Author's Notes: Thank you first and foremost to bassetlove for inspiring this piece. It wouldn't have existed without you. Thank you very much to ladyyuuki16, House_ever, EllieShelly, IHeartHouseCuddy, red blood, newsession, HuddyLover, Josam, Kellpo, Temo, Jane Q. Doe, and Winnywriter for taking the time to read and review. Without your feedback, this piece would have never been finished. Thank you so much.
Disclaimer: I don't own the show.
Gift of Cthulhu
Chapter Two: The Plan
By Duckie Nicks
"A friend is one before whom I may think aloud." – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wilson answered almost immediately. "Hello?"
"How would you feel about squeezing down Cuddy's chimney tonight?"
As soon as the question came out of House's mouth, he could hear how dirty it sounded. Immediately he added, "That's not a euphemism for sex."
"I didn't think it was."
"Maybe if you were twenty two with D cups," House relented, pausing as he considered how hot it actually would be to see Cuddy getting it on with another chick. It really would be sexy… so sexy.
"If you're jerking off," Wilson said with disgust; House could readily picture Wilson cringing at the idea. "I'm hanging up."
"I almost wish that were true," House replied with a sigh.
"You wish you were masturbating with me listening –"
"In case you've forgotten, Cuddy's mother's here," he interrupted irritably.
"Hmm," Wilson mumbled in understanding. Seeing as how he had been married sixty or so times, he would know how bad it could be. "The mother-in-law does tend to be a bit of a… mood killer."
Frankly, House was too grateful that Wilson hadn't called Arlene a cock block (because, no matter the context, "Arlene" and "cock" did not belong in the same sentence together) to care that he had referred to her as House's mother-in-law.
"I'd take the ruined mood," House admitted as he turned down the heat on one of the burners in front of him. He hadn't planned on cooking today, hadn't even planned on being here. But thanks to Rachel's choice of attire and Cuddy's persistence, he was nowhere close to getting what he wanted. And the real kicker at this point was that, although he didn't care about the food or getting along with anyone, he knew he had to do his best. If the food sucked, he would get the blame and Arlene's self-satisfied smirk; if he were rude (well… exceptionally rude), Cuddy would use it to extract from him… whatever she wanted. More than likely though, she'd blackmail him into babysitting – cause, you know, the torture-House train had no stops and no end.
Wilson must have sensed House's mood souring, because it was at that moment that he asked, "That bad, huh?" He didn't sound surprised. Having met Arlene or perhaps just having anticipated how unhappy House would be, Wilson seemed to have his lecture pre-prepared and ready to go the second House gave him the signal.
Well, House wasn't ready for that yet.
"I'm pretty sure a vaginoplasty performed by a squirrel would be less painful at this point."
And he meant it.
One Cuddy was fine. His Cuddy? Perfect. He clearly had no problem being with her.
But the problem started when you began mixing Cuddys together… letting them talk and spend time with one another. When you did that, things became quickly unbearable. Their neuroses and various forms of insanity combined, fed off one another, and eventually became too much for any one man to deal with. And suddenly it didn't matter how blessed in the T and A department the Cuddy women were. His dick, like the rest of his body, was too busy tunneling a way off the battlefield and away from the madness to consider the overall level of hotness in the room.
Actually, it was only on further reflection that he'd ever even realized that the Cuddy women were exceptionally gifted in the looks department. They were so irritating in person that he hadn't noticed it until long after the fact.
Well, okay, he'd known that about Cuddy but the others… not so much.
Of course, thinking about it now, he had to wonder if noticing their beauty at all was normal. He suspected it wasn't but didn't really care either way. Out of curiosity though, he still couldn't help but ask Wilson, "Ever fantasize about doing one of your wives' relatives?"
An answer came immediately. "No."
"Really?" Not for a second did House believe him. "Seems to me if you take all of your in-laws out of the equation, there'd be no one left to keep your spank bank full."
Wilson replied dryly, "I'm sure there's still a woman or two in Kiribati who I'm not related to by marriage."
"Maybe. But you've never seen them. On the other hand, Bonnie's mother –"
"Did you call for a reason, or did you just want to confess that you dream of doing your girlfriend's mother?"
House made a noise that sounded like something was being murdered. Which wasn't entirely far off the mark, because he could feel his breakfast turning sour inside his stomach. And combined with the idea of having sex with Arlene, it made him feel as though something really had died inside of him.
Sure, he could admit that the crazy bitch was… pretty. Certainly her looks had held up well to age. But that was where it ended. He could see her relative attractiveness, but he definitely didn't lust for her; wrinkled pussy was not on the menu for little Greg.
"Are you trying to convince me that suicide really is the answer after all? Cause –"
"I'm trying to tell you that I have patients who are literally dying."
"Well, if they were only metaphorically dying, you wouldn't have much of a job."
A loud whoosh of air filled House's ear as Wilson sighed whole-heartedly. "You know what I mean."
"I need a favor."
Wilson clearly wanted him to get to the point; he'd made that much obvious, and House was okay with that, fine with it actually, because he doubted he would have much more time alone. Someone would walk in on him soon, and he didn't want that.
"Of course." Wilson sounded a shade unimpressed, a touch unmoved by House's words, but then House supposed that that was to be expected. He asked for far too much far too often to make Wilson eager to help these days.
"Cuddy's mom told Rachel there was no Santa."
"Okay." He clearly didn't see the issue. "What does that have to do with you?"
House didn't answer right away. Though aware of the time constraints, he also recognized how important it was to choose the right words. Usually he considered himself intelligent enough, witty enough to say precisely what he meant. But with things involving Rachel, as today had demonstrated, he found himself to be… less than assured and far from eloquent. He did the wrong things, said the wrong things, and he was becoming increasingly obsessed over how important doing and saying the right things were to Cuddy. So knowing what was on the line, he wanted to get his story correct.
And doing that meant making sure Wilson gave him the right advice.
But in order to get the help he needed, House knew that it was imperative to paint the proper picture for his friend.
How to do that though was far harder than he'd anticipated. On the one hand, he wanted to make it clear that he wasn't calling, because he was upset Rachel had heard the truth. Of all the people who would be bothered by someone blabbing about Santa, House was not one of them. He didn't care that Arlene had told her, didn't worry that Rachel would be scarred for life because of it.
But he couldn't say that.
If he did, it would only take seconds before Wilson launched into a "why you have to care" speech. And House's problem would go unsolved.
Yet, at the same time, he couldn't make it out to be like he really cared and loved the kid. That would give everyone the wrong impression. And worse than that, it would send Wilson into a twenty-part speech, featuring such lines as: "When did you start caring about her?" "Do you think you've actually shown her that?" And "if so, do you think it's enough for Rachel?" "Is your best enough?"
Needless to say, House didn't want to go down that road either.
He suspected Arlene wouldn't give him a choice in that matter, but that was all the more reason to avoid such a conversation with Wilson. He already felt like a caged animal, being surrounded by Cuddy and her screwed up family; he didn't need the added pressure from Wilson.
So he broached the topic with deliberate consideration.
"Rachel started crying. Cuddy got mad at her mother. Her mother attacked right back, so they were ripping each other to shreds."
Wilson made a sound of understanding. "You knew that was bound to happen at some point though."
"Yeah. But they left me with the kid."
There was a tiny lull in the conversation at that moment. Silence overtaking the phone call, Wilson didn't say anything right away. Perhaps he'd been too stunned to comment; perhaps he was realizing, with horror, all the possible ways a moment between Rachel and House could have gone. Whatever the reason, he didn't speak immediately.
And when he finally did open his mouth, his voice was filled with equal parts amusement and fear. "Oh God. What did you tell her?"
The question wasn't meant to offend. But House took some umbrage nonetheless.
Defensively, he explained, "She was crying and wouldn't shut up. And you know that if I didn't say something to her and didn't calm her down, Cuddy would kill me."
"Because you didn't 'help.' Yes. I'm familiar with that argument." Truthfully, Wilson sounded more than familiar. If anything, he seemed to be talking as though he'd become, thanks to all of his marriages, more than acquainted with that slice of insanity.
And that made it easier for House to blurt out in confession, "I panicked. Rachel now thinks Santa's real – more than she did before, anyway – and that he's coming tonight."
He didn't bother to explain how she'd been convinced of such things. He didn't go through the whole sequence of events, which might have made an outsider think she'd just come up with these ideas on her own.
But Wilson was no outsider.
Instantly he realized what had really happened, because he asked, "Why would you tell her that?"
"I panicked," House repeated. "It was the only thing that would shut her up."
"Right. Because you tried so many ways to console her."
It was clear by the sound of his voice that Wilson was mainly joking. Yet there was still the slightest bit of bite to his tone.
And House did not miss that.
"You try making her feel better when you've got sharktapus and yentasaurus in the other room ready to maul each other to death," he challenged.
"If I ever sleep with the… 'sharktapus,' I guess –"
"Not gonna happen," House interrupted. He shook his head as if to banish the very thought from his mind. "Those tentacles are off limits to you."
Wilson's response was simply, "Then it's your job to keep her offspring –"
And that was the truth. Pathetic though it was, House hadn't intended to make anything worse. He'd sincerely doubted that he was capable of pleasing Rachel, but he'd been trying to do that.
If Wilson realized that though, he never said. Instead he asked, "What did Cuddy say when she found out?"
Slowly, House volleyed the question back. "Who says I told her?"
He shifted on his feet, his mind debating how badly he'd actually screwed up. And when he couldn't decide what the answer to that question was, he instinctively became defensive towards Wilson once more. "Why do I have to tell her?"
"Because Rachel's going to tell the truth. When she wakes up and realizes Santa didn't come –"
"Who says Santa doesn't have to come?"
Again, it was unlikely that anyone else would instantly understand what House was getting at. But that was precisely why his friendship with Wilson had endured all of these years.
"No," Wilson replied immediately. "No, no, no, no. I'm not playing Santa Claus."
"Left your Santa thong in the wash, huh?"
He didn't take the bait. "House, you can't do this to her."
"What – get her a gift?"
"I mean to Cuddy," he clarified. "You convince Rachel that Santa's real, and you're putting Cuddy in the position of telling her he's not."
House couldn't exactly see the downside in that. Maybe learning the truth would suck, but it would hardly be traumatic. "So?"
Wilson exhaled loudly. "So if your girlfriend has already gotten into a fight about this with her mother, maybe you shouldn't set them up for round two."
Leaning against one of the kitchen counters, House couldn't deny the truth in Wilson's words. He wanted to; if only because he wouldn't have to change his plans, House absolutely would have liked to deny what Wilson was saying.
But he couldn't.
He really couldn't.
On some level, he just knew that Wilson was right.
As much as House hadn't wanted to create any more tension between Cuddy and her mother, he understood that he was setting them up for another fight. That hadn't been his intentions – not at all; they fought enough that he didn't need to add gasoline to that fire. But thanks to Wilson, House could see that, if things went his way, there would be another argument. Rachel would get presents and tell everyone about it. The other kids would get jealous. Julia and Doug would be angry, because they'd have to calm their brood down. Arlene would get mad as well, as she'd made it perfectly clear multiple times that this family was and was to remain Jewish. She would attack her daughter for choosing a boyfriend who couldn't respect that fact. And Cuddy, not wanting to admit her mother was right, would fight back publicly, all the while sharpening her knives privately for him.
Yeah, House thought, the picture painted perfectly in mind, this had been a stupid plan. Because even if he could make Rachel happy, the same couldn't be said for anyone else.
Would it really go any differently if he didn't give her presents? If he told Rachel the truth or had Cuddy do it?
He didn't think so.
If he told Rachel the truth or left her disappointed, there would still be a huge fight between Cuddy and her mother. Rachel would get upset and tell Cuddy about what he'd done. And they'd all try to keep that fact from Arlene; Cuddy would want to have the pleasure of killing him on her own. But Arlene would absolutely find out. She just would. And when she did, there would be an argument, this time about his inability to do anything good for Rachel.
Again, Cuddy would defend him to her mother. She would say that he was slowly bonding with Rachel, that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he really did care about Rachel.
But privately, Cuddy would contemplate all of her mother's accusations. She would consider that maybe he really wasn't prepared or able to flourish in this aspect of her life. Perhaps, she would think, he really could not deal with Rachel.
And as soon as she wondered that, he knew he was finished. Maybe, if he were lucky, he could allay her fears for a while; he could convince her that he could get better at it. And maybe, if he were truly, seriously lucky, he would. But at some point, he would fail – again – and she would realize it, and how many times after that would he have to prove her wrong? How many more times could he screw up with Rachel before Cuddy decided that this relationship wasn't in her daughter's best interest? One? Two?
Whatever the number, he didn't think there were many.
On the other hand, there seemed to be, he thought with regret, an infinite amount of moments like the one he found himself in currently. Instances where, no matter what he did, he would come out the loser seemed to be plentiful.
Part of him supposed that that shouldn't have been shocking. When you were dating someone way out of your league, it seemed only natural that there was a higher potential for failure than success. But it still sucked.
And he supposed now the only thing to decide was which failure would be better for him to have on his relationship report card. Since there was guaranteed fighting either way, since Arlene was going to condemn him no matter what he did, he knew the only way to measure his actions was by how Cuddy would react to them.
Which made his task easy, because it was absolutely clear in that case what he needed to do.
His voice firm and unmoving, he told Wilson, "Yeah, I'm going to need the gifts."
"So you didn't listen to anything I just said."
"No," House denied. "But since I'm pretty sure I'm screwed no matter what I do –"
"You want to be able to place some of the blame on me."
That actually hadn't entered his thought process at all. But hey, Wilson did have a point. "Sure. That works. I was going to say the option that has presents and a happy kid is better than the one that doesn't, but if it makes you feel better –"
"So then you'll help me," House said cautiously.
"No." Wilson's response was sharp, immediate.
"But you just said –"
"I'm not bringing presents over while Cuddy's mother is there."
So he was afraid of Arlene and her wrath. House would have laughed at that fact if he didn't understand the emotion completely.
Still, he realized that if he was going to get Wilson's help, he needed to downplay that reasonable fear.
"She won't know," he said simply. "They're staying at a hotel anyway. After they leave, I'll text you. She'll never know you were involved."
"And in between now and then, I'm supposed to find something to give Rachel. On Christmas."
House didn't think that was a problem. "Buy something in the gift shop. Steal something from –"
"I'm not stealing."
"Then take one of the teddy bears in your office and –"
"Those were given to me by my patients," Wilson reminded with a certain amount of disgust in his voice.
But House didn't pay attention to that. "So choose something you got from one of the dead ones."
"They'll never know."
"I'm not regifting something for a five year old."
House's jaw clenched in annoyance. He could understand Wilson's hesitation, but acting like it was about not being able to find the right gift was… frustrating.
"Then buy something at a gas station. Steal something from my office. Who cares?"
"And where's Cuddy going to be during all of this?"
At that, House thought about his day so far and the way Cuddy had behaved. And he couldn't help but think that she wouldn't be a problem. Maybe under normal circumstances, she would be. But with her family here? No, he didn't think she'd be on the top of her game today.
Granted, she'd known he would try to escape dinner with her family. But then again, anything with a handful of brain cells could have guessed that he would have tried to bolt, so that wasn't saying much.
Confidently, he told Wilson, "She's not going to be an issue."
On any other day, House would have been a little worried probably. Perhaps he would have felt as though he were tempting fate, begging Cuddy to surprise them both and catch him in the act.
And maybe, for a brief moment, after he'd successfully convinced Wilson to bring a gift for Rachel tonight, House had been concerned about Cuddy finding out. But as the day wore on, he could see that that worry was completely unnecessary.
Cuddy was far too busy and far too irritated to pay much attention to him. Between checking on the food, adding the finishing touches to the house, keeping Rachel occupied, and being forced to listen to all of Arlene's insults, Cuddy had no time for him. Without exaggeration, she only spoke to him once in the time before Julia and her family arrived. And even then, it had had nothing to do with the phone call, Wilson, or anything remotely related to House's machinations.
The moment had occurred right after House had hung up with Wilson. Arlene, probably having sensed that he was alone, had slithered into the kitchen before he'd had a chance to leave. And the second the leading question had come out of her mouth, he'd known he was screwed, so screwed.
"Does Lisa do that to you often?" She'd made it sound as though she'd just been casually curious, but House had known better than to think she'd merely been curious.
"Leave you with the baby." Her hand clasped together, she'd clearly tried to keep her sharp features schooled in an impassive way. But he'd been able to detect the slightest hint of a scowl nevertheless.
"All the time. Breastfed her myself."
"You're being sarcastic."
"Well, I hope you'll understand that I'm being totally serious when I ask you why you haven't adopted Rachel yet."
He'd almost respected her for getting straight to the point. Or at least, he would have, had the question not annoyed him so much.
Cocking his head to the side, he'd told her snottily, "Last I checked, you had to be married to the woman whose kids you wanted to adopt, and she doesn't want to marry me. So –"
"But you checked," she'd deduced, her eyes lighting up with the beginnings of a plan.
"You said you checked. Which means you are, in fact, interested." She'd smiled reassuringly, though he hadn't been foolish enough to think that it had been for him. "This is good."
"That's not what I –"
"Quiet, dear," Arlene had said with a pat to his arm. "If you keep sputtering –"
"I'm not sputtering."
But she'd continued to talk undeterred, "Or interrupting me, I'll never find a way to convince Lisa –"
"Convince Lisa of what?" Cuddy had asked, thankfully walking into the kitchen at that moment.
She'd clearly taken a shower; her wet hair had hung limply around her shoulders, and she'd changed into the dark purple dress he'd seen her set out earlier. And frankly, if he hadn't been so relieved to see her, he would have been furious at her for leaving him alone with her mother.
"We'll talk about it later," Arlene had said dismissively. "I'll give you time to fix your hair…. You do plan on drying it."
"Yes, I –"
"I remember distinctly how you hated having your hair brushed." She'd looked at House and explained, "She would throw a fit every time I tried to run a comb through all of that hair."
"I promise you, I will take care of my hair," Cuddy had said in measured tones, as she'd leaned over the stove to turn off two of the burners. The purposefulness with which she'd moved had shown precisely why she'd come out here with wet hair. Obviously she hadn't wanted to burn any of the food.
But that point had gone right over Arlene's head.
"And your dress too, I hope," she'd said.
"What's wrong with my dress?"
From House's point of view, there hadn't been a single thing wrong with it. It had been more conservative than Cuddy would normally go for, not as tight, not as low cut, but you'd still been able to get an idea of what she had underneath. He, of course, hadn't needed the teaser trailer for the movie he'd seen more times than he could count, but he'd liked it nevertheless.
For those very reasons though, he'd understood before she'd even said it what Arlene's problem had been.
"Nothing," she'd said, the veins in her neck prominent. "It's a beautiful dress, dear. For someone half your age."
At that, Cuddy had turned around, fury in her features, to respond. But Arlene had beaten her to it. "Now I know you work hard to take care of your appearance. But whether we like it or not… at a certain point, bodies change."
"Mom, I know that –"
"When you flaunt your figure like that…." She'd shrugged as though she'd been reluctant to divulge this painful truth. "You're just asking people to notice that things aren't quite what they once were."
Looking back on it, he could see that it was an odd moment to get offended. Or at least, it seemed like a bizarre choice to react to that single comment. But at the time, he hadn't thought about the weirdness at all and instead focused on the fact that Arlene had made a remark about her daughter's body.
His girlfriend's body.
And though he'd always taken offense to Arlene's comments, this one had seemed particularly below the belt.
Maybe that had been, because he knew how hard Cuddy worked to keep her body looking like it did. Perhaps he'd taken extra offense, because he'd seen his girlfriend naked enough to know that physically she was pretty damn near perfect. Or maybe he'd just had enough of Arlene in the two hours she'd been here, and that comment had simply put him over the edge.
He still didn't really know the answer long after the fact. But no matter the reason, he'd been furious.
Cuddy, for her part, had been prepared for the remark and even ready more ready to diffuse the situation. "I'm not changing," she'd said firmly to her mother. Then to him, she'd ordered, "Go check on Rachel, will you?"
It hadn't really been a request – just as she hadn't really wanted him to go watch the kid. "Go check on Rachel" had been a demand, a seemingly understandable way to get him out of the kitchen before he'd served matricide as an hors d'oeuvre.
And he'd almost taken the out too.
Grateful for an excuse to leave and to Cuddy for giving him one, House had been more than ready to abandon ship.
But then Arlene had said, "I'm just concerned, Lisa. You walk around, dressing like you want to be raped…."
She'd kept talking.
He'd had no idea what she'd said, but through his rage, he had seen her lips move. So he'd known that telling her child that she was asking to be raped had not been the end of her thought process. But he'd been too angry to care where she'd been going with the conversation.
And that had probably been a good thing. He'd already been able to taste the adrenaline in his mouth and feel his heart race with rage. He hadn't needed to hear anything else.
His pulse pounding in his ears, he'd said loudly, snidely, threateningly, "You know, Arlene –"
Cuddy's voice had been cool, calm. And it had been so unexpected at that moment that, in shock, he'd instinctively looked toward her.
"Please go make sure Rachel's behaving."
That had been what she'd said, but in her eyes, he'd seen only one word:
So he hadn't.
And he'd regretted it since the second he'd walked away.
Now, sitting at the dinner table with Cuddy's family, House knew he should have just been grateful for not having been caught. He should have been pleased that this business with Santa and Rachel had a foreseeable end… and that that end left Rachel happy and him with his testicles.
But honestly, all he could fixate on was the fact that he was currently breaking challah with the woman who had said all of those awful things to Cuddy.
The rest of the family tried to draw attention away from that – all of the kids being noisy and rowdy at one end of the table, Doug retelling an awful joke at the other. Yet House's mind remained on what had happened earlier.
Rationally, he understood Cuddy would not have appreciated him intervening; with families as screwed up as theirs, they'd openly agreed on a hand's off policy. She didn't push him with his family, and he did the same with her. They did not interfere. Which was why he realized that saying something to Arlene, admonishing her, would not have been a welcome act.
And that wasn't even beginning to take into account how much Cuddy hated it when he did something to protect her.
Well, maybe hate was a little strong. But she certainly did like to make a stink when he tried to… stand up for her. She liked to make it sound as though he were patronizing her, being sexist by being her defender.
So really, it was only reasonable to keep his mouth shut.
Still, there was an awkwardness joining them at the dinner table that let House know: nobody was really over what happened.
Julia, the paler, lighter-haired Cuddy, had been informed of Arlene's choice of words at some point. But she seemed to be in complete denial over the sour mood in the room. Or if not in denial, then she was definitely desperate to get everyone past the moment.
As she surveyed her children, she said to Cuddy, "You did a wonderful job, Lisa. I've never seen the kids each their vegetables like this."
Doug, still disgruntled about his role as housewife, muttered something under his breath like, "That's because you're never home to see them eat."
But the comment was lost, as Arlene had seen all of this as an opening to criticize Cuddy. "Well, of course, they like it, dear. Lisa put so much honey on –"
"There's no honey." The words sounded low coming out of Cuddy's mouth, as though she knew she'd never win the argument and had decided it wasn't really worth fighting over.
Arlene was unmoved and unconvinced. As she picked up her wine glass, she said passive aggressively, "But I guess I shouldn't complain. Considering the way Rachel ate as a baby, I suppose we should all be grateful you know what a vegetable –"
"What do you mean?"
The question had come out of Julia's mouth. And instantly, House looked at her carefully. He couldn't tell if she was being seriously interested… or just looking for another reason she could use to deem herself a better mother than Cuddy. But after a moment's consideration, he decided he couldn't know either way.
Of course it didn't really matter. The question, pointed enough to give Arlene pause, had been asked. And regardless of Julia's intentions, House knew no answer was going to be good.
Indeed, Arlene didn't disappoint.
Setting her fork down with a clank, she said admonishingly, "There's no need to rehash the past." Like it had been Julia who'd brought the topic up to begin with. "Let's just be glad Lisa came around before Rachel…." Arlene dropped her voice so that the kids wouldn't hear. "Died."
Nobody said anything at first.
Nobody knew what to say.
House was sure of that much. Because he considered himself to be both quick-witted and ruthless with his ability to be honest, and even he didn't know how to respond to that. He was too shocked to know.
And perhaps he shouldn't have been. Even when she was on her best behavior, Arlene was awful. Even when she wasn't trying, when she was attempting to be nice, she was insulting – offensively so.
But still… he never thought he would hear her imply that Cuddy had somehow trashed her daughter's pancreas and thyroid.
Yet that was precisely what Arlene had just done.
Putting all of her earlier comments to shame, she'd gone far beyond the pale. And House couldn't help but think that it was a good thing that he was completely taken aback by her words. Had he felt anything other than the cold chill of surprise in his veins, he would have killed her. He would have broken every last agreement he'd made with Cuddy and strangled the horrible person he got to call "mother-in-law."
Doug and Julia were less surprised.
House guessed that made sense; they'd been dealing with her a lot longer than he had. And as such, they were quick to smooth over the conversation.
"I don't think…" Doug said tentatively. "We should talk about this in front of the children. Especially in front of –"
"No," Julia agreed, pushing her hair nervously out of her face. At the moment, the kids were chattering about something. But she was clearly concerned that they'd pick up on the conversation. "Now's not the place, Mom."
Arlene blinked, as though she didn't understand. But of course she understood. "I don't think I said anything wrong. I was merely complimenting Lisa –"
Doug accidentally interrupted her with a loud snort, the moment thus becoming the sole instance House liked him. Not coincidentally, Arlene was less of a fan and cast a withering glare in Doug's direction. He instantly shut up.
"She's done a wonderful job," she continued undeterred. "Now if she would keep kosher –"
"You ate pork until you were twenty-two; let's not act like ham's the worse thing in the world," Cuddy mumbled into her wine glass.
Finally – finally – she had spoken.
Over the last few hours, House had seen her will to fight dwindle. As though she knew she could never win, he had seen her go from someone who was willing to disagree with her mother to someone who refused to argue. Not backing down per se, she had simply become too exhausted to care.
And he'd hated to see that, because House knew how much it took to get her to that point.
But she was nothing if not resilient, and Arlene's words had given Cuddy some of that spark back.
To Arlene's immense dissatisfaction.
Granted, as a general rule, she was not opposed to dissention. She liked to voice her opinions but overall didn't mind when someone else did the same. She did not ask or demand unyielding obedience. But this was different; he could see.
This she clearly took issue with.
Because, House realized, Cuddy had done more than disagree; she'd embarrassed her mother, whose normally pale cheeks were as pink as her sweater.
Once more nobody knew what to say. But as had been the case before, Julia, who seemed amazingly adverse to conflict, glossed over the issue. "Right… well, before Mom starts talking about a shonda for the goyim, I have an announcement to make."
Sitting next to Cuddy, House could see out of the corner of his eye the face she was making. She wasn't saying anything, but he could practically hear her saying to herself that they were already so far beyond doing shameful things in front of House. She was thinking that, more than likely, he couldn't think any less of her family than he already did.
Surprisingly though, that wasn't true.
He was always prepared for things to get worse.
Which they did.
Doug started to grumble. "We said we'd wait until –"
"I know," Julia interrupted, waving him off. "But those two aren't going to stop otherwise," she added under her breath.
She didn't give anyone a chance to say that they'd heard her before she announced, "We're pregnant. Again."
The fact that she could add "again" to that sentence truly said it all.
Maybe if there hadn't been four pregnancies before this one… or four annoying products of said pregnancies at the end of the table, it would have been exciting news. As it was though, the reception was lukewarm.
Cuddy was quick to say, "Congratulations." But it came out as more dutiful than earnest.
Arlene, on the other hand, was nothing but earnest. Her eyes examining the so-called happy couple, she chewed the bite of food in her mouth slowly. When she swallowed, she asked flatly, "Now, was this planned?"
House knew that the answer to the question was yes. After the poop-on-the-floor incident, Cuddy had informed him that, unfortunately, the litter would probably continue to grow; she'd said Julia had always wanted and planned for six kids, and there'd more than likely been more to that story, but House had been bored into a coma, so he didn't know exactly how it ended. But even without that past conversation, he could tell that this was entirely planned. This whole thing screamed band-aid baby.
So he wasn't surprised when Julia nodded her head. "Of course, it was."
"That's good." Arlene shrugged. "I was beginning to think you two didn't know how to use condoms."
All of the adults paused in disgust.
But she did not. "The way you get pregnant, I started to have my doubts."
Julia shook her head a little. "No, that's not –"
"It's decided then. Here I was, thinking I'd have to explain that your mouth can't get pregnant, but I guess you've decided to be like one of those families in Alabama with sixteen or so children and a hatred for modern science and fantasy novels." She casually sipped on her wine before saying almost bitterly, "That's good to know."
And with that, dinner had been ruined.
Apparently, old people talking about blow jobs resulted in loss of appetite. Who could have guessed?
Anyone with a brain, really, House decided.
But even you hadn't known until that moment, it was not hard to predict what came next. The adults' moods successfully soured for the time being, they rushed through dessert and coffee. And when Seth and Rachel finally couldn't stand it anymore and started hitting one another, everyone just gave up. The night was officially done.
There was to be no salvaging Hanukkah, no rescuing a holiday that had actually long since past. There were no candles ceremoniously lit in the menorah that had belonged to Cuddy and Julia's great-great grandmother. There were no games with the dreidel, no bland family movie, or any of the other things one might associate with Hanukkah.
No kisses, no real affection for one another, no presents, no acknowledgment that they'd had a fun time – everyone left awkwardly but quickly. Little feet shuffled out the door behind irritable matriarchs, who were both determined not to look at one another, which really was a testament to how pissed they all were; normally they could muster a friendly goodbye.
But in this case, only Doug bothered to pause in the threshold, turning to Cuddy to say, "Uh… this was nice. Thanks."
When the door shut behind Doug, House expected her to immediately go off. Not at him, of course, but he felt that it would have been perfectly natural for her (or anyone) to explode after sitting through all of that. But instead, she just turned on her feet and headed towards the kitchen.
He tried to follow her, started to anyway. However, she was quick to stop him; without even looking back, she said, "Don't follow me." Perhaps realizing that was too harsh, she added quietly, "I just need a minute."
It wasn't really. But he could tell by her tense set that she needed time to herself. And he had no choice but to give her what she wanted. If he pushed a conversation, she would get [rightfully] angry with him.
Knowing that, he let her walk away.
Oh, he still wanted to talk to her, still planned on it. But she needed a moment to herself, and he couldn't deny her that, not after the dinner they'd just had.
Frankly, he suspected he needed some time to himself as well. He wasn't nearly as affected by her family as she tended to be; after all, it was easy to write off what you already didn't care much about. Yet Arlene was good at getting under your skin, even when you didn't give much of a crap. And though he weren't as tense as Cuddy, he could see that maybe he needed to unwind before doing any else.
For him, that was pretty easy to do. Cuddy was in the kitchen with the rest of the wine from dinner and washing dishes. Rachel had been sent to bed the second she'd gotten into a fight with Seth, which meant that she wasn't going to be a problem and House could raid through his TiVo without fear of her walking in.
Well, maybe fear was the wrong word. He wasn't afraid of Rachel catching a glimpse of RuPaul's Drag Race. On the other hand, he would be irritated if she interrupted or if his attempt to relax ended with Cuddy getting pissy with him. But whatever the wording, he was glad to be alone now.
Yet he didn't stay alone for long.
He'd been sitting in the dark, watching the television for about a half hour when Cuddy came in. Immediately, he suspected she'd made good use of the alcohol in the kitchen. There was just something about the way she swayed on her feet, the way she fluidly flopped down onto the couch that made him think she'd had a little something.
Still, a little confirmation never hurt.
As she laid her head down in his lap, he asked her, "You finish that wine?"
"Yeah," she answered, nodding her head against his crotch. The word was softly expelled on an exhale of hot air, and even through the thick fabric of his jeans, he could feel it.
And though Arlene had done her best to make him never want sex again, his body was telling him now that she had not succeeded. Because, as Cuddy tucked her legs on the couch, he realized: he wanted more; he wanted her.
But he didn't give into the temptation – and wouldn't until he knew that she was okay.
Admittedly, his concern probably fell under the category of things Cuddy wouldn't like, but there was no helping that. After that dinner, he wanted it to be absolutely clear that Arlene had no idea what she was talking about. He wanted Cuddy to know that there was no way she was responsible for or guilty of any of the things Arlene had accused her of. Damned or not, he needed that to be known.
And even if Cuddy already knew that much, he still felt compelled to say the words aloud.
But he didn't get a chance to speak before she did.
"What are you watching?" she asked suddenly, confusion and judgment coating the words.
One hand carding through her hair, the other stroking her forearm, he said, "RuPaul's Drag Race. Akashia's mad that Tammie's on her team for their Destiny's Child performance."
Cuddy squinted at the TV. "I pay for cable, so you can watch this?"
"You pay for the cable, I get to watch questionable television. I get to watch drag queens get into lip synch battles, I'm happier. I'm happier, you get laid more," he explained. "You have more sex, you're happier."
Her response was a dry, "So clearly I just did this for myself. Even though you'd have sex with me no matter what your mood is."
"Speaking of moods," he said, sensing that he could somehow segue to the topic he wanted to discuss. "You all right?"
House could sense her pausing at the question, though it was impossible to ascertain why she was doing that.
"Why wouldn't I be?" she asked slowly.
Inwardly, he was beginning to feel that this conversation had no chance of going well. Given that she was already denying… yeah, he was pretty sure he was screwed.
"Because… your mother was a little –"
"I'm aware that she can be difficult," Cuddy said dismissively.
He peered down at her in disbelief. "That's it?"
As soon as he asked the question, she was rolling over onto her back. Looking up at him, she asked, "What do you want me to say?"
"Nothing," he said with a shrug as a reflex. But as soon as the word came out, he was sure that he did want her to say something. Maybe not something specific, but he didn't want to sit here in silence with her (or worse, with her talking about his taste in television) when there was something important to discuss. So he added after a second, "I just want to make sure everything's… okay."
"'Everything,'" she repeated suspiciously.
"You mean me."
"Or I just mean you, uh huh."
His voice was pitched higher, the words uttered quickly. Internally, he'd known that speaking that thought in a normal tone would have made it seem so serious. And true, it might have been serious, but Cuddy wouldn't have reacted well to him behaving like that.
But even said breezily, the words still managed to piss her off. Her features hardening, she said tersely, "I'm fine."
"Well, that convinced me."
She looked at him carefully then, as though she were trying to decide what approach would make him less annoying the quickest.
Eventually, she said calmly, "I really am fine."
House didn't think he could believe her. "But after –"
"Again. What do you want me to say?"
"Somebody needs to chillax." He couldn't help but be condescending; she was acting like a moron. "I'm just trying to have a conversation."
Dryly, she said, "You want to have a conversation with me."
"One of the drag queens just explained that she tucked today, because she wanted to show her ass off in tight gold lamé shorts, and you –"
"Like you can't relate to that."
"Want to have a conversation," she continued, not even remotely paying attention to his joke.
"You want me to turn it off?" He reached for the remote, but she batted his hand down.
"No," she said tiredly. "Let's just get this over with."
He frowned. "I didn't know my concern was so tedious for you."
Cuddy didn't bother to deny it. Instead, what she said was, "Look. I'm not going to pretend like today was fun. But… it was exactly what I thought it would be."
"You thought your mother was going to accuse you of nearly killing Rachel and wanting to be raped," he said doubtfully.
She looked at him as though she were surprised by his behavior. "You have met my mother before."
"And you don't think she crossed any line today with you." Absentmindedly, he let his fingers stroke her arm. Had he truly been aware of what he was doing, he would have kept his hand still; he didn't want it to seem like he was consoling her. But the truth was he was too deep in thought to consider what the rest of his body was doing. "You think she was just business as usual, and there was nothing wrong with –"
"I think that my mother is old, set in her ways," she explained calmly. "I think that it is a waste of energy to be upset with her."
He thought that would have made sense if it weren't for the fact that Arlene… had been so cruel. "But –"
"House…." She shook her head a little. "I used to get angry. And then I realized that it was like talking to a brick wall." Her voice was soft, matter of fact. But part of him couldn't help but wonder if she only sounded that way out of exhaustion. Not the kind of exhaustion that came from simply being tired, but rather, the type you got when you knew there was absolutely no way to change things. "And then it didn't make me feel better to be angry with her. Because nothing would ever change, and yelling at her only made me more miserable, because I knew she didn't understand."
Stroking her hair a little, he could only say, "You're telling me she wouldn't get that –"
"She thinks she's being helpful."
"Then she's delusional."
"She's not delusional."
"Yeah, she kinda is."
Cuddy looked at him sternly. "She is not –"
"She thinks I'm trying to convert everyone to Christianity," he pointed out. "She thinks Rachel singing about Santa Claus is the same thing as seeing Goody Proctor with the devil." He threw his hands in the air as though there were no way to change this unfortunate truth. "That's delusional. Especially when she wasn't even Jewish until –"
"I shouldn't have mentioned it," she interrupted. The way she said it though, it was clear that she wasn't really talking to him; if anything it seemed like she was remembering what had happened earlier.
"Why not? It's true: she converted. She –"
"She didn't convert. It's not like that. It's not…." For a moment, she hesitated. But he didn't need to prod her to continue; she was seemingly ready to spill the beans. "In Hebrew, there's a word for Jews who were forced to abandon their Judaism and still tried to practice it as best they could."
Her forehead furrowed together as she clearly tried to think of the word. "Anusim or something like that," she said after a moment. "It applies to everyone – the original people who were forced to convert and all of their descendents."
House could read between the lines. "And I assume this history lesson means you're telling me that your mother –"
"Has some great-great-great-great grandmother or whatever who was forced to convert, yeah." She smiled a little. "I don't really know who but yeah." Her head wobbled a little, as she seemed to consider what to say. "They managed to keep some traditions alive, I guess, passed it down to their children. But my mother was born right after World War II. My grandmother saw pictures of the concentration camps and didn't want her children to be Jewish. At all."
Cuddy sighed a little. "And then at some point, my mother found out the truth from my great grandmother and chose to convert back when she met my father."
His gaze temporarily drawn to the flicker of the television, he was disappointed to realize that he'd missed the elimination on RuPaul's Drag Race. Not that he needed to see it, of course; he'd seen it before. But he'd only started watching the show to unwind. And to be confronted with Cuddy's family history instead was not exactly a welcome alternative.
Still, he tried not to be too obnoxious when he said, "I assume you have a point…."
The small smile she'd had turned deep into a frown. But it had nothing to do with his words, he quickly understood. "I just shouldn't thrown it in her face. That's all."
"Why not?" he asked honestly. As he began to play the next episode of Drag Race, he pointed out, "She would have done the same to you."
He could see Cuddy giving him an incredulous look out of the corner of his eye. "What?" he asked, his voice higher than normal. "She would have."
"Probably," she admitted. "But I know better."
"And she doesn't?"
She rolled her eyes. "My point," she said, annoyed. "Is that I let myself get angry with her for what she said to Rachel, and it only made both of us even worse than we normally are with each other. Getting mad didn't do anything."
He could sense the end of the discussion coming, could hear the defeat in her voice and knew what it meant. He could tell that she'd decided she'd entertained the conversation long enough and was easily approaching the point where she'd shut it down all together.
That was fine. She'd been pushed enough today, and after that, he had no right to demand the conversation keep going. But at the same time, he didn't want her to be unaware of one very important fact.
"She shouldn't say those things," he said openly. "I don't like hearing her talk to you that way."
Cuddy shifted closer to him, even though there was no way for her to be nearer. Her cheek pressed against his stomach, her hand reaching for the one he had trailing the length of her arm, she smiled infinitesimally. "I know."
"You should let me –"
Her soft chuckle interrupted him.
"What?" he asked immediately.
"I just told you that confronting my mother makes her worse, and you think that it'd somehow be magically different if you were the one yelling at her?"
"I wouldn't have to yell." Which was a lie, he knew. He would be shouting. But Cuddy didn't need to know that, he told himself.
Except she already did.
"You would," she insisted knowingly.
"No," she said, shaking her head insistently. "My mom calls me a whore, and you're going to rationally, calmly explain why you don't –"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Uh… just off the top of my head, because it won't work. She'll give you that look – like she couldn't possibly understand what you're talking about. And then that'll just make you madder, which is assuming you weren't all that mad to begin with."
"So?" He really didn't see what it would matter. "I get angry. You think I'm going to hit her?"
She scoffed at the idea. "I think you're going to shout at her. And then she's going to be passive aggressive about it and ask me and my sister and her next-door neighbors why I would ever be with a man so angry and awful. And then the next time we see her, she'll be even more difficult than she was before." Cuddy inhaled deeply, proving that she had, in fact, said all of that with one breath.
And honestly, he couldn't deny the truth in her words. He wanted to, but he couldn't. Yet, he still said, "All of that might be true, but –"
"It's not right for me to sit there and let her say those things."
That seemed to get her attention.
"Why not?" she asked immediately.
She grimaced at his answer. "Because you think it's your job to protect me."
"Yes." He said it anyway, even though he could hear the snide tones in her words.
"To save me."
"What?" He was completely taken aback by the remark. "No."
But she wasn't listening. "Because I can't take care of myself and need you to –"
"Oh stop," he interrupted. "Let's get, like, twelve things straight. First of all, Old Mother Hubbard is nuts. It's not really so much defending you as it is me telling her to shut up. Secondly, even if I was trying to protect you, defending you isn't the same thing as me being condescending, so don't burn your bra just yet."
Briefly he considered changing his mind on that last part. If she burned her bras, then she'd have to walk around without a bra, and that sounded pretty awesome for him. But he decided now was not the time to mention it.
"Thirdly," he said sharply, his ire growing at the way she seemed amused by his outburst. "Let's not act like you're against a little protection every now and then."
"Oh really?" She sounded surprised. "I can't wait to hear this."
He continued unmoved by her doubt. "If there were a bear –"
"There's no bear."
"I know," he said, annoyed. "I'm just saying if –"
"There's no bear! No life or death situation. It's just my mother," Cuddy interrupted loudly. As she sat up, she told him, "You want to fall on that sword if it happens, fine. We come across a starving grizzly bear in the middle of New Jersey, feel free to sacrifice yourself. But we're talking about my mom."
He smirked. She'd just made it so easy for him to make his next point. "Well if it's so unimportant, why'd you feel the need to defend me to her earlier?"
Immediately Cuddy started to laugh – and not the tentative, suppressed, or joyous kind either. It was a cruel laugh. It was the kind you made when you thought someone was so stupid that you could only be amused by their idiocy.
"Because that's what you would want me to do," she explained after a minute. "Because if I hadn't, you would have assumed that I agreed with whatever screwed up thing she was saying."
House wouldn't vocalize his agreement. He just wouldn't. But inwardly, he could acknowledge that she was right.
"That's what you want me to do," she repeated.
One of her hands reached up to cup his cheeks. Her fingertips running along his stubble, she was being gentle, comforting. Whatever derision she'd felt moments ago had seemingly disappeared, and he couldn't help but be slightly put off by the sudden change in her behavior.
Still, he didn't push her away.
"You never had anyone to defend you." She said it in a very matter of fact manner, as though there didn't need to be any discussion about it. However, her frankness wasn't cruel; she wasn't lording it over his head. She was just stating the truth calmly and with care. "Then we started working together, and it became my job to protect you, and you got used to it… and now you like it."
"No," he said quickly. Maybe on some level, he did enjoy her protection, but he didn't like the way she was putting it.
"No, I don't –"
"You do," she interrupted gently. "And that's okay. I don't mind – I like it. I like making you happy."
He was about to protest, but she was quicker than he was. Her mouth covering his, she kissed him. It wasn't a very long kiss, but it was kind enough and unexpected enough that it shut him up right away.
As she pulled away, she explained, "But I'm not you. It doesn't help me to have you fight with my mother. I don't like you getting into arguments over me with her." She shook her head as though to underline the point. "It doesn't make me happy. It doesn't make me feel protected or defended," she said mockingly. "It drives me crazy."
At that point though, she didn't need to say the words; it was perfectly clear that it had pushed her buttons for whatever reason.
"I can see that," he said honestly.
But she took his honesty for accusation. "House –"
"Calm down," he insisted. Gesturing to her, he said, "I'm agreeing with you. Obviously it bothers you, which is why I didn't say anything."
"I know that."
"Really?" He doubted it. "Cause the way you're talking, it sounds like you're mad at me for something I didn't do."
She closed her eyes. "I'm not –"
"Yeah, you are." His voice mocking, his words gave her pause. At least, she didn't return the verbal volley thoughtlessly.
Her silence immediately changed the atmosphere in the room. He could, for the first time since her family had left, recognize just how exhausted he was. But also, he could feel within him, thanks to her lack of chatter, a clear sense of appreciation for her.
In a way, wording it like that was misleading; he always appreciated her on some level. However, now that her family was gone, now that she was quiet, it was easy for him to recognize just how much more he felt the emotion in that particular moment. She was so wonderful and, thankfully, completely different from her family. And no longer annoyed, he could look at her then and feel all the love and respect he had for her well within his body.
At the same time though, he could see in her that the only emotion rising within her was guilt. Anybody else would have missed it, but he knew her as well as he knew himself, and he could tell from their long history together when she felt guilty.
When she felt ashamed.
And he didn't need to see her look away from him then to know what was going to come out of her mouth.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "You're right. You were fine."
He reached for her hands and pulled her closer once more. "Just fine?" he teased as she straddled him.
She looked at him sternly, which was difficult, given the way she'd seated herself on top of him. "You laughed when my mother asked Julia if she really was as dumb as she looked. So yeah, just fine."
"You can't fault me for that. It was a good line."
Cuddy suppressed a smile. "It was not –"
"I know it's hard to believe, but your mom was actually right about something."
"You wouldn't be saying that if she'd been talking about me."
He smirked. "Well, if she'd said that about you, she'd have been wrong. You're nowhere near as dumb as you look."
If it hadn't been obvious that she was tired and full of red wine before, it would have been now. The seconds it took her to process what he was saying was proof of that. And when she did finally realize what he'd said…
Her reaction was as anticipated.
"You're such an ass." By the sound of her voice, it was obvious she was equal parts amused and annoyed.
Physically though, she only responded with the latter emotion.
Instantly, she tried to pull her hands out of his. Tugging hard, she obviously wanted to smack him – not forcefully, not to the point where he was in pain, of course. But he kept a hold of her hands anyway.
He knew it would just irritate her even further.
"Why?" he asked, pretending not to understand. "It's actually a compliment." Condescendingly he explained, "It means you're smarter than –"
"It also means you think I look –"
"Here's the thing you need to ask yourself," he interrupted her seriously. "You know I'm not insulting you. We're just pretending to fight, cause your mother's got us acting twitchier than Whitney Houston in an airport security line." Cuddy's face scrunched together, as though she couldn't really figure out the cultural reference. But he ignored that to get to the point. "Now, we can keep doing that, or you can realize that your boobs are kinda in my face right now, and I could be doing something a lot more fun with that."
She stopped struggling against him, but she also frowned. "That's it?" she asked disappointed. "Your point is we could be having sex instead."
With a shrug, he replied, "It's a good point to make."
"You'd rather fight than fu-"
"I'd rather you put a little more effort into it than just mentioning we could be having sex right now."
That surprised him. "You thought that was it? You thought I was just gonna make the suggestion, whip my dick out, and –"
"I think that when you talk like that, a sex schedule can't be that far behind."
"'A sex schedule.'" he repeated in confusion, in dismay. Even as he said the words, he wasn't sure where Cuddy was coming from. He tried to understand, of course, tried to comprehend what she was thinking. But all he could think was that none of it made any sense.
"Once you start acting like sex is just an okay alternative to other things, scheduling it for every Wednesday night isn't far behind." It came out of her mouth very matter of factly, very casually – like it all made complete sense in her mind.
And maybe it did. Maybe there was some sort of logic behind it that he was missing, but he couldn't help but feel like he just did not understand.
He supposed he didn't need to though. As long as he reassured her, her insanity would go away.
Letting her go, House said calmly, "I love you."
"I love you too." She was saying it out of habit, out of duty, he could tell; she hadn't forgotten the conversation. Nothing was forgiven… yet.
"If I say sex is a better option than something else, it's because it is." Which wasn't an impressive argument, he realized, but he didn't plan on stopping there.
Unfortunately she didn't seem to know that.
"Oh, this should be good," she said sarcastically. As she settled back into the opposite end of the couch, her feet resting on his lap, she looked at him expectantly.
So he could look at her more clearly, he turned his head toward her. She already had an arm propped up on the elbow of the couch, and there was no denying that she was ready for an answer.
House did his best to please. "We have great sex. You want to pretend otherwise? Fine. But I'm not going to act like we're lacking something."
"I'm not asking you to."
"Good," he said enthusiastically. "Because if you said differently, we'd have a problem." He didn't let her ask what that problem would be before he explained. "In that case, I'd have to point out that your issue isn't that I made sex sound like a fun way to pass the time."
"Really?" Her voice was doubtful. "Because I'm pretty sure that's –"
"You're worried that I've gotten bored. You think we're a step away from only having sex, because it's what we're supposed to do. That's why you mentioned a schedule," he said knowingly. "You're afraid of getting to that point. And really, that's just moronic."
It was blunt, but he wasn't going to pussyfoot around it.
Just by looking at her though, he could tell that Cuddy wasn't appreciative of that fact.
"I'm not a moron," she said through gritted teeth.
"Ya think? Because if you're under the impression that I'm somehow sick of –"
"Fine." She waved her hand dismissively. "You've made your point."
"I don't think I have."
In fact, he knew he hadn't. She hadn't let him.
He placed a hand around one of her ankles. Reassuringly he stroked the soft skin beneath her fingertips. "When I first met you," House said slowly. "You were closer to Rachel's age than you are now. You –"
"So you're saying I'm stupid and old," she interrupted, clearly seeing an insult where there had been none.
The same could not be said for his response. "Don't forget annoying and apparently unable to listen." There had been an insult in that.
But she wisely shut up afterwards.
"Anyway. Like I was trying to say…." He stopped speaking. Given her immediate history, he didn't think it was absurd to believe that she was going to interrupt him again.
When she didn't, he kept going. "I've known you for most of my life. We started dating in 2010. It's almost four years later." She nodded her head in understanding. "Fifty-two weeks in a year. Multiply that by three, add seven or so months to the equation, and then think about how much sex we usually have in a week, and consider how much sex we've had in all those years."
He gave her a second to think about it. Although the exact numbers were beyond his immediate understanding as well (he didn't care enough to do the math), he felt that the important fact in all of it was that they were long past the point where boredom should have set in.
"You are… a huge part of my life. The most important." He swallowed hard at the same time she smiled a little. "In case you haven't noticed, you're really hot and occasionally not so annoying that I want to set myself on fire. And though the last five minutes of this conversation have tried to prove otherwise, you're not an idiot. Completely anyway."
Hearing the words out loud, he felt that they were more insulting than he'd intended. In his mind, he'd simply been going for "not lame" and had somehow ended up in dick territory. So he quickly added, "You keep things interesting. I'm not bored." And with utmost sincerity, he told her, "I doubt I ever will be."
He paused; go too fast, and what he was saying would lose its impact, he knew. And since that was the last thing he wanted, he stayed silent for a moment. He gave the words an opportunity to settle over her and into her consciousness.
"I'm nowhere near my breaking point," he said eventually. "Which is saying a lot, considering I've spent the day with your mother talking about marriage, babies, and fellatio."
Cuddy groaned at that. Turning her head towards the couch, she buried her face into one of the cushions momentarily. "I can't believe she –"
"You see?" he pointed out loudly, insistently.
She gave him a dark look that clearly said, "Don't wake up Rachel." He hadn't actually meant to be that noisy, excitement taking over him, so it was easy to quiet down.
"If I weren't completely and totally nuts about you," he said slowly as he moved closer towards her. "I wouldn't be here."
Practically on his elbows and knees at that point, he was relieved when she shifted on the couch. Her hips moving on the cushion, she allowed him just enough space to get the weight off of his bad leg. And he eagerly shifted his weight.
Still, it was hardly comfortable, for him, his leg, or her. He was practically slumped against her now, his leg wedged between her body and the couch. But at least he was close enough to her now to feel her body pressed against his, the warmth of her breath against his cheek when she pointed out, "You tried to leave."
"But I stayed." He leaned down to kiss her… and was denied. Her fingers flew up to rest against his mouth.
"You stayed, because I –"
"Begged," he mumbled against her fingers.
"Asked you to."
He pushed her hand out of the way. "So? Do you think the cow lets itself to be led to the slaughter?"
She scoffed. "Yeah, I do. It's a cow."
"Fine." He thought about it for a moment, tried to think of another analogy that would work. "Does the mouse wander into the trap without a piece of cheese –"
"I'm the cheese in this equation?"
It seemed stupid to worry about offending her. It was stupid. However, he didn't doubt that he needed to tread carefully; she might not have normally been upset at his analogies, but she also wasn't normally forced to sit through all of her mother's judgments.
"I guess," he admitted reluctantly. "But a really attractive piece of –"
"Stop it." She was clearly annoyed.
"House, if you would shut up long enough, you would hear me say that I will have all the sex you want if you be quiet."
Immediately he stopped talking. He considered pointing out that she was doing exactly what she'd just complained about: treating sex like a better alternative than something else. But then he realized that there would be no upside to saying that aloud; he'd be right, but she'd be furious with him.
And that was the last thing he wanted.
After all, he'd only mentioned sex to put her at ease.
Well, okay, not only. He could be honest enough to admit that he had selfish reasons for suggesting it as well. But part of it had been selfless.
He had seen how tense she was. He had known how easy it would have been for Arlene's words to twist themselves inside Cuddy's mind. And he'd realized how their own words to one another could just as easily spiral outward into an argument. Their banter turning into something darker had been something he'd wanted to avoid.
He hadn't wanted to make things worse.
Which was why he asked, "You sure?"
"That I want you to be quiet? Absolutely," she said with a smile.
He persisted. "I meant –"
"I know what you meant."
"And I think that the longer we talk, the worse I'm going to get." Her hand stroked his bicep. "I know you're trying to help, but I just… can't right now."
He nodded his head in understanding. "Maybe you should just go to bed."
"I don't –" She cut herself off, perhaps realizing how angry and frustrated she sounded.
"Relax," he told her calmly. "I'm on your side. You don't need to act like that."
Her voice was just barely above a whisper.
"I mean it. You're jumpier than a neurotic lap dog."
"I know. I'm sorry."
She opened her mouth, probably to disagree with him, but he was quick to hush her. "Shh." One of his hands skimmed the length of her torso. "Just relax."
It was a tall order, one that he wasn't sure she'd be able to follow. It was so tall that he wasn't even convinced that he could get her to relax, with or without sex involved. But at this point, he was willing to give it a shot.
He certainly couldn't make anything worse.
That thought in mind, he leaned down and kissed her earlobe. "Let me make you feel good," he whispered.
She stretched a little along the couch, her head falling back. "I want that."
It was at that moment that House recognized what he had to do.
Admittedly, even in his own head, that sounded incredibly dramatic. But it wasn't like that. There was no exciting revelation, no sharp moment of realization to mark the shift from ignorance to understanding. Unlike those instances where he suddenly knew what was wrong with his patient, this came to him naturally and without excitement. One second he hadn't understood and then he had:
This couldn't be about him, about his needs.
He hadn't ever intended it to be, but he could see how maybe angling for sex had been about what he wanted and only what he wanted. He'd always planned on getting her off, of course, but the whole thing had mainly been a way to relax and avoid a fight with Cuddy.
Now though, he could see that he needed to repurpose himself. In no way, could he make this about him. Everyone else who had been in their lives today had been so needy, so demanding of her time, and House knew that he needed to be the one person who did not do that.
She would never relax otherwise.
She would sense his need for release and do her best to give it to him. And while his dick liked the sound of that, rationally he understood that it would be counterproductive to make her concerned for him. To tell her to calm down and then expect her to do something for him in the next breath… it wasn't right.
Not in his mind anyway.
So really, there was only one thing to do: take himself out of the equation, get her off without indulging himself.
He wouldn't deny that the plan sucked. It really did. Convincing Cuddy to have sex and then not being able to get off himself? Yeah, there was no other way to put it: it sucked.
But he knew there was no point trying anything else. It wouldn't work if she sensed that there was still someone else's needs to take care of.
Granted, she like none other knew how to take care of that particular need. But that was beside the point, he forced himself to think.
He'd made his choice; he knew what was right, and there was no backing out now. And while part of him regretted not having other options, he knew with every fiber of his being that the end result would be worth it.
With that thought firmly planted in his mind, he renewed his efforts. Knowing her, he thought, it wouldn't take much effort, but he wasn't about to take that for granted.
Not when she was more tightly wound than a piano string anyway.
At that, he glanced at her. He wanted to gauge, just by looking at her, how much work he needed to do. And just from that single peek, he could see that it wouldn't be entirely easy.
Her eyes had closed, her mouth slightly parted, but she was still more rigid than he would have liked. "You should have had more wine," he murmured, pressing a kiss to those sweetly opened lips.
She opened her eyes immediately, bitterness in her gaze. "So when Rachel gets into the car to go to the zoo tomorrow, I can listen to my mother –"
"Hey, hey, hey." He kissed her again, this time allowing his upper teeth to graze against the soft flesh of her lower lip when he pulled away. "Call me old fashioned, but your mom and Rachel… not really things I want to talk about during foreplay."
Cuddy was quick to challenge him. "This is what you call foreplay?"
He sneered. "I'm getting there."
"If you would shut up, yeah, I might get around to it."
She smiled at what he could only assume was his mild irritation, which just annoyed him further. But at least she had the good sense to stop talking.
Instead letting one of her hands travel up his arm, she craned her neck as best she could. It wasn't easy, given that she was mainly trapped between his body and the couch. Somehow though, she managed to raise her head enough to capture his lips with her own.
Immediately she sighed harshly into his mouth. He could feel it, just as he could feel the way she strained to kiss him passionately. One of his hands curling in the dark strands of her hair, he tugged.
It wasn't harsh. There was no yanking involved. He just gently guided her head back down to the arm of the couch.
Her tension instantly receded. It might not have been gone altogether; the ancient Cuddy was too skilled at degrading her daughter for that to happen. But at least there was no uncomfortable rigidity about Cuddy's body now.
At least she could relax into his kiss. And maybe, if he were lucky, she could even possibly allow herself to get lost in the way his lips and tongue moved against hers.
He certainly hoped that would happen and aimed to do his best to ensure that it did.
His mouth remained against hers as he slid his hand out from under her head. The strands of her hair tickled his palm, but the sensation barely registered in his mind; as Cuddy deepened their kiss, all he could really think about was doing something else with his hands.
She must have been thinking about it as well, because she was quick to grab hold of his now freed hand. And she was even quicker to push it downward towards her breasts, which had been fighting with her neckline all day long.
Against her mouth, he taunted, "A little eager, are we?"
He couldn't tell if her "Yes" was an answer to his question or approval for the way his thumb skimmed over the swell of her breast. But then again, he didn't really care either way; whatever the reason, it all meant one thing: keep going.
And since that was what he wanted, he had no trouble ignoring her vagueness.
The question out of his mind before it had even really entered it, he squeezed her chest slowly. Allowing his fingertips to curl under the v-neck of her dress, he slowly dragged the material away from her body.
As he'd suspected all along, she was wearing one of her demi cup, push up bras. And suddenly not getting off seemed like the hardest thing in the world for House. Because if there was one piece of lingerie designed to make a man come in his pants, it was the black bra he was staring at.
On anyone, it would have looked good. On her, with her body, specifically with her tits… blood was rushing so fast to his dick that it almost seemed surprising that he hadn't past out yet.
"You just going to stare?" Cuddy asked, barely catching his attention. "Or are you actually planning on –"
"Sorry. It's just your breasts are –"
He didn't get a chance to finish the sentence. She was too busy kissing him for him to reply. And who was he to fight her insistence anyway?
As she kissed him, his hand slid underneath the fabric of her bra. She was warm to the touch, her skin smooth and delicate. Arlene had said Cuddy's body wasn't what it used to be, but at that moment, from his perspective, that remark couldn't have been further from the truth.
Instantly House regretted having the thought. He hadn't been kidding when he'd said earlier that sex and Cuddy's family didn't go well together. Just the very mention of Arlene or some other unbearable relative was nearly enough to kill the mood, as thinking about them tended to make him remember about all of the despicable things they'd done that day. But he was determined not to let that happen now. He'd worked too hard to get this far to stop.
Focusing instead on Cuddy, he forced the thought out of his mind. The only thing that mattered now, the only thing he needed to pay attention to, he told himself, was what he was doing in this moment.
And given the noises she was making, given the way her nipple tightened beneath his fingers, doing that was not, unsurprisingly, hard.
Cuddy grunted loudly, breaking apart their kiss. "More."
Her voice was insistent. Almost as insistent and needy as his grip on the cup of her bra, he thought, as he pushed the material to the side. It had been nice, he realized, just to feel her body respond to his. But like Cuddy, he wanted more.
He wanted to see.
In this case, the television cast an off-looking, bluish glow on her body. But as her breast sprang into view, that was the last thing he cared about.
Hastily, he trapped her bra cup and neckline of her dress underneath her underwire; her chest was big enough to probably keep all that unnecessary fabric at bay, but when he was so close to tasting her?
There was no way in hell he was going to risk her dress getting in the way.
Cuddy didn't seem to care about that though. Or maybe she did, just not as much as she cared about having his mouth on her, apparently. Because he hadn't even had a chance to pull his hand out from underneath her bra, but she was already pushing his head towards her breast.
And he did mean pushing.
She practically had her heel digging into his eye socket, as she tried to shove him southward.
"Not so rough," he whined, pulling her hand off of him.
She arched her back. "I want you."
House kissed the palm of her hand gently. "And I plan on giving you everything you want," he told her in soft tones. "But. The whole hand in my eye socket," he said louder and with dismay. "It's not exactly –"
It was probably the quickest and most insincere apology ever to have been uttered in this house. And considering he lived here and often had to offer apologies of that nature, that was really saying something.
"Yeah, I'm sure you are."
She smiled lightly and pulled her hand free from his. For a brief moment, she looked like she wanted to reply. Truth be told, he suspected that on any other day, she would have. But as she'd had plenty of time today to offer retorts and insults, this time, she said nothing. Instead, she just reached up and stroked his cheek a few times.
It was apology enough.
"Just relax," he told her, not for the first time.
Fluidly, his hand skated its way down her body towards the rumpled hem of her dress. He hadn't even touched her there yet, but, thanks to their movement on the couch, the skirt had ridden up. In other words, much to his delight, she was already showing a little thigh.
A little but not enough, he told himself.
Just as Cuddy began to guide his head to her nipple once more, he pushed her skirt up to her waist.
All at once, there was a slew of motion between them, each action melding hot and heavily with the next: her fingers dug into his scalp as he blindly pressed kisses along the underside of her breast; she moaned, the sound heightening as he dragged her underwear down her thighs. Where one act ended and the other started was hard to tell through his lust-induced haze. But he quickly decided that it didn't matter.
He certainly didn't care when he felt Cuddy's legs spread beneath him, at least.
"House," she whispered hoarsely, insistently.
Pulling her nipple into his mouth, he knew how to take a hint. Not that this was much of a hint, of course, but whatever you wanted to call it, he understood exactly what she was after.
And he was all too happy to oblige.
Slipping a hand between her thighs, he stroked her slicked clit with his thumb.
She was wet to the touch, clearly ready. The way she arched her back, pushing her breast against his face, and whimpered was a testament to that.
"Touch me," she half-ordered, half-pleaded.
Letting her hard nipple pop out of his mouth, he teased, "I am touching you."
His gaze trained on the breast in front of him, it was only out of the corner of his eye that he caught her shaking her head.
"That's – that's not what I –"
"I know what you meant," he said knowingly. His fingers pressed against her opening, he told her, "You want this."
House waited until she was about to say no, that that was not all she wanted. And then, only when she did open her mouth to speak, did he push his index and middle finger into her.
She gasped, her muscles clenching him in surprise. In all honesty, he was tempted to chastise her for not anticipating something like that from him. But he didn't; the sweet little box holding him snug was far too distracting for him to form the words.
And so he simply returned his attention to the breast lightly swaying in front of him.
His tongue darted out to lick the tight bud of her pink nipple. Tasting her delicate flesh in long laves, he mimicked that action with her clit and his thumb. The pad of his finger ran along her nub in slow, deliberate circles. And when he added the motion of his fingers inside of her, her breath hitched audibly in the back of her throat.
"That's it," he whispered, pressing a wet kiss just to the left of her nipple. "Enjoy it. You deserve this."
Cuddy didn't say anything, didn't do anything to show that she'd even heard him. But that was okay. The way she clutched at his shirt and exhaled roughly was proof enough that she was enjoying this, which was all he wanted.
Inside of her, he spread his fingers a tiny bit. He wanted to feel every centimeter of her, wanted to touch her in all of the places he knew she enjoyed. Slowly, when he felt her body relax and ready for more, he added a third finger to the mix.
His thrusts were slow and easy. His thumb on her aching bud and mouth on her breast were gentle, reassuring. And although she kissed the top of his head in a frenzy, he was relaxed with his own motions. Passionate sex and quickies had their place in their relationship (well, obviously), but tonight that was neither what he wanted nor what she needed.
Looking back on it, he would think that perhaps doing it on the couch with Drag Race playing in the background had hardly set the right mood. But in the actual moment, those things had no effect on the act itself. If anything, House felt as though he and Cuddy were miles away from those things. And all that inconsequential crap was just that, completely ignored and forgotten in favor of her body and the way he was trying to make her feel.
Her hips beginning to move in time with his thrusts, he knew it wouldn't be long. But he felt no need to speed up. Instead taking his time, he wanted to draw out every second of pleasure for her.
Leisurely he explored her body. His fingers slowly pushed in and pulled out, spreading her wetness with each inch he touched.
"Please," she said on a whimper.
He sucked her nipple hard. The peak tightened even further, tickling his tongue and the roof of his mouth.
Noisily she approved of what he was doing. And frankly, the sound she made… it was so hot; it made him so hard and his pants so uncomfortable that he almost abandoned his plan altogether.
That he didn't had nothing to do with his willpower and everything to do with how quickly she was being turned on. Her muscles beginning to clench, he could tell that she was near. So close that it felt as though his only choice was to make her come on his hand.
Her hips rocked against him, her breasts jiggling from her movement, he urged her on. "Come on," he said in a rough voice. Kissing his way from her breast to her neck to her mouth, he whispered it repeatedly. "Come on. Come on."
She didn't need any more encouragement than that. Her nails dug into his arms suddenly. Her slick muscles grabbed at his fingers hard, her juices dribbling down the heel of his hand. And she gave one long cry that rang harshly in his ears as she came.
Instantly, he stilled his hand. He wanted to let her hips and muscles draw out the moment for as long as possible without his fingers overstimulating her.
But she seemed barely concerned for her own pleasure at that moment. Because the second she looked like she'd come down from her high, she was reaching for the fly of his jeans.
"Don't," he told her through a pained voice, pushing her hand away.
Clearly though, she wasn't going to listen. Or, at least, she hadn't, because she was already moving towards him once more.
"No, don't bother," he said glumly, moving away from her so that she couldn't try once more.
As she righted herself on her side of the couch, she shook her head in confusion. "But…."
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that she was looking at him intently. And knowing that, he figured that offering her the easiest explanation was better than the truth.
Well, all right, maybe lying wasn't better. Looking at it objectively, he supposed that admitting he'd just wanted tonight to be about her wasn't bad. In fact, being one of the only people who'd thought of her needs today would probably work in his favor.
Truth be told though, he just didn't have the energy to go through the explanation, nor did he want it to seem like he was trying to impress her. He was tired, and he was going to have to deal with Wilson in a little bit anyway, and House really didn't want to have the conversation.
So he went with the explanation that was always available: "Leg," he said with dismay and just enough hesitancy to be believable.
Cuddy tugged her underwear, which had been left dangling off one of her ankles, off. "That's okay," she replied with a smile. "Endorphins –"
He rubbed his leg for extra effect, realizing just how pathetic the whole thing was.
At that, she frowned. "Why – why didn't you say…. You should have said something."
"And miss making you come on the couch?" He shook his head. "I don't think so."
She clearly didn't know what to say to that, because she said nothing. The air around them becoming as filled with awkwardness as it already was with the smell of her sex, it was obvious that she didn't like leaving things where they were. She didn't enjoy knowing that there was nothing she could do for him. But clueless to help him, she just sat there with her thong in hand.
"It's fine," he reassured her.
"Last I checked, your mother was going to be around for the next day or so," he interrupted. "Which means she's going to be torturing us for the next day or so, which means I'm going to be rethinking this whole relationship pretty seriously."
Cuddy obviously didn't believe him; she wouldn't have smiled if she did.
"Which means you're going to be putting out pretty constantly for the rest of the year, so you'll have plenty of time to repay the favor."
If he made it sound as though that were a fact, it was because it was. They'd never actually discussed it; there had never been any spoken agreement: she would trade sex for him spending time with her family.
But that was how it always turned out.
He'd be miserable for however long her family was here, and then afterwards, she'd be so grateful that he hadn't left her that, for a short period of time, the amount of sex they had would increase.
Again, it wasn't something he'd asked for or demanded. It wasn't something she'd offered or even necessarily planned on doing. It just happened. And now would certainly be no different.
So it wasn't surprising that Cuddy didn't fight him. She just said, "You should have told me."
There was nothing for him to say after that. It was impossible to be apologetic for something that hadn't actually happened, and there was no point in telling the truth or correcting her.
He wouldn't agree with her, of course; that would be overplaying the lie. But he didn't disagree with her either.
And that was essentially where they left things. Taking his silence for agreement, she headed to bed soon after.
Tomorrow, after Rachel had presents in her hand, Cuddy would know the truth. She'd see the lie for what it had been and understand exactly why he hadn't mentioned his leg earlier. And how she would react to that… House didn't know.
But as he texted Wilson to come over, he decided now was not the time to worry about it. Maybe he would after Operation Santa Claus ended, but right now, House couldn't have cared if he'd tried.
And yet… it couldn't be denied that, twenty minutes later, when Wilson texted that he was outside, House was still thinking about how Cuddy would react. Specifically, he couldn't help but wonder just how pissed she would be.
But, heading to the front door, he supposed there was no turning back now. Wilson was here; presumably gifts had been bought, and Rachel hadn't been corrected about Santa. So what other choice was there at this point?
"Took you long enough," House told Wilson as he opened the front door.
Immediately Wilson shoved a large, bright red gift bag into his hands. "And risk getting caught? No thank you."
By that point though, House wasn't paying attention; he was too focused on what was buried beneath the tissue paper practically billowing out of the bag. "Cuddy and Rachel are asleep. You won't get caught." His rummaging finally paying off, his fingers hit something soft.
It was clearly a stuffed animal of some sort, the telltale fur beneath his fingertips giving it away. "What did you get her anyway?" he asked as he pulled the plush toy out.
Tissue paper went everywhere, much to Wilson's clear dismay. "I believe the gift is for Rachel to open." He bent down to pick up the paper House had dropped.
But House barely noticed that. He was too busy trying to figure out what the hell kind of creature this stuffed animal was supposed to be.
The thing was round and various shades of green. If you were drunk, you might think it looked like a turtle. However, it definitely wasn't a turtle; its face was all wrong. It had green furry tentacles that sort of looked like a beard and an octopus had a kid together.
"What is this?"
Wilson quickly took the stuffed animal back and shoved it back into the gift bag. "It's a cthulhu."
"A cthulhu." House shook his head a little, thinking he must have misheard. "What's a little girl going to do with a –"
"It's the best I could do on Christmas," Wilson said defensively. "The hospital gift shop didn't have anything else, and gas stations aren't exactly teeming with toys for five year olds."
"So you got a cthulhu."
Wilson shrugged. "Yeah." As an afterthought he added, "I also threw in the gift I was going to give Cuddy for her birthday, so –"
"What were you going to give Cuddy?" House asked with a hint of judgment in his voice.
He reached for the bag; he wanted to see the gift for himself, but Wilson held it out of reach.
"Nothing. It's just a framed picture of you and her with Rachel," Wilson explained with a wave of his hand.
"There's a picture of me with Cuddy and Rachel."
"Actually, I think you just wondered into the frame while you were drunk."
"Let me get this straight. You were going to give my girlfriend a photograph of me completely wasted." Saying it out loud made it sound even weirder than it was. "And now you're giving it to her daughter."
Wilson rolled his eyes. "It's a nice picture, and Cuddy wouldn't look at it that way, and Rachel definitely won't."
Did House agree with him? Not really. But Wilson had done a lot for him today, and it would have been stupid to disagree with him at the moment. "Let's just get this over with."
"Oh, I think my part is done."
"Nope." House cocked his head to the side. "See, I'm going to need a look out in case Cuddy comes back for a second helping on orgasms."
Wilson cringed. "I don't need to hear this."
"Point is, you're my wingman. The operation's not complete. You can't leave until –"
"Fine," Wilson said with a sigh. He obviously knew there was no point in arguing.
Quietly they snuck down the hallway. To be frank, House was sure they could have been as loud as they wanted to be. Both Cuddy and Rachel had been exhausted from today's events, and he doubted that they'd wake up.
But he hadn't been lying when he'd said he'd wanted a look out. Just on the off chance that Cuddy or Rachel did catch them, House wanted Wilson there to warn him. To warn him and to take the fall if it should come to that, he corrected.
Yet things seemed to go okay. They made it down the hallway without any problems. They got into Rachel's room without waking her up. Wilson hung out in the doorway and kept watch. House carefully moved the stuffed toys and little trinkets on Rachel's nightstand, so he could place Rachel's presents where she would see them the second she woke up.
And things were going well….
Until they didn't.
He'd just set the bag down when Wilson came practically scrambling into the room.
"Hurry up," he hissed.
House turned around to face him. He was ready to explain that he was done.
But immediately, he could see that Wilson had heard something. His eyes were darting back and forth as though he were looking for an escape.
"You hear something?"
The question was never answered though. The sound of the door to Rachel's room being pushed open with a creak was answer enough.
And realization hitting him at full force, House knew:
Cuddy was awake.
Wilson dove behind Rachel's giant stuffed duck and giraffe. Since escaping through a window or out a door was out of the question, it was clearly the next best thing to do. Unfortunately for him, he still hadn't lost all that Thanksgiving weight, and you could see his ass sticking up over the duck's shoulder.
But House didn't dare move. Admittedly, he probably could have blocked Wilson from view with his body. In order to do that though, House would have given Cuddy a direct line of sight to the presents.
"What are you doing?" Cuddy asked sleepily as she stepped into the room.
She'd obviously been asleep (which just proved how tired she was), her hair messy and tangled, her body clothed in tiny pajamas way too thin for winter.
The lie came easily. "Rachel woke up."
"I thought I heard voices."
"You did," House said gently. "She had a nightmare. I was putting her back to sleep."
Really, it was all very believable… if you didn't take into account the fact that Rachel would have never chosen to be comforted by him over her mother.
"Oh." Cuddy sounded more disappointed than doubtful. "She could have woken me up. I wouldn't have –"
"I was closer."
He wasn't. Cuddy would have been closer if he'd stayed in the living room, so he hastily explained. "I was coming to bed, and she was heading to you. I thought you could use the sleep."
"Oh," she repeated. "Okay."
Cuddy looked at him expectantly, as though she wanted to hear more. But there was nothing left to say.
"You should go back to bed." He tried to make it sound not like an order and more like… a friendly suggestion. "She's asleep. There's nothing you can do now."
There was a beat of silence before she capitulated. "Okay. Are you coming?"
"In a minute." He didn't elaborate, and she didn't ask him to.
Slowly, she turned around and trudged out of the room without saying anything further.
Silence descended on the room (save for Rachel's soft snores) quickly. But neither House nor Wilson dared to break it until they heard Cuddy close her bedroom door. Only then, when they heard the soft click, did Wilson's head pop up next to the stuffed giraffe.
"That was close."
"Yeah." House sighed with relief that they hadn't been caught.
"And she believed you when you told her that you'd put Rachel back to bed?"
It came out as a question, but it wasn't really. The words might have come out as, "Why does Cuddy think you would do that?" But what he was actually saying was, "Cuddy thinks you're playing Daddy to her daughter, and clearly there's a reason for that."
House glared at him. "Oh shut up."
"I'm just saying," Wilson said leadingly, as he stood up.
"In case you didn't notice, she's exhausted and walking around without pants on," House pointed out. "You can try to find reasons behind what she's saying, but I'm thinking there aren't any."
"Really," Wilson repeated doubtfully. "She just believed a bad lie. Because she's tired?"
House shrugged. "Sure."
"Right. Or maybe Santa made it happen."
"If she believed that, I'm beginning to suspect that Santa is real."
And he meant it. His lie had been a bad one, a really bad one. Anyone with half a brain would have seen it for what it was. That Cuddy hadn't… well… maybe miracles did happen.
But it wasn't more than ten minutes later that House regretted saying the words out loud to Wilson.
It was after Wilson had left. It was after House had left Rachel to her slumber and headed to bed himself.
He'd just crawled into bed, spooned up next to Cuddy's sleeping form, and closed his eyes when it happened.
Her voice wide awake and sharp, Cuddy asked, "You wanna explain why Wilson was hiding behind Rachel's toys and there was a present on her nightstand?"
And it was then, as she rolled over to look at him, that he remembered:
There was no such thing as Santa Claus.