A/N: Don't own them (obviously) and making no money from this (unfortunately). This story is a one shot. It follows Legacy in the Pranks universe. Much, much more coming up in the next story, and many threads will be converging then, so if your "but what about XYZ?" moment doesn't appear in this brief one-shot, be patient. This one is just a nice little family story. Next one is neither nice nor little, though definitely a family story.

(H/C)

Lisa Cuddy-House was not superstitious. Such thoughts had no place in her organized, efficient life.

Still, as Abby's second birthday approached, the anxiety rose, and she found herself in undisciplined moments waiting, wondering what fate might throw at them this time. For two consecutive years, this week had marked calamity, first with the car accident that had nearly killed the family and then last year with the crashing entrance of Patrick Chandler into their personal lives. The Christopher Bellinger case had started the day after Abby's first birthday.

What lay in store for her family this year? In spite of all the logical arguments, she couldn't help wondering at times. She could almost see its as-yet-undefined shadow expanding toward them.

House tried to be supportive and reassuring. "You're being stupid, Lisa," he told her. "Next thing we know, you'll be believing in black cats and witchcraft. The last two years aren't a curse on Abby's birthday; they're just more evidence - as if there weren't enough already - that there are idiots and bastards in the world."

"Tell me that you haven't wondered yourself," she challenged. His eyes shifted down before they steadied. "I knew it. You've been worried, too."

"I have not," he denied hotly.

"What were you doing up in the middle of the night last night, then?"

"Just getting the kinks out of my leg. Walking helps."

"In the nursery?"

"Maybe I just wanted to see what it was you find so fascinating in there this last week."

Cuddy sighed. "We're both being unreasonable, Greg. I know it's just another . . ."

He interrupted. "I am not being unreasonable, because I wasn't buying it in the first place. Superstition is for morons who haven't engaged enough brain cells to really think through things. You're obviously beyond that category, so just use your intelligence. Nothing is going to happen this year." He didn't add I hope, since hope was another quality for the same idiots who believed in superstitions, but Cuddy heard the postscript thought.

"Logically, I know that. I just wondered a few times. . ." She tried to shake the feeling off. She knew this was absurd herself. They were two rational adults and ought to behave like it. And there was Abby. No matter what else had come in this week in former years, purely coincidentally, of course, Abby was a joy. Their miracle daughter, healthy and thriving after spending her first several months in the hospital. "Greg, let's just focus on making this the best day we can for Abby. Agreed? She's got a small chance of remembering this one later."

He grabbed the change of subject. "She's already getting a day with presents, non-working parents, cake, and friends, even if Daniel's too little to play. So what are we leaving out?"

They continued planning Abby's day, also working on not excluding Rachel, but the nearer it approached, more and more, one would find the other up in the girls' room during the night, on guard, waiting.

(H/C)

Happy birthday to my younger granddaughter.

Thomas

House spotted the message and clicked it first on the list as he checked email early that morning, but the content was a puzzle. The challenge woke him up faster than the smell of the brewing coffee. "How the hell did you know that today was . . . Christopher." That had to be it. Thornton had heard enough information at the trial to extrapolate Abby's birthday. "Nice catch," House said grudgingly to the screen. "Not that it was that hard of one." If nothing else, it proved that Thornton had been paying attention during the trial.

The fresh reminder of Patrick Chandler wasn't appreciated much, though. House shook his head, thoroughly annoyed at himself. He and Cuddy were both acting stupid over this, her worries becoming contagious although he was sure she had been the one to start the whole ridiculous topic. It was a day, nothing more, at least nothing negative. It was supposed to be a good day. This was his daughter's day. He heard the coffee pot finishing running and got up to fetch his first cup, also pouring one for Cuddy and leaving it on the counter ready for her when she got out of the shower. Returning to the computer with his steaming cup in hand, he sat down and reread the brief message. Part of him knew that eventually he would have to bring up the girls with Thornton, and the longer he stayed in touch with his biological father, the closer that inevitably came. Not quite yet, though. He still wasn't sure of the other man, still feeling out his motives.

The communication between the two of them, by email and with regular packages on Thornton's end, was no longer on a schedule. It wasn't quite every day, but Thornton never let it go too long. House had stopped the return tease mailing after only the one picture of him playing the piano because Thornton seemed to genuinely appreciate it and was delighted to have his son participate in their exchange, totally missing the point that he was supposed to be resenting hanging on a postal hook, too. House hadn't physically mailed anything else, but Thornton's stream of pictures was gradually providing a glimpse into a whole other world, an undiscovered land that had existed in some radically different sphere from his own.

Several more had come of his grandfather, including with his kids. There was one shot during a snowball fight in which, but for the height difference, he could easily have passed as one of his own children. There was a picture of the horse in the kitchen at Thornton's 10th birthday. House had been interested to see that Thornton at 10 had looked more like him than he did in adulthood. House knew what his grandmother had looked like now, as well as his brother. He had spent long minutes studying his brother, even inviting Cuddy for a consult. They looked a good bit like each other, but really, they both looked more like their grandfather. There were differences between them just putting pictures of House and Tim side by side and leaving the grandfather out. Close, yes, but not in danger of being confused.

House also had discovered recently what he had been looking for for months, a line where the old man would get annoyed and snap back at him. House had been having a bad pain day and a deteriorating patient day simultaneously when an email arrived from Thornton. Lashing back in pure frustration of the moment, House had made a crack about what the other man's dead wife must have been like. No particular reason, not even related to the subject of that email, just an opening he hadn't tried pushing at yet. Thornton's reply had landed almost immediately.

Don't resort to blind ignorance in looking for sticks to poke at me with. You're better than that, Greg.

House had glared at the screen. "Blind ignorance? Blind ignorance? You damned . . ." To add to the frustration, his mind had chosen that moment to grab the phrase and insert the final puzzle piece to solve the patient's case. House had sat there for a full minute, for once impatient at his epiphany and wishing it would go away and be triggered later by something else or at least wait a few minutes while he thought up a suitably scathing reply. The team had returned then, only to have the diagnosis hurled at them with such vitriol that they in unison paused to study House instead of hurrying off to treat the patient.

After House had chased them out, he hadn't communicated at all with Thornton for the next two days, waiting, tensely watching for what would happen now that he had gotten Thornton pissed off. Oddly, nothing did. The other man ignored his silence, proceeding smoothly as if the whole incident had never taken place. Finally, House had replied to another message on another topic entirely, and the match between them continued. House had often grumbled "blind ignorance" to himself at times since then, making it a curse against Thornton, but he had never again been disrespectful toward his wife.

And now the man was wishing Abby a happy birthday. This one wasn't about the past or family history or former mistakes. It was a firm knock on the door of the present. House read the message a few more times, then abruptly closed down email without replying. He had just stood up when Cuddy came down the hall. "Shower's all yours, Greg."

He moved over to join her. "I did suggest taking one together, remember."

"No better way to have the girls wake up, at least at this hour of the morning. We should have done that earlier."

"Or we can save it for later." He studied her. There was a bravely brittle edge on her this morning. "Relax, Lisa. Nothing bad is going to happen. We aren't even going anywhere today; no room for drunks or Patrick or similar jerks."

She nodded, agreeing a little too quickly. "I know, Greg. This is going to be a good day." His kiss before he headed for the shower definitely made it a better one. Cuddy walked on into the kitchen to find her coffee cup full and waiting, and she smiled, savoring the flavor of family. He was right; her worries were baseless. The only meaning of today was that their daughter was now two. The girls did indeed wake up just then, as advertised, and Cuddy hurried down the hall to them.

"Good morning, girls! Happy birthday, Abby."

Abby smiled back at her, standing up and holding onto the bars of her crib. "Happy bir'day."

"Right. And you know what that means?"

"We're having a party!" Rachel enthused.

"Yes. With cake and balloons and presents and Wilson and Sandra. And we won't go to work today. This is Abby's birthday, but Rachel, you'll get yours in about two months, and we get to do it all again."

"Yay!" Rachel climbed out of bed and ran over to hug her, and Cuddy picked up Abby. The worries retreated against the united family front, promptly replaced by her full agenda. So much to get done today, at least what hadn't been able to be prepared in advance. Time to get started.

(H/C)

"Happy birthday to you!" they sang. Everyone was gathered around the living room, House at the piano, Cuddy holding a lit cake, both girls in the recliner, Wilson and Sandra with Daniel on the couch. Rachel did her off-pitch best to sing, and Abby couldn't help joining in, singing to herself. Daniel was too young at 4 months to share in the occasion, but his chocolate eyes were wide as he looked around the room from the pile of presents to the cake. Cuddy held out the cake, and Abby with her help blew out the two candles.

House sat back, taking his hands off the keyboard. "Which comes first, Abby? Cake or presents?"

"Cake," Abby chose, with Rachel casting a write-in vote for "both!"

Cuddy laughed. "We'll get to all of it Rachel. Don't worry." She started for the dining room table, where saucers and forks were ready and waiting. They hadn't done the song there because of distance from the piano. "Wilson, be sure you get plenty of pictures. I want the whole family in them."

"I think I can handle that, as long as House doesn't dodge."

House rolled his eyes, but he hadn't made any attempt at escape yet. He looked at Wilson, noting how tired the oncologist seemed today. "Up with a patient last night?" he asked softly.

A shadow hovered over that side of the room briefly. "Mr. Franklin. He died about 3:00 this morning, so I was late getting home."

"Didn't he have any other designated vigil keepers, or were they just not good enough for your tastes at it?"

"No relatives left. His wife died two years ago. I was her doctor, too."

Sandra reached out and covered one of his hands with hers. "Enough about patients and dying for the moment. This is a party for Abby."

Cuddy, satisfied with the setup of the cake, turned back toward Abby. Rachel had trotted over on her own and reached out for a lick of frosting as her mother turned, and Cuddy made a flawless grab behind her back, capturing the errant hand. "Patience," she said pointedly. "We'll have it in another minute, and then Abby gets first bite. Come on, everybody, to the table."

House stood and limped over. "Rachel," he promised. "When it's your birthday, you'll get first bite then."

Rachel looked at him. "How long?"

"About two months. December, with Hanukkah and Christmas and all those other things, too. We'll just have a month-long party, pretty much."

"Yay!" Rachel looked considerably cheered up by this news and galloped a circuit of the table as the adults sat down, all except the camera-bearing Wilson. Cuddy, having gotten Abby in place in her chair, captured and installed her older daughter.

"All right, everybody. Here's your piece, Abby. You're two years old today." Cuddy felt herself tearing up, remembering that rough beginning. Her daughter was so strong and had overcome so much already.

"Yes, you're two." House was blinking a few times surreptitiously himself. "Let's can the waterworks and get down to eating cake."

"I want a picture of all of us with her getting her piece," Cuddy insisted. Abby had taken several fingerswipes so far but was attempting to wait for silverware and assistance for full-sized bites. Rachel was bubbling like a pot about to boil over with impatience. "Come on, Greg, scoot over a little." They slid the chairs closer, House, Abby, Cuddy, and Rachel in a row, and all looked at Wilson. The oncologist took three shots just to make sure.

"Got it. That last one especially was good. Abby was reaching out for another lick."

"We now declare this birthday cake open," House announced. "On your forks, get set, GO!" Everybody pitched in, House helping Abby with it and Cuddy Rachel. Cuddy cast a few looks over at House during all of this, wondering if he was thinking about his own second birthday party, but he didn't seem to be at the moment. Of course, he had talked about the memories several times with Jensen by now, but she knew he was having difficulty processing some parts of it all. Now, though, he was focused on their daughters with clear pride on his face. He shoved down a double bite of chocolate cake as she watched, and she smiled, thinking that sometimes, he seemed like her third child.

After the cake had been enjoyed by everybody except Daniel (and Belle, who to Rachel's disgust sniffed a pointedly dropped bite and walked away even before Cuddy captured it), they returned to the living room for presents. Abby got a CD of Disney favorites played by House, several stuffed animals, a new outfit, and some books. Rachel got reminded of her own coming birthday a few times but stood the shower of attention on her sister pretty well. Belle got crumpled wrapping paper and boxes. Abby also received as her main gift a toddler bed from her parents, the headboard carved like a piano, wooden black-and-white keyboard included. She was speechless. So, amazingly, was Rachel. Both of them stared at the bed as it was revealed from its hiding place in the guest room.

"Greg put it together last night," Cuddy told Sandra. They were holding the girls back and running interference as Wilson maneuvered the bed down the hall to the nursery and House navigated. "You should have heard his comments about whoever wrote those directions."

Sandra laughed. "I've seen James put things together. I really think we could do it more efficiently, but that's something men just need to prove they can do."

House emerged from the nursery at that point. "All ready for inspection!" Everyone trooped down the hall to admire the refurnished nursery, the old crib already wheeled out of the room before the bed had been put in. Abby immediately climbed into the bed, first attempting to play the painted headboard, then accepting the fake copy and simply rolling from side to side, enjoying a bed she could get in and out of at will.

"Be careful not to fall," Cuddy admonished.

"Oh, let her enjoy it, Lisa. There's one important thing that she needs to do, though. Very important. You want to finish this out right, Abby?"

His daughter slid over the side again onto her feet and looked straight back at him, matching blue eyes meeting. "What?"

House leaned over, dropping his voice conspiratorially. "This bed has never been slept in. You need to test it out to make sure it works right. Very important for a bed to work right, so we need to know if you can sleep in it."

Abby promptly climbed back in, closed her eyes, and snored a few times. Her eyes sprang open. "Okay!"

"No, that's not enough to tell us if it works. It has to really be slept in." Cuddy smiled watching him. It was nap time, which might be abbreviated today but probably didn't need to be eliminated entirely, the better to keep the peace with the three children. "So why don't I sit here and sing to you, and we'll make good and sure this bed works. Come on, Rachel. We need you in bed, too."

Rachel eyed her own bed, always suspicious of nap time. "No. Abby's bed, not mine."

"Oh, but you're very important," House insisted. "You're what we call a control group." Rachel looked at him blankly. "If you want to see if something works, it helps to put it right next to something you already know works. We know your bed works. You sleep fine in it. But if Abby can't sleep as well in her new bed as you sleep in your working bed, then we know there's a problem with her bed, and we'll have to fix it."

Rachel still looked a little confused, but she was starting to feel like an important part of the process. "Okay," she agreed. She climbed in her bed.

"Close your eyes, girls. Let's test this bed out." House sat down in the chair, singing softly, and the girls progressively drifted off. Daniel was already gone in Sandra's arms. Wilson lifted the camera. "Don't even think about it," House snarled, inserting the statement into a gap in his current song. "I granted Cuddy the party family pictures, but no sneak shots of just me." He finished out that song, then stopped. Both girls were sound asleep. Softly, he stood up.

"Yes, I think that bed works just fine," Wilson diagnosed.

"No problems." House shut the door to the nursery as the adults retreated to the living room. Belle was still having a feline party among the boxes and bows, and Cuddy gave a sigh and started to clean it all up. Sandra tucked Daniel into his carrier, and House dropped onto the couch and looked at Wilson in the recliner. "You could take a nap, too. I know that recliner has no problems that prevent naps."

"I'll get to bed early tonight. At least we were off today." Wilson looked back toward the nursery, then at his own sleeping son. "It's amazing what NICU can do these days."

House agreed, but he didn't really want to remember Abby's first days again, the fear and the pain. "So what kind of cancer offed the man last night?"

"Pancreatic cancer, and his name was Mr. Franklin."

"Did his wife have the same type two years ago?"

Wilson came to attention. "You know, she did. That's odd, how some things that definitely aren't contagious are shared in a marriage. Can't claim genetics, either. They weren't blood relatives. Somebody ought to do a study on that. I know I've seen several statistical cases in my practice over the years."

"So do it yourself," House suggested. "It would make a good conference presentation."

"I've seen a few cases of that in the ICU," Sandra put in. "Family members a few months apart from each other sharing illnesses that aren't actually transmitted. It is odd."

"Yeah." Wilson looked out the window, half his mind still in the room last night now that the children weren't up as a distraction. "What really struck me last night, though, was how he was talking about his wife, remembering her. I tell you, home health couldn't have turned out a better nurse during her illness than he was. That was hard on him. I could watch it tell on him as well as her, but last night, dying himself, he wasn't even remembering how well he took care of her. All the hours, all the unpleasant aspects of her final illness, it just didn't matter to him. He was talking about all the good times, decades of them. Neat to see that." Challenging, too, which was why it had struck him so powerfully last night. He was working hard on his issues, but being reminded now and then by example of lifelong commitment was inspiring.

House had switched tracks onto a private train of thought. For the first time, he realized that Thornton had, by all outside reports, cared for his wife like that. He had been truly obsessed with her illness, according to Lucas, at first determined to get her well, then to care for her himself so completely that she would never have to go to a skilled nursing facility at the end. He had probably run himself into the ground similarly in those days. Thornton's wife in their communication to this point had simply represented another absence excuse for House. Her illness and the aftermath were why Thornton said he had missed everything for the last few years, not even following from a distance in that period, missing Cuddy, the girls, the accident, Patrick round one. But the other man's loss somehow had never struck House for itself before, not as a marriage that had truly lasted until death did them part and left a grieving spouse behind. All at once, he felt guilty for that snide swipe at her he had taken a few weeks ago. He hadn't even known her, had only seen her briefly at John's funeral, and she had been already to his eyes ill then, though not in advanced stages yet. He squirmed, trying to dodge the feeling. "Today isn't about death," he announced firmly. "Like Sandra said, this is a party for Abby."

Cuddy was looking at him, wondering what wheels were turning beneath the surface, but Sandra immediately picked up the conversational ball and ran with it, leading on to purely happy, positive conversation about their children.

(H/C)

Later that afternoon, House came in from the back yard for a pit stop. The girls had awakened raring to go from their shortened nap, and everybody was outside right now, the children playing and the adults sitting on the deck, enjoying a day that was downright balmy for October. House went through the bathroom, then grinned as he came out. Belle was stalking something up the hall, stomach flat to the ground, tail twitching. Her hindquarters wiggled. Suddenly, she sprang like a small, white panther, scoring a fatal stroke on what he realized was a small piece of wrapping paper that Cuddy had missed in cleanup.

"Give me that," he demanded, knowing Cuddy would feel the oversight. Belle clutched her prize proudly in her jaws and trotted into their bedroom instead. House sighed and followed her. She was in the center of the bed, happily tossing it, and he sat down and took the paper firmly away from her. She lashed her tail a few times, then consented to getting her ears scratched in compensation. She settled down against his left leg with a throaty purr.

"I need to get back out to the others," he told her. She purred. "This was just a short trip inside. It wasn't to pet a cat." She kept purring, blinking golden eyes at him. He tucked the small paper remnant into his pocket safely out of feline reach, intending to put it in the trash later, and his fingers bumped his cell phone. He pulled it out and looked at it as if he'd never seen it before. Another three or four minutes passed, only the cat and his thoughts for company. Almost in slow motion, he took the card out of his wallet and dialed.

Thornton answered on the third ring, sounding startled at seeing a New Jersey number on his screen. "Greg? Hello?"

"She does have a name, you know," House said. "Your younger granddaughter."

There was a silence, as if Thornton were afraid to ask. House suddenly balked, even though he had been the one to call. Years of misunderstanding stretched almost audibly between them. "What is her name?" his father asked tentatively after a moment.

Time restarted, unfreezing itself. "Abby. Technically Abigail Lisa, but that's the in-trouble version. She doesn't hear that one too much, although when she does act up, she doesn't waste time with little stuff and jumps straight to the full-scale fit."

Thornton chuckled. "A strong-willed character, even if usually quiet?"

"Right." House dribbled his fingers, unsure what to do next.

Thornton stepped into the gap. "How is she doing physically? You said at the trial that she was very premature. Has she caught up yet?"

"She's still a little small, but she's gaining. She was kind of late on some of the developmental markers at first, at least physically, but mentally, she's right up there. She's going to be fine." House hesitated for a moment. "She has his eyes, too. She's already starting to play the piano a little."

"Amazing." House could hear the smile in the other man's voice. "I wish . . ." Thornton obviously jerked himself up short there, afraid to push too far. In the momentary silence, House heard the hollow clip-clop of hoofbeats.

"Are you on a horse?" Boy, there's an intelligent question, he scolded himself. It's either that or a zebra, and you know he likes horses.

Thornton quickly accepted the change of subject. Trying to keep me talking, House thought to himself, briefly annoyed again. "Yes. I board my mare at a stable outside of St. Louis, far enough out to escape the city press, and they have a few miles of trails there. One of them has a wooden bridge over a creek, which is what we just walked over, and it makes the hoofbeats ring. I take a ride most days of the week. Ember, say hi to Greg." In the next second, the horse actually whinnied.

House shook his head. "Now I've heard everything. You taught your horse to speak on command?"

"She shakes hands, too. And rears, only when cued, of course. I'm getting to enjoy steady rides through the woods more than fast gallops and thrills the last several years. About the speaking, that's the latest trick. I tend to talk to her a lot when we're out alone, especially since . . . well, I was talking to her while grooming one day, not about anything in particular right then, and somebody else at the stable asked if Ember ever spoke back to me. It gave me something to work on, just as a challenge to see if I could. You're a smart girl, aren't you, Ember?" The horse promptly whinnied again.

House grinned before he caught himself. "What about the horse when you were 10? Did you teach him tricks, too?"

"He knew how to shake hands and bow. We had a lot of fast gallops and thrills in those days, chasing fictional bad guys. I was working on teaching him to play dead when Dad died." Thornton sighed. "Trigger got sold then."

"Trigger? You named your horse Trigger? Deduct 1000 points for lack of originality."

"I was 10 years old. Roy Rogers was king of the cowboys, and every horse-crazy kid dreamed of owning Trigger. Cut me a little slack, Greg." There was another silence, and House could hear the hoofbeats again, not on a bridge this time but more muffled, on some sort of packed trail. "Does my older granddaughter have a name?" Thornton asked after a moment.

"She'd better. We have to have something to get her attention." House paused, leaving it dangling as a test, seeing if he could make him do it, but Thornton didn't ask again, simply leaving the answer up to him now that the question was out there. House capitulated after a minute. "Rachel Elizabeth. She hears that version more than Abby does."

"More of a live wire?"

"Definitely. She likes to run, likes animals. Always doing something. She likes to hear me play, but she isn't as much into trying it herself. It pushes her patience too far." House abruptly felt himself tightening up. He was hitting the limit of this routine conversation that was so far from routine that it was almost painful, like exercising a never-used muscle. "I'd better go join the family again. They're all in the back yard. I just . . . wanted you to know she has a name."

Thornton took a deep breath. "Thank you. I'll remember that in future emails."

"Well. . ." House paused, unsure what to say.

Thornton covered the moment. "Bye, Greg. Tell him bye, Ember." The horse whinnied again.

House straightened up suddenly. "Wait a minute. It isn't a verbal cue from one specific word, not hello, not bye. She didn't whinny when you answered the phone, either. It's not her name. So how do you make her do that?"

"I'll tell you some time, maybe in one of the emails. You're right, though. It's not hello, bye, or Ember." He paused to illustrate the silence. "I'm almost back to the barn now, though, and you're missing your party. Goodbye, Greg."

The line went dead. House hit end, annoyance surging up. "Left me on a hanging thread again. Damn it, you're good at that. Can't you ever just close a topic once?" He pocketed his cell phone. "Trigger," he said to himself, full mockery attached. "If I'd been with him, I'd probably be named Silver or Scout." Shaking his head, he grabbed his cane and stood up.

He nearly walked into Cuddy, who was frozen in the hall. He hit a startled stop in front of her. "Eavesdropping?" he said, irritation dripping off his tone. "You could have let me know you were there. Or just minded your own business; that's always an option, too, even if an endangered species of one."

Cuddy still felt amazed, and it was easy at the moment to avoid responding to the ire in his voice and eyes. "I hadn't been here long. I came in to check on you, and . . . I was just surprised. You're right; I should have let you know I was here, but I wasn't intentionally eavesdropping." There had been no decision to stay hidden; her body had simply shut down in that moment as she realized what was going on.

"So you were too busy thinking hell must be freezing over to move?" he challenged.

She knew it would be a mistake to say she had expected him to call his father eventually, far better odds than hell freezing over. Still, realizing that someday has abruptly become now carries a lot of impact. "It's up to you, Greg. I've said that all along, and I mean it. You're in control here."

"But you're glad." He made it sound like one of the seven deadly sins.

She met his gaze squarely, not defiant but not denying it, either. "Yes. I'm glad." She waited until he finally started to look for a way out of this hallway standoff, his eyes shifting, and then she said, "I was wrong to just stand there, though. I'm sorry, Greg."

His lips quirked. "That's not fair."

She closed the distance. "Life's not fair." When they parted a minute later, a little of the fragile hardness in him had relaxed. "We'd better get back outside before Wilson or Sandra comes in hunting both of us."

"Nope. Wilson would assume we're having an afternoon quickie, and Sandra might, too, only she wouldn't come outright and say it in front of the small fry. Either way, they've got the kids distracted at the moment. Speaking of which . . ."

She reluctantly moved away, resisting him with difficulty. "I'll take a rain check for tonight. Only not for a quickie. Come on, Greg, let's go before the girls start to wonder about us. It's Abby's day, after all."

He started down the hall, resigned. "How long had you been there?"

"You were talking about Trigger and originality points."

"Would you believe he named his horse Trigger? The tenth birthday horse, I mean. The current horse is Ember, which is at least a little better. Maybe he's improving in his old age." She forced herself not to smile, not wanting to push him into challenge again. House stopped at the door. "I did it for you, actually."

She stopped in surprise again. "For me?"

"Yeah. You kept waiting for something unexpected to happen, just wouldn't leave it alone. You've been gnawing on that bone for a couple of weeks. So now something unexpected has officially happened, and we're all still alive and well. Now that that's over, can we get back to the party?"

The smile was open that time. "Nothing I'd like better." At least, she thought, looking at his incomparable eyes, feeling his whole, healthy body next to her, there was nothing she would like better until tonight.