Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, etc.

He was an ass. It was more a statement of fact than an opinion. She knew it, he knew it, and neither expected him to change. But deep down, in the same place she kept dreams of her happy ever after and her prince charming, she harbored the fantasy that he could be different… and that she could be the reason. She tried to deny it, she tried to ignore it, she tried to buy into the idea that he was a miserable man who would never know happiness. And yet she bailed him out, time and time again. She looked the other way when he broke rules, she covered his ass when he made mistakes, and she put herself on the line time and time again. Lisa Cuddy had never been a woman who let her heart trump her head. She was rational, logical, precise in all her decisions. But with House, it was never a question. Until now.

House leaned over his desk, tip of his tongue peeking out from the corner of his lips, brow furrowed in concentration. He slowly re-taped the wrapping paper with a steadiness and focus that he usually only reserved for... well, that he usually only reserved for "projects" meant to annoy Cuddy. Pausing to contemplate that thought and to admire his work, he took the DVD boxed set of Planet Earth and threw it at the trash can in the corner.

"And the crowd goes wild!" he murmured, listening to the thud as the brand new DVDs probably rendered themselves unreturnable.

He smirked at the rewrapped present on his desk. Perfection. The card read, "Dear James, We talked about this series a few months ago, and I know you haven't been able to see the episodes yet. The footage is breathtaking and I know you'll enjoy the DVDs. Take care, Lisa." He was almost tempted to be in the room when Cuddy watched Wilson unwrap her gift. Naughty or Nice: Santa and His Merry Elves II, the special edition DVD boxed set. Key word being "almost." He pushed himself to his feet and grabbed his cane. Jimmy was in for the best Christmas gift of his life.

Cuddy sighed as she glanced at the clock on her desk, murmuring an "uh huh" when the board member on the phone paused for her reaction. This conference call seemed to drag on forever. 3:27. She waited for it, counting off the seconds. Never had a minute seemed so long. She glanced at her nails, making a mental note to schedule a manicure later. 3:28. Another "uh huh" followed by an "of course" before her mind wandered again. As inevitable as it was, Cuddy found herself thinking of House. It was the time of year when she found herself weighing the pros and cons of putting her energy and effort into this... whatever this thing was that she had with House. Over two decades and what return had she gotten out of this investment? Probably years off her life, countless gray hairs, and thousands of dollars in therapy. 3:29. Just when she thought they were moving forward, making some sort of progress in this kindergarten-punch-a-girl-in-the-face-because-you-like her routine, he had to go and do something stupid. Like hire a prostitute to entertain him in his office. As if his Gameboys or Atari or whatever it is he played with now wasn't enough. 3:30. "Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate you all taking the time for this conference call. I think we've discussed everything on our agenda. Have a wonderful holiday and we'll reconvene in the new year." As she ended the call, her fingers slipped from the phone to the scarred wood of her desk. She tried to hold back the smile. Sometimes he tried and when he did, he knew just what to do for her to fall for him all over again. She looked up and her smile faltered. Wilson stood outside her door, waving awkwardly and holding up her present. Or at least what looked like her present...

It was almost 4 and he hadn't seen Cuddy all day. Another hour or so and he'd be home free. He propped his feet on Coma guy's bed, making sure his sneakers didn't dirty the hospital sheets. And to think people called him inconsiderate. He sipped his Big Slurp and swung the Wii controller. The House look-a-like on the screen knocked the baseball out of the park. It was the best purchase Wilson's credit card had ever made. The only improvement House could think of was if the user could customize body details as well. The Wii Cuddy would have a low cut shirt, big breasts, and an even bigger ass. Instead, he had to settle for red devil eyes and a beard.

He wasn't in the lounge. He wasn't in his office. Cuddy marched from the elevator down the hallway, heels clicking with authority. She was a woman on a mission. Even her tight skirt couldn't slow her down. She stood for a brief moment outside Coma guy's room, collecting her thoughts before sliding the door open and stepping in.

"Uh oh. Mommy's here! Gotta go!" mouthed House as he slid his feet off the bed, dropping the Wii remote and reaching for his cane.

"House! Midget porn?! Where do you even find these things? No, nevermind. I don't want to know what you do in your personal time," raged Cuddy as she brushed a brown curl out of her face. Great. Mental note: add a hair appointment to the list.

"I think the politically correct term is 'little person adult entertainment.' I'm shocked, Cuddles. What would all those big donors do if they knew about your racist slurs?" House frowned and pretended to look concerned and pensive for a moment before making a move for the door.

"Last I checked, 'short' was not a race and..." Cuddy trailed off as her eyes drifted to the television screen. "House, who is that?" Her tone was dangerously low, quiet, controlled. He froze, glanced at the bearded woman on the screen and the flashing "Party Pants, your turn!" text.

"It was the closest I could get. Unfortunately, Nintendo is family-friendly and doesn't have a tranny mode," he said, raising his voice as he saw a nurse appear in the doorway behind Cuddy. "And besides, all those estrogen pills they gave you post-op really seem to be working. You can't even tell you used to have an Adam's apple." The nurse cleared her throat and entered the room with an armful of clean sheets. "He's kidding, really," murmured Cuddy, feeling the blush rise and stain her cheeks when the nurse's eyes dropped to stare at her throat.

"House. Outside. Now," she demanded, already feeling the onset of a headache. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, pivoting on a heel and marching out. House waited, tilting his head and watching her hips sway as she stalked out of the room. As soon as he closed the door behind him, she stepped closer and jabbed a finger into his chest. He feigned injury and remarked, "Ouch, Cuddy, better watch that manly strength. You better tell them to up your dosage unless you can find yourself a man with a fetish for biceps the size of your funbags."

"House, I've had enough. I start every year thinking things are going to be different. That you'll show some self-control, some awareness of someone other than yourself, anything that proves you're not completely self-involved. And every year, without fail, I find myself making up excuses for you. You don't just break the rules, you shatter them. You don't just risk your job, you risk mine. It's all just a game to you and the only thing you care about is winning, not who's on your team." What started out in a whispered fury slowly trailed off into resignation. She didn't have the energy. This conversation would probably end the same way as every one before. With her revealing a vulnerability that he would somehow crush. Maybe with a smart ass comment or a hand on her breast. She only had so much to give. She took a deep breath and put the steel walls up once more. Shaking her head, curly brown tendrils falling into her face, she looked into his blue eyes. "Forget it, House. Forget it."

What the hell just happened? House leaned on his cane and watched her retreating figure in silence. He couldn't even appreciate the view. Cuddy never backed down. He would poke her, she'd respond. Then he'd push and she'd push, and they'd go back and forth in this verbal foreplay. It was a delicious tease and watching her get riled up was one of the biggest turn-ons he'd ever experienced. For fuck's sake, her reaction was the reason he did half the things he did. And if the way she walked away from their arguments with an extra shake of her ass, the way she happened to bend instead of squat when picking things up around him, and the way she happened to lean forward when they argued across a desk, if any of that was for show, then House was pretty sure she played the game better than he did. At least he thought she did. She was right. It was just a game to him. But he really didn't care who won or lost. It was the anticipation of her next move and the expectation of her response. However, the entire game was built on the premise that this was enough, this tug-of-war with no resolution. He rubbed the stubble on his jaw, still standing in the hallway outside of Coma guy's room. He stared at the wall as the wheels in his head turned, clicking into place. A slow smile spread across his lips as he sped off, cane thudding along the floor.

7:30. Cuddy massaged the bridge of her nose, placing her glasses on her desk. She had barely put a dent in the pile of papers on her desk. Her mind kept wandering to House. He was so infuriating. He pushed and pushed and pushed her to the brink. She was near her breaking point, and rather than see what would happen when she reached it, Cuddy pulled away. She sighed. Nothing more was going to get done today. She stood and tried to arrange the papers in some sort of order for the next day. Her Burberry trench enveloped her and her fingers went through the motions of buttoning the buttons, tying the belt, and tucking the tails of her scarf between the lapels. She slid the key from the lock and turned to leave when her pointed Jimmy Choo toe kicked the envelope by the door. She reached down and picked it up, seeing "Dr. Lisa Cuddy" written on the front. Inside, she found a simple piece of paper with the following typed on it:

"Cuddy, Cuddy, your hips don't lie.

You want me, it's a fact you can't deny.

I know you're desperate because you're old,

and since giving is part of the holiday spirit (or so I'm told)

I'm going to blow your mind

(so you can return the 'blowing' in kind)."

Despite her best efforts, she smiled. In his own way, House could be charming. And she used that term loosely. This was how it all started. He'd say or do something and she'd let her guard down. Then he'd say or do something completely idiotic, she'd get frustrated, he'd push her buttons, she'd push his, he'd fake vulnerability and weakness, she'd fall for it, and he'd get her in a "Gotcha!" moment. It was a cycle that was taking it's toll. The smile faltered and she slowly slid the piece of paper back in the envelope. As she walked towards the main doors, she let the envelope slip from her fingers into the trash.

House leaned against the second floor railing overlooking the clinic. He watched the emotions that crossed her face as she read the note. He watched her make a decision and he watched her walk out. This was going to be harder than he thought, but Gregory House was never one to turn down a challenge. Especially if her name was Lisa Cuddy.