Author's Notes: This was originally written for Livejournal's Cuddy Fest. The prompt I had was "Cuddy/House – privately, House thought she looked even better all bed-mussed and rumpled." This piece contains some spoilers through season five as well as some allusions to sex (but nothing graphic).

Thanks to my beta for all of her assistance.

Disclaimer: I do not own the show.

Things you can tell just by Looking at Her
By Duckie Nicks

He has a collage of who Cuddy is tucked away in his brain. A kaleidoscope of experience, all hues of her personality neatly examined and filed in the darker recesses of his mind, he has a very clear idea of who this woman, the woman sleeping contentedly next to him right now is.

House supposes, on some level, it's not unique to collect memories of someone in your life. But he thinks that what he does is a little different, because he doubts that anyone out there is as… methodical – obsessed – as he is. They remember the smaller details out of love, out of affection and pleasure.

But he doesn't.

It's all scientific for him, no different than discovering symptoms and writing them on a white board. The process one he uses day in and day out, it's something he doesn't know how to shut off when it involves the rest of his life. And by now he's not entirely sure that he cares to do so.

Over the years, he can't deny that his internal encyclopedia of Cuddy has helped him every now and then. Like when he needs to do a dangerous procedure, and he can tell just by looking at her what argument will work best.

But he also can't deny that sometimes he wields his knowledge as a weapon and hurts her with it. Eviscerating every last defense she possesses, sometimes he can't help himself, can't resist the urge to yell, to insult, to show her just how obvious she can be. Like when she was wavering over whose sperm to use or when she asked him for performance reviews and he took the opportunity to review her instead; in neither of those instances was he intentionally trying to hurt her, but House isn't sure that he didn't.

Of course, there are the times where he's feeling suffocated, feeling oppressed by something he can't name – moments where he's too afraid to continue on with a relationship – and he hurts her on purpose.

He doesn't like to think about that much.

And yet, in the back of his mind lies the notion that that part of his personality only feeds this inexplicable desire to know every little thing about her. Because there's no doubt in his mind that one day she will say that she's had enough, and when that time comes, he wants to be prepared. He wants to have all of her memorized, all of her unearthed, so that he can torture himself with the minutest of details about her. The way she smells, the way her lips feel against his – he feels this indescribable need to have all of that internalized, to have her inside of him in a way that she can't take back.

Right now though, it seems almost foolish to think about the day she'll leave him. Because at the moment, Cuddy seemed content to be exactly where she was.

She's dead to the world, face, partially obscured by messy dark locks, pressed into her pillow. An arm is tucked under her head, her other parallel to her with one of her hands curled against her mouth. Which frankly he appreciates considering she has an irritating habit of breathing with her mouth open that never fails to annoy him when he has trouble sleeping (like now). The sound completely muffled by her knuckles, it is with relief and gratitude that he can say that Cuddy is sleeping quietly.

And naked.

Rolling over onto his side so he can look at her better, House decides to use the inkling of sunlight filtering through the curtains to his advantage. It's late… or early depending on how you look at it, the clock on Cuddy's side of the room reading in bright red letters five a.m. He hasn't fallen asleep yet, and his window of opportunity for uninterrupted slumber is closing quickly. Thanks to Roach, who, with all the wisdom a six year old possesses, seems to think that bursting into the bedroom by six-thirty every morning without fail, peace and quiet are non-existent at that time of day.

Just as dismal a possibility is the likelihood that Cuddy will be naked for much longer. Over the years, he's seen her without her clothes plenty of times, obviously, but it's a rarity that she actually falls asleep that way. She is and has always been way too concerned about her appearance to allow for that.

Her vanity is not lost on him, not at all. He notices the way she never ever misses getting her hair cut, no matter how busy she is that day. He notices the way her nails are almost always neatly manicured in a way that's impractical for work.

Well… maybe impractical isn't the right word, because she always keeps her claws at regulation length, her lunulas the smallest of slivers, and she rarely opts for anything other than the standard French manicure. And he supposes that she doesn't really have to be practical, considering she spends most of her days yanking on his leash and flirting with donors for money. But nevertheless, House knows that she likes to think of herself as a doctor, knows that she likes to occasionally treat patients in the clinic or the E.R. or wherever there's a staff shortage. And when she does that, she comes home with chipped nails that leave raised red marks on his back and the infrequent complaint that she needs a manicure on her tongue.

Glancing at her open hand on the pillow, he notices the flesh-colored polish shining slightly as the sun's rays hit it. And he immediately decides that it's not really impractical as much as it is stupid that she wastes her time getting something done that she's bound to ruin. Idiotic but appreciated he quickly amends, because overall, he really does enjoy the physical package Cuddy has to offer.

A good portion of her income spent on low-cut tops and short skirts (which he likes), matching panty sets (which he really likes), and delicate, sheer lacy things she liked to wear to bed (which he only likes when he's ripping them off), she has always, without fail, paid attention to the way she looks. And because of that, so has he.

But whereas she seems to think she needs all of those things to look good, House has always believed that she doesn't need it.

At all.

He'll never say that to her, obviously, but privately he thinks that when she's bed-mussed and lying in rumpled sheets twisted around her bare hips, like she is right now, she's exponentially more attractive.

Part of that, he supposes, has to do with the series of events that have to occur in order for her to sleep naked like this, because the main factor involves the two of them having mind-blowing sex that's so exhausting she doesn't care about getting dressed afterwards.

But it's not just that fact that makes him think she's more attractive like this. Really, more than anything, it's the idea that there are moments where she'll let all of her defenses down and show him exactly who she is behind all the make up and clothes that's most enticing. The knowledge that, for all of his digging, there are times where no digging is necessary is breathtakingly attractive.

And with it comes a fresh wave of guilt, a strong pang in his stomach that makes him feel ashamed for what will eventually happen in this relationship. Because he knows, when he's pushed her too far, when he's hurt her too much, she will regret having ever let him in so far. And that will be all she needs to never open herself up to anyone again… Which means he's basically ruined her for anyone else, he realizes.

But then he also knows this: of all the information he's collected during his lifetime how to avoid hurting her is something he still has yet to learn.

Resting his cheek along her bare back, he tries not to think about that fact. Attempting to imprint in his mind the way her soft skin feels against his face, he tries not to remember that the ending to this story has already been written.

For Rachel's fourth birthday, it had been agreed upon by whomever that the Cuddys would spend a week together in Florida. At the time the plans had been made, House had pretended not to care.

And he didn't really care – still doesn't, he tells himself as he slips into Cuddy's home. He didn't care at all until he realized that Cuddy had no intention of inviting him to come along.

Now, truth be told, House can't deny that, if she had asked him to go, he would have said no. But it's the principle of the thing that bothers him. She's been sleeping with him for over a year now; he's more involved in her life – in Rachel's life – than anybody in her family, and he thinks that he probably should have been invited.

That he wasn't and proceeded to feel nothing short of bitter about that fact made him feel like a sniveling fifteen year old girl crying into her pillow about how the hottest guy in school hadn't invited her to the prom.

So naturally the only thing to do was to pick a fight with Cuddy. Annoyed by her and his own reaction to being excluded, House spent the week before she left goading her in every way imaginable.

Spilling cranberry juice on the white dress she was wearing? Check.

Dumping bleach on the couch and carpet in her office? Check.

Giving Rachel access to all the Halloween candy Cuddy had hidden from the little girl and then giving the soon-to-be-four-year-old free rein in Cuddy's closet? Check.

Her clothes, couch, and carpet ruined, her daughter high on the dreaded refined sugar, by the time the week was over, Cuddy was practically snarling. The night before she left spent arguing with him, she demanded to know what the hell his problem was. And considering he had no intention of ever answering that question, the only thing that had resulted was an incredibly frustrating fight that had left them both desperate to be away from one another.

The end result was she left for Florida with Rachel on her own, and he left for the nearest strip club with Wilson. Perhaps not the most mature response on his end, he admits, but the one he thought at the time was the most satisfying and reasonable.

Now, when he's about to tell her what he's done, of course, he thinks he should have just spent the week sulking with alcohol like a normal human being would do. It would have been so much less messy.

Or he shouldn't have invited Wilson, he thinks, cocking his head to the side as he closes the front door behind him. Because if he went to the strip club alone, House knows that he wouldn't have to preemptively tell Cuddy what he had done while she was away on the off-chance that Wilson would tell her himself.

Sighing House decides that regret will get him nowhere. And considering the more he thinks about the situation, the more annoyed he becomes, he thinks it's probably not a good idea to keep mulling over recent events. He doesn't want to have come here in the hopes of putting them both back on solid ground only to accidentally make things even worse.

But he's barely even made it five feet into the home before he's attacked. The pitter-patter of tiny feet reaching his ears a millisecond too late, by the time House realizes Rachel's running towards him, she's already there. Arms thrown around his legs, her face momentarily pressed into him, she nearly screams in her shrill voice, "House!"

He sighs loudly.

As much as he's come to accept that the kid is here to stay, as much as the kid loves him, he's not exactly all that enthusiastic about her. Which Rachel, apparently, has yet to realize.


Looking down, House grimaces at the sight of the little girl covered in a thin layer of ketchup. Her cheeks and mouth are covered in it, a few strands of light brown hair plastered to the mess. And upon further inspection he realizes that his pants are now lightly stained with the condiment as well.

Rachel doesn't seem to be concerned by any of this, of course, as she starts to babble on about things he doesn't have the attention span to even pretend to focus on. "You're red," he mutters, interrupting whatever the hell it is she's trying to tell him.

Perhaps knowing that he's really not interested in her, she pipes up one more time and tells him, "I have bugs."

There's a moment of silence as he tries to decide what it is that she's trying to say. His brow furrowing a little, he has to ask slowly, "On you?"

However, her response – an enthusiastic nod of the head – just leaves him more confused. As often as he's argued to Cuddy that her child is feral, he's never expected any sort of confirmation of that fact on Rachel's part.

… Although maybe he's not reading her right; the Roach likes to talk a lot and say even less, the art of conversation still being something she's trying to learn. So really, it's quite possible that she means something else entirely.

She could have gotten an ant farm for her birthday, he tells himself, smirking at the appalled look Cuddy would have surely given the giver of such a gift. Rachel could have received a movie about a bug; she might have seen a bug in the yard – the possibilities are endless.

And he could go through listing them all, but House really doesn't give a crap what the answer is for once in his life. So, instead of wasting his time, he simply plucks the girl off his body.

Not noticing the disgusted look on his face as he touches her sticky clothes, she clearly waits for him to say something. "Go eat your breakfast," he says dismissively.

Rachel smiles and nods her head before skipping away. Singing, "I have bugs" over and over again in alternatively flat and sharp notes, she doesn't stop until she disappears into the kitchen and starts chatting with the nanny.

He stands where he is for a moment, almost wishing that he hadn't sent the one perfectly good reason not to talk to Cuddy away. But since he has done that, he knows he has no other choice but to head into her bedroom.

When he opens the door, she's wrapped in a gray bathrobe. Her back to him, she's busy laying out what she's going to wear to work. Which he is, to be honest, sort of grateful for – dividing her focus will make it less likely that she actually pays attention to what he says.

Closing the door behind him quietly, he decides the best way to announce his presence is to say, "Wilson and I spent the week with strippers, and your kid's saying she has bugs."

She stiffens a little in surprise, but he doubts it has much to do with what he just said; his presence alone is enough to make her do that.

Immediately she spins around to face him. Arms folded across her chest, Cuddy explains in an irritated voice, "My sister found a tick on Rachel yesterday. She doesn't have bugs. She had a bug, and now she's fine. I'm going to have Wilson write a scrip for some prophylactics just to be sure."

"I can do it if you want," he offers, trying to be nice.

She seems to contemplate the idea for a second, her eyes searching him for some sort of indication as to what his intentions are. But since his only motivation is something along the lines of "I'm trying not to be an asshole," he doesn't really know what to tell her. So he just stands there silently.

Her hands quickly unknotting the sash that keeps her bathrobe closed, she asks curiously, "Does this have something to do with the strippers?"

That's a question nearly impossible for him to answer.

It's got nothing to do with the question itself; in theory, it's not hard to say "no." But the fact of the matter is Cuddy's pushing her robe off of her body, and he can see her navel and breasts and all the other things about her he likes. And somehow speaking no longer seems like a possibility.

His eyes are trained on her, his mouth opening and closing and then opening again as he tries hard to remember what the hell it is that they're talking about.

Unfortunately she takes his silence to mean something else. Her gaze narrows on him momentarily before she turns away from him. "I see." He's busy staring at her ass when she asks, "Did you sleep with any of them?"

Her words are slow to penetrate his glazed over mind. When they finally do, her underwear is around her knees. Dimly, he says, "What? No."

Reaching for her bra, Cuddy seems doubtful. "Really."

He's about to say something sarcastic in return when he sees something he's never noticed before. Running parallel to the white bra band she's trying to hook shut is a dark mark that he's unfamiliar with.

All of this talk of bugs makes him immediately suspect a tick. "Stop," he orders, stalking towards her quickly.

She doesn't understand, so naturally she tries to turn around, stopped only by his hands gripping her shoulders tightly. "What are you –"

"Stop moving," he barks while trying to assess the mark that lies along the upper curve of her side and is nestled between ribs. His thumb instinctively runs over it, and House realizes that it's not a tick but a freckle.

Something about her body that he didn't realize existed until this moment, a fact he will rectify immediately, he thinks.

But accomplishing that task is not without its difficulties; he quickly becomes aware of that much. Because Cuddy is confused and concerned by his ambiguous actions, by the way one arm is hooked around her waist, his free hand gingerly touching her back; she's used to bizarre behavior from him but not when it's practically tender.

"What are you doing?" She's impatient and irritated and tries to glance over her shoulder to see what he's doing. But she can't, that area of her body impossible for her to see without a mirror.

Realizing that, he begins to wonder if she's ever noticed the little mark on her body before or if this is something just for him, something she doesn't even know she has.

He doesn't ask her about it, because asking would make her aware of its existence.

And he's not sure he's ready to share with her.

"House?" Her voice, interrupting his thoughts, is tentative, unsure… worried. It's the way she gets when he does something that seems to have no explanation behind it. The product of having spent time in a mental institution, she seems to be constantly afraid that he will sink back to that low point in his life.

And he is too.

But she seems willing to believe he's lost it at the drop of a hat.

Maybe he has.

She clears her throat, but it does no good to keep the emotion out of her next question. "Are you okay?"

The thumb running along the freckle stops moving, and he sighs. Burying his face in her dark locks, he tells her in a quiet voice, "Fine."

"Then let me get dressed."

He nods his head once and steps away from her.

Starting toward the door, House is ready to leave. But something inside of him forces him to stop, his hand hesitating to grab the doorknob. Some whisper being murmured in the back of his mind makes him speak up, makes him say, "I didn't cheat on you."


Once more Cuddy spins around. The confused look on her face says she still doesn't know what any of this is about. And he can't deny, not even to himself, that that fact hurts.

Yanking the door open, House leaves before she has a chance to realize that something's wrong.

As someone who loves rational and reason, he believes that there is a pattern to Cuddy and her tea drinking habit. She likes drinking it out of big, fat ceramic mugs she can wrap her cold fingers around. She likes to sip on peppermint tea throughout the day at work and when she's at home looking over paperwork; the tea leaves' inherent ability to help a person concentrate clearly make her a fan.

But sometimes she'll diverge from that pattern. When she's menstruating or when she's nauseous, Cuddy prefers ginger tea. Of course when she's nauseous and they've been having sex, his beverage of choice is scotch, the possibility of a Rosemary's Baby-style pregnancy scaring the hell out of him. But whatever works for her, he supposes.

Only once has he seen her drink black tea with whiskey. At the time she was nursing a mug of plain tea and filling out an elementary school admittance application for Rachel. That the kid was barely three years old and clearly not suited for any grade school at that point in her life hadn't phased Cuddy at all. Not even when he mentioned it to her did she care, her only response being, "There are waiting lists, House. I have to apply now if I want to get her into a good school, and if you could just shut up and let me fill out these out without you being you, I would really appreciate that."

The words uttered all in one breath, by the time she was finished, there was no doubt in his mind that she was seconds from having her head explode all over her precious application. Which he didn't quite understand. But then… Cuddy, in her infinite need to subdue the insecurities that lurked within her, liked to overachieve and be as perfect as she could possibly be.

So he simply nodded his head and returned his attention to the episode of The L Word he was currently watching on mute. Only when she got up to go to the bathroom did he decide that the glass of Whiskey he was sipping could go to much better use.

Glancing toward the hallway, House listened carefully for a second to make sure that Cuddy wasn't going to walk in on him dosing her tea. But when he didn't hear her footsteps, he stood up and sneakily moved towards the yellow mug she'd left on the table. Silently he dumped the contents of his glass into her coffee cup before plopping back down on the couch as though nothing had happened.

A whole twenty minutes passed before she took another sip of the tea. And when she did, House tried to focus on anything but her and her imminent reaction. After all, being too interested would make it seem like he knew something was up, which would make the whole situation less entertaining.

So he simply watched her out of the corner of his eye. Just barely catching the motion of her throat muscles as she swallowed, he purposely kept his attention on the muted television.

Patiently he waited for her reaction.

But none came.

There was no sputtering, no spitting out the whiskey-laced tea. There was no admonishing him, no high-pitched yelling that would make his ears ring.

There was nothing – not even a glare meant for him.

She just put the mug down and kept filling out the paperwork as though nothing had happened. Every now and then she would drink some more, but at no point did she say anything to him.

He told himself to be patient about it. But an hour after the fact, she still hadn't said anything, and he had to face the likelihood that she wasn't going to.

Bitter had he gone to bed that night, the one thing he'd hoped would provide him some entertainment leaving him with nothing.

In fact, it wasn't until two days later that he found the application lying on the coffee table. That alone was enough to make him suspicious; Cuddy was big on cleanliness, obsessed about everything in its place and all that. And considering the paperwork had been put away, hidden well enough that it had taken him two days to find it, House understood that she had set it out for him to see.

Carefully picking up the papers, almost as though they would bite him, he immediately realized what her reaction was.

There, by the place you were supposed to list the child's father, in her loopy cursive, the letters slightly smeared from her left wrist rubbing against the paper, were the words, "Greg House."

He was going to kill her.

Angrily he snatched up the papers, his fist clenching them into a tight roll. Fury roiling through him, he stalked towards the garage, towards the place he knew Cuddy was.

It was where she always was at this time in the morning on a weekday. And just as he expected, she was in the process of stuffing a squirming Rachel into her car seat when he approached them. Cuddy, bent over, was too busy to notice that he'd come into the room. So House decided to announce his presence by taking the rolled up papers and smacking her ass with them, much like his father used to hit the dog when it had peed in the House.

The dull thwap the papers made against Cuddy's backside was barely audible above Rachel's whining, but he knew instantly that Cuddy had felt it. Naturally she didn't react as his childhood dog had. She didn't cower in fear. She didn't whimper.

But her fingers stopped trying to latch the buckle on the car seat, and dryly she admonished him, "What did I tell you about sex games in the garage?"

He was not amused.

Waving the papers angrily before she even had a chance to secure Rachel in the car seat and turn around to look at them, House snapped, "What the hell are you thinking – putting my name on these?"

Cuddy seemed not to know what he was talking about at first, her brow wrinkling in confusion. In a falsely sweet voice, she replied, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Rachel's application. You put me as the father."

Calmly she took the paperwork from his shaking hands and unraveled them. Her eyes skimming the first couple of lines, she could clearly see what he had seen, and they were finally on the same page. "Oh. I guess I did," she said, handing the papers back to him.

But that wasn't good enough for him. "You guess you did?"

She nodded her head emphatically. "Yeah… you know it's hard to remember that night. I think someone dosed my tea while I was in the bathroom." Closing the car door behind her, she continued, "I asked Rachel about it, but she wasn't exactly forth coming about breaking into the liquor cabinet…"

"You know I did it," he told her impatiently with a scowl on his face. "Which is why you did this." He jabbed the paper in his hands angrily.

And that made her smile pleasantly. "Then I guess from now on, you'll remember that, when I'm trying to take care of important paperwork, I like to be left alone and sober."

His scowl deepened into a frown at her words. Until now he hadn't considered that she might be mad. After all, it wasn't like that had been his intent, and in fact, because she couldn't see that all he'd been trying to do was get her to calm down, his anger only grew. With a vengeance, House ripped the application she'd worked so hard to finish up. "Oops," he told her mockingly.

But once again, she didn't react to the tiny pieces of what-was-now confetti fluttering to the ground. Or to be more specific, Cuddy didn't react negatively. If anything, her smile grew. "You can rip that all you want. I already faxed over the finished application."

And that made his heart sink even as she grinned wolfishly at him, because it meant that his name was on the application. It meant that, legally binding or not, there was something out there that said Rachel was his, said that she was his responsibility.

In some ways he supposed that maybe she was; he was sleeping with the kid's mother, and although that didn't automatically add up to father… he couldn't deny, as much as he might like to, that, in this case, it kind of did. That Cuddy knew that as well as he did terrified him, left him speechless.

Which meant that he had no response when she stood on her tiptoes and kissed his frown. One of her hands patting his chest gently, she ordered him, "Don't be late for work."

As she sauntered around to the driver's side of the car, victory visible in the sway of her hips, House couldn't help but wish he'd never climbed down the rabbit hole.

He hasn't messed with her tea since.

Gift giving makes her nervous.

She'll spend hours shopping for the perfect item to give the recipient, sometimes becoming so obsessed with it that she actually agonizes over her choice. But that's practically sane behavior compared to what she does when the person's opening the gift.

House knows this, because he's seen it. Her normally pale cheeks turn pink, take on a glow that she doesn't normally have. Her infinitely expressive eyes become flecked with nervous and expectant energy, her dark lashes batting slower than usual in an attempt to hide the embarrassment she clearly feels for being so desperate to impress the person getting the gift.

If she's wearing a necklace – especially the single strand of white pearls – she'll fiddle with the jewelry. If she's not, she'll be quick to explain the meaning behind the present, why she thought the person would like it and what not.

And to be honest, for the most part, House has always found that part of her personality annoying – the part of her that seems intent on impressing people by showing them just how well she knows them.

Granted, when he puts it like that, he realizes that that part of him exists too. Only in his case a demonstration of his ability to understand other people usually involves irritating the hell out of them. It sure as hell never involves any presents. Because his motivation is all about pointing out the little hypocrisies and lies people think nobody else notices where as Cuddy really is trying to make people like her.

And up until today, his fifty-second birthday, House has had no respect for that part of her.

He hasn't been expecting anything from her for the occasion. As much as she accuses him of being a five-year-old, he really isn't and doesn't feel like she owes him anything. He doesn't think anyone owes him anything, he corrects, choosing to spend the day at work where he can act like nothing's going on.

Half the time he doesn't even think about his birthday, his mind focused on keeping his patient alive and the clinic patients at bay. He makes Wilson pay for his lunch, fights with Cuddy over performing a brain biopsy, and yells at the neurosurgeon for leaving his patient blind. So… nothing out of the ordinary really, he thinks wryly as he drives to Cuddy's home.

But all of that changes the second he pushes open the front door and goes into the house. Barely making it five feet into the hallway, he sees her. She's standing in the middle of the living room, waiting for him. Which is odd in and of itself as she rarely – very rarely – makes it home before he does.

Yet this is definitely more bizarre, enough to make him think he's lost his mind (again) in fact, because she's standing in the living room dressed as a schoolgirl.

A very slutty schoolgirl, he concedes, but a schoolgirl nonetheless.

Light pink tartan pleats around her thighs, the skirt short enough for him to see the light cotton of her panties. A white shirt and black, long-sleeved cardigan are knotted between her breasts, leaving her flat stomach exposed. Stark white tights with bows right above the knees, a matching pink tartan tie, pigtails, and black Mary Janes (the kind strippers wear) complete the look, and he is in awe of her.

He can't say anything; he's that surprised and impressed. English is something he's totally forgotten, thanks to the pretty picture right in front of him, and even if he could remember how to say, "Damn, you're hot," his lips and tongue are too interested in doing other things to remember how to work in order for him to speak.

Standing there, dumb and dumbfounded, he notices the way Cuddy's nervous energy is beginning to overtake her. She starts fiddling with the tie around her neck and laughing – laughing in a way that's half-chuckle, half-childish-giggle – nervously. She clearly wants him to say something encouraging, obviously needs to know that she hasn't completely misread his sexual proclivities.

But he's still busy staring at her to even begin to do that for her. Which makes her frown, upset. "You hate it," she says in a soft, dejected voice.

He blinks. Something about her change in demeanor pulls him out of his lull, but he has yet to put two and two together. His "what" is barely above a whisper.

Scratching her head absentmindedly, Cuddy mutters, "I'm sorry. I thought – nevermind. You hate it."

And it's then that he finally begins to understand what's going on. His head clear enough for him to scoff loudly, it's enough to get Cuddy's attention. Her gaze snapping towards him, she waits anticipatorily for him to speak.

"If you actually believe that I hate this," he tells her slowly. "You're an idiot."

She gives him a wide grin, and he decides that just this once, he won't point out how ridiculous it is for a woman her age to still be so concerned about impressing others.

Sometimes he finds her standing outside of the maternity ward, looking through the wall of windows into the nursery at the rows upon rows of freshly crapped-out babies. Her arms are always folded across her chest, wrapped around her sides as though all the warmth in her blood has been stolen away.

In these times, he never gets a really good look at her face, but he doesn't need to. From her profile, he can see her frown; he can see the sadness in her eyes and reflected in the glass she's looking through. And it never takes him more than a few seconds to understand what she's thinking, what she's feeling.

Her expression filled with grief and longing, visible even from the safe distance he always maintains, it's easy to tell what's going on with her. Especially for someone who knows her as well as he does, it's a rather simple puzzle to solve placed at his feet.

Cuddy's thinking of Joy, of the implantations that never took or failed.

House has no doubt that Rachel makes her happy. But so too does he have no doubt that Cuddy, ever filled with guilt and regret, fixates over what might have been, what could have been if things had been just a little different. As happy as she is to be on the route her life has taken, he knows that she can't help but occasionally steal glances behind her, afraid that the demons that put her on this path have followed.

Most of the time, when he sees her like this, he knows that there's nothing he can say or do to make it better; it's not a disease he can cure, no treatment in his repertoire for her illness. And knowing that, he usually walks away from her, pretending that he never saw her looking at the babies.

But sometimes…

Sometimes he feels compelled to do something, say something; he thinks Wilson's compulsion to take care of others is beginning to rub off on him, because there are times where House cannot walk away, and he has to approach her. Pressing a warm hand into the small of her back, he doesn't even have a chance to ask her if she's okay. Immediately moving away from his touch, she snaps, "I'm fine," before storming away.

Cocking his head to the side, he wonders just how long it will take for her to remember that he has eyes and realize that she hasn't convinced him of anything.

He wonders just how long it will be before he, knowing that he can't help her, protects himself from that fact by pretending nothing's happened at all.

Years ago Cuddy never wore pants. Well, okay, maybe not never, but it was a rare thing to catch her in something other than a dress or a skirt.

But that changed after having Rachel, after getting someone else for her to worry about. And then, along with the dirty diapers and the pacifiers and the bottles and all the other annoying, cutesy little things that came with a baby, the pantsuits came out with a frequency, House thinks, that only someone like Hillary Clinton could respect.

It took Cuddy a while to bounce back from that, to get back to the amazingly tight skirts and low-cut tops House loved oh so much. By the time he saw her bare legs again, it seemed like months had passed, and all hope of seeing them again gone completely.

Of course that's not to say that pants are completely a thing of the past. They still occasionally make an appearance – but not because of Rachel.

The simple fact is this: Cuddy's got the softest, palest, most luscious skin he can imagine. And he likes it a lot, likes to run his fingertips and cheek along it. He likes to kiss it, kiss her, and considering she's a big fan of oral sex, both giving and receiving, it's really no surprise that her sensitive inner thighs are regularly plagued with beard burn.

In a very weird way, he privately likes the fact that he leaves his mark on her every time he goes down on her. It's like posting a sign on Cuddy's crotch that he was there. Which is, he is well aware, stupid and kind of creepy, so he never says anything to Cuddy about it.

Especially not when she always hurts afterwards, particularly during the first day or two. So uncomfortable she has to wear pants to work, the slight, occasional rub of her thighs too painful for her to wear a skirt.

Each time this happens he, still strewn across the bed, watches her gingerly pull up her pants. Without fail she hisses when the material of the pants hits the irritated, reddened skin.

Propping his head up with his hand, House suggests casually, graciously even, "If it hurts that bad, we don't have to do it that way anymore. I do have a penis."

She doesn't say anything in response, but her reaction is very clear; something akin to horror flits across her face, contorts her features for a moment, and he has to hide his smile into the palm of his hand.

Sometimes, he thinks she's the best girlfriend ever.

It's purely by chance that they bridge the distance between friends (or something akin to friends) to something more than that (he's hesitant to call her his lover or his girlfriend). In fact, it's so by happenstance that he feels like, rather than any conscious decision to step in that direction, they've accidentally tumbled off the cliff instead. Because when he goes to her home, the last thing on his mind is having a relationship with her.

He's barely been out of the hospital for a month, and the knowledge that he never asked her for help, that he never detoxed with her on his couch, that they never had sex burns within him. It's been months since he's made that realization, but the hot shame inside of him lingers on anyway.

Being around her only accentuates that feeling, so he tries to avoid her at all costs. Which is of course impossible, because one of the side effects of going crazy is that people are reluctant to believe you're sane again. And Cuddy, being his boss and ultimately the one responsible for him, has taken it upon herself to make sure he doesn't do anything insane.

Truth be told, House has considered telling her that he hallucinated the two of them sleeping together in the hopes that she would stay away from him. But that possibility is always immediately pushed to the side, because it's way more humiliating for him to have hallucinated them together than it is for her to know that he's done that.

And too, he's not sure that, even if it were embarrassing for her, it would do any good for him in the long run. Because maybe, after hearing about his delusions, she would think that he wanted to have a relationship with her; maybe instead of realizing that what he wanted was to be free of her, she would think that he wanted her to be closer.

That's actually the last thing he wants at this moment, too afraid of what blurring the line between reality and delusion will mean for him in the future. Really, the only thing he wants is her signature on some papers and the ability to slip away into the night once more without any sort of personal conversation.

He gets neither.

When he sneaks into her house, using a key found under a rock, House finds her sitting in the dark, watching The English Patient. She's completely entranced by the film, so much so that she doesn't even realize someone else is in the room. And for a moment, he's too curious as to why she keeps renting this particular flick (assuming Lucas didn't lie about that) to speak up.

He's never seen the movie and only ever skimmed the book (in other words, he read the porn and ignored the rest), so he's not entirely sure what she sees in the story. But then he remembers vaguely that the story involves a burn victim – hence the whole "patient" part – and a nurse who takes care of him.

And that makes it kind of easy to understand; she likes the idea of it all, the idea of being able to fix someone, care for that person until they were all better. She might walk around the hospital acting as though she's above that idea, as though mothering a boyfriend is ridiculous, but this is all the proof he needs to know that secretly she still believes it.

Of course, it is ridiculous. Relationships don't make you any less screwed up; they just make you a screwed up person in a relationship.

Which he's tempted to tell her until he remembers that he himself has had similar delusions – delusions that resulted in him being hospitalized.

But before he has a chance to think about that any longer, he stops himself, forces himself to refocus on her.

She's curled up on the couch, wrapped up in a thick blanket that seems big enough to stretch over three or four Cuddys lined up in a row. There's a box of tissues and a half-empty glass of wine on the coffee table. Already there are a few Kleenex bunched up on top of the glass table, and given the maudlin music playing right now, something's about to happen that will have her reaching for the tissues again.

And that alone should be enough to have House speaking, but it's really not until one of the characters says, "I must be a curse. Anybody who loves me, anybody who gets close to me… or I must be cursed," that rouses the urgency in his belly.

"Need your signature," he says loudly, announcing his presence.

She jumps, literally jumps off the couch, the huge blanket falling to her feet. Which makes her stumble when she goes for a light. Shocked, she asks, "What are you doing here?"

He rolls his eyes and ignores the redness in her own when she turns on the light. "I said I need your signature," he repeated emphatically, irritably, waving the papers in his hand in the air.

Nodding her head, Cuddy steps towards him and takes the file out of his hand. Opening the manila folder up, she begins to skim the material as quickly as she can. And at the same time, probably to cover up the fact that she hasn't been paying close enough attention to him as she thinks she should, she tells him, "You know I don't want to do this, right?"

"I'll let you get back to your Bronte-inspired drivel in a second. I just need you to –"

"I mean you know I don't enjoy having to look over your shoulder like this," she said quietly.

But that doesn't ring true for him, he thinks, because she's the one who's made the decision to stalk him essentially. So he decides to point that out to her. "That would be a lot more believable if someone were forcing you to double check everything I do. Since there isn't…"

He lets the thought hang in the air, and she sighs as the heavy words hit her at full force. "I'm just trying to protect –"

"The hospital?" The words leave a bitter taste in his mouth and the beginnings of shame rumbling around in his stomach. Because not only is he aware of the truth in them – she really is protecting the hospital – he also still remembers how, in his hallucinations, she told him differently.

She said it wasn't about protecting her asset then.

But he knows with all of his heart that she's not going to do that now.

So he's surprised when she says, "This isn't about the hospital."

"Right," he replies doubtfully. "Making sure I don't go crazy again and start murdering patients doesn't benefit the hospital at all."

Cuddy closes the file and hands it back to him. "I assume you're thinking exploratory surgery." He nods his head, making note of the fact that she's changed the subject. "Your patient's too unstable. He won't survive the surgery; you can't do it."

"But –"

"Narrow it down. Have a better idea of what you're looking for, and then book the O.R.," she orders him in a calm but firm voice that leaves no room for debate.

"Fine," he mutters, turning to leave.

But she stops him before he can even take a step, a hand clasping around his elbow. "House…"

Her fingers and tone of voice are warm, and somehow that makes the whole situation more dangerous than it inherently is. And that makes him want to leave now before he is forced to confront some of the things he's been trying to forget since learning that he lost his mind.

However, leaving is easier said than done, because he knows that he can't just walk away from her. He's already under her careful scrutiny, and any bizarreness on his part is going to make her suspicious. So it's all he can do to turn around and look at her.

"This isn't just about the hospital," she says, letting go of his arm. He's about to rebut that, but she holds up a hand hastily and adds, "I mean obviously the hospital benefits from you… being okay. But," she drawls out slowly. "Frankly, if I were only worried about the hospital, I would have never hired you."

He can't contest that, so he simply nods his head in agreement once.

"My concern, you idiot, is for you," she tells him, emphasizing the last word as though that's going to make him feel better.

"You make it sound like I belong in a plastic bubble," he gripes, feeling more infantilized now than he did when he was in Mayfield where everything had been structured for him.

She gives him an exasperated look. "You know what I mean."

House thinks he really doesn't, her meaning somehow lost on him, but he doesn't exactly want to say that, because saying that means admitting that he doesn't understand. Which would be fine if he were an idiot, he tells himself. But since he's not, he believes those words only make him sound like he's fishing for something more from her.

And he doesn't want that.

So he decides to pick a fight in the hopes of covering for his lack of knowledge. "Yes, I do," he snaps angrily. "You're worried that I'm going to lose it at any minute and then –"

"Why are you so determined to twist everything I say? Do you enjoy it – putting the darkest spin on every word that comes out of my mouth?" Her lips contorting into a deep frown, she takes a step closer to him. "I want you to be okay. I want you to be happy."

For anyone else, he supposes that would be enough. He supposes for them hearing those words and the concern contained within them would be enough. But for him… it's both not enough and too much all at the same time.

Simultaneously needing to hear more but afraid to ask for it, he's hesitant when he says, "Why?" Her response is a dumbfounded look but no words, so he repeats more insistently, "Why?"

Her mouth opens a little, but nothing comes out. And before any words are uttered, she closes her lips once more. Which makes it obvious to him that she's trying to figure out what to say, what's safe to tell him, which only makes him annoyed and the situation seem more urgent. He asks again, "Why?"

His voice is loud, so loud that it wakes the baby, and her disgruntled cries begin to pierce through the silence Cuddy refuses to end.

She automatically turns to head towards the nursery, but this time it is House who does the grabbing, and it's a lot less gentle than the way Cuddy had touched him.

Angry and wide-eyed, she spins around to face him. "Let go of me, and go treat your patient," she orders in cold voice.

But he doesn't cave. "Not until you give me an explanation." She scoffs and tries to tug her arm away from him, but he doesn't relent.

And clearly too fed up to fight any longer, she rolls her eyes, growls a little – just audibly enough so that he can hear it – and closes the distance between them so fast that it makes him feel dizzy.

She's in his personal space, so close to her that he thinks he can feel her body heat roiling off of her in uncomfortable waves. Which he tells himself is impossible; Cuddy's hot, but she's not a radiator, and rationally he knows that it's not so much her closeness that's making him warm as it is the desire and shame he feels because she is so close.

And moving towards him even more, her free hand cupping his cheek almost tenderly. Almost being the keyword, because there's something about the way the pads of her fingers press into him a little too roughly that says she's too annoyed to be gentle.

In much the same way, she kisses him. Her lips press against his firmly; her tongue, demanding entrance, practically barrels into his mouth.

Being surprised by the whole display, House lets her have her way, his mouth obediently opening to her. As she explores him, tastes him, he is reminded by some voice in the back of his mind, by the feeling of déjà vu in the pit of his stomach, that he has hallucinated this in the past.

He has imagined her lips on his, her hands on his. He has deluded himself in the past into thinking that she is able to look at him as more than an employee, more than a hassle. He has, in his own mind, felt what she's doing to him right now in excruciating detail and relived it with bitter longing and shame for months now. And because of that, he can't help but wonder…

Maybe this isn't real.

But that can't be, he defensively tells himself. Because if this were a hallucination, she'd be halfway naked by now and Rachel wouldn't be sobbing loudly in the background, and he wouldn't be standing here too terrified to do anything.

So it has to be real.

He's sure of it (as sure as he can be about anything these days anyway).

But before he can contemplate the subject matter anymore, Cuddy pulls away, irritation visible in all of her features. A glare fixed on him, she says dismissively, "There. You have your explanation. Now stop being a jackass and go treat your patient."

She turns away and heads down the hallway towards the nursery without another word. And though he makes a mental note to talk to Wilson, to get him to verify that this really has happened, House is convinced that this kiss was real, because he knows:

Not even his mind can invent something this screwed up.

They yell at each other a lot – nearly every day in fact. But House knows the difference between normal disagreement and something that threatens everything.

Telling him to go to hell? Normal.

Threatening to disembowel him? Completely normal – so much so that he barely even reacts to it these days.

Really, truth be told, there are only two things that make him stop in his tracks, contrition immediately seizing hold of him. And those two things are high-cut tops, which deny him even the slightest hint of cleavage, and tears.

… He's not exactly sure which he hates more. As much as he realizes that his answer should be the tears, he does have a personal attachment to her breasts, and he hates when Cuddy uses it against him to make him feel bad.

At the same time though, her oft-wielded neckline does give him the advantage of knowing she's pissy before he has to talk to her. Not that it really gives him a ton of warning.

But he can tell, when she enters his office today, that she's furious.

She's practically wearing a turtleneck.

Towards the end of spring.

And although barely any time has passed since she helped him detox and they had sex, House knows she's angry. About what he hasn't a clue, but he knows she's displeased about something even before she has a chance to say, "We need to talk." Of course, that phrase in and of itself is another clue that she's unhappy, but it's an unnecessary giveaway at this point.

He makes a joke of the whole thing, makes some sort of comparison involving horses, breasts, and barn doors. Which only seems to make her more distant, more irritated, and that leaves him for a loss; he gets that Cuddy is neurotic and terrified of relationships (not that he blames her), so he can only assume that this is symptomatic of that. But even then, it seems stupid to get angry at him now, after they've had sex, after she's confessed that he's not just an asset and that she's kinda been stalking him since she was practically a teenager.

And of course, it's not like they haven't had sex before. This isn't the first time, and although it's been a while, he doesn't remember her being this angry or odd the last time around.

But then maybe it means more to her this time; maybe her attitude is different, because the circumstances are different, he thinks. Almost instantly though, he chastises himself for that sort of overreaching, for blatantly transferring his own feelings onto her. Which means he has no idea what's going on with her.

Taking a step back, he decides that the only way he'll get an answer from her is if he tests her a little more, if he pushes the boundaries with her a little more. And when Wilson – sweet, mild-mannered, panty-peeling Wilson – says that it's a good idea to terrorize Cuddy, House fully believes he's doing the right thing by pushing this further.

And he keeps believing that until he sees her (in a v-neck sweater still not low enough for his taste) storming towards him. She's shouting, equally furious and hurt, with tears in her eyes, which is completely the opposite of what he was expecting her to do. She's unconcerned about the rest of the staff – her staff – walking through the hallways.

Naturally his fellow employees, well accustomed to his loud antics and to her regular rejection of them, ignore her; they keep on doing whatever the hell it is that they do. Not even turning their heads towards Cuddy, they don't even seem to be aware of what's going on. Which isn't true, obviously. Eventually this tit-for-tat will find its way into the hospital rumor mill, because someone will have heard enough to find it interesting

That fact alone makes Cuddy's seemingly sudden outburst huge. Because she's well aware that this kind of emotional display will become the talk of the hospital. Surely she's realized that much. And more to the point, she's got to have realized that acting like this, instead of flat out denying it, will only make people believe that they really did sleep together.

So… she must be really pissed if she's acting this, he decides.

Looking at her curiously, he decides to push her a little more, a little further…

And she fires him.

Which makes the puzzle before him seem even more difficult to piece together. He fumbles around for more information, feebly tries to understand what's going on and fails to do so. Comprehension lying just outside of his reach, he follows her like a lovesick puppy until he's in her office.

And that's when he learns something completely new about her, something he'd never thought possible.

See, when he envisions the way his relationship, such as it is, with Cuddy ends, he always imagines lots of yelling and furious insults. He can picture tears depending on what he thinks facilitates the breaking point for them. But right now… there's none of that; he's even got a good view of her cleavage, making this entire moment completely unlike anything he's thought of in his mind.

There are no insults, tears, or nuns' habits. There's nothing coming from her that he recognizes as normal (or even slightly abnormal) in this moment.

There is, however, quiet, depressing capitulation, almost silent resignation and confused, betrayed gray eyes imploring him for distance.

And he doesn't understand it.

He doesn't understand her, because he doesn't think he's done anything [that] wrong. But he knows he must have; her body language says everything: he's screwed up irrevocably.

He just doesn't know how.

His eyes wide, he knows:

He's missed something.

Wilson and Cuddy, no doubt, think they're incredibly smart for their ability to tag team him into accepting whatever plan they think will make him better. It's a delusion House is willing to let them have.

They think he doesn't notice when they're suddenly spotted with some regularity looking over the same balcony at odd intervals of the day. They think he doesn't notice the way they both start taking the stairs all the time instead of using the elevator. They fail to see that he has seen the angry red blisters developing on Cuddy's heels because of her impractical-but-totally-sexy heels and the added stress placed on them that results from walking up flights upon flights of steps.

They don't realize that he's realized just how similar and complementary their advice is when they're plotting together.

And that's really what they're doing – plotting. No matter what terms they like to couch it in, they're plotting.

House supposes that's he okay with that fact. As much as he should probably be offended by his friends' constant need to make him better (better as they define it, of course), he's really not. Because although most of the time, he finds it annoying or amusing, there is the rare occasion where one of them says something relevant and useful, and he decides to let their scheming continue.

But then something changes; something he didn't foresee happening happens: Wilson uses the tickets House gave him to the play to ask Cuddy out.

House isn't sure if that means they're dating or even if they want to date. But he understands perfectly well that, if they're doing things together outside of the hospital, they've forged a relationship of some sorts outside of their concern for him. They've become actual friends, and although Wilson might claim that he's not interested in getting Cuddy into bed, House knows that will change if this friendship is allowed to blossom.

Surprisingly, as ill-suited for one another as Wilson and Cuddy are, House has no doubt about that fact; she's too sexy for Wilson to resist, and Wilson's too kind and unassuming for her to feel comfortable enough in rejecting him. Honestly given those two, House thinks they'll be married by the end of year, Wilson's need to bang everyone and Cuddy's guilt over everything bringing them together.

No, House has no doubts about that.

Instead what fills him with concern, with uncertainty and confusion, is the fact that he knows he's jealous. Cuddy comes to the work the day after the play tired but little worse for wear, and she looks happy. That she doesn't even react to his childish behavior says it all, and that makes him jealous.

He tries not to let it show, of course. But as he hears about the plans Wilson and Cuddy have made to go to an art exhibit, he can barely pretend to pay attention as he starts to do a little scheming of his own.

He tells himself that this not as proof of any sort that he's attracted to Cuddy. Really, he's not against Wilson and Cuddy being in relationships, he reasons.

They're just not allowed to be together.

She's a paradox he has no explanation for.

In so many areas of her life, she is incredibly confident, assured. It's not about feigning confidence either, he realizes; Cuddy recognizes that she looks good in tight dresses and tops that show plenty of cleavage. When she plays sports, there is almost always a saucy, knowing smile that he finds so tantalizing that says, "I know what I'm doing, and I'm going to win." When he goes to her house and tells her he needs an endocrinologist, she reads the charts with an almost graceful ease, as though it hasn't been years since she was simply a doctor.

When she walks around the hospital, introducing new nursing students and med interns to the building they will soon be sacrificing everything for, there's nothing but professional coolness gracing her features. And because of that she comes across as knowledgeable, respectable – someone to admire.

But Cuddy isn't that simple.

For every moment of confidence, House has come to notice that there are also instances of… deep insecurity. Like how she dismisses his obvious desire for her as nothing more than another example of him being a bastard, he suggests to no one. As beautiful as she surely knows she is, she doesn't believe that anyone else really thinks the same thing. Or how she defers to his medical expertise more so than her own.

Which he really doesn't understand, if he's being honest. House knows he's smart, smarter than most perhaps, but she's hardly an idiot (no matter how many times he's called her one); he's seen her CV, after all – graduated med school at twenty-five, second in her class, and got her MBA from who-the-hell-knows-where soon after; chief of medicine at 32, making her the first woman to do that.

Frankly, he thinks she looks better on paper than he ever will, no matter how smart either one of them may be. And even if he's smarter, she's still got a leg up on him by having a kindness that he'll never have. His natural ability to muster up some charisma aside, he knows that at least appearing to be friendly has its points, because Cuddy regularly knows how to demonstrate what they are.

So really, House has no idea why she will so often value his diagnosis over her own.

He's obviously not going to ask her about it, much less protest the matter, especially considering he gets annoyed when she does yank on his leash. But sometimes he thinks he should ask her about it or say something.

Like when he catches her out of the corner of his eye walking down the hallway, looking almost yearningly into his office while he's doing a D.D.X. Or when she does sit in on a differential and the entire time she's fiddling with her jewelry, quick to make suggestions, and rife with nervous energy.

In those times, House feels the urge to speak up, remind her that she's not a complete idiot, and tell her that, if she's really desperate to practice this kind of medicine, she can.

But then he remembers that, if he were to do that and she were to listen to him, he wouldn't have a job. Because she wouldn't be able to baby-sit him and diagnose at the same time, so she would step down, resulting in a new chief administrator who would fire him.

And knowing that, House says nothing. Too selfish to risk his own position, he keeps quiet, silently appreciating the fact that they've only ever given in to their attraction once before; somehow it feels less of a betrayal that way.

Somehow it allows him to almost forget that he's not good for her and never will be.

He meets her during the second week of his endocrinology class. As much as he's noticed her before then – and how could he have missed those breasts and ass – he hasn't had a chance to talk to her; the rest of the class, having already heard of his reputation, flock to him like flies to a carcass. They swarm around him, waiting, itching for him to do something rogue.

That he doesn't set something on fire or steal cadavers in the first three classes is too much for most of them to bear, and they quickly disperse. And it's then that there's finally a seat open next to him… a seat she ends up taking.

At first they don't say anything to one another. She's paying attention to the lecturer; he's caught somewhere between deciphering her motives and staring at her cleavage.

Doing the former is almost an impossible task, and paying attention to the professor is, he admits; she's wearing a purple sweater with a v that's just deep enough to make him want more and forget about everything else.

Naturally that doesn't bode well for him. At that moment, their professor starts to hand out the quiz they have to take, the quiz they have to pass in order to continue with the class. Admittedly the test is one whose job it is to weed out the morons in the class by asking them to do the most basic math, science, and medical problems. So House isn't really worried about passing, but nevertheless he is dismayed by being forced to look away from the hot girl sitting next to him.

It has to be done though, he thinks with a sigh.

He might change his mind if ever sees her naked, but for now anyway, becoming a doctor is more important than getting laid.

He pulls a pencil out of his bag and takes a blue booklet, along with the test questions, from the teaching assistant handing them out. Forcing himself to pay attention to the quiz, he makes it to question five before he's unable to concentrate once more. Because it's just as he gets to question five that Hot Girl's pen runs out of ink.

Understandably she leans over to get a new pen out of her brief case. And even more understandably, House, noticing the way the v-neck of her shirt has gaped open a little, stops what he's doing. Answering the next question seems completely unimportant when compared to the better view he's getting of Hot Girl's breasts.

His pencil stops moving, hovers right above the paper. He doesn't turn completely to look at her, because that would be lame. But he does cock his head in her direction just enough so that he can get a better glance while still appearing to focus on the quiz.

Hot Girl doesn't buy it though.

As she grabs another pen, she looks up at him and smirks at his obvious ogling. In a low voice, she tells him, "C."

And that's when he decides that she's an idiot, because this isn't a multiple-choice quiz, and it's a math problem where the answer could not possibly be C.

His confusion must be showing, he soon realizes. Because her smirk turns into a predatory grin, and she explains, "My cup size. It's a C."

House can't deny that he wasn't expecting that, although he's pretty content with the little bit of information that she's given him. Still… he doesn't want to leave the conversation there, doesn't want to let her have the last word.

"Well, that much is obvious," he replies easily. "I was trying to figure out what your band size is."

Straightening up, she leans back into her chair before looking at him shrewdly. "Why? Are you planning on buying me a bra anytime soon?"

He shrugs. "I might… if I accidentally rip the one you're currently wearing when I go to take it off you."

She looks slightly taken aback, the scoff he wants to utter held back only by the fact that she seems to remember that they're supposed to be taking a quiz. Quickly glancing around the room, she makes sure nobody is noticing the fact that they're talking before she turns back to him. "'When'? You're very confident for someone whose hands I would break before I'd ever let them touch me."

Her voice is cold, and there's a slight tint of threat in her tone that he finds, oddly enough, to be incredibly attractive.

He smiles arrogantly at her. "Greg House," he tells her.

"And I'm unimpressed," she replies easily before firmly turning back to the quiz on her desktop.

In vain he tries to do the same, but the more time goes by, the more curious he is to learn who this woman really is. Her cup size, though important, definitely isn't enough for him. And it's all he can do not to forfeit the test right then and there to learn more about her, because, although it's not in his nature to have crushes, she's already proven to be too interesting to ignore.

Hot and quick-tongued, a gift and a challenge all in one, she's already proven to be one he needs to watch, one he needs to know more about, one he needs to know everything about.

The End

** If you would like to read more about Cuddy dressing up as a schoolgirl, there's a companion piece to this called, "Fantasies and Nightmares," that you can read. I'll tell you now: it's very smutty.