Author's Notes: This is a Halloween fic (late I know) set in the Gift of Screws universe. Knowledge of said verse will definitely come in handy with this though it's not necessary. This piece also contains sexual situations, so if that offends you, please do not read.

Disclaimer: I am not David Shore.

Gift of the Dead
By Duckie Nicks

"One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place." – Emily Dickinson

It was the perfect jack-o-lantern, or at least it would be once he slipped Cuddy's thong and slapped a few dollar bills on it. His case had resolved itself early this morning with nothing to take its place, and out of boredom, he had resorted to stealing and carving one of the decorations in the lobby. Sure, he could have done his clinic duty or helped his team find a new case, but he'd been under enough stress lately that he took the first break he could get.

At that, he thought: ten days.

Ten long, misery-filled days.

That was how long it had been since they'd last had sex. Part of that had been his fault – staying at the hospital overnight, pissing her off by snapping at her when he'd wanted a test and she hadn't allowed it. Part of it had been her fault – an inopportune bikini wax, pissing him off by not giving him the test he wanted, and the like. But most of it had been Rachel's fault.

Okay, technically it wasn't even her fault that she'd turned into an even more efficient cock blocker than, say, gonorrhea with a side platter of uncontrollable diarrhea. He blamed her, of course, because she was the one who suddenly refused to sleep in her own bed. But to be fair, that change in behavior had been caused by a fairly traumatic event six days ago.

The nanny had died.

Marina, in her infinite ability to get in the way, had found herself in the path of a speeding driver on her way home one night. Reports had indicated that she'd died instantly, but based on her injuries, House was sure that she'd held on for a small fraction of time – just long enough for her to understand that she was going to die. And that knowledge never upset him, because he had always found Marina to be irritating.

Cuddy had accused him, every time he tried to make that point clear to her, of holding a grudge, because Marina had once spilled coffee on his first edition of the original Jack Cannon book, thereby ruining it. House never agreed with his girlfriend's assessment, but secretly he thought that there was nothing wrong with that accusation being true. Now, of course, it seemed like a petty thing to be angry over. But he wasn't going to let a little thing like death convince him that Marina had been an angel.

The Cuddys, on the other hand, had allowed her death to take over their lives. Cuddy felt guilty, blamed herself for Marina being on that side of town. Usually House tuned her out when her narcissism became obnoxious, but from what he could tell she blamed herself because Marina had been coming home from work when her tire went flat and she'd gotten into the accident. And Rachel… well, Rachel, being all of four, understood but didn't. She knew Marina wasn't going to be coming by anymore, but the concept of death wasn't something she could wrap her mind around.

And with that came the tears, the nightmares, the refusal to sleep in her own bed, and the desire to be with her mother at all times.

As a result? No playtime for little Greg.

He'd tried.

Cuddy had almost joined him in the shower three days ago (before his team had paged him and forced him to forgo fucking for diagnosing). And last night, he'd actually suggested they just push Rachel over to the other side of the bed and quietly have sex next to her.

That… had not gone over well.

So now he and Cuddy were once again annoyed with one another. At least, he thought there was some lingering irritation there. Oh, the agitation between them was undeniable, but whether or not that was because of what he'd done or because they were both incredibly frustrated from the lack of sex… he couldn't say. They were in a gray area here, and, consumed with his own need for sex, his mind wasn't exactly capable of discerning much of anything, much less his girlfriend's motivations.

Which was why, he supposed, he was carving a pumpkin at work. It required little thought, little effort, and unlike his soaps, there was no sex involved to remind him of what he was missing.

Well… in theory there was no sex involved. As he finished carving hands into the pumpkin with a scalpel, he could see that his jack-o-lantern had quickly become a jack-off-o-lantern. Or something, he thought, understanding that the name needed some work.

Regardless of what he called it, the fact remained: this squash was dirtier than any soap opera could have been. He'd created hands on each side of the pumpkin, which was naturally shaped like the number eight. Having tilted it on its side, he had exposed the wrinkled brownish ring of skin where the stem had been attached before he broke it off. And once he slipped the thong on the thing, it would look as though the pumpkin were spreading its ass cheeks. So, yeah, he guessed that the jack-o-lantern hadn't exactly been sufficiently entertaining enough to take his mind off of all the sex he wasn't having.

But even if it had been a good distraction, it wouldn't have been enough to keep him preoccupied when Cuddy pushed the door to his office open and entered the room.

Ten days a voice inside of him shouted. He didn't mean to fixate on the point, but the way her tight skirt clung to her hips and ass made thinking of anything else impossible.

Staring at her body longingly, he didn't give her a chance to speak before he said, "I'm considering suing that driver for killing our sex life, just so you know."

"Our sex life isn't dead," she reassured, closing the door behind her. "It's just…." Her voice trailed off as she stepped towards him. Her gaze seemed to roam all over his desk; she was clearly trying to figure out what he was doing. "On hold," she finished distracted. "What are you doing?"

But by the time the question was asked, she had figured it out.

"Is that my thong?" she asked in shock.

He didn't nod his head or say yes. She would understand soon enough, and he wanted to make sure his jack-o-lantern was finished before she decided to kill him. Eagerly he grabbed the underwear and slipped it on the pumpkin.

"That is my underwear," she said, as he reached for the superglue. "Why are you gluing my underwear to a pumpkin?"

It would only take seconds before she guessed, so he quickly spread glue onto the crotch and stuck it to the skin of the pumpkin. In the back of his mind, he began to lament the fact that at one point in time, his come mixed with hers had been the only thing smeared inside of these bad boys.

But that thought was shoved aside when Cuddy moved behind him to see what he was working on. And then the only concern in his mind was preparing himself for the screeching that would come when she realized what he was doing.

"Are you serious?" she said loudly in a high-pitched voice. "You're – you…." She tried to make a grab for the pumpkin, but he held it out of reach. "Give it to me."

He didn't. "But I worked hard to –"

"Is that supposed to be?" she hissed. "That better not be –"

"How could it be?" He turned the pumpkin around so she could see it. Naturally she tried to grab it again, but he pulled it out of her reach. "Calm down," he said patronizingly. "It could have been worse. I'd planned on giving it an anatomically correct version of your vulva, but it's been so long since I've seen it –"

"It's been ten days," she snapped. "And right now isn't a good time to complain."

"That wasn't a complaint. I was hoping you'd consider posing for me, so I can –"

"Get rid of it," she ordered in a flat, emotionless way.

So he did. He didn't want to, not after he'd put the effort into carving it. But he inherently understood what was at stake. She hadn't said anything; there'd been no threat made, but then she didn't need to make one. He just knew. If he pushed her too much, ten days without would be nothing compared to the dry spell she would force them into. And frankly, he wasn't sure their relationship could handle that at this point, so he tossed the pumpkin into the trashcan.

"Thank you," she told him even as he planned to fish the thing out as soon as she left.

"Ten days," he reminded her.

"I know." She gave him a soft peck on the cheek before perching herself on the edge of his desk. "I miss it too."

But he was too busy gazing at her hemline, which had ridden up her legs as she sat down. "Please tell me this is an invitation." He didn't care that it sounded as though he were pleading.

"To have sex on your desk," she said in a dry, disbelieving voice. "In your office. With all the windows and glass door."

"Why not?"

He could feel her watching him intently. "Did you hear a word I just said?"

"Yeah," he told her honestly.

"But let me guess you stopped listening the second I said 'sex.'"

"It's possible."

She smiled sympathetically, and for a second, he thought he might get lucky. But then she changed the subject entirely. "I need you to do me a favor."

"Please tell me it's sexual."

"No. I need you to pick Rachel up from school today."

That had been the other problem with Marina's death. Now there was no one to help take care of Rachel, so that even if they'd had the time to have sex, House suspected that they would have been too tired to do it. Because if there'd been one thing he'd realized in the last week, it was that Marina had actually done quite a bit. She was the one who usually picked Rachel up; she was the one who more often than not dropped her off at school and helped her with her homework and generally kept the kid alive. And now Marina was gone; the two babysitters Cuddy had on tap had recently graduated from college, and there was no one else around to help on a daily basis. Which meant that Cuddy had had to do all of it herself.

Apparently though she'd decided she shouldn't suffer alone.

"You can't get her?" he asked, unsympathetic and honestly not all that interested in helping.

"Today's the funeral."

"On Halloween?" And then after a second, he couldn't help but ask, "She's not in the ground already?"

"They cremated her, so I don't think her family's afraid she'll come back to life if they bury her today if that's what you're concerned about," Cuddy replied sarcastically. Matter of factly, she added, "I don't know what happened; there might have been a relative who couldn't be here or – whatever. Will you help me?"

He thought about it. He really didn't want to. But all things considered, picking Rachel up from school was a relatively small task. And the reward, which always came in the form of I'm-so-glad-you-helped-me sex, from Cuddy would more than make up for any hassle. "Just pick her up?"

Cuddy hesitated, which meant no. Knowing that, he was prepared when she admitted, "No…. I don't know how long the funeral will last, and I have a phone call –"

"Just tell me what you want me to do."

"Feed her dinner. Put her to bed, and… she's saying she doesn't want to, but if she changes her mind… I'll need you to take her trick-or-treating."

"Seriously?" Suddenly it wasn't one small thing to do; it was in fact several big things Cuddy wanted him to do. "All of that's going to happen while you make a call and bury some ashes."

"School ends at four – when I have a meeting with the board that I can't reschedule," she explained. "Trick-or-treating starts half past five, and the funeral starts fifteen minutes after that. I can't go to her school and pick her up an hour late, have her ready to go out, and have her trick-or-treating for, what, ten minutes before –"

"I got it," he said, cutting her off. "You can't do it." Leaning back in his chair, he tried to think of a way of getting out of having to do any of this. "What about your mother?"

"It's three o'clock," she pointed out. As she went on about traffic patterns and how Arlene could not possibly be there in time, he let the time register in his mind. He'd had no idea that it was that late. His case had been resolved early in the day, and it had only felt like an hour – at most – had gone by while he was carving the pumpkin. Apparently though, he'd spent most of his day on that thing.

"And she's old," Cuddy said, interrupting his thoughts. "She's not going to want to take Rachel –"

"But I am?"

She smiled again, and House thought that that couldn't be a good sign. "I'll make it worth your while."

He didn't believe her. Even if she could find some time away from Rachel to have sex with him, he didn't believe it was possible for her to make it worth his trouble. "I'm pretty sure there isn't a sex act depraved enough to make that true."

"House."

"Not gonna happen," he said firmly.

"It's one night of babysitting."

"What about Wilson?"

"He has plans."

"I could have plans," he insisted childishly.

"You could, but you don't." She shrugged. "Which means you are perfect for the job."

Frowning he said, "Lucky me."

Silently he tried to think of a way out of this situation, but House was sure she would go for none of his suggestions. She wouldn't want someone from his team taking care of Rachel; Rachel certainly wouldn't want that, and even if both Cuddys could agree to that, surely the school wouldn't hand Rachel over to some random stranger. So that only left him to get the job done. There wasn't anyone else to suggest or recommend, and Cuddy herself certainly wasn't going to be able to do it.

"Fine," he grumbled. "I'll do it." She started to smile victoriously, but he was quick to squash the feeling. "I'm making a list of things you'll be required to do sexually."

That was hardly a threat or a punishment. If anything that just seemed to make her happier. "Well, even if I were opposed to having sex with you, it's been so long I have no doubt you'll come and be asleep in two minutes."

"Ten days," he reiterated. He couldn't stress enough how long it had been. "If I make it thirty seconds, I'll be impressed."

"And I'll be disappointed."

"Then you'll understand how it feels to watch your girlfriend's kid all evening."

That was what did it. That was what seemed to destroy the triumph she was feeling, because he could see that light disappear from her eyes. And though part of him knew he should feel guilty about it, another very real part of him did not. He'd agreed to move in with her; he'd agreed to try with Rachel. He had not agreed that things would magically be better and that they'd suddenly act like a family. Whatever his place in their home was, he did not like being shoehorned into a role he had no right to play. But he was sure that the nuance of that argument would never penetrate Cuddy's stubborn mind, so he always kept that thought to himself. Even now, he preferred to let her assume he was an ass than admit out loud that he wasn't good in any way for Rachel.

Which was why he let Cuddy get mad and tell him sharply, "Be at the school by four."

And that was how they left things – with her irritated and him stuck with the knowledge that the truth wouldn't make it any better.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Rachel tentatively took a step towards him. "Where's Mommy?" she whined, afraid to get anywhere near the car.

"Working." That was the simple answer so he said it that way; there was no point in elaborating or sugarcoating it, given that one word said all that needed to be said. But somehow his answer came out more gruffly than intended, and Rachel stopped in her tracks.

Standing on the sidewalk, she refused to step down off the curb and onto the pavement.

"Come on," he said, trying to hurry her along. This wasn't the first time he'd picked up Rachel from school. But he did it with such rarity that any hesitation on her part could easily make the other parents in the parking lot assume he was trying to kidnap her.

She didn't seem to realize that however, much to House's dismay. "I don't want to."

Reaching forward, he plucked her up off of the sidewalk. Holding her, he understood what a risky move he was making. Picking her up could easily set her off and make her scream, which would get him arrested. And for a brief moment, he regretted doing so. But aside from her lunchbox smacking him in the end (and he doubted it was unintentional), she let herself be carried.

He'd only taken a few steps into the parking lot though before it hit him. She wasn't going along with him, because she trusted him. She was shaking; she was gripping him tightly; she was going along with him, because she was terrified.

That… was his fault, so he guessed it served him right to have to deal with the consequences. When Marina had first died, Cuddy had tried to explain it to Rachel in the vaguest way possible. House understood the impulse, but Rachel was two months shy of five. She was an idiot who couldn't possibly understand. So he had been honest and told her about the car accident.

Backfired wasn't the word he'd used to describe the aftermath. Back-nuclear-apocalypse seemed like a better approximation of what was now happening. She seemed scared of the cars but no closer to understanding why Marina wouldn't be coming around anymore.

"I want Mommy," Rachel cried into his shoulder.

He lumbered towards the car. A meltdown seemed inevitable, but if he could at least get Rachel in the car, maybe there was a chance no one would see it. "She's at work."

Her lower lip trembled against him, the movement something he could feel through his shirt. And though it hurt him physically to force himself to walk more quickly, that was exactly what he did. Because as much as he didn't want to do any of this, he had told Cuddy that he would. He had said he would take care of it, and that meant something to him.

No, he was not afraid to lie to her when it was necessary. He was not always averse to disappointing her. But he lied and disappointed her enough times that he needed to be selective about making her face that inevitable aspect to their relationship. Do it willy-nilly, and she would eventually realize how unfulfilling a relationship with him really was going to be for her. And today was one of those things where, if he could pull it off, he would earn a lot of points to spend in the future. He wasn't about to screw it up by getting arrested.

Rachel wasn't going to make that easy for him. "Mommy," she started to cry.

He didn't know what to say or do. Even if he were the kind who knew how to offer sympathy (in other words, if he were Wilson), she wouldn't accept any comfort from him. She'd slept next to him the last five nights in a row, but she didn't trust him enough to want him when she was upset. She wanted her mother. And House was normally okay with that, but Cuddy wasn't here.

Then again, that didn't necessarily matter. Situations like this, after all, were the reason the phone existed. Even if Cuddy were busy, she knew that he was picking Rachel up. If she saw the call, she would pick up, regardless of how much work she had to do or who she was talking to. In this instance, her lack of faith in him would work to his benefit.

Hoisting Rachel higher up on his hip, he told her, "You wanna talk to Mommy? We can call her when we get in the car."

That did little to improve her mood. She was still upset, still unhappy to be with him. But she didn't scream or cry or try to get away either, and maybe that was the best he could hope for.

Having taken Cuddy's car for the sake of ease, he wasn't surprised that Rachel got excited when she saw the familiar vehicle. She thought her mother had come to pick her up. When he opened up the car and it was clear Cuddy wasn't hiding in there, he was prepared. Before she could scream, House practically jammed a squirming Rachel into her booster seat.

"I want Mommy."

"And I'm going to call her as soon as you sit still and let me buckle you up."

Thankfully that shut her up, although the pout on her face spoke to how unhappy with this arrangement she was. That didn't seem to change either when he finally did manage to get a hold of Cuddy. The second he turned on the car, he used the integrated blue tooth to call her office. Lucky for him, she picked up right away, not that that made things better.

"What's wrong?" were the first words out of her mouth, and Rachel took that as an opportunity to cry and whine. That might not have been so bad if he'd just given Rachel his phone. But he hadn't, so now he got to listen to her sob about how she wanted Cuddy and also hear Cuddy try to console her daughter.

"Honey, it's okay."

"I want you. Mommy."

"No, it's okay," Cuddy said in a reassuring voice. "You're with House. Nothing's going to happen to you. I promise. Mommy will be home soon."

But if any of that was meant to calm Rachel down, it seemed to have the opposite effect on her. No matter what Cuddy said, it just ended with more tears, more cries for her, and eventually the occasional cough, because Rachel was sobbing so hard she'd begun to gag.

"I don't think this is working," he said loudly above all the noise.

To him Cuddy replied, "I'm sorry. I'll be home as soon as I can."

In the backseat, Rachel was screaming "Mama" in long, wailing tones.

Somehow Cuddy being home as soon as she could didn't seem soon enough. "Yeah," he said dryly.

"Can you handle this?"

"We'll be fine." He was tempted to point out that they didn't have other options; he was doing this because of that. But he didn't say it, because he knew it would just make her worry.

"Are you sure?"

He wasn't, but he lied. "Yeah. I'll be fine."

"All right," she said after a second's hesitation. "I love you."

"Uh huh. I'm still making a list."

"I wouldn't have it any other way." And then she added, "Rachel, be good for Mommy. I'll see you soon. I love you."

That couldn't happen soon enough, he thought, hanging up the phone. It really couldn't. But he guessed there wasn't anything else for him to do other than to go through the motions as quickly and competently as he could. If it was going to suck no matter what (and it was), then his only course of action was to simply get through the evening and hope for the best.

With that matter settled in his mind, he tried to remember what Cuddy had asked him to do. That obviously was rather difficult, what with all the crying coming from the backseat.

But mentally he was able to recall the various things Cuddy had asked him to do. Put Rachel to bed – it was too early to do that… sadly. Take her trick-or-treating if she wanted to go – again, too early for that, and even if it weren't, she wasn't in a position to say what she wanted or didn't want at the moment.

No, he thought after a second; that wasn't exactly true. Rachel was certainly capable of screaming how much she wanted her mother. She was making that fact perfectly clear. However, he doubted he would get anything else out of her while she was this upset. So that left him with only one other thing Cuddy had told him to do: dinner.

That would seem easy enough. None of them had had a decent meal all week. Marina's death had added strain to two already incredibly busy people, and between that and his case, they'd usually gone for something simple and quick or take out. Cuddy had tried her best the previous night to make something nutritious, but it had largely been inedible… as the food always was when she cooked.

Again, he knew she had given it her best effort. But in the end, a dead chicken was ill equipped to withstand her culinary talents. Although he guessed he shouldn't have been complaining; she hadn't made them sick or think they were dying, so really, it was an improvement on her part. Even if it had tasted bad, no one had puked their intestines out, which was as much a victory as an edible meal from her would have been at this point.

Yeah, all things considered, dinner made with his own hands should have sounded appealing. Yet it didn't. If only because he knew he would need to stop at the grocery store, cooking supper had no appeal. It might have, but having to deal with a screaming Rachel pretty much killed whatever interest he had.

But he would do it.

Did he care about giving Rachel a healthy meal? Hardly. Would Cuddy care though? Yeah. She wouldn't be angry if he ordered in; she hadn't given him enough notice to have that right. But she would be far more impressed if he took the time to stop at the store and then make something himself.

And that was what mattered.

It was all about earning the pussy points. After that phone call alone, he'd received implicitly a free trip to Cuddy's vagina. Add to that the trouble of going to the store and making dinner, and he'd get more play than Foreman's fleshlight and post-divorce Chase combined. It went without saying that House would screw up eventually, but then this moment would earn him a shred of good will going forward. And that too was important to him.

Nonetheless, it didn't make the prospect of shopping with Rachel seem any more pleasant. But he had no choice in the matter, he supposed.

By the time he pulled into the parking lot though, he was ready to throw in the towel. It had only been about ten, maybe fifteen minutes, since he'd picked her up, but it had felt like a lifetime. And as long as it seemed they'd been together, she was still crying. Putting the car in park, he decided the tears needed to stop.

Now.

Getting out of the car, he made his way around to the back seat. But he sure as hell had no intention of letting her out. Quickly opening the door and sliding onto the seat, he knew he couldn't take her out until she was slightly calmer. Because if she didn't shut up and kept carrying on as she was, he would never be able to slip in and out of the store without someone saying or doing something.

Slamming the door shut behind him, he wasn't surprised that Rachel jumped a little.

"What's the problem?" he asked in a rough, unfriendly voice. There were times when he knew the importance of being nice to her; this was not going to be one of those times. Cuddy had tried kindness and sympathy, but it hadn't stopped the tears.

This didn't either, but the harsh words did seem to give Rachel pause.

She hiccupped loudly. "I want Mommy."

"And I would give you her in a heartbeat if that were an option. But it's not."

"But…." She started to get herself worked up again.

"No," he said sharply. "Stop that." She looked over at him with surprise, shame, and maybe some fear in her eyes. "I don't know what you want. If I did, I would give it to you. But I don't understand this," he told her, gesturing to her. "Maybe Mommy understands the crying and the screaming, but I don't. You have to tell me what you want."

House backed off then. Her small mind needed time to process what he was saying, and if he pushed her to respond, he would get nowhere. Or worse, that would make her cry even more. So he waited – as patiently as he knew how. And as she slowly got control of herself, he knew he hadn't completely screwed up.

She didn't stop crying altogether. He would have liked that, which was why it couldn't happen. But with each shaky breath she took, the tears seemed to lessen, and she seemed more in control of herself.

"Tell me what's wrong," he said much more gently.

She shook her head, her eyes fearful. "Don't wanna go 'way."

"I don't know what that means."

"You said…." She frowned. "You said Marina got in the car and she goed away."

"She died. She didn't just go away."

"But Mommy said –"

"Marina was in an accident," House explained. Cuddy was going to kill him if he got into the specifics of what happened, and he knew that going in. Her preference was to keep Rachel's knowledge to a minimum, only saying exactly what needed to be said and using a lot of euphemisms to do it. And House wanted to respect that as much as he could. After all, it wasn't like his attempts at giving Rachel the truth had worked all that well so far. He'd tried to give her a dose of the truth, and Cuddy had tried to soften the blow, and what did they have to show for all of their combined efforts? They had a child who was more confused and afraid than ever. And as much as he knew Cuddy would prefer handling this herself, they couldn't wait for that. He had to say something now. If he didn't, nothing would change. Rachel would remain upset, and he couldn't afford that.

"Yes, she was in a car," he admitted. "But she didn't just… go away. She was – she got hurt very badly. Which is not normal," he told her in a way that he hoped made it perfectly clear that Marina's accident was not a regular occurrence.

By then Rachel had stopped crying. It would have been hard to hear anything he said over her wailing, so she'd had no choice but to shut up.

"Nothing's going to happen to you. You are completely safe." She didn't seem all that convinced, the worry still rumpling her forehead. "Do you believe me?"

"I…." She nibbled on her lip. "I don't know."

"You think I'm lying?"

"I don't know. People lie."

That was the thing about being entirely idiotic; every now and then you would say something intelligent, and it always confused the ones who thought you were a complete dumb ass. House was no exception to that confusion, particularly when Rachel was the one who was making the smart remark. But unlike most other people in that group, he could quickly explain away Rachel's behavior.

She was parroting what she heard. On any given day, there were probably multiple times where she heard him talk about everyone's innate proclivity to lie. Why wouldn't she pick that up?

Satisfied with his explanation, he refocused his attention on the matter at hand. "You think I would lie to you?"

That actually made her smile. "Yes."

"Really?" he asked, pretending to be offended by that. "I'm wounded," he said sarcastically. "That you would think so little of –"

"You gave Nana pills at her birfday and maked her sleepy."

A look of dismay momentarily washed over his face. He easily recovered. "That was a gift to your mother."

"You put stuff in Uncle Dougie's food to make him poo."

"Actually, I didn't," he corrected. Deciding that she seemed calm enough to take into the store, he leaned over and unbuckled her from the car seat. "I only said I did so no one would suspect that it was actually Mommy's hand in making the food that made him sick."

"You said you –"

"All right, fine. I'm a liar." Reaching over he opened the car door for her. "Not lying about this. Hop out."

House would have been lying if he said he was surprised that she didn't. No, if anything he had anticipated that from her. Although he would have liked her to believe him, he knew that they didn't have the kind of relationship where she would automatically do so. And even if they did, she was stupidly afraid of dying. As irrational as that was, she was terrified that something would happen. And no matter how they felt about one another, it was a tall order to get him to convince her nothing would go wrong.

But all of that said, when he got out of the car and walked around to her side of the vehicle, she let him pull her out without difficulty. So maybe that said something for where they were headed in their… friendship.

He tried to not let that thought fester too much in his mind. Instead choosing to force the idea out altogether, he started to usher her towards the front of the store. She was reluctant and jumpy the whole time, but he somehow managed to get her there.

And then he promptly stuffed her into the basket of one of the carts. She didn't seem to want that, though it was hard to tell if she was resisting being manhandled or if she was just too fat to get in easily. Whatever the reason, he still managed to force her in there.

"That hurt," she said grumpily once she was snug in the seat.

"Sorry." He wasn't at all, but he knew if he didn't say it, she would tell her mother. Only Rachel would make it sound as though he'd cruelly forced her into the basket with little regard for her safety. Which, all right, technically he had done, but she would make it seem like his intention had been to hurt her, and that had never been the case. At the same time though, he wanted to make it perfectly clear his reasons for putting her in the cart. "I don't feel like chasing you around the store."

"Not gonna run," she said with a pout.

"Yeah, I don't believe that."

"I'm not lying."

"Okay." But he kept pushing the cart along as though he hadn't even heard what she was saying.

"I mean it."

"I'm sure you do. But then you're going to see a cookie display or the lobster tank, and the next thing I know, Rachel's gone. And then I have to find you – or explain to Mommy why some creepy sixty year old is hiding you in a tent in his back yard and calling you his wife – and then you won't be able to go trick-or-treating."

Her mood turned away from argumentative and became somber. "I don't wanna go."

"Why not?" It pained him to show any interest in the kid, but for this unique moment in time, he was interested in her reasoning. "It's free candy. All you have to do is wear a costume and smile and –"

"Cause I don't wanna."

As he selected some ground beef and pork from the meat section, he found himself mentally deciding that he would also be sure to pick up some veal. Cuddy never refused to eat his meatballs (an idea that somehow seemed to defy the current state of their love life at the moment, he thought miserably), but she had always been uncomfortable about eating calves. He had no such compunction, and when Rachel was being the nuisance that she was, he felt it was only appropriate to take it out on a youth he was legally allowed to consume.

"That's dumb," he said, tossing the packages of meat into the cart. "Why wouldn't you want candy?"

She didn't answer the question.

"Fine." If she didn't want to talk about it, he was all right with that. Was he curious about her reasons? Sure. But if she wanted to keep quiet, after listening to her scream and cry for so long, he was absolutely okay with that choice. "We'll go home, make dinner, and you can watch me peruse the Kama Sutra for inspiration."

"I don't know what that –"

"Doesn't matter."

He thought she would push for an explanation. Kids could be annoying that way, and even though Rachel was lacking in natural curiosity, he was sure that, based on his luck, she would want to know what it was. But she didn't.

As the shopping trip progressed though, it was easy to see why she didn't care. As he pushed them towards the canned tomatoes, she began to rub her eyes tiredly. Apparently throwing a fit and crying were exhausting. By the time he finished loading up the cart, she was slumped over and fast asleep.

He couldn't have been more grateful for that.

No more questions, no more awkward conversations or emotions to get in the way out what should have been a quick trip to the grocery store – it was exactly what he wanted.

He didn't even mind that, when he needed to push the cart, Rachel's face rested against his stomach. He didn't care that people were giving him looks as if to say, "Oh how sweet." Under normal circumstances it would have, but today, that didn't bother him in the least. As annoying as it could have been, it was far better than having to listen to her cry or complain. He didn't even blink when she started drooling against him as he took the cart to the check out. It was gross; he would never pretend otherwise. But his life would be much easier if she stayed asleep.

Obviously it was guaranteed that she would wake up at some point. But if he could get through the check out line, if he could get her in the car and home, that would make things so much better.

Quietly he paid for the groceries and steered the cart back to Cuddy's car. Getting her out of the basket and into her car seat took considerable effort. Rachel was dead weight against him, and it was difficult to maneuver her body without jostling her into waking up. He was patient, however, and gradually he was able to strap her into the booster seat without a problem.

Gently he shut her car door. The second he did it, he found himself holding his breath. The noise hadn't been much, but he feared waking her up and dealing with the screaming that he was sure would follow. Yet nothing happened. For all of his concern, she slept right on.

Again though, he knew that that wouldn't last forever. So he quickly piled the groceries into the trunk and got in the car. But he didn't pull out of the parking lot right away. In the back of his mind, he understood that he should have. However, as he looked in the rearview mirror to back out, he remembered the phone call he'd made to Cuddy. Rachel had been so inconsolable, so out of her mind with fear and grief and whatever other thoughts and emotions floated around in a four year old's head. And he doubted Cuddy had been quick to forget that.

In fact, she was probably in a meeting or taking a phone call right now and thinking about what had happened. He didn't doubt the likelihood of that; her narcissism made every momentary difficulty or failure with Rachel enormous in her own mind. So not only was she probably mulling over what had happened, she'd also probably decided that all of this was her fault. As her boyfriend, he didn't want her to think that any more than she needed to.

More importantly, he didn't want her to wonder how long it had taken him to calm Rachel down. He wanted her to know that he'd actually taken care of things pretty damn quickly. Again, it was all about building up that good will, and his performance here would certainly do that. She just needed to know it.

That part was going to be easy. Putting the car in park once more, he reached into his pocket for his cell phone. He took a picture of Rachel as she slept. Creating a text message, he sent the picture to Cuddy with a note attached saying: Don't worry, Mommy. We figured it out.

It would have been easy to make a joke about drugging Rachel, but he'd played it straight. He would like to believe that Cuddy would see the joke for what it was, but he wasn't going to risk it; pussy points were for cashing in – not for gambling away.

His message sent, he put his phone back into his pocket and drove away.

The ride home was serene, the complete opposite of how things had been when he'd picked Rachel up. Even when she woke up, she stayed fairly quiet. She made a few confused sounds as she tried to figure out where she was. But there was no screaming or crying. And even if there had been, they were only five minutes from the house.

However, she was too dazed to do much of anything. By the time she was fully conscious, he was parking Cuddy's car in the garage.

"See?" he told her after he'd helped her out of her car seat. "We drove in the car twice, and nothing happened to you. You made it home fine."

Never one to let a little something called logic get in her way, Rachel didn't react to the comment. As always though, he was content with her silence. A kid who didn't talk was a kid he could handle being around. And if she wanted to pretend like she hadn't heard his obvious and lame attempt at making her feel better, he was more than willing to let her do that.

Would he have preferred her to demonstrate the slightest bit of intelligence and admit that he'd been completely right this entire time? Of course. That would have been nice, considering how many times she had gifted him with her idiocy. But since asking for intelligence from Rachel was akin to asking a polar bear to give him a blowjob, he was willing to settle for her not saying anything. At least it meant she wasn't going to fight him on the subject. So why would he want to push her to respond? Why wouldn't he let her go into the house while he grabbed the food? No other options made any sense, which was why he didn't say anything to her; he simply carried in the groceries.

Without a word, he helped her turn on the television. He was aware of all the documented dangers in letting your TV act as your child's babysitter. He also didn't care about any of that. Living in the same home as him would surely screw her up more than any amount of television ever could.

Quickly he flipped through the channels to try to find something appropriate for the kid. Frankly he didn't care if she watched porn. But if what she was watching bored her, she would bother him while he made dinner. Trying to avoid that, House settled on the first child-friendly program he could find.

He had no idea what it was. It just featured a lot of kids and seemed Halloween related. And maybe that was a good thing, because so far, Rachel had been uninterested in trick-or-treating.

Of course, House didn't want to take her. That was, actually, one of the last things he wanted to do. But if there were one thing Cuddy liked, it was normalcy. Sure, she dated him, which in and of itself suggested that she had no idea what "normal" meant. In a way though, that was why she needed the rest of her life to fit neatly into other people's definition of typical and all right; she had her fill of weirdness with him, and she needed something else to balance that. And in this case, what that meant was having a daughter who did all the things other children did. It didn't matter that Rachel's peanut allergies and diabetes complicated Halloween significantly. What Cuddy wanted was to give her daughter a childhood that didn't seem weird in the least. And while he didn't care at all about taking Rachel trick-or-treating, Cuddy did.

Knowing that, he understood that that was all that mattered: giving her what she wanted. He didn't necessarily appreciate being put in a subservient position in their relationship, but even he could comprehend what it would take to make something with Cuddy work. No sheer amount of will could keep them together on its own. He could want it… all he wanted, but action had to come with that.

Even if that action meant making an effort with Rachel.

Even if that action meant giving Cuddy what she wanted at the expense of his own needs.

As he headed to the kitchen to start dinner, he knew that he wasn't perfect; he understood that knowing what needed to be done hadn't always translated into him actually being able to do it. In fact, lately it seemed like he was rarely capable of pulling off the things he thought he would be able to. Sacrifice wasn't in his nature, and his inherent selfishness made half of this relationship infinitely harder than he wanted it to be.

But for all of that, today had been a success. Regardless of where things went from here, it would be obvious to Cuddy that he had made a huge effort to give Rachel what she wanted. And maybe that was all he could hope for. If not victory itself then at least trying to achieve that had to count for something. Even Cuddy, who had a tendency to overreact to failure, had to give him that much. That phone call had given him some insurance, a modicum of understanding on her part; she wouldn't be mad no matter how the rest of the day turned out.

Starting to make the marinara sauce, he decided though that it would be nice to keep the momentum going. If he could get Rachel to do everything Cuddy wanted, he would be rewarded all the more handsomely. Hell, Cuddy's panties would be dropping so fast they'd create a hole to the center of the Earth.

After ten days without even so much of a whiff of pussy in his future, that prospect seemed especially tempting to him. And he made a promise to his dick right then and there that he would do whatever it took to give Cuddy what she wanted Rachel to have. Trick-or-treating had seemed so awful before, but now there was the probability of a treat of his own at the end.

True, someone could say that he was acting on a pretty obvious assumption – that Cuddy would give it up if he behaved tonight. She hadn't promised anything, and it was possible if unlikely that she would take offense at the logic behind his actions. But he doubted it. What was there to be offended by? Why would she care what his reasons were? Okay, he amended, why would she care what his reasons were when they hadn't had sex in ten days?

She wouldn't.

As he gradually went through the process of making dinner, he seemed to tell himself multiple times: she wouldn't care. (But just in case, he wouldn't ever tell her what his intentions had been.)

His mind was still mulling all of that over when Rachel entered the kitchen. He was busy rolling meatballs and placing them on a cookie sheet, his back turned away from the entrance. So he didn't know she had come in the room until she asked casually, "House, what's a virgin?"

"Your mother before she met me." The reply came easily. He wasn't going to lie and say the question hadn't surprised him. It had. But it wasn't difficult to make a joke of it. Had he been serious, that would have just created more questions. "Why do you ask?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her skipping towards him.

"They said it in the movie." Standing next to him, she looked intently at the food he was making. Her fingers gripping the lip of the counter, she asked, "Can I have one?"

"No," he said flatly. "They need to be cooked. Why were they talking about virgins?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. The boy said he was a virgin and made the candle shoot fire and then witches came."

Given that that made no sense at all, he could only assume that she had missed some important plot points along the way. "Sounds exciting," he lied. "You better go sit down and watch the rest or you'll miss something important."

"I'm hungry."

It was actually early to get dinner started. He'd only done it, because he wanted to have her fed in case they went trick-or-treating. And since the food would take a while to cook, he didn't waste any time.

"Dinner's not ready yet. Go watch TV."

"Don't wanna," she whined.

He placed a meatball on the cookie sheet. "Why not?"

"It's boring."

"Then go play."

"There's nothing to do." She impatiently bounced on the balls of her feet, her body brimming with unfocused energy.

"Right. All those toys you have… there's nothing you can play with."

She frowned, dejected. "I guess there is."

"There is," he insisted. "So why don't you go find something to play with?"

It would have been too easy for her to walk away and do just that. She had to stick around, her wide eyes looking at him sadly.

"Will you play with me?"

He bit back the no he wanted to say loudly. It almost slipped out, because he certainly didn't want to play with dolls or read to her or do any of that. But just in the nick of time, he caught himself from voicing his feelings. Opening his mouth and closing it once more, he stopped the words from escaping. And in doing so, he was reminded of all the reasons he was in this position to begin with.

He wanted Cuddy.

And if he was mean to her kid, he would never, ever have Cuddy. It would be over.

Forcing himself to be nice, he reminded Rachel, "I thought you said you were hungry."

"I am."

"Then I can cook or I can play with you, but I can't do both," he said honestly.

"Fine."

He was about to point out that, if she wanted something to do, trick-or-treating was an option. But he didn't get the chance to say anything. By the time he turned to talk to her, she was already stomping away. By the time he realized something was wrong, that she was angry, she was already gone.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Dinner improved her mood somewhat. He didn't know if it was the food itself or the time she'd had to cool off that did it. But once she'd had a few meatballs and some spaghetti in her stomach, she had seemingly forgiven him for whatever wrong she thought he'd committed.

The key word there was thought. Under no circumstances would he admit to having done something wrong, because he hadn't. He hadn't played with her, because he'd been too busy making them dinner. And while he knew that it was female Cuddy M.O. to get pissy every now and then for seemingly no reason at all, it was a little uncalled for for a four year old to be imitating Mommy when she was stressed out of her mind. It was certainly insane to expect him to apologize or try to amend the situation when he'd had no hand in making it uncomfortable.

But he didn't dwell on it either. Well, he didn't vocalize his thoughts on the subject anyway.

Was he frustrated that their dynamic could go from good to bad to awful in mere seconds? Sure. He didn't like feeling as though any moment could undo whatever progress they'd made. He didn't enjoy knowing that every failure on his part would be reported to and scrutinized by Cuddy. He could handle Rachel saying that she hated him, but he despised knowing that those words could make his girlfriend reconsider their relationship altogether.

However, taking offense and remaining upset were not a cure for that. No matter how tempting it was, it wasn't going to make things better. The only thing that would do that was slowly finding some lasting common ground with the kid. And if that meant letting her unpredictable and childish nature go unchecked, he would reluctantly agree to do that.

As he ate dinner with her, he tried not to think about it too much. He wasn't going to say anything, so he knew it was dumb to think about what had happened or how it made him feel. Even thinking the phrase, "how it made him feel," made him shy away from doing it, because it sounded truly pathetic in his own head. But he found himself mulling her behavior over anyway.

At some point, it would come to a head. He could avoid thinking about it or saying anything or doing anything all he wanted. He knew though: it couldn't always be like this. Even if he tried to convince himself that they would be fine if he just… dealt with it, House recognized that he would never believe it. Not really.

But if he could avoid tackling that problem today, that was exactly what he was going to do. So he calmly ate dinner with Rachel. She talked about her day at school; he pretended to listen, and afterwards, after he'd cleaned the dishes and put the leftovers away, he settled on the couch with her. He could have addressed her behavior, but instead he suggested they watch a movie.

Within minutes they were sitting next to each other, watching The Great Mouse Detective. Well, all right, she was paying attention. For his part, his gaze might have been focused on the screen, but his mind was focusing on other matters.

"Sure you don't want to trick-or-treat?" he asked casually.

She shook her head. "I don't wanna go."

"Really?"

She was too busy watching Basil of Baker Street play the violin to answer the question.

For a moment, being ignored threw him off balance. Her behavior was suspicious – what kind of kid didn't want free candy? – and that she seemed intent on offering no explanation only served to make him more curious.

"Is it because of your diabetes?"

She looked over at him as though she were annoyed he was talking to her. "No."

"Because if it is, that's pretty stupid, given that we have insulin and your mommy bought you other candy you can eat."

"I don't care."

That didn't sound true. It sounded as though she cared very much, as anyone would in her position. Between the allergies and the diabetes, it was understandably difficult for someone like her to navigate and celebrate Halloween. But the thing about that was Cuddy had taken care of all of that. He'd single handedly listened to her plan this thing out since August.

She'd bought sugar-free, peanut-free candy. The idea had been to take Rachel trick-or-treating like any other kid. Then afterwards, Cuddy would sort out the good candy from the bad and let Rachel trade in the bad stuff for things she could eat. And much to his dismay, his own mother had sent Cuddy a couple of small gifts to give to Rachel as part of the exchange as well. Which meant that, while this could have been an issue, it wasn't. Rachel would go out like everyone else. She'd be able to get candy and dress up and have fun and come back and get a plastic-pumpkin filled with all sorts of candy she could have. It wasn't a problem. Not even the Snickers and Butterfingers that would be left over were going to be a problem. Cuddy had promised to give him what Rachel couldn't eat.

And now the prospect of him not getting anything made him all the more determined to get to the bottom of this. Forget how bizarre she was acting; what it came down to now was that his Halloween experience was about to be ruined. Now maybe that would have been okay under normal circumstances. But if he was going to be jerking off in the shower like he didn't have a girlfriend at all because of the kid, the least Rachel could do in return for him was give him the sugar rush he had been promised.

The only way that would happen now though was if he figured out what Rachel's problem was. How he could force the truth from her he didn't know. She was so busy watching the movie that he realized it would take something big to capture her attention. Obviously just talking to her wasn't going to do it. So it had to be something else… something that would either make her really happy and excited and interested in talking or something that displeased her enough to make her talk. Given that the latter was easier for him, he went with that.

Standing up, he headed towards the bedroom. Cuddy had kept all the Halloween candy hidden on the top shelf of her closet. And in his mind, while Rachel said she didn't want to trick-or-treat, perhaps candy being in front of her would make her think differently. After all, it was one thing to say you weren't interested and another entirely to have to say no once it was right in front of you.

Grabbing the stash of candy, he hurried back out to the living room. As he sat down, he said, "Hey." Picking out a small grape lollipop, he asked, "You want this?"

She looked at it almost longingly, like she really did want it. But then with a frown, she shook her head. "No."

"Really? Cause it seems like you do."

"No, I don't."

"I think you do."

Her response was to turn back to the movie.

"Oh, so you're going to ignore me then?" His voice came out taunting, but he hardly cared about the immaturity of that. If it worked, it was okay in his book. "All right, then I guess you won't mind if I eat it then."

House dumped the candy back into the bowl and picked out a piece of taffy. He had no problem eating what was meant for her, but if he was going to do that, it wasn't going to be a crappy grape pop.

As loudly as he could, he unwrapped the candy. "I'm really going to eat it, Rachel. So if you want it, you're going to have to stop me now."

"I don't care. I'm trying to watch the movie."

Well, fine, he thought, making a dirty face. If she wanted to act like she didn't want any of it, why shouldn't he enjoy a few pieces himself? He still had every intention of getting an answer out of her. But in the meantime, he didn't think it would hurt to give himself a snack. So he popped the taffy into his mouth.

He chewed as obnoxiously as he could to get a reaction, but it didn't work. So he just kept going. Sifting through the basket of candy in his lap, he picked out a few pieces. A pumpkin-shaped, chocolate-covered Peep, two sugar-free cherry lollipops, and a packet of Sun Cups later, he still hadn't captured her attention. She was that interested in the movie.

But that was easily something he could change. Reaching for the remote, he hit the pause button. That simple act instantly got her attention.

"Hey!" She turned and glared at him.

He smiled. "We have something to discuss."

"Put the movie back on!"

"I will. As soon as you tell me why you don't want to go out tonight."

"Cause I don't want to," she snapped in a bratty manner.

"That's not a reason."

"TV on," she whined, skipping over half the words necessary to make an intelligible sentence. He wasn't sure that he liked what it said about him, that he understood exactly what she was trying to say. But he chose to ignore it.

Grabbing another lollipop, he unwrapped it. "No, I don't think I will."

"Yes!"

He shook his head as though it pained him to tell her no. "Mmmm, I don't think so. I'm kinda going to need an answer for this one."

"No, you don't," she said with a sneer. "You nosy. And mean. And stupid. And –"

"So then you don't want to watch the part where the mice break out into song."

He wouldn't deny that he was being cruel, throwing that in her face. The moment the various henchmen broke out into song about how great the bad guy was was Rachel's favorite part. It wasn't out of the question for her to replay that moment over and over (until someone stopped her) when she watched the cartoon. And to bring it up now, while effective, was admittedly mean. He knew it.

"Play it!" She hopped off the couch, so she could stomp her foot loudly on the ground.

"Tell me why you want to stay home."

"No!"

"Then no singing mice." Cruel as he was being, he wasn't going to back down. If this moment went too far, he could always apologize. But he was hoping he wouldn't have to do that. In his mind, if he could get the truth out of Rachel, if he could ease whatever hesitation she had, then the excitement of trick-or-treating would far outweigh whatever bad thing he'd done to get her to that point.

"Noooo!" she cried loudly. "I want Ratigan!"

"Fine," he said calmly, in complete contrast to her behavior. "Just tell me why –"

"Because it's for babies, that's why."

He looked at her carefully. Inspecting her for some sort of tell, he wanted to see the truth in her eyes for he certainly hadn't heard it in her voice. But there was not a drop of honesty to be found. She was lying.

"No. That's not it."

"Yes it is!"

"You don't want to do things babies do?" He shook his head. "That's why you wanted to watch Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie? Cause that's something people who don't crap their diapers like? I forgot. How many Oscars did that receive again?"

"You liked it when we watched it last time," she accused.

And he couldn't deny that she was right. So he went for another, better example. "You still let Mommy push you around in a stroller."

"Nuh uh!" she said, her cheeks turning pink in shame. To be fair to her, the last time she'd been in a stroller had been last summer when they'd visited his mother. They'd decided to fly to make things easier on everyone, and not wanting to hold Rachel's hand throughout the airport, Cuddy had used her stroller. And even then, Rachel had been opposed to it – but not because she was interested in being a mature kid. No, if she'd been angry at all, it had been because she'd wanted Cuddy to carry her the entire time.

Still, it felt like an unfair point to make.

Yet any regret he had over it instantly evaporated when Rachel snapped back, "You were in one too!"

For a second he had no idea what she was talking about. But then he understood. "That was a wheelchair."

"So."

"So it's not the same thing."

"Yes, it is."

"No it's not," he said firmly. "But even if you were right, you're telling me that on Halloween, the night millions of kids older than you go out, you've decided you don't want to go?"

"Yes."

"I don't believe that."

She looked like she was on the verge of a temper tantrum. And that was the last thing he wanted, because that would just be unbearable for him to listen to.

Sighing he realized he needed to take a different approach. As small minded as she was, apparently blackmail was only going to make her less likely to talk to him. She would throw a fit and never tell him anything, because as stubborn as he was, the same went for her. And so they would quickly reach a stalemate, and instead of having time to make up for being so forceful with her, he would have to make room in his calendar for explaining his behavior to Cuddy. Since he didn't want to do that, he understood he would need to try a different approach.

"Come here," he said in a gentle voice, patting the couch cushion next to him. Kindness wasn't exactly his strong suit, but he was willing to try sympathy on the off chance that it would work.

It didn't seem like it would though when she remained standing. Her arms folded across her chest, she was literally and figuratively unmoved.

"Listen, Rachel. We both know something's not right. Couple weeks ago, you wanted to go trick-or-treating. You told your mother that you wanted to go," he reminded her. "I know things have been… bad this past week. But Mommy and I thought you'd still want to go out and have some fun. If you're saying you don't, I think there's a reason for that." He paused to let the words penetrate her hard head. "I'm not asking, because I'm nosy."

"Yes, you are," she said in a knowing voice.

And maybe there was some truth to that. It was far more believable that he was interested for the sake of being interested than to be curious because he cared, anyway. But he wouldn't get anywhere if he agreed with her or proved her right.

"Sure, I'm nosy," he admitted to defuse her point. "But I'm asking what your reasons are, because I'm… concerned." The word sounded odd coming from him, not entirely natural. Eagerly he pushed past the awkwardness. "This isn't like you. And if something's bothering you, something I can fix so you can go out and get candy –"

"Can't fix it," she interrupted. She sounded sad, mournful.

"You don't know that. I might be able to –"

"I yelled at Marina."

And then she promptly burst into tears at the sound of her own confession. Then, he didn't need to pat the couch or ask her to talk, because she gave in all on her own.

Rushing for him, she crawled onto the couch and buried her face into his arm. He was as surprised by the action as he was uncomfortable, and it took him a few seconds before he could awkwardly pat her back.

Maybe he should have been used to it. His focus had been on how long it had been since he'd had sex with Cuddy, but Rachel had displayed the troubled pattern of crying all week too. He hadn't really thought about it, because Cuddy had always been around to take care of her daughter. Or if she hadn't been, then House had been dropping Rachel off at school – where he could promptly hand her off to a teacher. So he hadn't really been exposed or forced to handle her crying. But he thought that he should have been better prepared anyway. Because if she'd been upset this long, surely it would have been predictable to think that she would cry more. It certainly didn't make any logical sense to believe that wouldn't happen anyway.

But for whatever reason, he had assumed that she would be okay, that he wouldn't be the one responsible for comforting her. And now that he was, he could see just how ill equipped he was to handle the moment.

"It's… okay," he told her lamely.

"No it's not," she sobbed. "I, I, I says I be a mail –"

"Mail?" he asked, confused by what she was trying to say.

She corrected herself, sniffing loudly. "Mail. Like a letter." He didn't ask why a four year old would want to be a piece of mail. He didn't ask how the hell she'd thought of that idea anyway or how Marina could have pulled that costume together for her. He wanted to ask all of those questions, but it would be counterproductive to do so. "But she buys me a snail costume. And I was mad, and I says I hate you."

A few words might have trickled out after that, but he didn't understand any of them. She was crying too loudly, clinging onto his arm as though that were the only thing keeping her afloat amongst her grief.

Once again, he told her stupidly, "It's okay." She shook her head, rubbing her runny nose along the sleeve of his rumpled button down shirt. "No," he said more strongly. "It really is okay."

"I was bad."

"No." She was annoying and dumb but nowhere near deserving of the guilt she surely felt.

God, he thought at that moment. Biology might have indicated something different, but lack of girl-in-uterus action couldn't take away from the most obvious of facts at that moment. She was absolutely Cuddy's daughter. It would have been such a Cuddy quality to feel as guilty as Rachel looked, to assume that one crappy decision somehow indicated something more sinister.

He wasn't going to share that thought though. Not with Rachel and certainly not with Cuddy herself, because saying any of it aloud would probably create more trouble than making the observation was worth. So he stuck to the matter at hand.

"No. You're not bad, Rachel." He ran his hand along her back. He was so uncomfortable having to do any of it that he'd already made a mental note to forget this night as soon as possible. He'd tell Cuddy just enough so that she could deal with Rachel, but how he'd tried to comfort the kid was going to be buried in the deepest, darkest places of his mind so that he wouldn't ever have to think about it again.

"You just… said something you shouldn't have," he said lamely. "That's not bad. You were angry, and you made a mistake."

Her response was barely above a whisper. "Didn't get to say sorry."

"Well she's dead now" was what he wanted to tell her. He wanted to point out that whatever Rachel had done, Marina wasn't going to have any feelings about it now, on account of the fact that she was dead. But he was smart enough to know that reminding Rachel that the nanny was gone was asking for disaster. That would only make her more upset, and he was trying to calm her down, so it would be counterintuitive to make that point.

Taking a different approach, he conceded the point. "I know. But there's no way you could have known what would happen. You said something you didn't mean. Everyone does that. Everyone."

"Like when you told Mommy her butt was big?"

"No, that was true."

And although he didn't say this, technically Cuddy hadn't even been mad that he'd said her ass was big. That was just a fact. What she had objected to was him using her ginormous backside to explain why he'd dropped her when they'd tried to have sex against the bathroom wall. More specifically, she had reacted to the comment after she'd needed to go to the E.R. and get a small row of stitches put in; his ass remark had been the last straw. But it had also been the part of the conversation Rachel had walked in on, so he could understand her confusion. He also understood that under no circumstances could he correct her, which left him with having to gloss over the point. "But yeah, me too. There are no exceptions."

Rachel didn't respond. Realistically he hadn't made her feel any better. There was nothing he was saying that looked anything like comfort, and he realized that. It was an undeniable fact that people tended to be stupid, particularly with the ones they cared about enough to take for granted; he'd always known that love made people incapable of logical thinking, but he never failed to be surprised at how often they (and he) seemed intent on demonstrating that fact.

Truth be told, he had no doubt that she would eventually learn and accept that unfortunate truth. Some day she would be content with it. But today would not be when that happened. And telling her the truth might have been his only option, but it hardly felt like an adequate one.

"Look," he told her, not wanting to leave things there. "Marina was with you nearly every day from the time you were a baby. She… loved you," he said, stumbling over the words. "Whatever you said to her, she knew you didn't mean it."

Rachel shifted against him. "Really?"

He didn't know, but he nodded his head anyway. "Sure."

Although she didn't say anything, he could tell that he had told her what she needed to hear. She wasn't crying anymore. She wasn't talking about her mistake or acting as though she were bad for having said something mean to Marina. And he was grateful for that, because his next tactic, which would have been to say, "Believe me, I've said worse things to the woman," would not have been particularly effective. So he was relieved she calmed down.

But she didn't stay quiet for long.

"Don't tell Mommy."

He looked down at her. "Why not?"

"Please?" She didn't offer an explanation.

He was torn with deciding what to say. Saying yes seemed like all sorts of wrong. First of all, there was absolutely no way Rachel was going to keep this moment to herself. If she felt guilty, she would eventually tell Cuddy. If she thought he'd helped her and made her feel better, she still would, probably, eventually tell her mother. If only because she was nearly five, she was going to blab about the event, because that was what kids that age did; they didn't keep secrets, not for any long period of time at least.

And even if she did, by some random chance, keep her mouth shut, that didn't seem like a good thing. "It'll be our little secret" was the pedophile motto, something that was only appropriate if he'd spent his Halloween diddling the kid. Since that wasn't, had never, and would never be the case, he had no interest in doing something that seemed even tangentially related to that. Besides, even without the icky connotations, it was hardly a good idea to keep a secret from Cuddy. Because if Rachel didn't tell her the truth, if he didn't blurt it out out of his own discomfort, what it meant was he was keeping something from his girlfriend.

Something she obviously had a right to know, something involving her own daughter.

But on the other hand, he didn't want to say no. It was obvious what would happen if he did. Rachel would be angry at him; she would yell and fight, because she would see his refusal as some sort of personal affront. And maybe it was, because to trust him with anything was a big step for both of them. They weren't the kind to confide in one another; they'd never done that. Here she was though, taking that first step towards… he didn't even know what they might have been moving towards. But it felt like they were making some progress, and it felt wrong to ruin the moment. Especially since that was what Cuddy wanted – progress, right? She didn't want secrets, but she also seemed obsessed with making all of their relationships work. So maybe it wasn't wrong…

"Sure," he said, making his choice on a whim.

The second he said it, he regretted it. He tried to tell himself that he hadn't made a promise to her, that he could tell Cuddy if he wanted. But the whole thing had the predictable gross feeling that he didn't want. And even though his acquiescence seemed to make Rachel calm down, inwardly he felt far worse.

Eagerly he tried to push past his discomfort by making his way back to the reason he'd gotten neck deep in this problem to begin with. "So… you want to go trick-or-treating?"

She shook her head. "No."

"Marina would want you to have a good time," he said, knowing how heavy handed it was.

"I don't wanna be a stinky snail."

It wouldn't be what Cuddy wanted to hear, that was for sure. But at least now he had a reason to offer her when she became upset that they hadn't left the house. He'd said he wouldn't tell her about Marina; that didn't necessarily exclude saying something about the wrong costume.

Then again, if he could make sure Rachel had a nice evening, even without jamming her butt in a costume and dragging her around the block, maybe that was enough. Sure, it wouldn't be normal, the all-important buzzword for Cuddy. But normalcy was definitely ranked lower than him making headway with Rachel. Cuddy wanted both, but House knew which was far more important to her in the long run.

Knowing that, he pulled out a piece of candy and handed it to Rachel. "Here. Eat some candy."

She didn't take it, which was odd, because for the first time that evening, her eyes did wander to the chocolate bar in his hand. Before she hadn't seemed all that interested. Now though the picture was becoming clearer for him. It was established that she felt guilty for getting in a fight with Marina before she'd died. Rachel, ashamed of her own behavior, had been dead set against doing anything Halloween related.

Now, maybe she really didn't want to suffer the embarrassment of being a snail. He'd seen the costume, with a brown knit hat and huge hump she'd have to lug around. No kid in their right mind would want to walk around the neighborhood looking like that… although it did say something that Rachel had standards low enough to walk around town as an envelope.

But what kid didn't want to eat candy?

It wasn't like she had to do anything to get it. He wasn't telling her she couldn't have the chocolate until she cleaned her room or did her homework, if the dumb crap she had to do for school really constituted as homework. He wasn't giving her any caveats whatsoever. This was candy with no strings attached, and either way, all kids loved candy.

If she didn't want any, there was a reason. If it had been the diabetes or her allergies that made her reluctant, that would have been apparent weeks ago. She would have said something or shown some doubt in August or September when she'd originally started talking about Halloween. Admittedly Rachel tended to think of problems and complications at the last minute. But even she wasn't dim witted enough to not see this particular issue months beforehand.

This was new though. This wasn't something she'd been holding inside for months, something that had been bothering her for a while. This was about Marina, about punishment.

"No one's mad at you," he said quietly. "You don't need to make yourself feel bad."

"I'm not." Her response was too forceful to truly be believable.

"Okay." If she wanted to pretend like she didn't want to hear his words, then he was going to follow suit and act like he didn't know that. "Then I guess I'll have to eat this chocolate all by myself."

"No," she whined, grabbing the candy bar out of his hand. "My candy."

"So now it's your candy."

"Yes. And you can't have none."

"You gonna stop me?" he challenged, pulling at a yellow lollipop.

"I might."

She didn't though. What she did do was grab the basket of candy that had been in his lap. Pulling it towards her, she quickly scurried to the other side of the sofa. Apparently, her need for some sympathy was satisfied and done with. And now that she felt better, all she wanted was to hoard her candy and eat it.

That sucked for him, as he would have really liked to eat a few more pieces before she took it. But she'd at least left him the lollipop, and he guessed that, after all he'd already had, he didn't need anymore.

Somewhat satisfied, he picked up the remote and turned on the movie once more. Quickly Rachel was captivated by the film again. She was far more conservative with her candy consumption than he had been. But he still told her to stop after she'd had a handful. She squirreled away one last piece; of course, she wouldn't listen to him right away. She did stop, however, placing the bucket on the coffee table in front of her.

And though it was hardly what her mother would have wanted for her daughter, House couldn't ignore the grin on Rachel's face. Staying inside and watching movies, contemplating the sugar content in each piece of candy – none of it would qualify as normal. But it had made Rachel happy, and after the last week, he couldn't help but think that that was good enough for all of them.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

It was Rachel's bedtime, and Cuddy still hadn't come home. Truthfully House wasn't surprised by that. Part of him had hoped she'd be home earlier than this, but he'd understood that she was under a lot of pressure as of late. She was working on some big deal to get an award-winning researcher to run an ALS study at the hospital. She was negotiating with the nurses to avoid another strike. And that was in addition to what she did on a daily basis. Add to that everything she'd had to do with Rachel this past week, and it wasn't hard to believe that Cuddy had chosen to go back to work to avoid getting behind.

And that wasn't even considering the funeral.

House knew how that had turned out. She'd never responded to his text message, had never called him to tell him what was going on, but he knew her. He knew how she reacted to these situations. He knew her guilt. No doubt she had spent that entire funeral thinking how she'd never really known Marina as a person. As the woman who watched her daughter, as a caregiver, sure, but Cuddy didn't know who Marina was or what she wanted from life. They weren't friends or family, and surrounded by those who were, Cuddy no doubt felt guilty for taking their loved one from them for all those years. Which meant that, if she weren't at work, no doubt she was trying to comfort them, trying to make amends for the wrongs that existed only in her mind.

Either way, he wasn't surprised by her absence.

He was, on the other hand, unhappy about it.

It was Rachel's bedtime, and it was easy to see that she was tired, exhausted even. But keeping her in bed, getting her to lie down and just attempt sleep was impossible. All she wanted was her mother… who was obviously not there. And though he was trying his best, it still didn't seem to be enough.

"Just close your eyes."

She kicked around beneath the covers as though she were uncomfortable. "I want Mommy."

"She can't be here right now," he reminded her, fighting the urge to bang the back of his head against her headboard. "You'll have to see her in the morning."

Rachel rolled over onto her stomach next to him. "I don't wanna sleep in my bed. I wanna sleep in your bed."

"No, you have to stay here tonight."

"Why?" she whined.

"Because this is your bed. If you weren't supposed to sleep in it, we'd just keep a cardboard box in here."

"It's too small," she complained.

At that particular moment, there was no denying that. It was too small. But there was a good reason for that. "Because I'm lying next to you. When I leave, you'll have plenty of room."

"I guess," she said glumly.

"Close your eyes and try to sleep."

The suggestion made her yawn widely. And it was one she ultimately couldn't continue to fight, because she was clearly tired. Trick-or-treating hadn't happened, but between school, her tantrum in the car, and the cool autumn air, she was facing a losing battle. Everything about the bed and her pillows and the warm blankets around her were lulling her to sleep slowly. He watched her fight it as best as she could, but there was no way she was going to win this round.

Slowly but surely, her eyelids seemed to grow heavy. With every couple of slow blinks, she would try to rouse herself. But each time she did that, it seemed to get less and less effective.

Still he didn't dare move. He'd laid down on the bed thinking that it would help her relax; if he'd just left, she would run straight for his bed. And if he'd stood over her, she would have never fallen asleep, so he'd had no choice but to join her. Unfortunately for him, he was now stuck where he was – at least until she was well and truly out of it.

But that plan shortly became jeopardized, because Cuddy came into the room. She'd been quiet, as evidenced by the fact that he hadn't even heard her come into the house; her voice was still low when she said, "Hi." Yet he worried Rachel would see her mother and instantly shoot out of bed.

Holding his breath, he waited for that to happen. But she barely lifted her head.

"How are you guys?" Cuddy asked, walking to the bed to join them. The second she sat down on the bed, she lowered her head to give Rachel a peck on the forehead. After a brief smile at her daughter, she then leaned over Rachel to kiss him. "Sorry I'm late," she mumbled against his mouth.

He shrugged but didn't say anything. Even if there was something to say, now was not the time to register his complaints.

On the other hand, Rachel couldn't help but slip one of her own into the conversation. "Your boobies is squishing me," she said petulantly, her voice muffled by Cuddy's chest.

Cuddy pulled away from him and settled back on the bed. As she hugged Rachel close to her, she must have seen the jealous look on his face; he was thinking how much he would have liked to have Cuddy's breasts suffocating him, and that must have read on his face, because she told him warningly, "Don't even say it."

"Say what?" he asked innocently.

She didn't answer the question. Her hand smoothing Rachel's hair back, she asked her, "Were you a good girl?"

House wasn't sure how she would respond. Part of Rachel obviously thought she was bad, as she had said as much. Of course, she was ashamed of that, so there was a good chance she wouldn't say it out loud. But he worried that she would anyway. And if she did, what would Cuddy assume?

That he had put that idea in Rachel's head.

That he had said it.

And if that happened….

Quickly he answered the question for Rachel. "She was fine."

On a more relaxing day, Cuddy would have surely been suspicious of his ready response. Whether he'd done anything or not, she would have accused him of hiding something. If only because it wasn't in his nature to inject himself to conversations with Rachel, Cuddy would have thought it was odd. But today, he could clearly get away with it – as evidenced by the fact that he was.

Rather than be suspicious, she kissed Rachel's forehead once more. "Did Mommy's little snail go –"

"Not a snail!"

Cuddy was surprised by the outburst. Guaranteed she was going to look at him for an explanation, so before she could even form the words, he supplied, "She didn't want to go trick-or-treating."

"So what did you do?" There was no accusation in the question. There easily could have been, but the way she said it, it sounded as though she just wanted to know what they had done.

Slowly he recapped the afternoon and evening's events. He could have easily said they'd had dinner and watched movies and been done with the conversation in thirty seconds. But he purposely dragged his feet while talking. The longer this took, the more likely it was that Rachel would simply fall asleep in her own bed.

Knowing that, he kept his voice soft and calm. Cuddy would interject every now and then with a question or comment, but she too remained relaxed and quiet. Absolutely nothing about this conversation could seem interesting or exciting, and they both worked effortlessly to make sure it stayed that way. He glossed over any and all discomfort he might have felt at staying home with Rachel. If Cuddy were upset that they'd stayed inside and watched movies, she didn't say anything about it. She didn't accuse him of not doing his best to take the kid out; she didn't complain or judge, even if he thought there might be reason for her to feel that way.

And with everything quiet and boring, it didn't take more than ten minutes for Rachel to fall asleep. They kept the conversation going for a few minutes longer, just in case she woke up. But she was done for the evening.

The second that became apparent, Cuddy said to him in a low voice, "You go first."

He supposed that made sense. Rachel didn't give a crap about him, but she definitely cared about her mother. If she were to wake up at all, it would be because she noticed her mother had gotten up and left.

"Okay," he said in agreement.

Slowly he eased himself off the bed. Both adults watched Rachel carefully to see if she woke up. Thankfully she didn't. Still, Cuddy waited a few minutes before getting up herself. Both understood that if they did this too quickly, the chances of Rachel waking up were greater, and they were trying to avoid that.

Eventually though, Cuddy was able to pull away from Rachel's side and get up without Rachel ever noticing.

What that meant hit him immediately: they could have sex. He didn't dare voice the words aloud; he didn't even allow himself to truly contemplate the possibility of it. It just seemed too dangerous to do that. So he forced himself to focus on the task of quietly exiting the room.

Outwardly he tried to remain calm. His heart was pounding, his body pumping blood to places desperate for Cuddy's touch. But he didn't let himself even look at her until she'd shut Rachel's bedroom door behind her.

As soon as the latch clicked though, he abandoned all self-control. His hand clasped around her wrist, and he pulled her to him. Cuddy clearly expected the move, because she eagerly gave in to his touch. With equal intensity, they kissed – lips and tongues meeting with passion. She stepped on his toes, as she pressed her body against his, but he didn't care.

It had been so long.

And just recognizing that fact made his desire swell to uncontrollable peaks. He needed her now. He couldn't wait. His hand eagerly caressing the side of her breast, all he could think was that he had to get her in his office or in bed as quickly as he could. He just needed to be inside her as soon as possible.

At that moment though, she pushed him away – not violently, of course, just enough so that there was some space between them. At first he was confused and didn't get what she was doing. But then he felt her press on his shoulders; she was trying to push him to the floor.

"In front of Rachel's door?" he asked in a low voice.

"She's asleep."

"She could wake up."

She smiled and kissed him, her tongue briefly touching his. "I locked the door," she whispered into his mouth.

"That door locks from her side of the –"

"And we'll hear her before she ever sees anything," Cuddy said, the frustration obvious in her voice. He hesitated, opened his mouth to object. But she was quick to speak before he could. "Nothing's going to happen. Now. I want to have sex." She reached back behind her to unzip her skirt to show how serious she was.

The sound hitting his ears, it instantly silenced any hesitation he might have had. Whatever his feelings had been seconds before, the prospect of having sex with her overrode every logical thought he could possibly have.

Wrapping his arms around her waist, he pulled them both to the ground. She let go of her zipper to stop them both from crashing to the floor in a painful heap. But at this point, he wouldn't have cared if it hurt. He would have accepted pain after the fact if it meant he got fucked now. And if he allowed himself to be eased down to the ground at all, it was because he didn't want the kid to interrupt them because they'd landed too loudly.

The second his ass touched the ground, Cuddy was straddling him. Her lips were on his mouth, her hands on his fly. Undoing his pants as quickly as she could, she eagerly pulled his straining cock out of his underwear.

"I want you so badly," she whispered between kisses.

He shoved her unzipped skirt up around her thighs. She was bare underneath, lips perfectly parted for him. His fingers rubbing against her, he could feel her wetness coating his fingers. For all of his suffering, her body was making it clear that she too missed the intimacy they usually shared.

If he hadn't come to that conclusion on his own though, she was willing to prove it in other ways. As he was about to shove a finger inside her warm hole, she pushed his hand away all together. Her hand around his dick, she lined him up with her body and quickly sank down on top of him.

Instantly he was surrounded by her warmth, by the feeling of her muscles clenched tightly around him. He wanted to cry out, scream because it was that good. But she hastily guided his head to her chest, and her suit coat and breasts muffled the noise.

He stayed that way even when she let go of him. His legs were splayed out in front of him, one of his hands behind him to hold himself up. As she rocked against him, she was simultaneously yanking her skirt up further. Her thighs uncovered more, she could spread her legs further and straddle him better.

She was hot above and around him, her pace somehow both slow and frenzied at the same time. She ground down against him, which let his dick reach new depths inside her warmth. As she fucked him, she rubbed herself against him, using his pelvic bone to stimulate her clit.

He could have touched her. She was so wet that it wouldn't take much more to make her come. With a little help from his thumb, she could be keening within seconds. But he was too busy forcing her coat open to care.

His single free hand wasn't dexterous enough to undo the buttons, so he settled for yanking on the neckline.

"Don't rip it," she uttered breathlessly. But seeing the slightest hint of cleavage, he didn't care about anything she was saying.

House buried his face in that tiny v-neck. She smelled like soap and sweat, which was beading along the center of her chest. His tongue darted out to taste her, to have every bit of this encounter in him. She was salty and warm, and there was nothing he wouldn't have done in that moment to make all of this last forever. To be inside her, to feel her pussy glide over him, her ass bouncing against his legs, her nails digging into his shoulders – it was all he wanted, all he could think of that in that moment.

He nipped at her soft skin, his teeth lightly catching on her breast. She cried out though not loudly. The sound caught in the back of her throat, wobbled over her shaky breath. He could feel her fingers tremor against his shoulders.

She was close.

His cock was slick with her juices. Her pace was quicker, more forceful, and each time his dick bottomed out inside her, he could feel his own need become more and more palpable. It coiled within him hotly, like molten lead in his stomach. It had been so long that it wouldn't take much more for either of them to come.

Her lips hovered next to his ear. As she sank down as low as she could go, she whimpered. And the sound was his undoing. His face pressed into her breasts, his sweat mixing with hers, he came in elongated waves of pleasure. Instinctively he thrust upwards, though he wasn't in a position to do much of anything. The head of his penis hitting her just right, her muscles immediately tightened around him. Her body a delightful vice he couldn't possibly escape, she stilled on top of him. She clutched his shoulders with a bruising grip, and she froze against him.

As the haze of his orgasm receded, he glanced up at her. Her eyes were closed, her cheeks flush. Every feature of her face seemed tense as she let her body give into the pleasure she too hadn't had for days. He was simply content to watch her do this; although his back and leg hurt, although his clothes clung to him uncomfortably, he was happy to relish the feeling. Her body on top of his, his dick in her pussy – it had been so long that he wasn't ready for the moment to end.

It would have to inevitably, but he was in no rush to go about the rest of his day. He'd spent enough time this past week not being in this position. "Just been fucked" was a description he wasn't eager to give up.

But after a few minutes, when Cuddy pulled away from him, he knew he had to. He frowned as she helped him stand up.

"What's wrong?" she asked, noticing the face he was making.

"Nothing." It was the truth, he thought, as he went through the uncomfortable task of tucking himself back in his shorts. There really was nothing wrong.

She looked at him pointedly before tugging her skirt back down. "You look unhappy."

"Because I'm wondering how long it's going to be before we get a chance to do that again."

"Don't start," she said before heading towards the bedroom.

He followed her, knowing all the while that he probably shouldn't have complained. He'd gotten what he wanted. For the first time in ten days, he could claim he'd been brought to orgasm by something other than his own hand. And that fact alone should have made him happy enough.

But as reality returned to him, he couldn't help but feel as though this dry spell was hardly over. They'd gotten laid tonight, but what were the chances that Rachel would stay in her own bed from here on out? What was the guarantee that tomorrow night she wouldn't be just as upset as she had been the past week?

Leaving the bedroom door slightly ajar behind them, he said to Cuddy, "You need to hire someone."

"You think I don't know that?" she asked as she started to take off her clothes. His gaze lingered on her for a moment; there was no denying how beautiful she was, and he didn't bother to hide his leering. "I would love to have someone help me out," she said, drawing his attention away from her body and back to the conversation.

His frown deepening, he went into the bathroom. As he brushed his teeth, he half-listened to her. She was hard to hear over the running tap (which he left going, because he knew she hated when he did that). But he paid attention as best he could.

Did he care what she had to say? Not really. At this point, he could easily guess what her points were going to be. But on the off chance that she would accuse him of not listening (as she did from time to time), he did his best to hear her out.

"But I can't just hire someone," she said, her voice muffled through the partially closed door. "I need someone I can trust. Someone who I know can do… what's necessary if something were to happen. Who can give her her medicine. That's not just some random person I can find on the street."

He spit into the sink. "Well, you're definitely not going to find that person if you're not even looking."

When he looked back up, he was taken aback by her reflection in the mirror. He hadn't heard her push the door open, and unprepared for her presence, he was surprised to see her glaring at him.

Of course it was only a matter of seconds before his attention drifted from her irritation to her clothing. In the few minutes they'd been apart, she'd changed into her pajamas, a thin white tank top and matching shorts – all of which were sheer. If he looked carefully enough, he was sure that he would be able to make out the outline of her areolas.

"What were we talking about?" he asked, blinking.

She wasn't amused. "I understand that this is an inconvenience for your penis, House, but one of us has to think of something other than getting you off."

"All right," he muttered into his toothbrush. Quickly giving his teeth one last scrub, he spit into the sink again. "You worry about getting me off, and I'll hire a new nanny."

He looked into the mirror to gauge her reaction. Unsurprisingly she wasn't amused. Arms folded across her chest, she said flatly, "Go put on your pajamas."

It was a ridiculous order, and it immediately struck him as such. And given how many times she foolishly ordered him to do his clinic hours or made him run unnecessary tests, her command must have been extraordinarily silly if he could instantly recognize that.

She was telling him to get ready for bed? When a half hour hadn't even gone by since Rachel had fallen asleep? It was absurd.

Nonetheless, he said, "Fine." He had no intention of going to sleep. But he also didn't wish for this conversation to be dragged out any longer. And yet, even though that was what he thought, as he started to leave the bathroom, he turned anyway to her. He said, "Don't think this is all about sex."

She nodded her head. "I don't."

"You can't do this all on your own. You need help."

"I know." Her voice was calm, rational. "But I need good help or else there's no point."

This time he was the one to nod his head. However, he'd barely taken a step out the door before he turned to her again. "And just so we're clear, I'm not the only one in this relationship who needs sex."

She smirked. "I had no idea."

It seemed like the right spot to leave her. To be sure, the conversation couldn't end at a better place; there was nothing more they could agree on or discuss at that moment. She wanted to hire someone, and he wanted that as well. And though she wanted to take her time, which was not what he wanted, he could understand that impulse. So if they stayed and continued talking about it, they were only inviting misunderstanding and inevitable disagreement.

Changing, despite the time, was the reasonable thing to do. But he didn't leave her side for long. The second he finished changing into a t-shirt and blue pajama pants, he returned to her.

She was spitting out mouthwash into the sink, her body slightly hunched over. He liked that, because it gave him a chance to stare at her ass. But in doing so, he realized something.

"You weren't wearing underwear."

Cuddy straightened up abruptly in surprise. "God, you scared me."

"You weren't wearing –"

"Yes, I heard you the first time," she said dryly.

"And?"

"And what?"

"And I'm wondering if there's any particular reason for that."

She looked at him, the confusion obvious in her features. "A reason? Like what – like I wanted to be prepared in case you wanted a quickie in my bathroom at work?"

They both seemed to have the same thought at the exact same moment.

"Know what we should have done?" he asked.

"Have sex in my bathroom?"

"Yeah."

"Well… we're idiots."

"No," he said after a second's contemplation. "I had a case. And you have an unfortunate prejudice against sex in the office."

She rolled her eyes before she began the process of removing her make up. Cotton ball and special cleanser in hand, she gingerly started to dab at her eyes. "I don't think I ever said that."

"Maybe not in those words exactly," he admitted slowly as he moved closer to her. He was always fascinating by this particular ritual of hers. Well, maybe it wasn't taking the make up off exactly; he just always found himself intrigued by her, by the things she did to make herself ready for the day – the way she painted her toes, applied her lipstick. There was something about these small moments, he thought, something about each and every little thing she did that he wanted to memorize though he didn't know why.

His hands clutching her hips lightly, he pressed himself up against her. "You definitely said no sex."

She bent down to splash water on her face, which just pushed her ass further into his body. She was warm, the contact threatening to make him hard again. And part of him wanted to hold her there, so he could grind against her.

But the irritation in her voice cut through his growing desire and brought him back to reality.

"I believe there was some context with that comment," she said sharply.

He tried to remember what had happened, what situation had prompted that conversation. But try as he might, he couldn't recall details. "I don't –"

He cut himself off though as the memory hit him. "My patient was a porn star?"

"Yes." The reflection in the mirror looked angry.

"You're still pissed –"

"No."

"Because I took a case where the patient just happened to –"

"She didn't just happen to be a porn star. You made a case because –"

"She was sick."

"She had a cold," Cuddy said knowingly. "Which you knew and didn't care about, because you thought she was hot. So you wasted everyone's time so you could watch porn and get paid for it."

He kissed her shoulder consolingly. "And as I recall, I still came to you afterwards for the happy ending."

"That's not the compliment you think it is."

He reached over and grabbed a towel. Handing it to her, he watched her dry her face off. "So," he said, bringing them back to the original point. "You were lying when you said you wouldn't have sex with me in –"

"I didn't lie," she said with a scoff. "And that's not what I said. I said I wouldn't have sex with you in my office after that stunt."

He nodded his head. "Exactly."

"I meant right after."

"Oh."

"Yeah. Oh."

"Well, how was I supposed to know that?"

She handed him the towel back. "You could try listening to me."

As he hung the towel back on the wrack, he fought the urge to roll his eyes. "I did listen. I didn't understand. There's a difference."

"I was clear," she insisted.

He hugged her to him, kissing the side of her neck as he did so. "Didn't say you weren't, so don't turn this into a thing."

"I'm not –"

"A little bit, you are," he interrupted. He was quick to move past that point though. It was obvious that, if he gave her enough time to get angry, she would. And he did not want that to happen. "But I think the more important thing to discuss is the fact that we could have been having sex this entire time in your office and we haven't. Now that I know we can, I'm gonna have to make up for lost time."

He caught the reflection of her superior smile in the mirror. It was not a good sign.

"Let's be clear," she said instantly. "You go to work to work. You're not going to have a daily orgy at noon."

Against her skin, he muttered, "Well if you need to push it back to one every once in a while…."

"I'm serious. This is not an open invitation."

"So… I can't have sex with you at –"

She cut him off with an overly dramatic, frustrated sigh. Her hand reaching behind her body, she slipped her fingers into the tiny sliver of space between her ass and his crotch. Briefly she rubbed her palm against the outline of his dick. "Your inability to comprehend nuance tells me I haven't had nearly enough sex with you."

He could have been offended. But the way her hand was starting to make him hard pretty much overrode any irritation he might have felt. His voice deep and low, he said, "It's not my fault my IQ drops when –"

"Three days," she told him calmly. "That's all I ask."

"Three days I'm allowed to have sex with you at work. Ever." Perhaps he should have been grateful for the allowance at all. Given that he'd thought work was off limits altogether, it should have felt like an improvement to get three days. Especially when he could probably stretch three to five to seven to... some other larger number if he played his cards right.

However, it didn't feel like that. Maybe it could have, but the intense disappointment he immediately felt prevented any rational thoughts from getting through to him.

"Three days off between," she corrected.

And then he wasn't sad at all. "Seriously?"

"Not if we're having sex at home. Not if we're not having sex here, because I'm pissed," she told him quickly, perhaps sensing how big the opportunity she'd given him really was. "Just... if we're not getting any here, then once every three days I am willing to –"

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but given the way things are right now with Rachel, you're going to spend quite a lot of time bent over your desk."

She nodded her head. "I know." She pulled her hand away from him and placed it back on the lip of the sink. "I'm aware of how unfortunate all of this is. I don't need you to remind me of –"

"I'm just saying, you might want to reconsider that rate, cause that's a lot of office sex."

She raised an eyebrow. "You think I don't know that?"

"Then I'm surprised you're –"

"Because you're right," she interrupted, not even giving him a chance to finish the thought. "I can't do all of this by myself. I'm going to need to hire someone, and in the meantime, I'm going to need your help."

His eyes narrowed on her. "And this is your way of earning my help? Having sex with me?"

"Of course not." She sounded far more annoyed than she looked, and she appeared pretty agitated in the mirror as it was. "I don't need to bribe you with sex."

"Really? Cause that's what –"

"I'm not bribing you. The past week –"

"Ten days."

"Whatever. This period of time has been awful."

"At least you admit it."

"I've been useless at work, and I can't have you erecting statues to my labia out of frustration."

He kissed her neck once more, this time letting his lips linger a little bit. "Please keep using the words labia and erect in your sentences."

Ignoring the comment, she added, "And if you keep masturbating in the shower –"

"Like you haven't," he said knowingly.

"Dead nannies and my daughter crying don't exactly do it for me, House." In his mind, those things seemed irrelevant. He didn't enjoy listening to Rachel sob or having to pick up the slack Marina had left behind. But those matters didn't matter much at all when he was in the shower and frustrated and letting his mind wander to happier times... which regularly led his memories to stumble upon the image of Cuddy naked and taking it in the ass. And he was about to say that out loud, because she should get that point. But she never gave him the chance. "Besides, the physiology is different. And I'm not calling a plumber, because your semen –"

"So you're interested in having sex at work to protect the pipes?"

Her knuckles turned white – that was how hard she was gripping the sink. Through gritted teeth, she explained, "All I'm saying is we have enough going on right now. And we are better equipped to deal with it if we're not constantly thinking about sex or fixing problems that arise because we're not having sex. So if the way we avoid those issues is by having sex every once in a while in my office, fine."

In all honesty, it sounded like a fair, reasonable proposition. As a way to get him to do what she needed, it hadn't been an idea he liked; he certainly wasn't above negotiating for sex, but he didn't like the possibility of her having sex with him at work only because she needed something from him. That would have made him feel like he was coercing her into something she didn't really want to do, which made him uncomfortable for obvious reasons. But if she was interested for selfish reasons? He couldn't find fault in that.

"Okay," he said with a small nod. "So going by your rules, we have to not have sex for the next three days before –"

"And not annoy me," she interrupted. "Which you will do if you even think about withholding sex to test –"

"I can assure you I would never purposely not have sex with you."

Really, she should have known better than to ever think that he would do something like that. There were many things he would do to prove a point or to get what he wanted. Depriving himself of sleeping with Cuddy was not one of them.

He would have liked to have claimed that he'd tried or almost succeeded that one time. But the truth was he had never attempted it. He had always known that there was no point; he would never successfully withhold from her. All she would have to do was bend over or wear a low-cut top, and he wouldn't want to continue with his plan anymore.

Now would be no different, even if he wanted it to be.

Then again, he didn't want it to be different.

"I'm just thinking if it's going to be a good three more days before we can do it –"

"You don't know that. Rachel could stay in her bed, and we –"

"We both know that's not going to happen," he said knowingly. "Which means…." His hands slid under the waistband of her shorts. "We should probably make the most of tonight."

He let one of his palms slide along her hipbone and over her mound. His fingers ran along her outer lips, and he was not surprised that she was still wet with their combined fluids.

"You think I want to have sex with you again?" she asked calmly, even as he circled her clit with his index finger, even as she took a wider stance to give him better access.

"If you don't, just tell me to stop." Less seriously though, he added, "But for the sake of your drain, I urge you to take one for the team here."

She chuckled softly, reaching down and tugging her shorts off. "Well in that case, okay."

"If you must?"

"Hardly," she said, covering the hand on her mound with one of her own. She tried to guide him further downwards, clearly wanting him to finger her.

And that was an unspoken request he could hardly refuse.

"I've missed this," he told her. Slipping two fingers inside of her, he was instantly reminded of all the sex they hadn't had this past week.

Again.

She was tight and wet and hungry, and it felt nothing short of wrong to have been deprived of her body for so long.

"Me too," she said, reaching behind her to push down his pajama pants. She could barely get the clothing over his hips, and he had to stop touching her in order to take his pants off altogether.

His fingers slicked with her juices, he stroked himself a few times to make his dick hard. He would have liked to claim that it took him more stimulation than that. Having had sex once today, he felt that, for his ego's sake, there should have been more effort on her part to get him in the mood.

Of course, had she even considered, say, blowing him to make him hard, it would have ended badly. And by "badly" he meant he would have come down her throat so forcefully he would have knocked out teeth.

When he pictured that possibility in his mind though, he did not imagine the awful ending. Rather he simply saw her on her knees, fucking him with that hot mouth of hers. The second he thought of that, any chance of getting her on the floor or anywhere near a bed was out the window.

He pushed her against the sink, roughly enough that she grunted. His hands on her hips, he made her lean on the countertop as best as he could. It was a small area, and having accidentally hurt her in a situation like this before, he was in control enough to know better than to be too forceful. The mirror, after all, was right in front of her face, and if he smashed her head… she would be pissed.

But if he was going to fuck her, he needed a way to line her body up with his. At least, he needed to do that if he wanted any kind of real penetration. Cuddy understood that; it was clear she did. Because, although she had more than enough of a reason to object, instead she was actually pulling herself up as best she could to give him better access.

Her knees banged against the drawers underneath the sink as she stood on her tiptoes. If that hurt, she didn't let on. And he didn't care really. The second she seemed secure, their bodies lined up, he thrust into her hard and fast. She groaned loudly as he buried himself to the hilt.

Immediately House withdrew almost entirely. With just the tip of his cock inside of her, he teased her opening for a moment. He could feel her muscles clenching, trying to encourage him to thrust into her once more. And it worked, he thought – vaguely, the idea never really forming in his head. His gaze trained on her ass and spread legs, it was hard to truly think of anything at that moment, other than how beautiful she was and how lucky he was to have her beneath him.

Eagerly he pushed back into her, his thighs slapping against her. He set a quick, unforgiving pace, thrusting in and out of her with no interest in taking his time. Even with the sink, he still had to crouch a little to truly fuck her, and time meant eventual pain for him. And he was not going to cap the evening with that.

But part of him understood that he was frantic for other reasons as well. They'd had sex once tonight, but it still hadn't been enough. And given the way her pussy welcomed him, wrapped around him, it was impossible to believe that there would ever be a point where he would have had his fill. That just wouldn't ever happen, not when her pert, pale ass bounced with each rough thrust into her, not when she was encouraging to keep going.

"More," she said breathily, her voice low and gravelly. A few stray sounds escaped her parted lips, which were reddened with desire, but they were unintelligible. Coos and hungry noises that only seemed to drive his own need further along, they had no actual meaning to him. But then again, House suspected she could have said any number of words he would usually recognize and he wouldn't understand any of it.

All he knew in that moment was what he was doing, how it made him feel. His eyes fluttered shut as his hips repeated a pace and pattern long practiced. At the same time, she began to rock side to side (well as best she could anyway, given her position), allowing his dick to rub against her in different angles that somehow made them both all the more wanton.

His hands moved to her hips. The muscles in his legs were beginning to ache – not enough to stop, not enough to make him soft, thankfully. But he knew he couldn't push himself much further or else his body would rebel, and he would be in serious pain. Wanting to avoid that, he had no choice but to dig his fingers into her hipbones and begin pulling her back in time with his thrusts.

At first she cried out in surprise. She obviously wasn't expecting the move, and he watched through half-closed eyes as she scrambled to grab hold of the countertop. But quickly those sounds evolved from being ones of shock to ones of need. Though she kept her grip tight on the lip of the counter, she began to push the lower half of her body back of her own volition.

His dick slid into her even deeper, hitting her in just the right way. She was hot against him, that feeling infusing itself with every cell he possessed.

Electricity seemed to crackle within him, his impending orgasm making his body feel white hot. His cheeks were red; his t-shirt slick with sweat. Her cunt squeezed his cock with each rough thrust, his tongue swollen with the urge to get on his knees and lick the juices practically dripping from that sweet little pussy of hers.

One of his hands burrowed underneath her, becoming trapped between the now sticky counter and her stomach. Roughly he pulled her back, her back arching for him. Again she fumbled to avoid falling and hurting herself. But at this point, he suspected they both would have been okay with taking this to the floor if need be. Nothing – not his leg, not Rachel – nothing was going to put an end to this before he filled Cuddy with all of his come.

His arm looped around her waist, he yanked her back further into one of his harsh thrusts. She yelped loudly, her lower lip being assaulted by her teeth to stop herself from screaming. "Oh God," she cried.

She moved her hips more quickly, and he nipped at the spaghetti strap sliding off her shoulder. He was so close, crazed with the urge to come, to consume her, to feel every little bit of her.

Through gritted teeth, he ordered in a husky voice, "Fuck me back, you little bitch."

His thighs slapped against her ass, and her reaction was immediate. She came hard, her feet slipping against the cool tile. Her box squeezing him tightly, he couldn't hold back any longer either.

His orgasm was quick but intense, the rush so powerful that he nearly collapsed on top of her.

They melded together hot and sticky, and if they'd been in bed or on the floor, they probably would have fallen asleep that way – connected and half-naked. But as it was, discomfort was impossible to ignore once the after effects of orgasming dissipated.

She was bent over the sink. Her knees, no doubt, were pink and slightly raw from banging against the cabinets so much. Her hair was a mess of curls sticking out at odd angles. Her pajama top was wet, as much thanks to her body as it was due to the small amounts of water that had splashed around the sink. And behind her, he wasn't much better, with his pajama pants and her shorts carelessly by his ankles and his t-shirt completely soaked through.

His leg hurt as well, though he wasn't about to say that aloud. The less she knew about it, the better, he thought. Whenever he complained, she tended to remember later on that his thigh had been a problem during a particular activity. And then she would be worried that his leg would hurt again, and when it came to sex, he didn't want to fear for a future where she would ask if he could bear to have sex with her. Maybe it was a matter of pride, but he didn't want her to ever think he was too weak to do her.

So although it pained him, he moved with purposeful ease. He didn't say a word to her, just kissed her before putting his pants back on. And it was only when she was busy wiping his come off of her inner thighs with a tissue that he bothered to open the pill bottle. Taking it while she changed, he was sure she would never notice what he was doing. Which meant that she would be less inclined, thankfully, to question whether or not fucking her over a sink was a good idea in the future.

Of course, when put like that, it didn't sound smart at all. It sounded pretty dumb actually, especially when there'd been a bed nearby the entire time. But, he thought as he crawled into said bed, if he couldn't bang a woman that sexy in a myriad of inappropriate and potentially dangerous ways, that would just make him sad. And though it seemed... seedy to hide his pain from her, he knew it was the right thing to do.

In any case, she had enough to worry about right now anyway, he reminded himself. She was worried about Rachel and work and replacing the nanny and all of that, and he wouldn't be helping by giving her something else to consider.

Keeping this from her was the right thing to do he decided.

And he knew that to be true when Cuddy crawled into bed with a smile on her face.

"'Fuck me back, you little bitch?'" she repeated in equal parts amusement and judgment. "Just how much porn have you been watching this past week if that sounds like a good line." She didn't seem offended, so he didn't feel the need to apologize.

Instead he shrugged, as she got underneath the covers. "I needed inspiration for my pumpkin – since you weren't available."

"Of course," she said dryly, scooting towards him.

"I bet you're rethinking that whole 'I can't just hire anyone to be my daughter's nanny' argument right now," he said, as she buried her face into his chest.

"Hardly." Almost immediately she rolled away from him though. "Change your shirt. You smell."

He got up out of bed to do just that. On any other day, he might have objected. But at that moment, it didn't seem like that much of a hassle. He sensed her looking at him in surprise at his obedient behavior; he didn't usually do what she wanted him to do when he didn't want to do it without a fight. Tiredly, he realized that that sentence was far more complicated than it needed to be, but his thoughts were scattered now. After everything with Rachel and now sex with Cuddy twice, he was ready to go to sleep. And for that reason, he didn't point out to Cuddy that she shouldn't get used to this kind of behavior. Truth be told, he doubted the remark would start a fight, but that didn't matter. Conversation as a whole seemed beyond what his mind was capable of.

Yet a conversation became inevitable as he pulled on a clean t-shirt. Because she asked at that moment, "Rachel didn't want to go trick-or-treating?"

He slipped his arms through the appropriate holes in the shirt. His brow knitting itself together, he thought he had said that. "Didn't I tell you that?"

She nodded her head as he headed back towards the bed. "You did," she said carefully. "I'm just wondering what happened. I know you couldn't say something in front of her. So –"

"She didn't want to go," he said simply. It was the truth – a vague one, yes, but it was the truth.

Slipping into bed once more, he pulled her close to him. "Better, Mommy?"

Cuddy didn't say yes or no. She kept her head resting on his arm though, so he supposed it was enough for her. But then again, lying this close to her with her body curled into his, he quickly realized that he almost would have preferred the distance.

"She just… didn't want to go?" she asked, her gaze roaming over his face for some sort of understanding.

"I asked her if she wanted to go. She said no." The words came out matter of factly; he was hoping that by being conversational things wouldn't head into accusatory territory. But if anything, his casualness just made her more suspicious.

Her eyes narrowing on him, she asked, "Really? You –"

"I tried. I –"

"Of course you did. I'm sure you tried –"

"I did," he fought back. Later on, she might try to deny that she'd doubted him then, but he could hear the disbelief in her voice.

"And she didn't want to go?"

"No."

"Just like that?"

He didn't know how to answer the question. No, it hadn't been quick and easy. It hadn't been about the kind of candy she would get or the feeling that she was too mature for Halloween. This had been a choice Rachel had made the second Marina had died and the kid had felt as though it were her fault.

But he had promised not to say anything. Well, not exactly, but if Cuddy found out, the technicalities wouldn't matter to Rachel. She'd be pissed at him. And perhaps he shouldn't have cared about that; maybe he didn't even really, but if she were mad at him, that would just make maintaining his relationship with Cuddy all the more difficult.

At the same time though, what could he say? He couldn't lie. He could try, he guessed, but it wouldn't be hard for Cuddy to see beyond that – or to automatically assume he was lying.

Before he could even formulate an answer though, she jumped to her own conclusions. "You didn't even ask if she –"

"I asked many times, Cuddy. Many times. And she didn't want to go."

"And you have no idea why?"

The second's worth of hesitation on his part was more than enough for her. Sitting up immediately, she said, "If you know something, you need to tell me."

He went with the lie. "There's nothing to tell. She didn't want to go."

"You're lying."

"Am I?"

She folded her arms across her chest. "You asked her if she wanted to go, and she said no. And you have no idea why. I'm supposed to believe that you, a man who analyzes my choice in a bra, didn't ask any questions, didn't –"

"I didn't say that," he interrupted. "You didn't ask if I asked. I did. She didn't tell me anything."

"I don't believe you."

"Okay," he said with a shrug. Closing his eyes, he told her, "Then you can ask Rachel yourself tomorrow. I'm going to bed."

"You know something." And he did. But he really didn't want to reveal something to her that, truth be told, should have been Rachel's choice to tell. Cuddy, however, clearly wasn't going to let this drop. "I have a right to know," she said insistently.

"Then talk to Rachel."

"If you know something –"

"'If?' You just said I did. Now you're changing your mind?"

She squeezed his forearm, forcing his eyes to open once more. She wasn't hurting him by any means, but the sudden touch surprised him into looking at her.

"You have to tell me," she said earnestly, the need clear in her gaze. "I'm her mother. You don't have the right to keep secrets with my daughter." He didn't say anything. "It's not your place to –"

"Yeah, it's also not my place to pick her up from school, feed her dinner, offer to take her trick-or-treating – among other things, but you definitely didn't have a problem asking me to –"

"This is different." The tone in her voice left no room for discussion. "And you know that. If there's something going on, I have a right to know. You need to tell me."

The awful part of it all was that he agreed with her. He didn't want to withhold any of what Rachel had told him from her. If anything, he wanted to dump all of that information right on to Cuddy so that she would be the one in charge of making things better. He didn't want to make things with Rachel any worse than they already were, but not a single part of him was comfortable being the person who knew the truth, who had to make Rachel feel better. That was simply a responsibility he couldn't handle, nor did he think he should touch.

"House," Cuddy implored, pulling him from his thoughts.

Instantly he sighed, knowing what he had to do. He had to tell her. Because while Rachel would inevitably be pissed, it was reasonable to assume that Cuddy would find out eventually. Rachel would blab the truth at some point, and then he'd be the guy who hadn't told, who'd kept this terrible secret.

"Fine," he said reluctantly and yet with resignation. "I asked her why not."

"And?"

He shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "She didn't like the costume."

"She picked it –"

"No," he corrected. "Marina did. And it wasn't what Rachel wanted, and they fought about it, and then Marina died and –"

"You said you weren't going to tell!" a squeaky voice shouted from the hallway.

Both Cuddy and House looked – and saw Rachel, standing in the doorway, with a teddy bear tucked under her arm.

They'd left the door open, he realized. Out of habit, he supposed they'd done it, both knowing that there was a good chance Rachel might join them in bed tonight. And in doing so, they'd had no warning that she was approaching, no indication that she was hearing anything he was saying.

"I hate you!" Rachel snarled before taking off. The sound of tears and running feet were all he heard, her retreating form all he saw.

The one thing he'd wanted to avoid all day had now happened. He'd made a nice dinner and watched movies with her; he'd done everything as well as he could, and it was all gone now. Part of him wanted to make a joke about it, wanted to say that he saw the pussy points disappearing before his eyes. But suddenly it didn't seem funny.

His girlfriend had demanded from early on that he get along with her kid. And the moment some sort of independent connection had been made, Cuddy had come along and ruined it by insinuating her presence into that friendship or whatever the hell it was. Which he couldn't deny she had the right to do, but he resented her nevertheless.

"Good job," he said sarcastically as she got up to go after Rachel.

Truthfully he thought Cuddy would be apologetic. But one heated glare from her told him that she was anything but sorry for what she'd done. "This isn't my fault," she hissed. "Maybe if you had told me the second we were alone instead of making me beg to hear what was bothering my daughter, we could have avoided this."

"Right. Because that's –"

"Don't you dare," she snapped in a deadly voice.

If he let her storm off then, it was not because she was right. Sure, she was in fact right to be upset. He should have told her; he should have texted her what had happened or called her while Rachel was watching movies or done something differently. But if he let her go at all, it was because House didn't feel all that bad about being wrong.

No matter how he'd done it, the end result was always going to be him getting screwed over. He might have been able to avoid some of the damage, but at the end of the day, Rachel would always be pissed that he told.

And Cuddy would always be mad that her daughter had revealed the truth to him.

She didn't realize that, of course. He understood that the next week would be her being angry with him, because she'd had to force the truth from him. But it was true nonetheless: she resented that Rachel had confided in him.

Lucky for Cuddy though, Rachel would never trust him with anything again. Of that he was sure. And then he didn't care at all that both Rachel and Cuddy had gone running from the room, leaving him alone.

Closing his eyes once more, he thought he was alone in this effort to make it all work anyway. Why shouldn't his bed reflect that truth? In this equation, he was the one removable part. He was the one who could and would go if something happened. They would have each other, and he would have no one. No amount of sex or favors would change that. If there were a problem, he would be the one to get the boot. Because as much as he mattered, he wasn't ever going to come first for either of them.

Why shouldn't he have been reminded of that fact?

He frowned, knowing there were no answers to that question.

In the end, he was not surprised when Cuddy didn't come back to bed that night. If anything, that seemed like the predictable, right choice.

And that, he lamented, was precisely the problem, the thing he feared the most.

The End