"Hey." Lucas answered the cell phone in his usual calm, easygoing tones, and Cuddy cringed inwardly. How was it possible to be that good at deception?

"Hi. I just wanted to say it looks like I'm going to be late home tonight. I've already called the nanny and asked her to stay late, and she said you weren't home yet."

"Just out doing a few errands. I wasn't really expecting you home for another 30 minutes at least; takes you a while to tuck your big baby in for the night, you know. Are you okay, Lisa? You sound stressed." So sympathetic, so caring in tone, the perfect edge of concern. His voice invited confidences.

She smiled, glad that her own manufactured tone had come across. Not that she wasn't stressed, and not that she hadn't had a hell of an afternoon, but Lucas was about to find out he wasn't the only one capable of misleading people. "No, really, I'm not. It's been a hell of a day here. I'm still not sure what all went on this afternoon, but I got tied up dealing with another crisis with House, and I didn't get any of the paperwork done I'd needed to. So I'll be here late finishing up, thanks to House. As usual." She shot House a look of apology. He was sitting next to Wilson on the couch in her office, massaging his leg absentmindedly with one hand, but his eyes were fully alert, and they gave her silent applause on her performance so far.

"So what did House do this time?" Perfectly casual. Not a trace of extra interest. His voice on speakerphone was totally matter-of-fact, and the two policemen sitting in the chairs exchanged looks. This lowlife was convincing.

"I'm not totally sure, actually. He flew completely off the handle. I never could work out what was going on, but he wound up just storming out. He was way over the top, even for him. He even said . . . never mind. I'm probably boring you with hospital business."

Lucas immediately, perhaps a fraction too immediately, denied it. "No, if it matters to you, it matters to me. It might even help to talk about it."

"Maybe later. I've got to dig through all this paperwork first, though. I'll probably just skip dinner and keep working through the evening."

Lucas was the perfectly concerned partner. "You know as a doctor that isn't a good idea, Lisa. Why don't I come over, since the nanny will still be with Rachel, and we can grab a quick bite. And you can tell me more about this afternoon; you could probably focus better on paperwork after you've decompressed some." Wilson rolled his eyes.

"I haven't got time to go out anywhere, Lucas. I really need to get this paperwork finished."

"You'll work better for a short break. Maybe I could bring something over; we don't have to go out."

Cuddy audibly sighed and pushed the papers back a fraction on her desk. "Well . . . actually, I'm in the mood for one of the chefs salads in the cafeteria. Maybe I could take 15 or 20 minutes and grab a quick bite with you."

"You'll feel better for it. I'll be at the hospital in about 30 minutes. Is that okay?"

"That's fine. Thank you, Lucas. You're so thoughtful." She gritted her teeth.

"Only one of my many great qualities," he said. "I'll see you in a bit. Love you."

She hated saying it, but she couldn't let him pick up on anything out of the ordinary. "Love you. Bye." She hit the button, turning the speakerphone off, and sat back in her chair.

"That lying little . . ." Wilson started, but House cut him off.

"Hook, line, and sinker. That was great, Cuddy."

Cuddy smiled at him. "I had a brief dream for a while in high school of being an actress. Maybe in the movies, on TV. Maybe I wouldn't have done half bad after all."

"I could see you on TV," House said appreciatively. "All of your assets, five nights a week." She laughed, realizing how much she had missed his innuendo.

"Now remember," the senior policeman said, "you can't actually assault him in the cafeteria. Not that I'd blame you -" the police had seen the cafeteria security tapes by now - "and I'd like to pound the creep myself, but one wrong move here, and some defense lawyer down the road will capitalize on it."

House nodded. "Much as I'd like to do otherwise, I'll keep my hands off him. We can win without that." He turned to look at Wilson next to him.

The oncologist's fists were absolutely clenched at his sides, and he was much slower to respond to that directive than House, but he reluctantly nodded. "No assault. Got it." He looked at Cuddy. "I'm sorry."

She nodded gratefully. "Thanks. It is at least easier to lose an illusion than a real relationship."

The policemen stood up. "Okay, we'd better all get into position. Everybody understand?" Nods all around. The four men left her office, House the final one out, turning back to give her a look of such supportive sympathy that she blinked back tears again.

***

Lucas oozed into her office. When had she started mentally comparing his movements to those of a snake? Smooth, oily, slithering himself into gaps between things. She forced herself to smile. "Hi. You know, now that you got me thinking about it, I am hungry after all."

"I knew you would be. You need to refuel after a tough afternoon, too." He politely held the office door open for her, and they started down to the cafeteria. "So, what happened with House?"

"It was the strangest thing. I was working, and he came up as fast as he could limp and was absolutely outraged. Going off on me for all kinds of things, and I tried to get him to quiet down and go to some private area, but he was practically foaming at the mouth. I even . . . wondered if he's losing it again. He wasn't making any sense at all." She mentally apologized to House.

"So this was in some public area?"

"The clinic. I was signing a paper at the nurse's station."

"That must have been embarrassing for you, to have such a public scene. Was it that bad?"

"It was awful." They were in line at the cafeteria now. The main rush hour at the hospital was over, but there were still some people scattered around the booths and tables, tucked in their own conversations or behind their own papers.

Lucas paid for both of their orders and took the tray with his burger and her salad. "You said he stormed out?"

"He quit, actually. Don't know if he really meant it, but I think he might have. This wasn't just standard House. He was accusing me of things, ranting at the board, and none of it made any sense at all."

Cuddy chose a booth, and they sat down. "Maybe he's wrapped up in another delusion," Lucas suggested regretfully.

"I hope not, but it sure sounded like it," Cuddy replied. She took a bite of her salad, suddenly realizing that she was in fact hungry.

"Too bad. It's awful to see such a great mind fall apart. And I know he was your friend; this must be so hard on you." He reached out to put a sympathetic hand on her arm, his concerned eyes looking right into hers. "Just remember, Lisa, any time you need to talk about it, I'm here for you."

"Actually, that's going to be difficult." House's voice from the booth directly behind Lucas actually made the PI jump. "Kind of hard to have many meaningful conversations when you're in prison. One phone call only goes so far."

Lucas' mind was scrambling at full speed behind his confused, trusting face. He turned slowly. "House! Didn't see you there. Listen, not to be pushy or anything, but when is the last time you saw your psychiatrist? Any strange sights or sounds lately? Lisa was just saying how she's worried about you, especially after this afternoon." He let his voice raise a bit, carrying to the nearest tables. "I hate to bring up your history of delusions and psychiatric problems, but we were both thinking it might be time you had another evaluation."

"It might be time for you to evaluate a lot of things," House replied, his icy blue eyes drilling into Lucas.

The policemen at the nearest tables put down their papers and pushed back their chairs. "Lucas Douglas, you are under arrest for two counts of assault, breaking and entering, vandalism, and felony-level property damage." After due consideration, Cuddy had decided to leave off identity theft unless absolutely needed for a conviction. She had no desire to reproduce that email in court or anywhere else as proof.

Lucas was absolutely stunned, unable to respond for a moment. Quickly, he tried to regain his mental balance. "What lies has he been telling now? You should know, this man has a history of acute delusions and hallucinations. I'm not sure how reliable his testimony is."

"Mine should be fairly reliable." Wilson spoke up from his seat across from House. "And the court will probably give more weight to Nolan's opinion on House's reliability than to yours."

"There's also the security tape from the cafeteria," House put in. "The police already have it, and I'm sure it will make very interesting viewing at the trial - and also by the PI licensing board, who are being sent a copy."

Lucas looked from House and the police to Cuddy. "Lisa, okay, maybe I took a prank too far, but it was all. . ."

"Don't call me Lisa, you lying sonofabitch." Cuddy stood up. "Get out of my hospital and get out of my life."

Lucas stood as the policemen approached with the cuffs. He looked frantically around, trying to find anyone who might be manipulated to be on his side, but even the police looked unsympathetic. The junior officer read the Miranda rights. Cuddy stepped around Lucas like she would avoid a pile of dog poop on the sidewalk and came up next to House. He reached out to put a hand on her arm, and Lucas' eyes widened even more.

Wilson couldn't resist. "Oh, and Lucas? House is calling off hostilities, having demonstrated his superiority."

"Don't bother wasting your one phone call on me," Cuddy put in. "I wouldn't bail you out for anything. See you in court, Lucas."

The policemen, having cuffed Lucas, turned him and starting marching him out. Lucas was looking absolutely shocked, his calm facade for once cracking. Cuddy, Wilson, and House followed them.

House was limping more than usual, still feeling the effects of several standing hours on the cold roof, and Cuddy and Wilson both noted it and forced themselves not to comment. Then, just as they reached the main hospital lobby, House suddenly tripped, the leg buckling. Wilson and Cuddy both gasped and grabbed him from either side, barely keeping him from going totally over, but the cane flew out of his hand with the force of his stumble - and flew straight into Lucas' legs 10 feet ahead of them. His handcuffed hands unable to spread to aid in balance, Lucas crashed down hard on the lobby floor of PPTH.

"Oh, I'm sorry," House said. "The leg does that sometimes, and it's been aching this afternoon." He straightened up, still supported by his friends, and looked at the two policemen, Lucas' sprawled form, and the security camera directly pointing at them and capturing it all. That hadn't been part of the general script, but he simply couldn't resist. Cuddy and Wilson had even kept him from falling himself, which he'd fully been willing to do.

One of the policemen hauled Lucas back up to his feet as the other picked up the cane and returned it to House. "No problem," he said, handing the cane over. "I'm sure Mr. Douglas understands."

Looking directly at Lucas' eyes, Wilson was positive that Mr. Douglas did.

***

Ten months later. . .

Lucas came slowly into the visitor's room, wondering who could possibly be coming to see him. His face was no longer as trusting, his attitude no longer calm and easygoing. Prison had been hard on Lucas, and he still had most of his term to serve. He jolted to a halt as he saw who waited on the other side of the glass.

"Hi, Lucas," Cuddy said brightly, with House a barely delayed echo. She extended her left hand, and the diamond on it caught the light and radiated back into Lucas' eyes.

"I know you're probably surprised to see us after the trial," House said, "but I really have been trying to work on my manners, and Lisa and I decided that it would be just unforgivably rude to not invite you to our wedding. Of course we realize you won't be able to come, being . . . otherwise detained, but still, like they say, it's the thought that counts."

Cuddy put an invitation with neat calligraphy on the counter between them. "The guards will get that in to you as soon as they've checked it out. The wedding is January 24th, and we'll be honeymooning in the Caribbean." House reached around her to rest a hand on the barely detectable swelling of her abdomen. "And Rachel's little brother or sister is due in July. We'll be sure to send you a birth announcement."

"Well, hate to invite and run, but we've got other important things to do today," House said. "Bye, Lucas."

"Bye, Lucas," Cuddy echoed.

Lucas sat there for several minutes staring into space, and for once, even if an audience had still been there, he could think of nothing at all to say.

THE END

****

Thanks for all the reviews on my little story. I've appreciated them.

There hopefully will still be a fourth story in the Pranks series, but it is still jammed in production. Hopefully it will work loose at some point. No idea when. But I have enjoyed doing Believe in Me.

In the House