"So, Greg," Julia smiled sweetly, neatly dodging a spatter of tomato ketchup that had flown her way. Apparently she'd never taught her spawn to hold and squeeze a bottle at the same time. Even Rachel could do that. "What's it like being a diagnostician?"

Cuddy rolled her eyes, which House saw and chuckled inwardly. He knew as well as Cuddy that Julia was trying to suck up and be all sweet, playing "ooh he's a doctor" lark and swoon, which, frankly, was getting old. She never asked Cuddy what being a doctor was like, even when she was an intern, but with new meat she dives right in.

Cuddy almost wanted House not to answer, but to steer the conversation another way. God know's he could do it. But he looked falsely bashful for a second - had the thought not been so ludicrous - then Cuddy might have thought he was being sincere - before snapping his eyes up and smiling. "So rewarding," he drawled, casually waving his hand. "Really, knowing that you're the reason someone's walking around... It's the best feeling in the world."

Cuddy was taking a sip of water as he said that, and she skillfully managed to choke. Spurting water all over the table and sputtering, House turned to her. "Okay, honey?" He asked, patting and rubbing her back tenderly.

"Fine," she croaked. "Just choked, a little," she said glibly, focusing on House's blue eyes which were shining with delight. She could literally see just how much he was enjoying this. "But I'm sure I'll recover," she added, brushing his hand off her back.

"Good," he reached over and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Cuddy could see her mother clasping her hands and smiling on the other side of the table. She was so see-through, Cuddy knew exactly what she was thinking... Something along the lines of "how sweet! He's obviously such a nice man."

Well, she scoffed inwardly, part of her was finding these displays of affection irritating, irritating enough that she was considering exposing him. But then he'd pout and point out that he was just doing what she asked him to, and if she didn't like that then he might as well not listen to anything she said.

And that would detrimentally backfire on her - with him being flippant and unhelpful (more so than usual) at every opportunity - not to mention, her family would see the real truth, the freak-show that was the love of her life.

And Cuddy didn't know if she could deal with her mother's displease, her sister's glee and House's ambivalence all at once.

So, she kept her mouth shut. She let House brush her hair back and enter a conversation with her sister's husband about the merits of palliative care against euthanasia (his opinion being: "No! While I respect others who can, I could never take a human life even just to put them out of their misery") and avoided eye contact with her mother who was still grinning like a Cheshire cat.

She just wanted to bang her head on the wood of the table and wake up back in her own bed, with her own House, and her own daughter in the next room. Not in her crazy family house where everything was judged and remembered.

She knew it was crazy, but while she loved her relatives she found being in her home environment slightly suffocating. It brought back memories of being a child, and - worse - a teenager. The time her parents had gone away, only to come early and find the house destroyed and her passed out by the pool.

Her father finding out about the Christmas where everyone had been watching the standard crappy Christmas movie and she'd been hanging out upstairs... With his best friend. Safe to say, doing it with your father's best friend while the father in question was ten metres away downstairs watching "it's a wonderful life" was not daughterly behaviour.

She still shivered at that memory, remembering the scathing feel of her dad's eyes boring into her, his anger, shock and - worst of all - utter disappointment showing clearly on his face. Even though she'd been nineteen, she'd felt about six.

Unconsciously she glanced to the bay window, remembering how mad he'd been, so mad as to throw a tumbler through a window. Although the glass had been replaced, Cuddy could swear that you could still see the cracks.

"So, I said - " House was retelling some story, everyone listening intently, gazing at him with intense admiration. It was funny, that to everyone who'd never met House, he seemed so charming and accomplished. Cuddy knew he was putting on an act, but still.

She looked at her own almost full plate, grateful for the fact that she was a grown woman and didn't have to finish her food if she didn't want to. Or so she thought, anyhow. "Lisa," her mother scolded, "you barely ate! Look at you darling, you're wasting away."

"Mom," Cuddy sighed, "I'm just not hungry."

Cue feeling like a five year old again who'd snuck some extra chocolate and didn't want to finish her broccoli.

"Greg," Evelyn whipped round to face House, "do you feed her when you're at home? Does she eat?"

"He's not my keeper!" Cuddy protested, sliding her knife and fork together on the plate, "and it's not his responsibility if I eat or not."

"But I like to look after you," he cooed, "and you should eat some more. Do you want me to go to the store and get you something?"

"Isn't that sweet?" Evelyn said, getting up from the plush dining chair and smoothing out her trousers. "Even you don't want to eat, everyone else seemed to enjoy it."

"Just because I'm not hungry doesn't mean it wasn't good!" Cuddy protested, not wanting her mother to take it personally.

"Calm down honey," Evelyn bent down and kissed her hair while clearing the plates, "don't let me get under your skin."

"Let me help you with those," House offered, getting up and taking the remaining dishes into the kitchen after Evelyn. After the two of them disappeared, Cuddy turned back to the table.

Then she huffed and sank a little lower in her chair. She glanced over at Rachel, who was very neatly eating her lunch while discussing her new Swan Lake Barbie with one of her cousins. She didn't want to appear more childish than her five year old. Rachel caught her eye as she was staring and took that as a cue.

"Mommy," she asked, "doesn't Barbie's wings come out and flash?"

"Yes sweetheart," Cuddy responded, having heard enough about that bloody Barbie that she could take it apart and put it together blindfolded.

"Can I go and get her?" Rachel asked hopefully.

"Not right now," Cuddy answered, her lip quirking up as Rachel stuck her bottom lip out. "After lunch. You don't want to get a ketchup on her, do you?"

Rachel thought. "No," she replied after a moment's deliberation.

"Okay," Cuddy exhaled, though it was more of a "calm down" to herself rather than an acknowledgement to Rachel's answer. She would have sworn that the temperature in the room was rising in the room. "I think," she said slowly, "I'm going to go for a walk."

That would calm her down definitely. Their sprawling home was located out of the way enough to be surrounded by fantastic scenery and wonderful walking paths. She could leave House to potter around, Rachel with her cousins and then meander off for an hour or two. Perfect.

"Perfect!" Julia crowed, "that's sound fantastic! If we take the shorter route the kids can play in the lake, too."

Cuddy almost groaned when she realised that Julia thought she meant a family walk. She was about to correct her, but then she saw the look of agreement on everyone's faces and felt too bad to mention it. Especially when a few of the kids leapt up and punched the air. "Yeah!" Jake shouted, "the lake's so cool!"

Getting the children to agree to a walk was hard enough anyway, so if they were agreeing to go she couldn't exactly stop it. Eh, at least she could be in her own head most of the time.

"Since we ate late," Julia continued, gesturing to the clock that read five past three, "if we walk and play at the lake then I'd say that'll take up most of the day."

"Great," Cuddy plastered a smile on her face, "I'll go and get ready. Come on," she held out her hand to her daughter, "we have to go get your boots."

Rachel sprinted off after Cuddy, having heard so many good things about the lake and it's tyre swing in thirty seconds that she wanted to be there right now. She also wanted to wear the cool new tan walking boots Mommy had bought her a few weeks ago.

As the two of them went upstairs, Cuddy could hear everyone beginning to button up and do their laces. Despite herself, she started to smile. There was such a sense of family that she couldn;t help but feel a little uplifted.

Pushing open the door to one of the bedrooms - the one where Rachel was sleeping - Cuddy unzipped her little pink suitcase. Inside she smiled, seeing various Barbies and toys nestled in witht eh clothes. Cuddy pulled out the cute leather boots and handed them to Rachel, who attempted lacing them herself, her little tongue sticking out with concentration.

As Rachel wrestled with the laces, Cuddy slipped into a pair of taupe shorts and did up her own boots. The skirt she'd been wearing was too tight for a walk, even a leisurely one. And anyway, she never got to wear her shorts.

At work she was always immaculately dressed, tight skirt or fitted trousers, and at home she was either in sweats, or - more commonly - nothing at all. She smoothed the cotton. It was little things like this that made her feel like she was getting a break from her life.

Shaken from her thoughts by Rachel's frustrated whine, Cuddy knelt down and began looping the laces, tying them up as quickly as she could. "There," she said with a flourish, "I'll teach you how to tie your own soon, huh?"

Rachel nodded enthusiastically. "I'm a big girl!" She clapped and smiled.

"Yes you are," Cuddy agreed, picking her up of the floor and kissing her forehead. "Go find Aunt Julia, honey. I have to find House."

Rachel didn't have to be told twice. She loved loved loved being with her cousins, and wanted nothing more than to spend all her time with them. Cuddy waited as she heard the little girl fly down the stairs, praying that she wouldn't hear the telltale crash and scream that may result in a concussion or broken ankle.

Silence. Good.

After affirming that Rachel had made it down safely Cuddy went to her and House's room, not at all surprised to see him lying on the soft mattress, spreadeagled on the bed. She smiled. "We're going for a walk," she said, and his neck snapped up, his eyes trained on her.

After giving her a once-over, he murmured, "I like that."

She frowned as she walked over. "You like that we're going for a walk?"

"I like how your legs look in those shorts," he amended, sitting up and drawing her closer.

Cuddy smirked as he pressed his head into her stomach. "Well, we'll be gone for a few hours, and then my legs and everything inbetween will be all yours."

"I can't wait," he muttered.

"We're all going," she told him, "so don't burn the place down." She bent down and gave him a slow, drawn-out kiss.

"I'll do my best," he answered, lightly slapping her behind as she left the room to the shouts of "Lisa!"

.

When House's eyes bleared open, he couldn't say for how long he'd been asleep. Judging by how much light was in the room - the same as when he'd drifted off - he'd say not long. Two hours, at the most.

Blinking a little and unhooking his cane he swung himself quickly out of bed, realising he only had a limited amount of time before everyone arrived back. One spawn was enough, just having that many in the same vicinity as him was giving him a headache.

Pattering downstairs, he was surprised to see Evelyn sitting at the table, nose in a book. He'd thought that everyone had gone out, but evidently he was wrong. Or rather, Cuddy had told him wrong. He wondered if he could retreat back to the bed before Evelyn saw him, but...too late.

"Greg," she smiled, placing the book on the table. "Good sleep?"

"Yeah," he murmured, "I thought C- Lisa said that everyone went out?"

"Ah," she pushed out a chair for him and, grudgingly, he sat, "my knees aren't what they used to be. I can't get very far." She looked at his leg. "But I guess you understand all about that."

He shrugged.

Evelyn leant forward. "You know, you're very different to how Lisa described you."

"Really?" He answered, humouring her.

"Yep, she always described you...callously," she said delicately. House could immediately tell that she wasn't being manipulative like Julia, just diplomatic.

"Well, I'm sure we were just in the middle of a professional disagreement," House replied.

Evelyn laughed. "You must have had an awful lot of professional disagreements then."

"I'm with you so far," he drawled, bopping his cane in his hands.

"You know," Evelyn leant forward, "Lisa went through a really hard time when she lost her father. I'm sure she told you all about it, but... Well, I want you to know that I like you. I thought I wouldn't, but I do. But she is my priority. So, just...don't hurt her."

"I won't," House replied solemnly, feeling oddly at ease enough to admit that freely.

"Good," Evelyn nodded, "because I know where you live."

House's lip quirked up in the beginnings of a smile.

"I'm serious," Evelyn reiterated, eyeing him.

"So am I," House replied, and then Evelyn finally looked satisfied, making her way into the kitchen.


A/N: God, I am sorry about the wait. I have dived deep back into the pool of academia and I've started all these big exams courses so I'm pretty busy. Fics posts will probably slow down :( and thanks to all who are reviewing, you rock!

:) xxxx