Sorry about the false alarm on the M rating, folks. At least there's a little sexytimes in this chapter.

Since the nanny called in sick that morning, Cuddy had taken Rachel to the hospital daycare center. She now went to pick her up.

She spotted Rachel right away, sitting at a table with a bunch of fellow pre-schoolers. They had apparently been fingerpainting because, as usual, Rachel's clothing were splattered like a Jackson Pollack canvas. There was even some sort of unknown substance—sticky and gooey and green—in her hair. But she was smiling, merrily holding court (only half coherently, no doubt—she was barely beyond the babbling stage) with all the other children at the table. That was when Cuddy noticed the beautiful little girl, sitting quietly, just to Rachel's left. She was about a year older than Rachel—maybe three-and-a-half, with shiny blonde hair, pulled back in a yellow ribbon. She was wearing a crisp blue and white dress that was perfectly pressed and didn't have a single mark on it. Even her socks were pulled up. It was like she had just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren Baby catalogue.

"It's Lisa, right?"

Cuddy whirled around at the sound of that familiar, uppercrust voice.

"And you're Victoria," she said.

"I hope you don't mind. Greg said it was okay for Chelsea to stay here while we had lunch."

"Of course, that's what the daycare is for," Cuddy said.

"Which one is yours?" Victoria said, scanning the room.

Cuddy pointed out Rachel, who was now shaking her sippy cup like a maraca.

"Oh, she's adorable."

"She doesn't usually have green hair," Cuddy said, feeling foolish. Then she asked (as if there was any doubt): "And which one is Chelsea?"

"She's just right next to Rachel actually, to her left."

Cuddy tried not to roll her eyes.

"What a remarkable child," she said.

"Thanks," Victoria said, smiling. "I agree. But then I would, wouldn't I?"

Both women laughed.

"I don't know how you do it," Victoria said, out of the blue.

"Do what?"

"Run this entire hospital and raise Rachel as a single mom. That's a lot."

"But aren't you a single mom, too?" Cuddy said, surprised. "And I understand you're a . . . scientist?"

"Yes, but I practically make my own hours at the lab. And I have a full-time nanny. And my ex takes Chelsea every other weekend. . . I have a lot of help. And now, of course, Greg helps, too."

Cuddy gaped at her..

"House . . . helps?" she said. "With Chelsea?"

"He's not quite ready for babysitting duty, yet," Victoria said, in an "aren't men impossible" voice. "But I'm training him." And then she winked.

Cuddy shot her a look: Who the hell was this woman? And how on earth did she possibly think that she (or anyone for that matter) could "train" House to do anything?

"Greg speaks very highly of you, by the way," Victoria was saying.

This got Cuddy's attention.

"Oh yeah?" she said, trying to keep her voice casual. "What does he say?"

"Nothing specific. But he respects you. That's quite clear. And I think we both know, Greg doesn't respect many people."

"True," Cuddy said. (So maybe this Victoria person did know House, after all.)

Just at that moment, Cuddy looked up and saw that Rachel had managed to pull off the top off her sippy cup. (She was very into taking things apart lately.)

Then she watched—with horror—as Rachel, still waving her cup like a baton, managed to spill its entire contents all over Chelsea, who screamed. Naturally, Rachel had been drinking grape juice.

"Nooooooo!" Cuddy yelled, running toward them. Chelsea's dress was now white, blue, and dark purple. She began to cry.

"Oh my God!" Victoria yelled, also running, anxious to save her daughter from the crazy little girl who was dousing her with purple liquid.

"Victoria, I'm so sorry!" Cuddy said.

In one deft motion, Cuddy scooped up Rachel and pulled her away from the table.

"Rachel, what did I tell you about your taking the top off your sippy cup?" Cuddy scolded.

"I did a bad, mama!" Rachel wailed. Now she was crying, too. "I did a bad!"

"I'll pay for the dry cleaning," Cuddy said to Victoria. "Just send me the bill."

"Don't be ridiculous," Victoria said, dabbing Chelsea with tissues in a futile attempt to remove the stains. "It was accident. They're kids. Things happen."

"I insist on paying for the dry cleaning," Cuddy said. "Or a new dress, if necessary."

"You're too kind," Victoria said. "But I assure you that's not necessary."

For a moment there was a little mini standoff between the two women.

Then Victoria turned to Rachel, whose nose was caked with snot from crying.

"I guess you learned a lesson, huh?" she said. "You must keep the top on sippy cups!"

She laughed, but there was something, Cuddy felt, a bit forced about her behavior—it was overly cheery, put on. Cuddy sensed that she was secretly seething about the dress.

"Again, I'm so sorry," Cuddy said.

"Nonsense. Don't think twice about it."

And she led Chelsea to the door.

"Mama, that bad little girl ruined my dress," Cuddy heard Chelsea say to Victoria as they left the daycare.

######

About a week later, Victoria came to the hospital to take House to lunch again. Cuddy leaned over the railing and watched as they made their way through the lobby.

Victoria wasn't leading him by the fingers this time, but he did look happy—and Cuddy felt the knot in her stomach that had formed when she first laid eyes on Victoria grow just a little bit tighter.

To be honest, the thought that House might get a girlfriend had never really crossed her mind. Hookers, yes. The occasional floozy in a bar, perhaps. But a real girlfriend—a beautiful, brilliant woman, with a child (an alarmingly perfect, Stepford child, but a child all the same)—that had completely thrown her a curve.

It was egotistical, for sure, but somehow in the back of her mind, Cuddy always thought she was the only woman for him—not just because, after years of unspoken desire, he had finally made his feelings totally clear. But because she was the one who really understood him, who saw him clearly—his brilliance, his strict moral compass, but also his self-destructiveness and darkness, too—and still loved him.

Now she realized how ridiculous that was. Of course other women would want him—he was brilliant, hilarious, sexy as hell (and totally sober now, she couldn't forget that. He was off the pills). And if his darkness encroached on the relationship—well maybe this Victoria woman was smart enough to back off and give House his space. (But the child? Did House actually have warm feelings toward that little girl? One of the hundreds of reasons why Cuddy had never given in to her desire for House—she kept a list—had to do with Rachel. Could he possibly be a friend—or even a father figure to her little girl? Suddenly, she wasn't so sure.)

She watched as they traversed the lobby and walked toward the door. She had a vague, sick thought: What if they were going back to his place for sex? The thought of House's hands all over that glamazon, kissing her, his beard rough against her cheek, her neck, her breasts. . .

"You okay?"

She looked up, turned bright red. Wilson.

"I was, uh, surveying my domain," she said.

"And by surveying your domain, you mean watching House and Victoria go to lunch," Wilson said.

Cuddy gulped a bit.

"Do you think she . . . makes him happy?" she asked, meekly.

Wilson gave a somewhat hard-to-read smile.

"With House, happiness is a relative term," he said. "Is he happier than he was a month ago, when they first began dating? Yes."

"But does she seem right for him? She's so . . . snobby."

"Rich doesn't necessarily equal snobby."

"No, but. . . is she really his type? The whole blonde bombshell thing. I thought he liked women with dark hair."

"Like you?" Wilson said, amused.

Cuddy blushed again.

"Well, Stacey, too. . ." she muttered.

"Cuddy, he does like women with dark hair. In fact, he likes one particular woman—about, five-foot-four, wavy brown hair, blue eyes, runs a hospital. The problem is, she's involved with somebody else. So he's moving on."

But did he have to move on so quickly? she wanted to say. And with . . .her?

"Makes sense," she said instead.

######

Lucas wasn't a big fan of going out for dinner—he preferred to eat at home, preferably with the TV on—but Cuddy had miraculously convinced him to go out to this hot new tapas place in town. Arlene had taken Rachel for the night, so they could stay out as late as they wanted—maybe even get a little drunk.

They were just checking in with the maître d when Lucas said, "Hey, isn't that House? . . .And who's that knockout he's with?"

Cuddy looked up. Indeed, House and Victoria were sitting at a table near the bar. They had just been seated—they only had their water glasses. Victoria looked elegant, impeccable. House was actually wearing a tie.

"We should probably go over and say hi," Lucas said.

"No! We. . . ." But it was too late. Lucas was already heading purposefully over to their table.

Steeling herself, Cuddy followed.

When House saw Cuddy, he turned white for a second, swallowed—and then quickly recovered. Introductions were made.

"I never thought I'd live to see the day I saw Greg House at a tapas restaurant," Lucas said, with clueless cheer.

"I had to twist his arm," Victoria said, matching his cheer.

"Tapas is Spanish for 'You pay too much and leave hungry,'" House grumbled.

"The problem is, I always feel like I ordered wrong," Victoria joked. "Like all the best tapas were the ones I didn't have. . .This is probably something I should discuss with my therapist."

Everyone laughed.

"The key is to come with a larger party," Lucas said. "That way there's more to sample."

And then Lucas and Victoria seemed to come up with the same "brilliant" idea at the exact same time. "We should join forces! Sit together!" Victoria said.

House and Cuddy locked eyes. No, no, no, no, they were both thinking.

"Great idea!" Lucas agreed.

And the newly formed party of four was quickly re-seated at a larger table.

There was awkward small talk at first (about Chelsea's new pre-school, about this great roadside fruit stand Victoria had discovered that sold kiwi, even about the weather), and Lucas and Victoria took turns picking items from the menu. Both House and Cuddy just wanted to make sure there was plenty of sangria.

"So what's it like supervising this one?" Victoria said, patting House on the arm. (Cuddy was vaguely annoyed by how she seemed to treat House like a pet.)

"It's a challenge," Cuddy admitted, sipping on her sangria.

"House tells me he asks for a lot of risky medical procedures. Do you ever say no?" Victoria said.

"Sometimes," Cuddy said, with a slight smile. "But he can be pretty persuasive."

House locked eyes with Cuddy, again.

"She denies me the things I want all the time," he said, pointedly.

Getting it, Cuddy took a large swig of her wine.

"Well, you can't always get what you want," she said.

"Sometimes the things we want are also the things we deserve," House said.

Lucas suddenly picked up on the subtext of their conversation.

"And sometimes, somebody else has already done the thing that we want" he said, putting his arm possessively around Cuddy.

House slightly curled his lip in Lucas's direction.

Victoria looked puzzled.

"Are we still talking about medical procedures?" she cracked.

In unison, Cuddy, House and Lucas said: "Forget it."

More sangria was ordered. They moved onto to talking about some of House's more challenging cases—eventually discussing the boy with "Elephant Man" syndrome who also had Lyme disease.

"Oh my God, that was when the documentary filmmakers came to the hospital!" Cuddy remembered. She was just drunk enough that the awkwardness of the evening had receded a bit and she was allowing herself to have a good time.

"Don't remind me," House said, smiling at her.

"A movie? About PPTH? I never saw it," Victoria said.

"It never aired," House said. "I made sure of that."

"But I have a copy!" Cuddy said. "Under lock and key. I will treasure it for life!"

"Why's that?" Lucas said.

"Through the magic of editing, they turned House into somebody. . . totally unrecognizable."

"They made me nice," House sighed.

"Didn't you say that you were inspired by Marcus Welby or something?" Cuddy laughed.

"Patch Adams," House groaned. "It was sarcasm!"

"Patch Adams! That's even better!" Cuddy said, almost spitting sangria out of her nose.

"Shut up! Stop gloating, you evil woman," House said

"Ah, but that video is my prized possession."

"I'm going to break into your safe and steal it."

"You wish. You don't know the passcode."

"Oh, partypants, when you will learn that you have no secrets from me?"

And House and Cuddy smiled at each other, in a besotted sort of way.

Then they realized that Victoria and Lucas were both staring at them, slightly annoyed.

The smiles fell from their faces.

"Anyone up for an after-dinner drink?" House said.

#######

"Your place or mine?" House said, pulling out of the parking lot. He was in an exceptionally good mood.

"Take me home," Victoria snapped.

"Your place it is!" he said. "But you really need to buy new sheets. The one's you have are scratchy."

"Are you actually that dense?" Victoria said.

"I know you paid a fortune for them. But that doesn't mean they're comfortable."

"Not about the sheets, you moron. I don't want to sleep with you. In fact, I'm not sure I ever want to see you again."

House side-eyed her, as he pulled onto the street.

"What's this about?" he said. His question was strictly theoretical. He was surprised by how not upset he was.

"You really don't know, do you?"

"One way to remedy that would be to tell me," House said.

"You're in love with her."

House sighed, gripped the steering wheel a bit more tightly.

"Oh. . .that," he said.

"Yes, that."

"It was just dinner. We had a few drinks. I thought we had a good time."

"Just dinner? You practically mounted her at the table. And the way you look at her! You haven't looked at me like that since. . .well, ever."

"My feelings for Dr. Cuddy are strictly irrelevant. She's with Lucas. And I'm with you."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Victoria said, snidely. "Just take me home. I can't even look at you right now."

He knew what he was supposed to do in this moment: Beg for her forgiveness, pledge his eternal allegiance, promise he would never look at Cuddy that way again. But he just couldn't muster up the energy to do it.

"If that's the way you feel," he said. "Fine."
######

It was still early—just past 10:30—so House decided to go to Sullivan's for a drink.

His head was spinning—thinking about Victoria's anger, yes—but mostly thinking about how sexy and adorable Cuddy had looked over dinner, especially once she'd relaxed and had a few drinks.

It was then that he noticed a beautiful and familiar woman—or was it a mirage?—sitting at the bar.

"Cuddy?" he said, incredulous.

She looked up, did a doubletake.

"What are you doing here?" she said.

"This is my bar," House said. "What are you doing here?"

"I don't have a regular bar," Cuddy said. "So I guess I . . . went to yours."
"Is . . . Lucas here?" he asked nervously, sliding onto the barstool next to her.

The bartender, without asking, handed House a scotch.

"We had a huge fight," Cuddy admitted.

"What about?"

Cuddy rolled her eyes a bit.

"Do you really have to ask?"

"About me?" he said.

"Of course," she said. "Always."

Then she looked around.

"Where's Victoria?" she asked.

"Funny coincidence that," House said. "We also had a huge fight about me." He chuckled dryly. "Well, also about you. About you and me."

"I'm sorry," Cuddy said. Then she added: "House, I think I owe you an apology."

"Me? What for?"

"I had this ridiculous idea that I was the only woman you could love. It's narcissitic, I know. . ."

He looked at her.

"It's not narcissistic because it happens to be true."

"But . . . Victoria!"

"I'm not in love with Victoria," he scoffed.

"Why not? She's blonde, brilliant, beautiful. She's . . . perfect."

"Perfect is boring," House said. "I vastly prefer . . .imperfect." And he gave her a little smile.

"But you seem so happy!"

"I've been faking it. Victoria was a dress rehearsal. The minor leagues. I've only been dating her so that when the woman I really love becomes available, I'll be ready."

"Like. . .training wheels?" she said, wrinkling her nose. (She had just bought Rachel her first tricycle).

"Yes," he said, smiling at the metaphor. "Like training wheels."

"Really?"

"Yes, of course. Really."

Cuddy took a moment to process what he was saying.

"It's just. . .my head is spinning. You've got me all mixed up."

"Let me make it more clear then. . ." he said. And he grabbed her by the waist, pulled her toward him, and gave her a somewhat lusty kiss.

She kissed back, because his tongue and his mouth tasted so good—and the roughness of his cheek against her face was an incredible turn-on and his breath was hot against her neck—but then pulled away.

"I can't. . .I can't do this, House!" she said.

And she got up and ran out of the bar.

"Shit!" House said. He slapped some money on the bar—way too much—and limped after her, as quickly as he could.

"Cuddy!" he yelled.

He caught up to her, just as she was about to get into her car.

"Why are you doing this?" he said, facing her.

"Doing what?"

"Running away from me—again."

"I don't know!" she said. "I'm confused!"

"What's to be confused about? It's simple: Do you love me or not?"

Unexpectedly, a tear dripped down her cheek.

"I. . ."

"Just tell me," he said. "Just put me out of my misery, once and for all."

"I do love you, House," she said. "I do."

He heaved a sigh of relief.

"And I love you, Lisa Cuddy," he said, taking his thumb and gently wiping the tear away. There was something so tender in his gesture, she could've bawled for real this time.

"But I'm scared," she said.

"Of what?"

"Of getting hurt."

"I will never hurt you again. Never," House said stubbornly.

He took a step closer.

Instinctively, she rested her hands on his hips.

He went to kiss her, but she backed away. She was trying not to lose focus.

"What . . . about Rachel?" she sputtered.

"What about her?"

"Could you ever learn to love her?"

"She spilled grape juice on that brat Chelsea. She's my new hero!"

And Cuddy laughed, despite herself.

House lifted her chin.

"Be with me," he said, kissing her fully on the mouth. "I'm done with the dress rehearsal. I'm ready for opening night."

#####

At his apartment, they were so hot for each other, they couldn't make it to the bedroom. Clothing was quickly shed, and he fucked her up against the hallway wall.

Then he carried her to the bedroom.

Literally, from the moment he kissed her, from the moment he sucked on her nipples, stroked her ass, lapped between her legs (the roughness of his beard against her inner thigh was even more exciting than the way it felt against her face)—she knew she was done. Lucas had never turned her on like this—not even close. She made sounds that night she didn't know she was capable of producing. And when House was inside her, they rocked to a perfect rhythm—it was like they could read each other's minds.

After having sex three times, they were both—at least temporarily—sated.

House lay with his arm around her, idly stroking her elbow.

"That was. . ." Cuddy started.

"Almost worth the wait," he finished.

"Yeah," she said.

"So dump Pukas and be with me once and for all," he demanded.

"As if either of us really have a choice anymore," she said.

"Finally!" he said, relieved.

And he pulled her closer.

#####

A month later, James Wilson looked over the landing and watched House and Cuddy head toward the front door of the lobby.

It was lunchtime. House had his arm around Cuddy and he said something that made her laugh—that big throaty laugh of hers that could fill entire stadiums.

And then she kissed him. And he whispered something in her ear and she kissed him again, a little deeper this time and it was clear that they weren't going out to some restaurant, but going back to his place (it was closer than hers) for some afternoon delight.

And Wilson felt a little wistful—because it was like House and Cuddy had formed some sort of private bubble that he would never be a part of. (Also, he had to admit, because just the tiniest part of him had always wanted Cuddy for himself.)

But he also felt content: Because he had never seen either of them so happy. And if his best friends were happy, so was he.

THE END