help but think that Amber's death would only add to his allure. With that sob story up his sleeve, Wilson would be married by the end of the year.

But a female doctor, one who was capable of running an entire hospital but not of keeping her Vicodin-addicted employee out of her personal life? That didn't look too good on the dating resume. She was funny and clearly had a hot body, but in the end, not even beer-flavored nipples would be enough to detract from her work-obsessed neurosis. And that sucked for her, but it was great news for him.

As far as Wilson replacement material, Cuddy wasn't perfect for the job. She was a girl (if not by birth, then by surgeon). God only knows she wouldn't want to hear about his escapades with prostitutes… But then again, part of his fun could be telling her about it anyway.

She'd also made it perfectly clear that she would not go to strip clubs with him. But then again, half the time she was a walking peep show (with a much better body than most strippers). And the more he could hang out with her, the more he could catch an eyeful. Of course, House had realized long ago that that kind of thinking would be a problem.

A best friend could be hot, but you weren't supposed to think your best friend was hot. Because then things would get weird, and instead of replacing Wilson, House would be getting a girlfriend. And then there'd be flowers and plays and other boring things he didn't want to do. But then again, House had reasoned with himself that Cuddy was so desperate for a man, he could probably avoid doing all of those things and still get her to sleep with him.

And thinking about that now, House nodded his head to her question. "Lets go," he said, closing his door quickly behind him. The sooner they left, the sooner he'd be able to get rid of some of the energy, which not even Vicodin had quelled, he felt coursing through his system. And it also meant the sooner Cuddy would be bent over, giving him a nice view of her ass.

As they walked outside towards her car, she asked him, "So, just out of curiosity, if I have to get pantless for being five minutes late, what happens to you when you're an hour late for clinic?"

"Apparently nothing," he replied smoothly, as he slid into the passenger seat of her car. "Course you could go also go pantless for that…"

Maneuvering the car out of the tight parking space, Cuddy told him, "If you would do all of your clinic hours, I would happily run around naked for you."

His eyes widened at the thought. Turning his head towards her quickly, House asked, "Seriously?"

"No," she snapped. "You get paid to do it. I'm not giving you anything else."

"But, Mom," he whined, making sure his voice took on that childish, high-pitched sound.

The smile playing on her lips was all the response he had hoped for. If changing her mind really were that easy, House would have seen her naked way more.

Figuring the conversation was over, at least for now, he leaned back against his seat. Closing his eyes, House imagined himself on the golf course. Not the miniaturized, puked-on-by-every-kid-in-Jersey one they were going to, but a real genuine course popped into his mind.

Lush and verdant with carefully placed hills and traps, the place he saw was a utopia for his curious mind; golf courses always had been. There was just something… incredible about golf, beautiful in the way it paralleled his vocation.

The goal was always out of reach in the beginning, no matter what the par was. And you had to picture where the hole was, take aim on what you thought to be true. That aspect made the game incredibly personal in a way, and while some might argue that the obstacles were carefully planted (and therefore boring), House had never felt that way. Because you could know the river was beyond the hill, but it was impossible to always foresee just how difficult crossing that river could be.

And there was nothing boring about that, about having another puzzle to solve. But, unlike his job… this was a Rubik's that had been taken away from him.

He could no longer handle the large, sprawling courses. His leg wouldn't let that happen anymore. Not even with a butt load of pills and a golf cart made him feel comfortable enough to try these days. So he'd stuck to the cheap, scaled version of the sport, despite the fact that it wasn't nearly as satisfying.

Which wasn't to say that putt putt didn't have its own unique complications. No matter who he was miniature golfing with, there was always the chance of some snot-nosed brat running around and accidentally kicking, stealing, or puking on his ball (all of which had happened before).

And though he'd never done this with her before, Cuddy was sure to make the game more interesting. Forget how she might play – seeing how she would react to all the happy families that frequented these places would be fascinating. Sure it was cruel to be entertained by something that would probably torment her; House was well aware of that and would be the first to admit it. But… if it was going to make her miserable no matter what, he could at least make it into a game for himself.

What else was he to do really? Ignore the reality, that she was lonely? Offer false words of comfort that would never ring true coming from him? Fix the problem himself by agreeing to date her?

Those were things he couldn't do. And if Cuddy were looking for that, then… she would have (and should have) married Wilson a long time ago.

At that moment, she stopped the car; they were at the miniature golf course, finally. And House wasn't sure if it was because he'd been thinking about his best friend, but immediately Cuddy asked him, "Have you talked to Wilson?"

Her voice was low, gentle. She was trying to be casual about it, but he suspected she'd rehearsed her words several times before saying them.

"Nope." He too had the same faux breeze to his voice; he didn't care.

A frown began to spread across her face, and feeling a lecture coming on, House reached for his door handle. As carrying both his cane and a putter seemed ridiculous and cumbersome, he decided to leave the cane in the car. Which was smart for being on the course, but it also made it harder for him to escape Cuddy now and her need to channel Wilson and give him a speech.

By the time House reached the sidewalk, she was already there, hands on her hips. "You need to talk to him."

"Well, you need surgery to correct those lop-sided breasts," he said nastily, pointing at her chest. And with a cold chuckle in his voice, House said, "But what can ya do?"

He thought the insult would be enough for him to move past her, for her to realize that she needed to drop it. But apparently… he was wrong; lumbering on the white cement, he was just almost past her when she grabbed his upper arm. "Not nice to grab a cripple, you know."

Obediently, Cuddy dropped her hand to her side. But not quite so nicely, she kept talking about Wilson. "You need to talk to him," she repeated.

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you –"

"No, I don't," he interrupted quickly. And then gesturing towards her, House added, "Your turn."

"You think that by doing nothing right now, nothing will change. And you're wrong, House," she told him sternly, the lines of her forehead noticeable. "You are making things worse. And if you keep doing this, you are going to kill your friendship with Wilson."

He was tempted to tell her that she couldn't have been more wrong; House wouldn't be doing anything to harm their friendship now. That could only happen if there was still something left to ruin. And there was no way, House believed, Wilson still considered him a friend.

It was just wasn't possible.

But House also realized that telling that to Cuddy would be a stupid move, if only because it sounded so pathetic. So he responded the only way he knew how to in these situations. Sarcastically, he told her, "Thanks for the warning. Now lets go play."

He started to limp towards the line of people waiting to get in, forcing her to move as well. "Talk to him," she said, practically begging. "Chase and I can't –"

"Here's how this is gonna work," House said, as he took a spot in the line. "You're going to keep whining about how I need to talk to him. And I'm going to keep saying no." Cuddy opened her mouth to say something, but he stopped her. "No matter what you say, threaten, or do, I'm not going to call him." For a brief moment, he wished he'd taken his cane with him. Under normal circumstances, he would have used it to punctuate each word by tapping it on the ground.

Of course, it didn't really seem to matter, because Cuddy finally did shut up. Her lips turned downward into a frown, she looked pissy. And, though it was too noisy to hear it, House was sure she was grinding her teeth together angrily. Which could only mean that her silence was temporary.

Sure enough, after five minutes, when they reached the teller to get in, Cuddy spoke up to the teenager working behind the booth. "I need two tickets," she said gently. "One adult, one child," she told him, her voice harsh and blue eyes icily glaring at House.

"Where's your child?" the pimply faced teen asked.

"Him," she practically snarled, nodding her head towards House.

"Ma'am… that's not a child," he said carefully, as though unsure of the situation before him.

"Could have fooled me."

"Oh snap," House said, as she reluctantly paid the full price to get him into the putt putt course. Turning to the unenthused woman behind them in line, he asked, "See what she did there?"

"House," Cuddy interrupted. "Come on." Her hand wrapping around his wrist, she pulled him along inside the gated area.

He was tempted to tell her that, once again, she was getting grabby with the cripple. But whatever peevishness he felt temporarily evaporated as the sights and smells of the miniature golf course hit him. The place was as tacky as it had always been; the scent of corn dogs and cotton candy permeated every inch of the outdoor area, settling over the fake palm trees, which were meant to fit in with the "jungle theme." Every now and then, a roar of a lion played on a PA system would mix with the shrieks of children running around them.

At some point, House realized, the fake animal noises (and the ones from the obnoxious brats running around) would surely annoy him. But right now, he was too interested in getting his game started and kicking Cuddy's ass to care.

Cuddy, however, didn't exactly seem in a hurry to get such a thrashing. Eager to play, he quickly picked out his golf club while she took her time. Unsure of which one would be right for her, she managed to take a good ten minutes running her hands over the metal putters.

"You're not marrying it. Pick one," he ordered, his irritation evident in his voice.

"Shut up."

Considering what he'd said, House realized he was wrong about that. And rather than listen to her, he continued, "'Course, given your level of desperation lately… probably take you less time to decide to marry it."

The glare she gave him was enough to make him smile.

When she did manage to find a club she liked, she grabbed it and approached him slowly. He was leaning against his own selection, which she in turn mimicked, as he complained, "Finally."

Ignoring the jibe, Cuddy told him, with a hint of teeth bared, "I wanna make a bet."

"On what? Britney Spears being pregnant again? The chances of Thirteen having a three-way with Cameron and Kutner?" House could practically feel his features and mood brighten at the thought of that.

"On the game." She practically whispered the words, speaking as seductively as she knew how. And once more, he was transported back to his hallucination. Which was almost distracting enough to have him agree to the bet right then and there, regardless of the terms.

But since he hadn't actually seen the parts of his boss that he liked, House could see exactly where she was headed. Rolling his eyes, he told her, "Let me guess. You want me to talk to Wilson if you win."

She swallowed. "Yes."

"What do I get?"

"I don't know," she said with a shrug. "What do you want?" There was no doubt in his mind that his eyes were lighting up at the possibilities. And perhaps seeing that, Cuddy immediately clarified, "Not that, you pervert."

"What?" he asked, trying to sound as innocent as possible. "I could have been thinking about world peace – you don't know."

She raised an eyebrow at that. "Right."

"I said could have. Not that I actually was."

Sighing, she said, "Whatever. Are you in or –"

"Fine." He started to head towards the first hole on the small course.

"Wait a minute," Cuddy called, hurrying after him. "What do you want if you win?"

She handed him a bright yellow ball, keeping the hot pink one for herself. As he leaned down to put the golf ball in place, he explained, "I don't know. Yet."

And in all honesty, he wasn't in a hurry to make a decision. While it was an every day occurrence to manipulate Cuddy, House understood he had a real opportunity here to… well, embarrass the crap out of her. He could make her do his bidding without all the normal fuss, and, because of that, he wasn't going to choose something lame like getting out of clinic duty (which he could easily do on his own).

With a solid tap, House hit his ball, sending it spinning across the bright green Astroturf. The yellow orb slammed against the stone sides of the miniature fairway, the tiny ball moving closer and closer to the hole at the end of the curved area. It was an easy course; the first hole was always simply designed, and that made a hole in one inevitable for him.

The ball plunking down into the ground out of sight, House turned, grinning, toward Cuddy. "I'll take your unconditional surrender now, if you want," he told her.

She smirked, placing her own ball onto the tee. "And give up the opportunity to kick your ass? Why would I do that?"

Instead of waiting for him to respond though, Cuddy furrowed her brow in concentration, as she tried to figure out how she could also get a hole in one. Just when she was ready to swing her club, House said loudly, "I know what I want." Uttered at just the right time, the interruption was enough to distract her, but not enough to stop her from hitting the ball.

The neon pink sphere spun down towards the hole. But as it had been hit too hard, it bounced off the hole and came to a stop eight feet away. "House." Her voice had that shrill quality she usually reserved for when he tried to empty out the clinic.

"Sorry," he told her, not feeling sorry at all.

"You can't cheat to win," she nearly hissed, moving towards her ball.

"That wasn't cheating," House argued. "If I wanted to cheat, Cuddy, I would do this…" He started to limp towards her, using his club as a cane.

"You stay where you are," she ordered.

"I'm not doing anything." Except, of course, not listening to her, and he moved closer still. "You're being paranoid."

"No, you're going to do something."

"But you have no idea what," he finished for her. "Lets see – there's the possibility of me stealing your ball, which is stupid, because at some point, it would be nice to finish the game." He screwed up his face in mock concentration. "I could always kick your ball, pull your hair."

"Very mature," she said, nodding her head.

"Well, it's either that or fall into the romantic cliché of showing you how to hit the ball. All those years as Dean of Medicine must make it hard to bend over."

She smiled. "Hmm… actually, all those years as your boss has made it pretty easy to whack balls with a golf club." But her words were belied by her own actions. Because when she finally did hit her pink ball again, once more it hopped over the hole it was supposed to go in.

"Apparently not" was his dry response. "Sure you don't want a private lesson?"

"And give you a reason to rub up against me like a feral dog? I don't think so. Now get out of my way," she ordered, as she approached her ball one last time.

"Your loss."

"And potentially every Jersey prostitute's gain. Funny how that works." Her club lightly tapped the ball, and it satisfyingly sunk into the hole.

He would have naturally preferred to see her screw up a few more times. Not just because of the bet, but because, if she won, she would wear that cloyingly smug expression.

Of course, he hadn't seen that face of hers often. Especially these days, the chances of her pulling one over on him were extremely low. And for the most part, that was exactly how House wanted things.

But every now and then, she would find a way to ruin his fun. Making him do clinic hours, forcing him to prove his theories with tests, hiring Foreman back – each action had been bad enough in and of itself. And seeing her smug smile (and sometimes an extra sway in her hips, although he liked that part well enough) only added salt to the wound.

And House knew, if she won, calling Wilson would be the least of his problems.

Still… it was a decent lead for him. And if Cuddy couldn't do better than a bogey on the easiest hole... well, that was good news for him.

Glumly, she plucked her ball from the hole, and they moved onto the next part of the course.

As he got ready to tee off, she said, "You never told me what you wanted if you win."

"You mean when I win," he told her snottily.

"If you win."

A meaty smack sent his ball rolling up over one of the fake green hills. "You can't even distract me properly. How else are you going to win?"

With her head held high, Cuddy told him, "I'm not trying to cheat."

His voice filled with sarcasm, he said, "Of course not."

"If I cheated, you'd whine your way out of calling Wilson," she pointed out, slightly irritated.

"True," he admitted, limping along the same path his ball had followed. "Although that's not very smart, because there's a good chance I'll do that anyway."

"If you do that, then I'm telling you now: I won't do what you want if you win." House didn't need to look at her to know she was smirking. So he ignored her, choosing to focus on the game instead.

"So what do you want?" she repeated.

At that moment, a loud, uptight mother with three ankle biters began to stroll past their part of the course. The youngest, a little blond boy with fat tears rolling down his cheeks, screamed loudly. His lips and front of his shirt were stained purple, and, given that the other two brats were quietly eating snow cones, House could only assume that the littlest runt had dropped his.

Of course, rather than move along, Mommy Dearest and the Three Little Pigs began chatting loudly ("Mommy, I want another!" "I said if you dropped yours, you wouldn't get another." "But, I want it!"). And as they got louder, so did the throb in House's head. Rubbing a thumb along his forehead, he muttered to Cuddy, "Some aspirin would nice."

Then again, who needed that when he had Vicodin? He pulled a pill out of his jean's pocket and swallowed it.

Cuddy smiled sympathetically at him and said, "I mean the bet."

"Oh that. Right," he responded, tapping his golf ball in the hole. There really were so many things he might like, and it was hard to decide exactly what he wanted… other than the annoying family behind him to leave.

And then it hit him.

To match his birdie, he would kill some other birds with one stone. "You know, Dr. Cuddy, I think I do know what I want." As she teed off, House said as loudly as he could, "When I win, nothing would make me happier than taking you back to my apartment and tying you down," he practically yelled. "And screwing you until –"

"House." Her voice an aggravated hiss, she clearly wanted him to stop.

But he was finished; his words obviously worked, the mother grabbing her kids' grubby hands and pulling them along.

"You didn't need to do that," Cuddy chastised, as they moved onto the third hole of the course. She was still two behind him thankfully.

As they continued to play the game, House countered, "But it wouldn't have been fun to just let them stay there and whine. Besides, why would I pass up an opportunity to scar today's youth with the idea of you being naked?"

"Well, you're no prize either," she snapped, biting down on her lip as she whacked her ball.

He wouldn't deny that, and yet, he understood all too well that saying he agreed would be pathetic. And rather than continue with the quips, House settled into a silence, watching her as she maneuvered around the difficult part of the course.

Only when they were on the next hole (with House still up by one) did she speak again. "So I'm guessing sex isn't what you want?"

His eyes widened in mock surprise. "Why would you think that?"

The fine lines around her eyes wrinkled in confusion. "You just said –"

"I was lying," he told her with a shrug. "In fact, if I win, I get to put your ankles –"

"No," Cuddy said immediately. "No sex in the bet."

"Then no Wilson in the bet."

He was pushing; obviously, he was pushing. And there was no doubt in his mind that she was aware of that. Just as there was no doubt in his mind that this had little to do with trying to actually get Cuddy to have sex with him.

Not that he would have a problem doing that.

But more than anything, he wanted to see how far she was willing to go. Practically since he'd awoken in the hospital, she had pushed for him to talk to Wilson. It was, for whatever reason, important to her that he go grovel to Wilson and beg for forgiveness – though she had never used those words, obviously.

And it was almost… foreign to him, the idea that someone else should take such an interest in his life. Especially in his friendship with Wilson, seeing as how the last person who had done that had… died.

Cuddy scoffed at him. "That's not the same thing."

"You don't want to have sex with me. I don't want to talk to Wilson. Seems similar to me."

Holding the golf club in one hand, she propped the other on her hip. "You don't have to get naked to talk to him."

"Well, I could do that, if you really wanted me to," he offered. "Or," he said, tilting his head to the side at the thought. "You could keep your clothes on for the sex. I can get creative if –"

"No."

"Then I guess we're both going to have to think of different terms for the bet."

The conversation ended there, and they continued playing the game – despite neither having any idea what was at stake. But truthfully House hadn't expected anything less from her. She loved games almost as much as he did, loved competition definitely as much. And even though he could see the danger that lay ahead in such a scheme (and there was no doubt in his mind that she probably did as well), they couldn't help themselves.

It was too tempting to do anything else.

And because of that, it made the game of putt putt all the more interesting as well. It was almost as though Cuddy had suddenly transformed into the woman he had met all those years ago; she was no longer the mediocre doctor, the frazzled and overwrought administrator he so often saw and tormented. The dark-haired woman standing before him now wasn't even the same person, it felt like, he had come to this place with.

Her icy eyes narrowed on the hot pink ball in front of her, she was determined to kick his ass. And, unlike at the start of the game, she was able to quickly assess each hole, each trap, and maneuver around them gracefully.

Of course, it still wasn't enough to surpass him. But by the time they hit the ninth hole (and second to last one on this pathetically short course), they were even in the score.

At that moment, as he was hunched over in concentration, Cuddy finally spoke up again. "Fine," she blurted out.

Accidentally, he tapped his ball, sending it only a couple feet in front of him. Fuming he turned toward her. "You couldn't have waited until after I –"

"I'll do it," Cuddy said in a hurry, not paying any attention to what had just happened.

"Want to share with the class or –"

"If I win, you talk to Wilson, and if you win…" She shrugged. "I'll do it."

It was all over for him; there was no doubt about that. The game completely forgotten, he stood there in almost a daze.

Being presented to him like a little gift, sex was on the table.

Sex.

With Cuddy.

His throat going dry, House asked, "Seriously?"

"Yeah."

He blinked. "Seriously?"

"Yeah, now can we get this over with?" she asked, sounding harried.

Numbly, House moved to where his ball had come to a stop. The bright yellow sphere was so far away from the hole that he was already looking at a bogey. But he was still so caught up in the fact that Cuddy was risking sex that he couldn't have cared less. Going through the motions, he began to hunch over, lining his club up with the ball.

But he had to know. Straightening himself back up, House asked, "Why would you do that?"

"Do what?" Gesturing to the game, Cuddy asked, "And can you hurry it up?"

He temporarily focused on what he was doing long enough to sink the ball into the hole after four swings. And then, as Cuddy took her turn, he asked her, "Why would you take that bet?"

Smacking her ball with the club, she told him simply, "Because it's important to me."

"Why?"

"Because…" Her voice trailed off, and she didn't finish the thought, as she worked her away around the course.

"That really clarified things there. Thanks a lot," he said sarcastically. His voice a little harsh, he was too interested in her reasoning to be patient.

"Oh, stop it." Walking to the last hole, Cuddy explained, "I want you to talk to Wilson. But obviously, you won't do that on your own, because you are a child. So my options are to either let you continue behaving like a baby. Or," she said, gesturing with her hands. "I play this stupid game with you, and kick your ass and force you to act like an adult."

He plopped his ball onto the ground and used his foot to nudge it into place. Any other time, House would have focused his attention solely onto this last part of the course. With its sharp turns, uneven ground, and a mechanical growling tiger, which used its paw to swipe at balls, the tenth hole was a challenge even for people like him who had played miniature golf dozens of times.

But now things were different. His attention was solely on Cuddy, and in the back of his mind, he understood that his score was going to be in the tank because of it. "Pimping yourself out so that Wilson and I will kiss and make up," he said, mulling over the words. "You know there are easier ways of getting laid."

"Says the man who made sex part of the bet to begin with."

House scoffed at her, as his ball bounced off the tiger paw in the wrong direction. He was so screwed. Unless Cuddy messed up as badly as he was right now, there was no way he was going to win the bet.

And that meant talking to Wilson.

The thought alone made it impossible to concentrate on what he was doing, resulting in a double bogey for him.

He didn't want to talk to Wilson.

Or maybe he did, but the fact was… he couldn't do that. His best friend hated him, and House didn't have it in him to tell Wilson to think any differently. And it was that fact that stung the most.

Not Amber's death or Wilson wanting House to risk his life – those things were nearly healed wounds.

No, he thought to himself just as Cuddy hit her ball. Those things hadn't truly healed. None of his pain ever seemed to go away. But by comparison, these issues were little more than dull throbs. Because Amber was dead, and House didn't like losing the people he allowed to be in his life, but he could handle that. He just simply reasoned that they hadn't known each other that long, and she was a bitch. And it sucked that she was dead, but he couldn't fix everyone, save them all.

Had he been able to… he would have. The deep brain stimulation had been proof of that, he thought. He hoped.

And he could understand why Wilson would choose her over him, even if House didn't like it. Because… Stacy had been gone for years, but his feelings for her had traitorously remained. And if House had had to choose between her or Wilson…

Well, he would have had to replace Wilson a lot sooner.

But with the way things were now, the sad fact of the matter was: everything Wilson had done on that day made sense to House. Really, it seemed like, aside from maybe Thirteen, everybody else had done what they were supposed to do. They had all done the right thing.

And House had been the one to land Amber in the hospital to begin with.

That gaping chasm between himself and everyone else was so stark in its contrast that it was almost nauseating. So obvious, even to himself, that he didn't believe he had the right to ask anyone to forgive him for it. That Cuddy had, from before he'd even been conscious again, was something he didn't – would never – understand.

And in that nexus between dream, hallucination, and reality, House had told Amber that he didn't want to be miserable. The truth was he really didn't. He'd confessed to her that he didn't want Wilson to hate him, and screw Cuddy for what she might be thinking, but he didn't want that either.

House wanted none of those things to be his reality.

But… it was.

And not even someone as shameless as he could ask for something – Wilson's friendship and forgiveness – he didn't think he deserved.

Why Cuddy thought he should think any differently he didn't know. She'd seen everything he had done, and yet it was still obviously important for him to talk to Wilson.

Maybe his former best friend had said something to her?

No, House told himself. He wouldn't allow himself to have that bit of hope. That was something else he hadn't earned. And the chances of it being true, anyway, were so slim as to be nothing more than a dream. To think that Wilson was in the apartment he'd shared with Amber wishing that House was there was so… silly and unlikely that he refused to contemplate it anymore.

And, he decided with finality, he had no intention of asking Cuddy about it or approaching Wilson.

Because it was one thing to tell himself that it wasn't true, another entirely to be confronted with that reality.

But, as Cuddy sunk her ball into the hole (and winning the stupid game in the process), House realized: she wasn't going to stop pestering him until he had done just that.

"I win," she said gently as if delivering him news about a dead family member. Which was completely ridiculous, although, to be honest, House much preferred that than the gloating he would have expected of her.

Unready to face that reality just yet, and not quite ready to try and worm his way out of it, House said suddenly, "I want a snow cone."

Cuddy furrowed her brow in confusion but followed him anyway. "Okay…" Once they were standing side by side in the decent-sized line, she turned to him, concern in her eyes. "You are going to call him, aren't you?" Her voice was a little louder than normal, the hoards of chatting, screaming, annoying kids making an increase in volume necessary.

"A bet's a bet," he said, brushing her off. At the same time, he used his hand not holding his golf club to reach into her pocket and pull out her wallet. "What do you want?" Taking all the cash she had, House stuffed the wallet back into her pocket, her eyes focused, slightly annoyed, on his hand as he did so.

"You need twenty dollars to buy two snow cones?" she asked, as her eyes raked over the menu, which was little more than a variety of flavors scrawled onto a white board.

He explained, sarcasm in his voice, "I lost. I need something to ease my pain."

"What – the Vicodin not cutting it anymore?" she asked with the same sarcasm in her words.

"I'm branching out."

"Well, at least this won't kill you… that's nice," she said calmly, seriously. There was a beat before she mentioned, "I don't want anything."

"You have to get something. It's a tradition."

Cuddy shrugged her petite shoulders, as they moved up in the line. "It's just sugar, dye, and ice. There's absolutely no nutritional value and –"

"So if I wanna O.D. on them, it's okay. But you can't have one?" He furrowed his brow, trying to understand Cuddy's logic.

"Yup." She nodded her head enthusiastically, the motion making her dark curls, which had been working on escaping her pigtails anyhow, spring to life. "There do seem to be an exorbitant amount of things that you love that I won't touch."

"Hmm, you mean like my penis?" he asked, his voice sounding as innocent as he could make it.

Slowly his eyes slid over to where she was standing, and right away, he could see that she was fuming. True, the color in her cheeks could have been caused easily by the sun. But the way she was clenching her jaw, the way her knuckles were turning white from gripping her golf club too hard, and the way her blue eyes had narrowed murderously on him could only be caused by anger.

Yeah, she was pissed.

And the impish part of him was absolutely pleased about that.

But as they both opened their mouths (for him to say something even more lascivious, for her to yell), a woman behind the snow cone booth asked, "What can I get for ya?"

"Cherry for me. She'll take a blue raspberry," he ordered.

Perhaps still waterlogged from a penis mention, Cuddy didn't speak up until the woman had turned away to start making their frozen treats. "What? No, I –"

"You're right," House said, deciding it was necessary to goad her some more.

She was already pissed, so why not have some more fun?

Really, letting him annoy her was the least she could do, after winning the damn bet. "You can't really say you wouldn't touch it if you already did."

"House –"

"And you really can't say that if you enjoyed –"

"Stop talking," she warned. 'Or I'm going to ram my golf club into your rectum."

The glint in her eyes should have been enough to make him stop, but un-phased, he told her, "Sounds kinky."

Cuddy glared at him, as the woman handed them their snow cones. Making sure to pocket the change, House used the purloined money to pay.

As they walked away, his companion complained, "I told you I didn't want one."

God, she could be annoying, he thought. So he chose to ignore her temporarily, his blue eyes scouring the small area for a place to sit. And then he saw it – a lone picnic table, which had been painted with lame tiger stripes, in one of the corners. Gesturing to it with his customary white plastic spoon, which had turned pink thanks to the cherry syrup, House explained, "I forgot."

"'You forgot,'" she repeated incredulously. "Except you don't forget. Anything."

"That's not true," he argued back. As they made their way to the empty wooden table, he told himself that it really wasn't true. How she looked naked, when she got her period or when she ovulated – those things were seared into his memory, like so many other minutiae that made Cuddy Cuddy.

Knowing those things, he had said to himself many times, made it easier to manipulate her.

"Even if that were true," he said immediately. "What with your bet and all… it's hard for my mind to function when I've got…"

His voice trailed off, as realization hit him quickly. The puzzle he hadn't even realized he'd been working on began to put itself together, the mystery surrounding it fumbling and falling apart. "Sex on the brain," he finished slowly, each word mumbled and slurred into the next.

Cuddy looked at him oddly, as he gently placed his bright red snow cone onto the picnic table. With less concern, he dumped his golf club onto the ground. "What's wrong?" she asked.

Carefully House, mindful of his leg, climbed onto the picnic table and sat down. Patting his lap, he said, "You've been a bad girl, Lisa. I think somebody needs a spanking," he told her condescendingly. "Now get your lying ass over here and let Daddy House –"

"'Daddy House'?" She repeated, her voice somewhere between amused and bemused. "Did you accidentally switch your Vicodin with crack?"

"You dirty cheater," he accused.

Sitting down next to him, so that their thighs were touching, Cuddy retorted, "I didn't cheat." Using her own spoon, she dipped the flimsy utensil into the blue-tinged ice. The plastic scraped against the chunks of frozen water, and House could hear her softly crunching, as she tasted the blue raspberry snow cone. After she swallowed, she commented, "This is actually pretty good."

"See?" he said, taking a bite of his own snow cone. "You don't even know when you want a snack." Scooping out another chunk, House told her, "So I think I'll stick with my version of events. Which means… you cheated."

"I didn't –"

Waving a hand dismissively, he asked, "Why'd you wait so long to agree to my terms for the bet?"

Cuddy tellingly shifted on the picnic table. "Well, I didn't want to have sex with you, but I figured –"

"Lies!" he half-shouted.

Sarcastically, she said, "Right. I've just been dying to sleep with you, but I decided to wait until today, with the bet, so that I could save face." She rolled her eyes before pouting. Mocking him, she continued, "Since I won, though, I guess I'll have to ask the old-fashioned way."

Cuddy angled her body towards him, setting her snow cone to the side. One hand coming to rest on his thigh, the other tangling in his shirt, she told him, "I can't take it anymore. The way you don't brush your hair or wash your clothes – all those inappropriate sex jokes. You're turning me on, House," she said mockingly. "And if you don't do something about it –"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he interrupted, pushing her hands away with his free one. "I feel for you, really. But unfortunately I made it a rule years ago to never sleep with trannies who miss the point."

"And what is the point, exactly?" she asked, brushing away a strand of hair that had escaped her pigtails.

"You've been harping about Wilson for months. There was no way you were going to pass up the opportunity to make him part of the bet," House told her. "But you also knew that losing would mean ending your life of celibacy. But then," he reasoned, "that'd hardly be a sacrifice for you. Internet dating. Turkey basting your way to motherhood." He noticed her scowl and smirked. "Hanging out with your worst employee in your free time. I smell desperation."

"So I must be dying to sleep with you," Cuddy finished dryly.

"No," he conceded. "But it wouldn't exactly be a big sacrifice for you, either." He used his spoon to flatten the bright red mound in his Styrofoam cup. "But you didn't agree right away."

"Because I didn't want to lose," she snapped.

"And then you realized that, if you agreed, my mind would be too focused on figuring out why you agreed to care about the game," he finished. House watched her carefully, noticing the way she smiled around the spoon in her mouth. "You cheated."

"I was smart."

"No. If you were smart, you would have realized as soon as I suggested it that you could have won the game by agreeing."

Waving her spoon in the air, Cuddy told him, "Doesn't matter. I won."

"If you were smart," he repeated, "You'd have realized I won't do what you want now." The smile on her face faltered. And there was a beat of silence before he added, "Actually, I'm surprised you haven't realized by now that I never do anything you say."

She swallowed hard before jabbing her spoon into the fluffy mountain of bright blue ice. Setting her cup aside, she said, "You agreed. You said –"

"Oh, well, I said," he replied, dismissing her argument. "You should know by now that doesn't mean anything."

"You need to talk to him." Cuddy stood up, but, even at her full height, she was still slightly shorter than him sitting down.

"Are we sure you're not the one with the brain damage?" he asked. "Because I could have sworn we've had this conversation before." House scratched his head for dramatic effect. "And if it really is me with the bruised brain, could my subconscious please hallucinate you as a mute? Or as Carmen Electra? Or, hell, at this point, I'd settle for you shrieking at me in a bikini."

"At this point, if I thought it would work, I would shriek at you in a bikini," Cuddy retorted.

A moment passed, their eyes meeting, and he supposed it suddenly became clear to her, because she shook her head. 'But… you really won't talk to him, will you? You are so sure you're doing the right thing that absolutely nothing I say will matter… Right?"

"Ding ding. We have a winner" was his sarcastic reply.

"Fine," she snapped, picking up her Styrofoam cup still nearly full with snow cone and tossing it angrily into the trash. "Then this is a waste of time. Lets go."

House was tempted to yell at her for throwing away the frozen treat. But looking down at his own cup, also loaded with cherry ice, he realized that this conversation had completely ruined his desire for it. Throwing his own away, he followed her slowly back to the car.

They rode home in silence, awkward silence, and House supposed that this was the point in their friendship where she realized… that he was too stubborn and not really worthy of being a friend.

And then he'd just be down to Chase.

Not that he could fault anyone for leaving him. He was moody and cruel and definitely not best friend material; rejection really was the right choice to make. But for whatever reason, it burned in the back of his throat anyway.

Only when they pulled up to his apartment did she speak again. And it was immediately apparent that she hadn't given up. "Are you… sure you won't –"

"When Wilson first started dating Amber, you refused to sleep with him." Rubbing his thumb along his forehead, he spoke slowly. "You said I was… needy enough to never lose him… you were wrong then. You're wrong now."

"House," Cuddy said quietly, sympathetically. She reached over and squeezed his shoulder, which he knew was meant to be comforting, despite the fact that it wasn't. "He doesn't hate you. You haven't -"

He pushed her hand away and grabbed his cane. "Then he should. Thanks for the fun," he told her mockingly before opening the car door. Moving as quickly as he could (so she wouldn't feel the need to make the moment lamely emotional), he got out and slammed the door shut behind him.

As he limped towards his apartment, House didn't turn to look at her. He didn't need to glance backwards to know that she was, no doubt, giving him sad eyes from her car.

Holding his breath, he quickly opened his front door, half-worried that she would get out and follow him. Not that he was particularly interested in being alone with his own thoughts. But… if she were to come in, try and offer him comfort, that would be a confirmation that she thought he was pathetic. And he didn't want that.

Seconds later, when he heard her driving off, he was filled with relief and let go of the oxygen he'd been holding. Apparently, he was pitiable enough to warrant a meaningful glance – but not worthy of useless handholding.

Which wasn't exactly what he wanted. But he'd long ago accepted that the cane alone made him pathetic, and the best he could do was minimize the pity others felt for him. Closing his apartment door behind him, he supposed that had worked well enough today.

Plopping down on his couch, he realized just how quiet and lonely his place really was. He grabbed two Vicodin from his pocket, swallowing the pills quickly. And settling into the leathery cushions to watch some TV, House allowed the guilt and thin, protective haze of not caring to settle over him.

He had lost Wilson, no matter what Cuddy said.

And that too wasn't exactly what he wanted.

But…

It was precisely what he deserved.

End (1/1)