21.

Three days before . . .

She began to think she would wear a hole in the carpet. Back and forth, back and forth as she paced a trench across her living room rug.

Though anxious, she was nonetheless grateful he'd called to say he would be stopping by. At least she'd been given fair warning to tidy herself or her house prior to his arrival. Her nervousness and sense of dread however kept her from doing anything apart from her ceaseless pacing.

All too soon, she heard the doorbell ring. He must have called after he was already on his way.

Cuddy had not learned from her gaffe the previous night. Failing to first confirm her visitor's identity, she hurled open the front door. But this time there was no surprise guest waiting on the other side, no House leaning on his cane on her doorstep. And the disappointment she felt weighed heavily upon her mind.

Instead, the anticipated Wilson trudged into her entry hall, closing the door behind him as Cuddy turned away, stalking toward her living room.

"So what's going on Wilson? What was so important that it couldn't wait?" And then a new idea infused itself upon her thoughts giving her hope for a break in House's formidable position. "Did House ask you to come by? Are you here on his behalf?"

"What? No," Wilson fairly spluttered. "I just came by . . ."

"You're not House's intermediary? He didn't send you?"

"No," Wilson repeated.

Cuddy heaved a frustrated sigh and flopped down on the couch, curving one leg beneath her as she sat down.

"He's going to be obstinate about this isn't he?" she said swiping her hand across her face in an overly dramatic flourish. "He's going to try and wait me out. Or maybe he's just playing one of his games with me. Getting me frustrated and so worked up he thinks he'll be able to waltz right back into my bed?"

She turned to Wilson, her eyes narrow and her cheeks flushed in anger. "Well you tell him . . . you tell him it WON'T work! House will come crawling back to me before I ever go back to him! Tell him . . ."

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute," Wilson said as he threw his hands up in front of him like a traffic cop motioning for a driver to stop. "What the hell are you talking about? I'm only here to check on you. You didn't come in today. That's not at all like you. And then House came in and he was so . . ."

"What? What was he like?" Cuddy stood up from the couch and marched toward him. "Was he upset? How did he look? Did he look like he hadn't slept?"

"He looked like he'd been in a fight."

"What?"

"He looked a little banged up and bruised but not that bad actually. I've seen him a lot worse." He paused and gave Cuddy a meaningful look. "A whole lot worse."

Cuddy turned away again to hide the guilty feeling she knew her features might betray. She pretended to look out her picture window as she folded her arms across her chest. "Did you talk to him? What . . . what did he say?"

"He said you gave him your ultimatum. He was pretty pissed I didn't tell him about it beforehand."

She carefully composed her features before she turned to face him again. "What did you say to that?"

Wilson raked a hand through his thick, dark hair. He cast his eyes to the floor as he said, "I told him he was right. I should've given him the heads up."

"No. I told you not to. I told you to let me handle him . . . it. To let me handle it."

"Well the way he tells it, sounds like you didn't handle it or him very well. What the hell happened here last night?"

"That's between me and House," Cuddy said as she felt her ire rise.

"Not if you asked me for my silence, for me to be a party to this little enterprise," Wilson shot back. "I basically lied to my best friend. But only because I wanted to help him . . . and you too."

"Yeah. You keep telling yourself that," she said, a slight laugh in her voice. "Maybe one day you'll believe it enough to make it true."

"NOW what are you talking about?"

"Having House and me together just made things easier for you didn't it? Admit it. You were more than relieved when House and I first got together. I took him off your hands. Left you free to make an ass of yourself with Samantha . . . again. I babysat him. You figured I'd be there when he'd eventually take Vicodin again which we both knew was gonna happen. I just didn't think . . ."

"No!" Wilson said loudly. "You didn't think! And apparently you're not doing any thinking right now either!"

"Who the hell do you think you're talking to?"

"I don't see anyone else in this living room."

"I'll tell you like I told him last night," she said, taking a step closer to him and lowering her arms to her sides, small hands clenching into fists. "Get out!"

"Was that before or after he told you he loved you and Rachel and wanted to have a life with the both of you?"

Cuddy stumbled back as if she'd been pushed. "Wh . . . what did you say?"

"You heard me. Did you throw him out before or after he told you he loved you but that you needed to accept him as he is right now?"

"He . . . he told you about that?"

It was Wilson's turn to take a step back. "Yes," he said more quietly. "And I, I didn't believe him. I'm his best friend and I . . . I didn't believe he would ever open himself up like that. Especially not after . . . not after . . ."

"What? Not after what?"

Wilson shook his head. "Not after everything that's happened between you two. I can't believe he was that honest with you, told you he still loves you after you broke his heart."

Cuddy folded her arms across her chest once more. "Typical. How very typical. It's back to the boy's club I guess. House is right no matter what," she said, her voice taking on a mocking, sing-song quality. "And I get blamed for everything."

"Not for everything. But for the things that ARE your fault, then yeah."

"Like what? What's my fault? Enlighten me!" Cuddy said, maintaining the same derisive tone.

Wilson looked at her, a sad expression on his face and in his eyes. "YOU should know that better than anyone. Maybe even better than House."

Cuddy's jaw worked up and down but still she said nothing, so Wilson continued. "You took him for granted. You bullied him, tried to control him. In fact you did just about everything a woman can do to a man except what he needed the most . . . love him. And you did the same thing that I did this very morning. You completely misjudged him."

The tears came to her eyes fast and furious and Cuddy was forced to angrily swipe at them as they sped down her cheeks.

"It's not true," she sniffed.

"Isn't it? House was right. He accepted you, loved you for who you are right now. You only loved an idea of him. What you thought you could mold him into. Not the person he is, not the man who gave you his heart and soul."

Cuddy began to cry in earnest. "Oh Wilson," she cried. "I don't know . . . how did this go so far? How did we get here? How can I make him come back to me?"

Wilson looked gravely at the sobbing Cuddy before he stepped forward and put his arms around her, patting her back in a soothing gesture. She sagged against him, crying even harder.

"Well first things first," he said. "You need to accept that you can't make House do anything. You tried that before and it blew up in your face."

"Then what Wilson? What should I do?"

Wilson grasped Cuddy by both arms just above the elbows and gently pushed her away from his body so he could see her face, look into her eyes. Though tear-filled and bloodshot, they were still a lovely shade of blue mixed with grey.

"I don't know," he replied quietly. "I don't know what you should do. What do you want?"

"I want House back."

"Why though? Why do you want him back?"

Her tears stopped as suddenly as they had started. She glowered at him angrily.

"What do you mean? Why are you asking me that?"

Wilson raised his voice as he answered. "Because you can't just want him on a whim. It nearly destroyed him last time. No. That's not right. YOU almost killed him when you broke up with him before. You have to decide if you want him back that it's for the right reasons. Not just because . . ."

"What Wilson?" Cuddy's voice was only slightly lower than a shout as she twisted from his grasp. "What? Because I want to control him? Because I need him in my hospital and in my bed? What exactly are you accusing me of?"

"Nothing! But not once have I heard you say that you loved him, that you still love him now. House TOLD you that already. He said he loved you and he still loves you. And Rachel. He accepts and loves you for the crazy, controlling administrator you are. But you can't even meet him halfway?"

"If I want to say all that to him, I'll say it to him. Not to you!"

"Then why haven't you already done it? Why didn't you tell him when he came over here last night and poured his heart out to you? What were you doing?"

"Don't you understand?" she said, putting her face close to his and lowering her voice to an angry hiss. "I DID tell him. I told him I needed him. I said . . ."

"Need isn't the same thing as love. Not the same thing at all."

"God! You sound just like him now." She turned away from him as she said, "But you're wrong. It worked. I almost had him. We kissed. He came so close to having sex with me. If it weren't for that damn brilliant mind . . . he over thinks everything."

"House came here and told you the truth and all you did was play games with him? Played with his emotions? Led him on and tried to what? Get him to f . . ."

"No! Yes! I . . . I don't know any more!"

Cuddy's shoulders began to shake and her body, to tremble.

Wilson stepped forward and took her by the elbow, gently guiding her to the couch. Once she sat down he moved next to her and put his arm over her shoulders to continue to try to comfort her.

"Shhhh," he said. "Okay. Okay. Calm down now. Don't let yourself get so upset."

"I don't know what I was thinking. I don't know what I was doing. I just wanted things to go back to the way they were. I just wanted him to come back to me. I just wanted him . . . I just wanted him again. I thought if we could be together like before, he'd have to come back to me. It's always worked with him before. I'm so lonely without him. I miss him Wilson. I need him. Is that so wrong?" She sniffed and uncharacteristically, wiped her nose on her sleeve.

"No. No. Of course not. But you were only thinking of your own needs. And you were trying to manipulate him by having sex with him. I don't know if House is gonna fall for that anymore."

Cuddy surprised Wilson with a very wet chuckle. "No, I guess not. It didn't work on him last night, that's for sure," she said with bitterness in her voice. And then, more sadly, "I guess . . . I guess I'm just too old. I'm not attractive to House or anyone anymore."

"What are you talking about?" Wilson asked, taking her by the shoulder to hold her close. "That's not true. Of course you're attractive."

She turned her face to him as he still held her, gently rubbing her arm in sympathy. "Really?" she asked. "Do you think so?"

"Oh c'mon. I know so."

"Do . . . do you find me attractive?"

"I . . . well . . ."

"You see," Cuddy said, sniffing again, "I knew it."

"No. I mean, of course I do. I've always found you attractive."

"Really? Or are you just saying that?"

"No really. You know I've always thought you were attractive," he said as he gently clapped her shoulder and chuckled. "In fact, I've often thought that if House hadn't beat me to it . . ."

"What Wilson?" Cuddy said as she looked up at him eagerly. "What?"

"Oh . . . I don't know."

Wilson was looking at her, his eyes filled with pity. But there was a touch of something else there too. Cuddy saw it. She moved closer. They were so close together now that they were inhaling each other's breath.

Then suddenly at the same time they moved their lips against each other. In the next moment, their mouths opened as each of their tongues sought the other's.

Wilson's mouth hungrily devoured hers as his mind went blank. He focused instead on the way his body had become so quickly aroused, shifting from comforting friend to stimulated lover. He pushed her back on the couch and moved over her, feeling her hands grasping at his chest and tearing at his clothes.

Cuddy's lips released his and for a moment he thought she breathed the name, "House." But then she roughly shoved his face into her cleavage and his employment there struck everything else from his mind.

She was writhing beneath him, hiking her legs over his hips as he began to move forward sensing her willingness and wanting nothing more than to fulfill her need. And his own.

Wilson leaned back as Cuddy made a frustrated sound. Her frustration soon turned to something else as she saw he was only creating space between them so he would have room to undo his fly.

Cuddy's eyes closed again as Wilson began to lower his weight on top of her once more. She felt him moving closer and she cried out again in need.

"House?"

All human movement froze on the couch in reaction to the small voice emanating near the entryway to the living room. Then, as if a button had been pressed, they hurriedly pushed away from each other, Wilson grabbing his jacket from the back of the couch and using it to cover his exposed front. Cuddy did the same with a nearby blanket throwing it over herself to hide her disheveled and gaping clothes.

Rachel eyed the nervous and now guilty looking adults scrupulously. Then she pointed at Wilson with one chubby, accusatory finger and said, "You not House."

"No baby," Cuddy said. "You go back to bed. I'll be in in a minute to tuck you in and kiss you goodnight."

The little girl didn't move. "Mama. Where's House? I want House."

"Honey," you really need to go back to your room right now. I'll be in in a minute."

"But want joos. House let me hab joos."

"I'll give you juice. In a minute." Then Cuddy raised her voice and pointed a finger back toward the hallway. "Now go back to your room! Scoot!"

Rachel's large eyes looked suspiciously at the adults as she turned, very slowly around and began to toddle back down the hallway.

Wilson slapped his hand over his forehead as he kept repeating, "Oh my God. Oh my God."

Cuddy began straightening her clothes and rebuttoning her blouse. "Okay, let's not panic."

"But what the hell . . .? What happened? What almost happened?"

"Wilson! Almost is the operative word here. Nothing happened."

"What do you mean nothing happened?" Wilson said, turning to look at her as he took his hand away from his face. "A LOT happened here. A helluva lot.

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

"God! We've already done that! I've gotta talk to House. I've gotta tell him . . ."

"What? Tell him what? That you betrayed his friendship?"

"Hey! You're the one who said nothing happened!"

"Yeah, well. I was wrong," Cuddy said as she finished straightening her clothes and stood up from the couch. "Tell me honestly if it will matter to House whether we finished what we started here or not." She paused to make eye contact with Wilson who just lowered his eyes to the floor. "You see? You know yourself that House will look at this . . . at this . . . indiscretion as your complete betrayal of his feelings."

"MY betrayal? How about OUR betrayal? It's not like I did this alone."

"Keep your voice down," Cuddy hissed. "I don't want Rachel coming back out here. I have to go see to her. You wait here 'til I get back. Then we'll figure out what we'll tell him . . . or not tell him."

"I . . . I don't think I can face him," Wilson said. "And I know I can't lie to him."

"You'll do what I tell you to do. Because it will be in our best interests."

"Whose best interests? Mine? Or yours? Certainly not House's."

"Just calm down. We'll figure this out. We just have to get our stories straight. And rehearse what we're gonna say to him."

"I can't Cuddy. I'm gonna have to avoid him. He'll know something's up as soon as he sees me. He always knows. And I just don't think he'll believe a lie . . . from either of us. He never has before. Oh God. I won't lie to him. I won't."

"You will," Cuddy said although her eyes had begun to dart back and forth as she remembered that House had said she had a 'tell' whenever she tried to lie to him. "Just . . . just stay here while I see to Rachel. I'll be right back." The last statement she said over her shoulder as she strode down the hall.

Rachel was a bit squirmy at first but finally relaxed back into the covers of her crib. Cuddy settled her as best she could with promises that she would be right back and returned to the living room as quickly as possible.

But Wilson was already gone.

A/N: I know I promised some of you smut. Really, this was not what I had originally intended. But then I realized that I needed to move this chapter up as an explanation for why both Wilson and Cuddy avoided House for the rest of the week, Wilson shunning his usual lunches with House and Cuddy avoiding PPTH altogether. Wilson does feel guilty for this slip and Cuddy, well Cuddy already has a track record of taking sexual advantage of her employees when they are already in vulnerable positions (see the end of "Help Me" for just one example). Makes me think if the sexes, not the roles, were reversed (male boss seducing female employees when they're about to fall off the wagon) there would have been a helluva lot more irate viewers. But that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, while Wilson and Cuddy are trying to get themselves out of the hole they've dug themselves into, the next chapter WILL contain the aforementioned and promised hot House smut. Hopefully. ;)