Here's the irony of this fic: When I first started it, my thought was, I always have House chasing Cuddy, begging for her forgiveness, and rarely do I write the opposite. It'll be nice to see Cuddy begging for House's forgiveness for a change! And then, well, the story unfolded. And as you're about to see, while it may start with a contrite Cuddy, it ends up with House as an even bigger asshole than usual. It's hard to explain why the story went this way, but I will say this: One of the things that draws me to House and Cuddy, as a writer and in my own twisted sense of romance, is the fact that the bigger dick he is, the more he loves her. From the "any time you want to stop kissing, I'm there for you" to the notrious boob grab to the absolute nadir of marrying Slutlinika. (I suppose the true nadir was Moving On, but that's so wildly OOC, it doesn't even count in my mind.) I mean, that's him. He's so afraid of being vulnerable, he tends to lash out in anger. But of course, once Cuddy is finally able to break down those defensive walls, he's just a lovesick pussycat. With that in mind, enjoy. And … be gentle. – ATD

Cuddy stood in the doorway of House's office, nervously fiddling with the buttons of her blazer.

She cleared her throat.

He didn't look up. She couldn't tell if he was intentionally ignoring her or if he just hadn't heard her yet.

She cleared her throat again—more loudly this time.

"What Cuddy?" he said, in a slightly testy voice. (So intentionally ignoring her it was.)

"Can we . . .talk?" she said.

"Must we?" he said wearily.

"I just. . .I'd like an opportunity to explain some things," Cuddy said.

And without waiting for him to respond, she closed his door and sat down in the chair across from his desk.

House rolled his eyes a bit.

"So explain yourself," he said impatiently.

"First I want to say that I'm sorry," she said, biting her lip.

"For what?"

"For. . .everything . For not telling you about Lucas. For the way you found out about Lucas. For telling him about your . . . episode."

"Episode? Ha. Is that we're calling my little psychotic break these days?"

"It wasn't a—"

"Apology accepted," House said. "Are we done here?"

Cuddy narrowed her eyes.

"Why do I feel like you're just accepting my apology to get me out of your office?" she said.

"Because I am?"

Cuddy sighed.

"Look House, I really just hope we can get past this and be friends again."

House looked at her.

"There's nothing to get past," he said. "You lied to my face. Betrayed me. Shared my most embarrassing secrets with a man who has the emotional IQ of a chimpanzee. What's to get past?"

"House. Please just let me explain. . ."

"Why? You're with Lucas now. I accept that. Water seeks its own level, right? In that case, you two are perfect for each other. Mazel tov. Have a nice life."

"I never meant to hurt you. . ."

"I'm not hurt," he said coldly.

Cuddy closed her eyes.

"Why do you always do this?" she said.

"Do what?"

"Pretend not to care, when I know that you do?"

"Oh you know that, do you? You actually know what I'm feeling right now?"

"Ten years of observing you has taught me one thing: The less you pretend not to care, the more it means you do."

"Brilliant deduction, Cuddy. Now get out of my office and let me get back to work."

She gave him a slightly pathetic look. He ignored her.

"Okay," she said curtly. Then, more gently: "Okay. . .I understand."

"What a relief," he said sarcastically.

She turned to leave and practically bumped into Wilson on her way out.

"He's all yours," she said.

Both Wilson and House watched her walk away. When she was out of earshot, Wilson said: "How are you?"

"Jesus, I'm fine!" House barked. "Why is everyone checking up on me?"

"I just, uh, came to show you this scan." Wilson said. And he handed House the file he was holding.

"Oh," House said, somewhat sheepishly.

"So. . .Cuddy looked upset. Everything okay with you two?" Wilson said, sitting down.

"Hunky dory," House said.

"Did you talk about her and Lucas? Because I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that one, to be honest."

"There's nothing to talk about," House said.

"Oh no. Of course not. The woman of your dreams is dating your former second-best friend. Nothing to talk about at all."

"Exactly," House said.

"Did she tell you why she started seeing Lucas? Because I'm actually kind of curious about that my—"

"The guy's going to die," House cut him off, referring to the patient. He handed the file back to Wilson. "The tumor's too big. He waited too long to seek treatment."

"I thought so," Wilson said. Then he added, musingly: "Waiting too long. . . Seems like there's lot of that going on around here lately."

"Fuck off, Wilson," House said.

#####

She was back in his office three days later.

"I thought you'd want to know that I broke up with Lucas," she blurted out.

For a brief second, his face registered shock, even relief—then it returned to its mask of stoicism.

"Bummer," he said.

"Bummer? That's it?" Cuddy said. "That's all you have to say?"

"And here I thought you crazy kids would make it," he said, idly.

She squinted at him.

"This is really how you want to play this?"

"Who's playing?" he said.

She shook her head.

"Fine, House."

"Fine, Cuddy."

And she clomped away.

He watched her for a second , then put his head in his hands.

Two days later, she was back again.

"Christ, am I going to need to put out a restraining order?" House grumbled.

"Possibly," Cuddy said. "I'm here to invite you to a medical conference next week. And by invite I mean. . .force you to go with me."

"What is this?" House said. "Some sort of Sadie Hawkins dance-slash-hostage situation?"

"It's the Midwestern Medical Conference in Minneapolis. They invited us to debate our practices in a public forum."

"No chance," House said.

"The board is insisting that we attend."

"So attend."

"They want both of us. The whole forum kind of revolves around our methodology. You know, the one where you ask for insane procedures and I enable you?"

"You sure you want to admit to that in public?"

"I'm proud of what we do here at PPTH," Cuddy said, jutting out her chin a bit. "I'll gladly take on anyone who questions our practices."

House blinked at her. Then he scratched his head, heaved a sigh.

"When do we leave?"

#####

On the plane ride over, he continued to behave coldly toward her. Almost the minute they sat down, he put his headphones on and began listening to music. He stopped, briefly, when the flight attendant told him not to use electronics during take-off. But the minute she walked away, he turned his iPod back on again.

"How long are you going to punish me for this?" she said to him.

"What?" he said loudly, pointing to his headphones. "Can't hear you."

Frustrated, she closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.

A few times she woke up and, out of the corner of her eye, saw him staring at her.

Despite the tension between them, the debate was an unquestionable success. The doctors on the "con" side of the argument were insisting that slow, conservative, and methodical was the highest standard of care ("while not as much fun, I'm sure, as Dr. House and Cuddy's exciting methodology, " one doctor said, irritably). But again and again, House and Cuddy were able to bring up specific examples where radical risk-taking saved lives. They were good on stage, too, cracking jokes, breaking down complex cases with ease. They got into such a good on stage rhythm, they were practically finishing each other's sentences.

By the end of the debate, the audience was completely won over. House and Cuddy seemed like the sexy and exciting future of medicine—medical rock stars, really—whereas the "slow and steady" debaters seemed like its stodgy past.

Afterwards, even House couldn't resist basking in the moment. "We sort of crushed that, huh?" he said.

"Our opponents never stood a chance," Cuddy agreed. "I feel like Russell Crowe in The Gladiator right about now."

He gave a tiny chuckle.

"We're a good team," he said, instantly regretting it.

"Yes," she said, looking at him meaningfully. "We are."

House looked at her, then looked down at the floor.

"So how about we go celebrate our victory with a few drinks at the bar?" she said hopefully.

He hesitated a second.

"Maybe I'll catch up with you there later," he said.

She had been beaming, flush with the excitement of their triumph. Now her shoulders slumped a bit.

"Sure," she said. "That sounds great."
#####

But later that night, when she got to the bar, he was already there, sitting at a table with two female pharmaceutical reps—a blonde and a brassy redhead. The reps were leaning toward him flirtatiously, both falling out of their blouses, essentially fighting to determine which one would be going home with him tonight. The table was scattered with empty shot glasses.

Her first thought was to turn on her heels and go back to her room, but then she decided that maybe House was just killing time with these two bimbos, waiting for her.

"Hi," she said, standing beside the table awkwardly.

The two reps looked up, smiled at her. (They weren't especially happy to see her, but they were both nice ladies.)

"Join us, honey," the redhead said.

"You were good in that debate today," the other said, admiringly.

House, however, completely ignored her. He addressed the two reps.

"Best Rolling Stones song—go!" he said.

"Satisfaction," the blonde said.

"Gimme Shelter," said the other.

Cuddy was going to say "You Can't Always Get What You Want" but before she could get out the words, House said, "The correct answer is Sympathy for the Devil."

Cuddy eyed him. What was his game?

"Okay," House said, in a jittery sort of way. "The Who. Go!"

"Ummm, Pinball Wizard?" the redhead said.

"Wrong! House said.

"Layla?" the blonde rep said, wrinkling her nose.

"That's Eric Clapton," House and Cuddy said, in unison.

"I've always liked Baba. . . " Cuddy started.

"The correct answer is Baba O'Riley," House said, not looking at her.

Cuddy gulped.

"Best guitar solos!" House said, taking another shot and slamming the table. He was on a roll.

Cuddy folded her arms.

"What is your problem?" she said, not sure if she was more angry or hurt.

"I don't have a problem. Best guitar solos. Go!"

Cuddy stood up abruptly—her chair scraped the floor loudly when she did—and walked away from the table in a huff. Again, she considered going up to her room. But she thought, screw him. He's not driving me away.

Instead, she went to the bar, ordered a martini.

House watched her warily, sighed and went back to the game.

"Before you embarrass yourselves, the correct answer is Eddie Van Halen's two handed arpeggio from Eruption."

"What was that all about?" one of the reps said, looking at Cuddy.

"Nothing," House said. "Dr. Cuddy just thinks she's the center of the universe—and I'm trying to prove to her that she's not."

"Maybe if you stopped staring at her, it would be a little more convincing," the redhead said, with a smirk.

House forced himself to look away from Cuddy for a few minutes. But the next time he looked back at the bar, Cuddy was no longer alone.

A man—slender, dark hair, with tortoise shell glasses and a navy blue Polo shirt and deck shoes—was chatting her up, looking like he had just won the lottery.

"Who's that guy?" House said.

One of the reps looked over. "That's Dr. Jeremy Ehrlich. He's a pediatric oncologist from Denver."

"Huh," House said.

He watched as this Jeremy guy ordered Cuddy a drink, and said something that made her laugh. Then he noticed the guy touch her shoulder.

"Excuse me," House said.

He limped up to them. They were talking about some children's TV show.

"I just got a page from the hospital," House said loudly, interrupting them. "I need a consult."

Cuddy looked surprised.

"House, this is Dr. Jeremy Ehrlich. Jeremy, this is Dr. Gregory House."

"Great debate today," Ehrlich said. "You guys destroyed them."

"Thanks," House said. Then, he jerked his head toward the corner of the room: "My consult?" he said, impatiently.

"Duty calls," Cuddy said with an apologetic smile and a shrug.

She followed House toward the corner, near the juke box.

"What was the page about?" she said.

"There was no page," House admitted.

"Then why the hell are you wasting my time?" she said, starting to head back to the bar.

He grabbed her arm.

"I didn't like the way that guy was looking at you," House said.

"How was he looking at me?"

"Like he wanted to fuck you," House said.

"House, he's married! He was talking about his 4-year-old twins."

"No one is married at a medical conference," House countered.

Cuddy knew he had a point.

"So what?" Cuddy said. "Maybe he did want to have sex with me. And guess what? Maybe I wanted to have sex with him, too. I'm single, right? The man I'm really interested in can't seem to stand me anymore."

She began to walk away again, but he tightened his grip.

"I don't want any other man to touch you," he said.

"Why not?" she said.

"I want to be the only man who touches you," he said.

She closed her eyes.

"Then touch me," she said.

In one quick moment, he had pinned her up against the wall and they were shoving their tongues down each other's throats. House had taken the command of "touching her" a bit too literally. His hands were on her ass, her inner thighs. It was bordering on obscene.

Everyone, of course, was staring at them—the two pharmaceutical reps, poor bummed out Jeremy, even the bartender.

"Let's go back to my room," Cuddy whispered.

"Okay," he panted.

######

Considering all the pent up frustration, unspoken feelings, and permanent hard-on they both had for each other—metaphorically speaking in her case—you might expect the sex to be more of an explosive affair than it actually was.

Instead, it bordered on tender, at least at first, with House on top, looking in her eyes from time to time, kissing her eyelids, her cheek, her parted lips.

He brought her to the verge of climax quickly, almost too quickly, and slowed up his pace, wanted to extend and savor every minute on top of her. Finally, when neither of them could take it anymore, his thrusts became faster and deeper, and she had one of the best, most satisfying orgasms of her life.

"Well hot damn," she said, in a sleepy, blissed out of sort of way.

"I love you," he said, reflexively, kissing her smile.

And they both fell asleep.

#####

In the morning, she was surprised to be alone in the bed. She hadn't heard him leave.

She looked at her phone for a message, there was none.

With a shrug, she threw on some clothing—a pair of leggings and an oversized tee—and headed into the breakfast lounge.

House was already there, drinking coffee and some sort of industrial looking blueberry muffin.

Cuddy grabbed some coffee and half a grapefruit and joined him.

"Morning," she said.

"Hey," he said.

"I . . .didn't hear you leave last night."

"Yeah . . . I couldn't sleep. You kept kicking."

Cuddy looked down.

"Sorry," she said.

"Brenda!" House said, brightly.

Cuddy looked up. One of the reps from last night—the red head—was walking past their table. "Join us!"

"You sure?" Brenda said. "I don't want to intrude."

"You're not intruding on anything," House said, tapping the chair next to him. "Have a seat. "

Cuddy looked at Brenda, then back to House.

She felt like she was going to cry and there was no way she was giving him the satisfaction.

"I think I'll finish my coffee in my room," she managed to choke out.

"Suit yourself," House said, breezily.

"Check out is at noon," Cuddy said. "Don't be late."

She walked away.

"Is there always this much drama between you two?" Brenda said.

"Pretty much," House admitted.

#####

Six hours earlier, he had woken up, carefully lifted his arms off Cuddy—she stirred a bit, but didn't awaken—and got out of bed. He found his clothing in the dark.

Then, his eyes adjusting to the light, he looked at her.

He fixated on the curve of her body, her tiny arms, the dark strands of hair that fell onto her face, her fluttering eye lashes.

For a second he thought about last night—her taste, her touch, her smell, the little yelping noises she made when she came. He actually got a bit hard thinking about it.

And there was a part of him that wanted nothing more than to climb back into bed with her, to forgive her, to be with her, to love her.

But he was Gregory House. If you hurt him, he would hurt you twice as hard. If you humiliated him, he would make you pay—for life.

God, had he really said "I love you?"

He cringed a bit at the thought. He was so weak, he sickened himself.

He took one last longing look at her and left the room.

######

"So you're not talking to me now?" House said, eyeing her on the plane.

She was sitting there, with her arms folded, her own set of headphones draped around her neck. (Unlike House, she would wait until the captain said it was okay before she used electronic equipment.)

"I'm just. . .done," Cuddy said, keeping her voice quiet.

"Done with what?"

"Playing this game."

"I told you, there's no game. Two adults had sex. Happens all the time—hardly grounds for a summit."

"So that's all it was? Just two adults having sex?"

"What else?" he said.

"I heard you say you loved me last night, you little piece of shit. So stop pretending you don't care about me."

"I tell any woman who agrees to have sex with me that I love her," House said.

She bit her lip, laughed in a derisive way.

"Fuck you," she whispered.

"So I guess joining the Mile High Club is completely out of the question?"

She put on her headphones, closed her eyes tightly, and tried to shut out any trace of Gregory House in her life.

######
"How was the trip?" Wilson said, with a knowing grin.

"Fine," House said, cagily.

"Did you and Cuddy talk? Get closer? Work things out?"

"We had sex," House said, matter of factly.

Wilson, who had just taken a bite of his turkey club, froze, mid-chew.

"You what?"

"We did it. Screwed. Fucked. Bumped Uglies. Fornicated. However you choose to describe it."

"How. . .how was it?" Wilson asked. It wasn't his proudest moment, but his curiosity was too much.

"How do you think it was? It was Lisa Cuddy, sexy deaninatrix extraordinaire."

"So what's the next step? You two start . . .dating? You move in together?"

"You forget Option 3: I hightail it out of her hotel room and ignore her completely."

Wilson peered at him, to see if he was joking.

"You're serious?"

House shrugged.

"She gave me what I wanted. What was I going to do? Stay and cuddle?"

Wilson's mouth dropped open.

"You're an asshole."

"Cuddy called me a piece of shit. So at least you two are on the same page."

"But I don't get this. You love her."

"Loved her. Past tense. Before she mated with Pukas and told him all my darkest secrets."

"So this is your way of punishing her?"

"Something like that."

"You're an asshole!"

"You said that already."

"And this was your plan all along? To seduce her and abandon her and humiliate her?"

In fact, that had never been House's plan. It was just that, once his desire for her had overwhelmed him, sex had been inevitable. It was only after the sex—and that nauseating declaration of love—that he had remembered he was still technically at war with her.

"Exactly," he said.

Wilson continued to stare at him, incredulously.

"Even by your low standards, this is incredibly cruel and fucked up,"

House shrugged. He noticed that Wilson hadn't taken a bite of his club since he had told him what happened.

"If you're not going to eat that," House said, grabbing half the sandwich.

"I've lost my appetite."

"Grow a pair, Wilson. You're such a woman."

"Screw you," Wilson said, getting up and storming away.

"Too late! Cuddy already did!" House said.

But with Wilson gone, there was no joy in gloating.

He stared at the sandwich and suddenly realized that he, too, had lost his appetite.

#####

He lay in bed that night thinking of her.

"How was it?" Wilson had asked.

How could he explain how it was?

How could he explain what it was like to have his mouth and hands exploring the body of the woman who had consumed him for the better part of a decade? To be inside all that energy? To wake up wrapped in her arms?

He went to touch himself, then thought, Screw it.

He pulled on his jeans, grabbed his keys, and drove to her place.

It was 11 pm.

He knocked at the door. Not too loudly, the kid was asleep.

Cuddy answered after a few minutes, wearing a nightgown and a robe.

"You've got to be kidding," she said, when she saw him.

"Booty call!" he said, cheerfully. "Well, booty knock."

"Get the fuck off my doorstep, House."

"Harsh, Cuddy."

"I'm serious."

"I know you are. You're such a turn on when you're angry."

He took a step toward her—over the threshold of her doorway—but she put a hand on his chest to stop him.

"Go away, or I'm calling the police."

He looked down.

"Ooooh," he said. "Role playing! This could be fun. But better if I'm the cop and you're the perp, right? Do you have any handcuffs?"

"House, go!"

"If you don't have handcuffs, I could tie you up with bed sheets. That would be h—"

But before he could say it, he felt something sharp and hard—Cuddy's hand—strike him across the face.

He staggered back.

"Christ, Cuddy!" he said.

He felt his face. He was bleeding.

"That hurt!"

"Get out, House."

He had never seen her so angry—and he'd seen her angry a lot.

"Okay," he said, somewhat chastened. "I'll go."

#####

His plan was to drown the pain of his humiliation—not to mention the pain of his face—with a few glasses of scotch, so he was dismayed when he got to his bar and some interloper was sitting in his favorite barstool. His dismay turned to horror when he saw who it was.

"Lucas?" he said.

Lucas looked up, in a hazy, sloshed sort of way, from his beer.

"Oh hey House," he said. Then he frowned. "What happened to your face, dude?"

House sat down, grudgingly, in the barstool next to his favorite barstool.

"I tripped and fell over my None of Your Business."

"Okay . . .okay, don't get all bent out of shape about it."

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"I'm having a beer. Or six. What does it look like I'm doing?"

"It's looks like you're sitting at my bar. And my barstool."

"I wasn't under the impression that you actually owned this barstool. And I figured you'd be out with Cuddy."

Reflexively, House touched his face.

"Why? Why did you figure that?"

"Because she dumped me to be with you. So I figured you'd be, you know, with her."

"She said that?" House said. "She said she dumped you to be with me?"

"Her exact words were, 'I'm in love with House and it's time I stopped running away from my feelings.'"

"Huh," House said. (Good advice, he thought.)

"So this is some sort of newsflash to you?" Lucas said.

House looked into the glass of scotch the bartender had given him.

"Sometimes Cuddy says one thing, but her behavior says something else."

"Meaning?"

"If she loves me so much, what the hell was she doing with you?"

"Believe me, I've been asking myself that same question," Lucas said.

"And?"

"And. . .I guess she needed someone to lean on. She was all broken up when you went to Mayfield. I was consoling her."

"You were fucking her."

"Not until she found out you had a girlfriend at Mayfield."

House did a doubletake.

"What?"

"Yeah, I guess Wilson told her you were seeing some German woman. I gotta say, it was a hell of a lot easier to get into her pants after that."

House groaned.

"Fucking Wilson," he said, almost too himself. "Fucking Wilson."

Lucas squinted at him.

"So you're telling me you haven't been with Cuddy once since she dumped me?"

House stared back.

"No," he lied. "Not once."

"But you love her, too, right? Because if you don't love her, I'm going to try to win her back."

House took a swig of his scotch.

"No," he said. "I love her."

###

The next day, he stood in the doorway of her office, waiting for her to acknowledge him.

He cleared his throat.

"What?" she said, slightly annoyed.

"Can we talk?" he said. And without waiting for her to answer, he closed the door and limped over to the chair across from her desk.

"I'm not in the mood to—"

"I'm sorry," House said quickly. "For everything."

"Fine. Apology accepted," she said. "Now leave."

He gave a tiny half smile.

"Why do I get the sense you're just accepting my apology to get me out of your office?"

"Intuition?" she said.

He laughed.

"You'll be happy to know, my face is still killing me."

"Small favors," she said.

He eyed her.

"Look, I've been an idiot. More than an idiot. I've lied to myself. I've lied to you. I've fucked everything up."

"That you did," Cuddy said.

"But I'm in love with you."

She blinked at him.

"You have a seriously funny way of showing it," she said.

"That was the idiot part," House said. "I was so. . .hurt, I lashed out. It's what I do."

He studied her face to see if he was making a dent in her anger. It was hard to tell.

"You were right. The more I pretend not to care, the more I do. That night we spent together in Minneapolis. . .it meant . . . everything to me."

Cuddy snorted.

"I'm serious," he said.

"You just want me now because you can't have me," Cuddy said. "I'm onto you."

"No," House said firmly. "That's not fair. At the conference— not the one in Minneapolis, the one before that, before I knew about Lucas—I wanted you then. We danced. I went to your room. I was making my move."

She considered that.

"I suppose that's true," she admitted.

"So give me a second chance."

"I'm afraid I left all my second chances in a hotel room in Minneapolis," she said.

He looked at the floor.

"We've both made mistakes," he said., stubbornly

"Fair enough."

"So let's start fresh. I love you. Do you love me?"

"It's not that simple, House."

"Actually, it is."

"No, it's not. If every time I hurt you you're going to lash out and make my life a living hell, how can I live with that? It's unsustainable."

"I've seen the error of my ways. Hurting you hurts me. I've changed."

"Oh, the irony is rich. . ."

"I'm standing here admitting that I was hurt. Admitting that I love you. If that's not change, I don't know what is."

She was quiet for a long time. He took it as an offering.

"Have dinner with me tonight," he said. "Just dinner. No funny business."

"No," she said.

"I understand," he said, sadly. "But will you at least think about what I said? Consider accepting my apology?"

She swallowed.

"Okay, I'll think about it."

"Good," he said standing up. "It's a start. And it's more than I deserve."

"True," she said.

####

At lunch, he slipped into the seat across from her. He was carrying a canvas tote bag.

"Have you decided to accept my apology yet?" he said.

"House, you apologized three hours ago."

"I know. Just checkin'. No rush," he said.

Then, as a joke, he drummed his fingers anxiously against the table.

She shot him a dirty look.

"Oh," he said, remembering something. "I bought this for you."

He pulled a potted plant out of his tote bag.

"What the hell is that?"

"I like to call it The Forgiving Tree," House said. "Get it? Forgiving? Technically, it's not a tree. But sadly, Shel Silverstein never wrote a book called The Giving Potted Plant. I checked."

"Thank you," she said, not able to suppress a smile.

"Okay," he said, popping up. "My work here is done."

Moments after House left, Wilson sat down in the booth he had just occupied.

"What's that?" he said, eyeing her plant.

"It's from House," she said, chuckling. "It's a Forgiving Tree."

"That's actually kind of cute," Wilson admitted.

#####

That night, at about 10 pm, House called Cuddy.

"Has the tree worked its magic?" he said.

"Not yet," she said.

"Okay," he said. "These things take time."

And he hung up.

At 3 am, her phone rang again. She groaned.

"House, if you think harassing me is the way to earn my forgiveness, you're highly mistaken."

"Just wanted to make it clear that my quest for forgiveness knows no sleep."

"What about my quest for sleep?"

"Good point. Goodnight Cuddy."

In the morning, a knock on her door.

It was House, of course, with croissants and coffee.

"And I got one of those apple juice boxes for the kid," he said.

He glanced into the kitchen, where Rachel was sitting in her highchair.

"Hiya kid, I'm House."

"Dada!" Rachel said. (She was in the babbling stage—she was equally likely to say, "Mama!" or "Blankie!"—but of course, she hadn't)

"You're a little ahead of yourself there, kid. I'd settle for Mama's Boyfriend and Loveable Potential Father Figure Who's Working Really Hard to Regain Lost Trust . But that's probably a bit too hard to say."

Cuddy shook her head.

"House, why don't you come in and join us for breakfast?"

He grinned. (Success!)

"I thought you'd never ask."

THE END