She knows it's coming, the knock on the door just before midnight.
The responsible course of action is patently obvious: ignore, stay quiet, pray the noise stops before it wakes an already fussy baby. Cuddy pulls the comforter up a little higher, as though that will somehow make him go away.
Just as she was getting used to a man who calls before showing up late at night; just as she'd gotten used to not hoping.
Of course, the knocking only gets louder. It's echoing in the hallway, and she can hear the first whimpers of stirring from the baby monitor. With a sudden chill in her feet from the stripped floors, and anger swirling in her chest, she marches to the front door without pausing to gather up her robe.
He looks so excited in the cool porch light that the rage quickly dissipates. If she could stay mad at him, they wouldn't be where they are now.
There's nothing in his hand and so there's only one reason for him to be here.
"You can just call me when you solve a case, you know. Or better yet, wait until a civilized hour."
Why bother saying it, when they both know he never will?
"This isn't about my case."
No, this is the silent conversation they haven't been having since they left the Adirondacks. This is the implicit challenge to her relationship with Lucas that they're both trying so hard not to acknowledge.
This is the bell ringing for another round to begin, when they're both punch-drunk and hoping they can stagger through for the safety of winning on points.
But House being House, he sets her off-balance by stepping inside. The gentle touch of his fingers against her cheek is as good as a knock-out blow. Protests bubble up and die before they can pass her lips. His stare is intense enough to make her dizzy, but before she can fall, he pulls her closer with surprising gentleness.
There's nothing gentle in the kiss.
The meeting of their lips tells her more than they've ever expressed in their daily wars of words and attrition. The hunger in the kiss expresses his wounded pride, his territorial impulse and the spark that always hovers between them is suddenly an explosion. Cuddy finds herself grabbing frantically at his jacket, using his shoulders to leverage herself further into his embrace.
It's completely wrong, and exactly what she's wanted since the moment Lucas asked her out. It's enough to make her hate herself just a little bit more.
This could end, like it has before, with nothing more than a hastily regretted kiss and a speedy exit. Cuddy won't let that happen, not tonight. The heat is already building between her legs, and House's roving hands suggest he has no intention of stopping either.
Blindly, she shoves the front door closed, terrified to break contact for even a second.
They move in unsynchronized steps, a series of mutual stumbles that wouldn't have been possible before Mayfield, before he discovered the true extent of his pain. When House's finally lets the cane fall from his grip, somewhere between the first kiss and her bedroom door, she doesn't feel the old familiar surge of panic. He doesn't need it so much these days.
His jacket and her pajama top are somewhere on the floor of the hall, and she almost tears his t-shirt in the haste to get it over his head. The note of desperation coaxes a smug grin from him, and Cuddy is compelled to kiss him again before he can spoil the moment.
Not that he's complaining when she pushes him back onto the bed. She's undoing his belt buckle before he can get back to sitting, and the hiss of pleasure when she first brushes his erection through thick denim is all the encouragement she needs.
The first words they've spoken in ten minutes, and it feels better, more natural that he won't change his penchant for surnames. It makes it easier to distinguish tonight from Lisa, from the sensible woman who needs a steady guy and settles for less than exciting. Instead, it's Cuddy who frees his cock and begins a steady stroking rhythm that has him instantly at her mercy.
She teases her mouth fleetingly over the head of his cock, reliving twenty years ago and trying desperately to stay in the moment. In the moment this isn't cheating, this isn't betrayal.
This is where they've been headed all along.
The touch of her tongue is light and playful, driving him slowly insane as he's done so many times to her in his own infuriating way. Payback is supposed to be torturous, and if she's doing this, the bastard isn't getting it easy. Cuddy traces indeterminate paths along his shaft, never taking more than the tip in her mouth, and only for brief seconds at a time.
When he tries to push further into her mouth, she knows she's winning. She stops there, and it takes a second for her to be standing in front of him steadily. House takes it as a sign of progress, shimmying his jeans and boxers down over his hips and kicking them off impatiently. His desire for her is as apparent on his face as it is painfully so elsewhere on his body. She feels powerful, and she likes it a little too much.
It doesn't take long for the rest of her clothes to hit the floor, but before she can enjoy her newfound dominion, House has his rough hands on her hips and he's pulling her down onto the bed with him. When his mouth meets her collarbone, she doesn't mind so much about the challenge to her authority. By the time he's teasing her nipples, alternating gentle sucking with sharp nips, her nails are digging into his shoulders almost deep enough to draw blood.
And she wants to hurt him; almost as much as she wants to apologize. She wants to press her forehead against his and beg forgiveness for not waiting. For assuming he's been jerking her around for twenty years and never once thinking he was sincere. For being patient enough to wait for him, but never bold enough to ask.
Then she stops feeling anything but pleasure as his fingers join the concert conducted by his mouth, and it's her turn to moan. She's relieved when his only agenda seems to be getting her off, no tricks apparent as he urges her closer to orgasm.
When he arranges himself in a kneeling position between her legs, his fingers still tormenting her perfectly, Cuddy raises herself slightly on her elbows. There's real hunger in his eyes and she's overcome with the urge to have his cock inside her.
He withdraws his fingers, licking them lasciviously as she kneels in front of him. It's their showdown now, naked and breathing heavily in the middle of her bed. Cuddy's thought turn to his leg, even in his much-improved state there are logistics to consider. She thinks of their alcohol-fuelled exertions in Ann Arbor so long ago, his lacrosse player's frame large and capable against her own.
Her momentary distraction must be obvious, as he tenses up.
"You sure about this, Cuddy?"
"When are we ever sure about anything, House? Do you want me to stop? Want me to throw you out and cry into my pillow all night?"
He shakes his head, apparently reassured by her answer.
Before her worries can get a foothold, House wraps his arms around her and they're kissing again in earnest. It surprises her, still, how good he is at this. House makes such a point of acting like a Neanderthal when it comes to women, that she forgets he has a romantic, or a particularly skillful side to him. When he pulls away, he cups her breasts with an almost reverential expression on his face.
"Goddamn, but I've missed the girls."
Cuddy groans at the more typical comment, and they ease back onto the mattress together, House guiding her in a way that seems to protect his thigh. He positions himself above her, leaning carefully on his forearms.
She's already so wet that it's easy for him to slip inside her, though it takes a moment for her to adjust to the fullness. For a moment or two, they try taking it slow. House's thrusts are deliberate and measured at first, but passion doesn't take long to overwhelm them.
"Fuck, there. Right there, oh God."
That's the only cue House needs, the pace increasing as he brushes that one most sensitive spot over and over again. The pressure is building deliciously, and Cuddy loses track of the incoherent encouragements falling from her mouth. By the time House moves his thumb to her clit, she's not far from screaming.
She rakes her nails across his back as she comes, and seconds later he follows her into climax with a strangled cry. House kisses her neck as he collapses on top of her, sated and suddenly uncoordinated. Cuddy giggles as she nudges him, urging him to lie beside her instead. Side by side, they try to catch their breath, not daring to break the easy silence.
Now would be a good time to kick him out of bed, to call this a terrible mistake and start trying to forget. And she absolutely would, if House didn't choose this exact moment to wrap an arm around her torso. What choice does she have but to pull the sheets up over them and switch off the beside lamp?
Twice she wakes up, once because he's snoring and the noise startles her. It's oddly comforting that he's still there, but Cuddy can rationalize anything, and tells herself it was just because he was too tired to go home.
The second time is five minutes before her alarm, the noise from her cellphone startling them both. She sees the goofy picture of Lucas staring back at her and feels the first wave of guilt. House sees it too, judging by his frown.
A decision to make, since it wouldn't be unheard of to ignore a call this early. Cuddy remembers him talking about an all-night stakeout and suddenly panics in case he's on his way over.
Not wanting to risk that House will say something that gets her in trouble, she bolts for the bathroom. It takes far too long to get Lucas off the phone, he's excited about catching some guy cheating on his wife, and Cuddy feels far too sick about his righteous indignation.
She finally walks out to find an empty bedroom. Rachel is gurgling happily on the monitor, though Cuddy is aware it will soon be time to start the morning rituals of feeding and changing. Slipping into her robe, she postpones her trip to the nursery, searching the other rooms in the vain hope that House is waiting for her elsewhere.
The only evidence of his visit is the table in the hallway that's been knocked out of place. As she straightens it, she sees the note by the phone.
"Guess you were right not to rely on me".
His handwriting is almost illegible, but she's been deciphering it for years. Instead of weeding out threats and lies he writes on patients' charts or insurance paperwork, she's seeing them crash and burn in nine little words.
Of course he was hurt by her dashing off to take that call, but last night he didn't seem to have any problem being the dirty little secret. Has she really blown it, or was he always intending to run after he'd proven his point? It felt real enough when he was breathing sleepily on her neck a short while ago.
The key in the lock makes her stomach somersault, but it's simply the nanny ready to start another day of watching Rachel.
There's nothing left to do but say good morning, excuse herself and shower away the scent of sex and of him. She can throw the sheets in the laundry and then bury herself in work instead of thinking about it.
She can do a lot of things.
She might even forget her broken heart.