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Tempered

Chapter One: Tokyo Rose



She’s got a hell of a body,
he mused. The thought occurred frequently; almost every
time they crossed paths, and he let the masculine insight rattle around in his head like a musical refrain, like a song lyric you hear and can’t get rid of for a while. Large firm
chest, tapered tiny waist flaring out again over trim hips, and noticeable legs.



Very noticeable.


He might be lame, House figured, but he wasn’t blind, and judging by the pleasant
surge the sight of Cuddy’s taut ass gave him on a regular basis, he sure as hell wasn’t
dead below the waist either. Not that this was a good thing. Cuddy was the enemy, the authority with the cold words and frowns and growls. The witch handing him endless
clinic hours and meeting him snide remark for snide remark at almost every turn. She
was Da Man, albeit with tits nicely showcased in low-cut blouses.



House sighed, and let his glance move across the cluttered surface of his desk, taking inventory: Game Boy, stack of medical journals, pile of messages, paper napkin left over
from lunch, and on it, the lip print of blotted lipstick. Cuddy’s lipstick, the soft rose shade
being what brought her and her luscious body to mind in the first place. She’d tamped
off her lipstick before taking half his sandwich and dropping off a stack of patient files.
He reached out to pick up the napkin and studied it carefully, as if it were a Rorschach.
The imprint was in a little half open circle, and staring at it, House felt himself stiffening.



The thought of that lipstick ring, not on the flimsy paper, but on him, on his flesh . . .
traces of it along his mouth, down his neck . . . around his shaft . . . House sighed
harshly, crumpling the napkin into a tight ball, and trying to banish both the image of
Cuddy’s mouth and the hard-on it had created. No point in sensual speculations, not
today. House was all too aware that Her Highness was taking a group of potential
investors on a tour of the hospital, and that he’d been banished for the duration. The
loss of half his sandwich had been a small price to pay for her hurried comment that he
was off clinic for the afternoon. Even that had barely registered for him, considering
Cuddy had perched on the edge of his desk and given him a sweet view right up the
inside of her left knee as she said it. He’d been so thrilled to realize she was wearing
thigh highs that her order hadn’t sunk in until after she’d slid off the desk and out of his
office. Now all he had was a smudged napkin, and four more levels of Tetris to tackle.



***   ***   ***


He’s driving me to insanity, and taking the long road doing it, she despaired. All along the conference table the board of trustees sat on one side and the visiting investors on the
other, everyone on best manners. A short break after the presentation of Princeton-
Plainsboro’s history let Cuddy have a moment to step out to the hall, and the sight of
House slouched in the main waiting room, insouciantly locked onto his Game Boy met
her gaze. She strode over, hands on hips, exasperation building.


“Do you have any idea of the impression you’re making, Doctor House?”


“No, but on the other hand, I’ve mastered the advanced level,” he countered, attention
still locked on the game. Cuddy mentally counted and leaned down to meet him eye to
eye—or very nearly, since she was aware of his gaze straying slightly south.


“If you must persist in occupying your time on trivial pursuits instead of legitimate
hospital work, such as diagnosing patients or consulting with them in the clinic, at least
have the common sense to play your little video games in your own office, Doctor House.
I currently have my hands full with entertaining Mr. Hinoshu and his entourage as well
as running this hospital, so a little concession like keeping yourself out of sight would be GREATLY appreciated.” She ground out.


House had the audacity to look affronted; he folded the Game Boy closed and lifted his grizzled chin, glaring back at her. “Fine, although a simple ‘please’ would have sufficed.
While you give the twins there a nice airing, I’ll make it a point to remove myself from
your presence.”


“You DO that, thank you. I realize it must be lonely to have your team off to Syracuse for
the week, but that’s no excuse for moping.”


He reached for his cane and shot her a glare as he rose, stiffly. “I don’t mope. I brood—
it’s a much sexier word.”


“For the same thing,” she pointed out softly, an unwilling smile on her face. There was something about his irascibility that always touched a soft spot in her, and Cuddy
straightened up, aware again of exactly how damned TALL House was. He loomed over
her; then glanced at the glass-walled board room, where several men in suits and ties
were beginning to re-converge.



“Looks like you’ve already made a favorable impression, judging by the speed of the
kamikaze octogenarian headed our way.” He rumbled in a low voice. Cuddy turned,
catching sight of the man in question and squared her shoulders.


“That’s Mr. Hinoshu to you, House, so be polite. His firm has three times the money
Vogler was offering and he’s very interested in the hospital.”


“Correction, he’s very interested in YOU, Dr. Cuddy. I’d make it a point to tell the
pharmacy not to dispense any little blue pills to our out of town guests.”


Cuddy shot him a quick, evil glare, then plastered a false smile on her face and took a
step forward to meet the little man beaming at her. He bowed, and then gazed up at
Cuddy with an expression of adoration, his long Fu Manchu mustache quivering. Next to
him, a slender young man coughed lightly and spoke up.


“Doctor Cuddy. Mr. Hinoshu would be honored to escort you back to the meeting.” His
tone was slightly apologetic, and Cuddy could practically FEEL House’s smirk behind
her back. She smiled again and took the elderly man’s out-held arm, pointedly ignoring
the tall doctor behind her.


House watched her ass as she sauntered all the way back into the boardroom, letting alternating spasms of lust, amusement and annoyance wash through him. It was
painfully clear that the little businessman had damned good taste, but no chance in
hell, so that was reassuring. The problem was, House pondered, nobody had told HIM
that, and given the amount of money involved, doing so would take tact and time.


He turned with a sigh. Not his problem. Cuddy could handle extracting herself from the clutches of the Far East just fine—they were used to dragons anyway.


***   ***   ***


Wilson watched House’s reaction to his gossip with a mellow smile; it wasn’t often he
was able to make the other man react in any way, and this one was a surprise. When
he’d commented about Cuddy being hit on, blatantly all through the tour, he’d expected
House to snicker at the very least. The comic image of the short little Asian CEO putting
the moves on their administrator had to be good for a chuckle somewhere down the line
but the interesting thing was that House merely winced at the news.


“Oh come on—It’s funny, House, you know it is. Can you just SEE Cuddy dating this
guy? He barely comes up to her shoulder.”


“Which puts his nose in an interesting place when they go dancing. She’d smother him.” House snapped. They were walking down the corridor, heading for Wilson’s office to
collect a forgotten file. Wilson dimpled, feeling better—THAT was more like it.


“I thought you were an ass man. Or just an ass, most of the time.”


“Oh tut, it doesn’t pay to specialize in leching. I like to look at the overall picture of
women’s bodies, not just what’s up topside.”


“Which is why you called me in on that implant consult? Generous of you, for a guy not interested in ta-tas.”


“Did you just say ta-tas? James, you’re turning into a regular fourth grade pottymouth.”
House smirked, rolling his eyes. Wilson shrugged, opening the door to the office.


“Oh yeah, this coming from the guy who used the term and I quote, ‘fun bags’ unquote
right to the chief administrator’s face. Face it, House, you make a comment about
Cuddy’s chest every time you talk to her. I used to think it was to provoke her, but
considering the frequency of your remarks, it’s clear my initial impression was wrong.
You just like her tits.”


House arched an eyebrow, letting a deep pause fill the moment. “In the interests of
preserving our friendship, I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.” he announced,
feeling an inkling of dismay at Wilson’s perception. The other man rolled his eyes as
they entered. The file was in the middle of a tidy desk, and he scooped it up, stuffing it
neatly into his briefcase before turning to face House again.


“Give it up—lusting after Cuddy’s knockers isn’t a crime, Greg. It makes you human,
and don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. It’s not as if anyone actually cares, you
know.”


“Gah, think of my reputation if word got out. I’d be ruined, doomed never to lurch down
these sanctified halls without hanging my head in shame.” House muttered, but his
heart wasn’t in it. Wilson patted his shoulder commiserating.


“At least your team’s safe from your wayward lust. I’m pretty sure Foreman’s got a bigger
chest than Cameron.”


“CHASE has a bigger chest than Cameron—Give him some mascara and they could be sisters.”


***   ***   ***


After two days, it was alternately painful and funny to watch her, House figured out that. Hinoshu’s age made it impossible to keep up with Cuddy’s usual speed. Out of courtesy
she’d had to slow down, and he could see that dropping her pace was grating on her.
The added burden of having the pale young translator following constantly also seemed
to encumber the administrator, and even from a distance House could see by his
expression that the young man was doing more than just translating what the CEO was saying. Probably toning it down, or changing phrases into politer terms, given the hot
glint in the old boy’s eyes--so “Ask the Smokin’ hot Mama here if she’d let me eat sushi
off her tummy,” probably became “Mr. Hinoshu would be delighted if you could humbly
join him tonight at a restaurant.”


It galled him a little, as well. House wasn’t comfortable with the pang of jealousy that
flared up each time he watched her smile patiently at the CEO. Cuddy was dressing exceptionally nicely this week, and his personal favorite of her outfits, the little green
suit with the striped shirt, was evident today. He liked the way it clung to her curves and
the added thrill of black stockings and high heels countered his need for an extra
Vicodin at the moment. In fact, if she was wearing a garter belt instead of panty hose,
House mused—


His cell phone rang, breaking up the fantasy in a rude rattling way. He glanced at the
number, startled to recognize it as he answered. “House.”


“I will pay you twenty bucks to get over here and kiss me. Yes or no—“ came the
whispered hiss of one very distraught Lisa Cuddy. He paused, and blinked, pulling the
phone from his ear to stare at the little screen, before replacing it against the side of his
head.


“Twenty bucks?” he stalled, brain going into overdrive. It only took him a few seconds to
figure it out, and he grinned broadly for the first time in a week. “Damn it, Doctor Cuddy
you must be desperate.”


“Twenty. And I’ve give you one extra day off clinic,” she countered swiftly. House cleared
his throat and looked up through the glass wall of his office to see her standing down
the hall, clutching a clipboard along with the phone and deliberately NOT looking his
way. House lounged back in his chair.


“So, our hot-blooded potential Uncle Yenbags is not taking no for an answer. You need
to fill in the blank of your personal life with a trumped up relationship to smooth things
over and gracefully escape his clutches. How am I doing so far?”


“Two extra days off,” came the irritated offer. He continued.


“Since Wilson is still prone to wearing his wedding band HE’S out, the cartel you’re
escorting have already met most of the senior staff, so by default, the only reasonable
figure to fit the bill of Pseudo Significant Other is thrust upon yours truly. I’m stunned.”


“And I’m desperate.” Came her throaty reply. “He’s in the bathroom at the moment, so I
need an answer right now. Deal’s on the table, Doctor House—Twenty bucks for a kiss
and two days more off clinic. Take it or leave it.”


He let the pause build, taking those precious seconds to gloat in the thrill of the
moment. “Are we talking tongue?”


“House--!” her exasperation was music to his ears; lazily he snapped the phone shut,
watching as Cuddy spun so quickly she was in danger of falling. Carefully he hoisted
himself up with his cane and forced himself to limp leisurely to his glass door. Cuddy
retreated, followed by Mr. Hinoshu and his translator, all heading for her office. House
took a deep breath, wondering if he had time for a breath mint.


So, she’s desperate enough to conjure up a hoax relationship. House wondered what
had happened to the man she HAD been dating . . . Myron Somethingstein.
Bespectacled lean accountant type, associated with some law firm up the road. He
hadn’t been around lately, not that he’d ever shown up much at the hospital point in
fact. House shambled along the hallway feeling unaccountably cheered. Either Myron
was out of the picture, or wasn’t immediately available for lip service. Chalk one up for
the resident grouch.


He leaned on the door to Cuddy’s office, peering in and finding himself being studied by
three pairs of eyes: one set suspicious, one set uncertain and one set wary. House
dredged up a neutral expression.


“Are you busy, my little love wombat?” he managed with a perfectly straight face. Cuddy looked daggers at him, shifting her expression quickly as Mr. Hinoshu glanced from
House to her and back again.


“Oh Greg, sweetie! I’m sorry, I’m in a meeting—“ Cuddy managed through clenched
teeth, looking as if it utterly galled her to say it. House fought his own grin and ambled
in, giving a grave nod to the diminutive businessman sitting on the loveseat. Mr.
Hinoshu watched him, missing very little with his dark gaze.


“I’m sorry I seemed to have missed being introduced,” House smiled, hooking his cane
on his elbow and extending his hand. Mr. Hinoshu looked at it a moment, then shook it.
Cuddy noted the sudden tensing of House’s mouth and hid her grin; apparently he
hadn’t been expecting such a firm grip from the older man. Good—maybe he’d
appreciate how sore her bottom was from the several pinches she’d received from the
old lech already.


“Greg House, Head of Diagnostic Medicine,” he murmured firmly. Mr. Hinoshu inclined
his head curtly.


“Taro Hinoshu, Yamahana Investment Group.” He replied in heavily accented English.
The young translator gave a nod as well.



“David Shinuto, Yamahana Investment Group.”


Cuddy moved over to House, attempting to smile at him, but the strain around the
corners of her mouth made it difficult, and for a moment he actually felt sorry for her
and the charade she obviously had to keep up during this whole visit. She looked up at
him, big eyes wary.


“I forgot about our dinner date, I’m so sorry . . . darling.” She muttered in a low voice.
He looked down at her, and for a second, let himself pretend it was real; that they really
did have a relationship. House blinked gently.


“That’s all right, you’ve been busy,” came his unexpectedly soft response. Now it was
Cuddy’s turn to blink as he added saucily, “But I adore you anyway.”


Where the hell did THAT come from? He panicked. From the look in her eyes, Cuddy
was just as dumbstruck by his remark, her mouth falling open in tiny gasp of surprise.
On the sofa, Mr. Hinoshu’s mustache twitched. His interpreter coughed, politely.


Cuddy recovered quickly, laying a hand on his arm, eyes narrowing for a moment to
hide a flicker of something House dimly recognized, but before he could figure it out,
she went up on tiptoe and gently kissed his grizzled cheek. “Oh you don’t mean that, I
know. I’m sorry about tonight though—Mr. Hinoshu—“



“—Taro,” the older man rumbled, faintly smiling for the first time, then rattled off a string
of Japanese. David listened for a moment then looked up at Cuddy and House.



“Mr. Hinoshu would be delighted to have Doctor House join us this evening at dinner.
He regrets keeping your charming fiancée from you this week and hopes to make
restitution for that oversight.”


“Dinner?” House echoed, just as Cuddy squeaked, “Fiancée?” so their chorus sounded
like a duet of parakeets. Mr. Hinoshu finally rose off of the sofa and studied the pair of
them, his eyes dark and unfathomable. He gave another nod. Moving silently, he stood
before Cuddy and took her hand, squeezing it gently before turning and walking out the
door, David following behind him. The sound of it closing was suddenly very loud in the silence. Cuddy quivered a little.


“Oh God, he didn’t buy it.”


“You caught that, did you?” House agreed, not looking at her. He braced his cane on
the carpet, and stared out through the glass walls of the office, thinking hard, trying
not to linger over the memory of her mouth against his cheek. Cuddy sighed and moved
away from him, crossing her arms under her chest, trying hard to quell the frustration
rising up.


“Great, just---great. So now we all get to struggle through what’s sure to be an
amazingly awkward dinner. Maybe calling it a wake would be more fitting since at this
point I’m fairly sure we can kiss off the whole investment plan.” She paced back to her
desk and dropped into her seat, wincing. House watched her face, his brows drawing
together in a moment of concern and Cuddy gave a grim chuckle. “Pardon me but my
butt is damned sore. Mr. Hinoshu pinches quite HARD.”


“Ooooh, harassment—I never thought you were the type to put up with that,” House
mused, lumbering closer. “You always struck me as a ‘stomp-on-their-foot and glower’
sort of liberated woman.”


“If he was American I probably would, but given that there’s a cultural chasm as well as
an age one, discretion is the better part of valor, even if it does mean a sore ass for a
while.” She grumbled, trying to fight the heat that rose across her cheekbones. House
looked at her under lowered brows.


“I could rub it and make it better. I AM a doctor.”


“No thank you. Bad enough you’ll be smirking at me across a table all night—I DON’T
need the added aggravation of sexism from you as well. Think we can keep up the
charade?”


“That we’re truly, deeply, madly?” he gave a nonchalant shrug. “Of course. You’ve seen
me fake empathy all through clinic hours with no patient ever the wiser to my little ruse. Convincing a geriatric overseas investor of my undying passion for you won’t be too
much of a stretch for me, although I might get typecast as the male ingénue here.”


“House—“ Cuddy warned, sighing and looking up at him. She let her gaze linger over
him for a moment and spoke softly. “Fine. He’ll pick us up at eight, so it would be good
if you can be at my place a little before that.”


His mouth twitched and he gave a slow nod, turning to go. As he reached the door, he
looked back over his shoulder at her.


“You still owe me twenty bucks, by the way.”


Cuddy made a scoffing sound. “I don’t THINK so. I kissed YOU.”


“You call that a kiss? Sure, if you’re a grandmother maybe, a great aunt or something.
Frankly, I’ve had better kisses from beagles,” he countered, a glint in his blue eyes.



Cuddy threw a pencil at him.


***   ***   ***


He was early. Too early, but he convinced himself it was all part of a cunning plan when
in truth it was plain old anxiety. He didn’t have Wilson to confide in this time, so House
had showered and dressed, choosing the blue shirt that he knew Cuddy liked, all the
while wondering why his stomach felt tense. It should have been great—the opportunity
to torment her while playing a little cat and mouse with a besotted authority figure
should have put him on the top of his game, but underneath it all, House felt the first
nervous stirrings of something annoying.


Something more than just the low-level lust he perpetually allowed himself to feel
around Lisa Cuddy.


Pushing this thought away, he used his cane to jab at the doorbell continually, mildly
amused at the soft repeating chime it made. After a few minutes the door opened to
reveal a flustered, pink-faced half-dressed woman he didn’t recognize for a moment.
She glared up at him, trying to hide herself behind the door.


“You’re EARLY.” She hissed, wet tendrils of her long hair clinging to her temples and
neck. House was inwardly enchanted at the sight, but he gave an insouciant shrug and attempted to peer around the door at Cuddy.


“I figured we might need to consult each other, get our story straight for your Tokyo
boy toy. Going to let me in?”


“Frankly, I’m tempted to leave you standing here on the porch, but knowing your
penchant for dramatics I wouldn’t put it past you to start yelling ‘Stella!’ at the top of
your lungs.”


“Now, now, I could yell ‘Wilma!'” instead—“ he countered as she ungraciously tugged
the door open and motioned him in. Her robe was wet, and from the tiny puddles along
the hardwood floor behind her she’d dashed out of the shower—



--which meant she was naked under the pink terrycloth.


 Intriguing.


When he looked at her, she tugged the edges of the robe more tightly around herself
and waved impatiently to the living room. It was big and airy, done in sandy neutral
tones with white wainscoting and a white tile fireplace at one end. House hobbled in,
taking in as much as he could in a quick, sharp survey.


“Pimping for Architect Digest.”


“My second job. You--sit here and wait while I TRY to get ready.” Shaking her damp
hair she turned for the hallway adding, “Nice shirt.”


He waited until he heard the water begin again at the far side of the house, then cast a
quick eye over the living room, noting the balance of texture and color with grudging
approval. Cuddy had taste, albeit a bit more feminine than most. The sofas had
patterned pillows in jewel colors to offset the sand tones, and on the mantel was an
interesting collection of standing photos . . . he moved over for a better look at them.


A few ancient ones in oval oak frames, most likely grandparents, other shots of groups
of people—graduation pictures with a solemn-faced teenaged Cuddy in gown and
mortarboard in the center of a middle-aged group, a later shot of her with a gaggle of
girl friends all in lab coats. He picked up the staff photo that showed her and the
department heads and noted himself in the shot, scowling as usual as he sat one
person down from her.


So, he was on her mantel. Intriguing. House sighed, noting with dim satisfaction that
there were a few spaces between frames, indicating that the departure of Myron was
serious, and probably permanent. Judging by the faint dust, he placed the time of rift
at about two months back, and turned from the fireplace, wandering slowly across the
room, looking carefully at everything within eyesight.


She had a housekeeping service that came to tidy; that was obvious. She collected
spoons, an odd little hobby as evidenced by the racks hanging artistically from one wall. Cuddy also had a keen interest in history and art, judging by the towering stack of
books next to the comfortable chaise lounge in the corner. House let his mouth quirk up
at the image of her curled in the chair, slowly turning big glossy pages of The History of Watercolor and studying the prints. Slowly he moved to the doorway she’d passed
through and looked at the long hallway leading towards the kitchen.


Unexpectedly . . . warm, House blinked. He’d expected Cuddy’s kitchen to be some
sleek masterpiece of chrome and copper, efficient and German in design maybe, with expensive appliances to grind beans and brew coffee with optimum power. Instead he
found a light and airy room with a huge bay window overlooking the back yard. Dark
brick floor. Cabinets with glass fronts showing neatly stacked dishes, cups and plates. Whimsical daisy wallpaper brought warmth in, and the refrigerator had a collection of
magnets from exotic ports of call like Atlantic City and Isle of Palms. House moved to
look at the list pinned on the door.


To Buy:
Eggs
Bagels
Tofu
Ice cream
Tomato juice
An island in the tropics


He credited himself with her adding that last, and pulled the door open, peering in.
Neat stacks of Tupperware containers sat on the shelves, along with a case of diet
soda, a pitcher of orange juice and a few jars of jelly. House mumbled.


“Pot roast, macaroni and cheese, stroganoff . . . someone does some genuine
downhome cooking and I’m willing to bet it’s not YOU, Doctor Cuddy. Bagged
supermarket salad is more your style . . .” he pulled open the crisper, vindicated at
seeing three pre-made Caesar salads already there. As he straightened up he realized
that the shower had stopped, and the unbidden image of Cuddy stepping out, sleek
and wet made him grit his teeth for a moment in a pang of lust mingled with self-pity.


Before his leg, shower sex had been one of his favorite variations, the erotic play of hot
water and smooth skin. The power to pin a woman against a wet tile wall . . . brushing
aside useless memories, House slammed the refrigerator closed a bit harder than
necessary. He thumped over to the big bay window and looked out into a backyard with
yet another surprise.


A koi pond. Even from the window he could see the big fish moving about lazily, their
mottled colors visible through the water. Interested, he watched them circle and shift for
a long time, and wondered how many years the pond had been there. When he turned
from the window, he caught the sound of footsteps heading his way; soft ones, which
meant no shoes yet.


Cuddy strode into the kitchen, dressed in a simple black dress. A lace panel across the
top half showcased her chest while giving her a demure neckline, and lace sleeves
added a hint of lingerie to the look. House approved; black was a good color on her,
and the lace was definitely a tease. He shot her a frown to cover his interest.


“Love the black widow look. Got a veil that goes with that?”


“Certainly. I’ll make it a point to wear this one to your funeral if you like. Considering that
might be by the end of this evening I’ll have saved time by having it on already.” She
huffed, going to a cabinet and pulling out a few plastic bottles of vitamins. She swiftly
counted out several and opened the fridge. House came up behind her, ostensibly to
look at the pills, but in truth to simply loom over her shoulder and enjoy the view.
Without her heels she was shorter, and he realized how petite Cuddy actually was. She glanced up at him in irritation.


“You’re enjoying this way too much, House. This whole charade—“


“—Was YOUR idea. The twenty buck bribe and all. But necessary if we are to as they
say in Japan, save face. I’m taking it that you don’t WANT to be passion’s plaything for Taro-baby, so having the excuse of a prior relationship is the next best thing, sensitivity-
wise. Speaking of going steady, what happened to Myron?”


Cuddy tensed; he saw her slender shoulders hunch defensively and for a moment he
wanted to rest his hands on them. She swiftly swallowed her vitamins and took a swig
of orange juice to wash them down.


“We had a parting of the ways. End of story, and I’ll thank you not to ask anymore.
So—“ she turned around and looked up, up into House’s gaze. “NOW, you have a
chance to explain on that lovely rumor YOU started about us having an affair. The one
that still has people smirking at me once in a while.” Cuddy did not look amused, and
House couldn’t help a quick grin. He looked up to the ceiling to hide it.


“Oh THAT. I figured it was as good a reason as any to explain why you keep me on.
Not everyone at the hospital buys that I’m as good as I really am, professionally, and
let’s face it, linking my name to yours just adds to your prestige. We make for great
water cooler speculation you know.”


Cuddy set the glass in the sink and looked out to the koi pond, not saying anything. As
her silence stretched on, House began to fidget a bit. She turned, finally and looked up
at him.


“I keep you because you ARE good, the best I’ve ever seen when you’re on a case.
You’re brilliant, Greg. An utter genius at diagnostics. Unfortunately you have a pretty
shitty side too, and I’m not talking about the infarction or the drugs. I’ll say this just
once—I don’t deserve to be mocked, not even by you. You can argue and be snide and
rude, but damaging MY reputation because you don’t like hospital policy gets old really
fast.”


She blinked once, then lifted her chin and sighed. House said nothing, too caught up in
the rush of inner regret. It had been such an easy thing to set it motion, a careless jab
at undermining her authority in a pique of pain.


“I’m sorry.” He finally managed, his words barely a whisper. Cuddy gave a tight nod.


“Thank you. I know you can’t stop being who you are—I don’t expect you to. But it
helps to know you understand some of the damage you do.” She checked her watch
and gave a little groan. “Shit! Twenty minutes and I still have to dry my hair and find a
pair of shoes that aren’t going to make me tower over Hinoshu. As if I should care—“
Cuddy rolled her eyes. House shrugged.


“The black strap open toe sandals you have, those will work; toes are a turn on for a
guy like Hinoshu. Where are we going? I want to know if I need to pack some Tums.”



“The Royale, over at the Embassy. Nice safe cuisine and way too much atmosphere.”


House managed a humorless grin, running a hand over his chin.


“Very classy—he must have the serious hots for you. I wonder what their scruff policy
is?”


***   ***   ***


It was worse than awkward. The atmosphere at the dinner table was almost glacial with formality, and even Cuddy’s gracious attempts at conversation met short replies through
the interpreter. The food was good, but everyone had stilted appetites. Cuddy nursed
her glass of wine, wishing desperately that the evening would simply end.  On her right,
House was as close to fidgeting as she’d ever seen him, and across from her, Hinoshu
was clearly sulking. Even David, the young interpreter seemed subdued.


Finally Hinoshu began to eat his steak as he cut it, he fired a rapid string of Japanese
at him; the interpreter turned to Cuddy and smiled apologetically.


“Mr. Hinoshu would like to know why you and Doctor House have not married yet.”


She felt a small wave of anger and panic rise up in her gut; House cleared his throat.


“Inform Mr. Hinoshu that is a highly personal question, but out of respect for his very
great AGE, I’ll be happy to tell him: Doctor Cuddy’s father doesn’t approve of me.”


Next to him, Cuddy bit her lips, startled to find herself both amused as well as alarmed
by his comment. Hinoshu however, looked interested as David rattled off the reply to
him. More gruff Japanese followed; David glanced at both House and Cuddy.


“This is tricky, and I’m sorry for the implied insult here, but Mr. Hinoshu wants to know
if it’s because you’re lame, or because you’re not as professionally powerful as Doctor
Cuddy.”


House paused. Cuddy watched him consider the question, and without thinking, she
laid a hand on his left thigh under the table. Immediately House’s covered hers, pinning
it on his leg. She tried not to react.


“It’s because . . .well, she pursued me so ardently for years. I tried to stay objective and professional, but—“ House let his words trail off suggestively. Under the table, Cuddy
began to dig her nails into his thigh as she wore a tight smile. House fought his wince,
and his own grip on her hand squeezed harder. David turned to translate this, but
gasped instead.


Hinoshu was turning a deep shade of burgundy, his long Fu Manchu mustache
twitching as his eyes bugged out. Cuddy let go of House’s thigh and he was already
up, swinging quickly towards the businessman, cane thumping hard. Moving behind
Hinoshu, House dropped the cane and bent down, wrapping strong arms around the
other man’s lower ribcage. A quick hard jerk, and Hinoshu began to cough. Another
one, and a thick wad of half-chewed steak flew out to land on the tablecloth just above
 the salad plate.


It all happened so quickly that Cuddy was barely out of her chair, and David was still
sitting, eyes wide in shock. House gripped the back of Hinoshu’s chair for support and
leaned down to look the man over carefully.


“Can you talk?”


“H-h-hai—“ He rasped out, nodding a little. Waiters were converging, but Cuddy waved
them back, keeping the space around the table uncrowded. House tipped the older
man’s face up and checked his watering eyes, nodding. Cuddy knelt down, swiftly
assessing him as well, reaching up to unbutton the man’s collar under his tie. House
glanced at David.


“Tell him he needs to sit quietly and catch his breath, then we probably ought to go. I
don’t want his emphysema to kick up in reaction to his throat spasms.”


“Emphysema?” Cuddy asked distractedly. House nodded.


“He’s got the faintest of wheezes on his exhalation. Flecks of coal imbedded in his
calluses tell me he’s been around raw ore a good part of his life and it’s gotten into his
lungs. He’s probably packing a bronchodialator right now.”


David dutifully asked, and Hinoshu nodded, fishing into a vest pocket for a small purple inhaler. House motioned for him to puff on it, and Cuddy rose, retrieving his cane
coming to stand next to him.


“I’ve been with the man a week and never noticed a wheeze,” she murmured. House
didn’t look at her as he spoke.


“Just thought that little whistling noise was in response to your cleavage, huh?”


“Oh sure, just like yours.”


“I don’t wheeze,” he replied distractedly as she half-turned to face him, eyes bright.


“The hell you don’t—“ she accused, crossing her arm under her chest and lifting it
slightly, making the creamy tops of her breasts press up against the lace of her dress.
House’s glance flickered down instantly, and Cuddy felt a warm surge of affection and
exasperation at his involuntary response. She handed him his cane in a quick shove.



“You are so—“


“—Busted? I think that’s your department.” He replied, but his high cheekbones were
flushed. Before either of them could say anything more, the manager of the restaurant
came over to them.


***   ***   ***


She fished in her handbag for her keys, wishing she’d thought to leave the porch light
on when they’d left. To be stuck here in the dark was bad enough, but to have House
standing here, awaiting impatiently didn’t help at all. Cuddy heard him thump his cane in
exasperation.


“Keys! Jingly things, not that damn hard to FIND, Cuddy—“


“What’s your problem?” she groused back, digging deeper. As he cleared his throat,
she had a flash of insight. “Vicodin. You didn’t take any this evening, did you?”


“I wanted to make a good impression on our first date.” came his sour reply. “And the
whole mixing pain meds with wine is usually considered a bad idea.”


“Like that’s ever stopped you before.” Cuddy found the keys and pulled them out,
recognizing the house key by touch and inserting it into the lock. “So this is where I say
I had a lovely time and we should do it again soon but don’t really mean it because I
know you don’t mean it either and we pretend the entire evening never happened.”


“Invite me in.” House told her.


“Why?”


“I have to pee.”


“Charming. That’s a sure way to a girl’s heart.” She snorted, pushing the door open and flicking on the lights. House followed her in, wincing at the high step of the threshold.
Cuddy slipped out of her shoes with a sigh of relief and padded softly towards the
kitchen, talking over her shoulder. “Bathroom’s down the hall on the right. You want
coffee?”


“Sure.” He called back, heading down in the indicated direction.


It was a bright little bathroom in black and white checks, with red towels and
washcloths. House used the facilities then carefully shook out a pair of pills from the
bottle in his pocket, popping them down with practiced ease. He glanced at himself in
the mirror, noting a certain pallor to his face.


And some nervousness.


Annoyed at seeing that, he lumbered out and paused in the hallway, orienting himself.
 


Ahead was the way back to the kitchen hallway, and to his left were two other doors. He
used his cane to poke the farthest door open. A study; desk, computer, posters of exotic
cities, a huge bookcase filled with medical titles he recognized. Interesting, but not
fascinating. House turned to the other door and quietly opened it.


Master bedroom.


He cocked his head and let his sharp gaze move around Cuddy’s inner sanctum with
keen interest, taking in the details. Sleigh bed with white painted head and foot boards,
green satin bedspread and matching pillows. Hidden sensuality—he approved. Ultra
feminine vanity in black wrought iron and marble tabletop, big mirror on it. A walk-in
closet; he could see the neat racks of business suits hanging there, with matching
shoes lined up on the carpeted floor beneath them. Very organized. House stepped
inside, and the faint scent of Cuddy’s perfume lingered in the air. He fought a small
smile. Another doorway beyond the closet stood open, and House headed for it, peeking
into the bathroom there, then stopped, feeling a surge in his chest.


Sunken bathtub. Cream colored marble, small steps leading down into it, very Roman
and decadent-looking, especially with the big Boston ferns hanging overhead. Drawn,
he lurched forward, resting a big hand on the rail along the wall and stared down into
the square depths of the tub, lost in thought. He didn’t hear the soft footsteps until she
was nearly next to him.


“Greg! The bathroom is on the other side of the HALL! This is my BEDROOM for God’s sake—this isn’t a house tour—“


“I want . . . “ he began slowly, drawing out his words as he stared down, “to take . . . a
bath.”


Cuddy dropped her hands on her slim hips, staring at him.


“You WHAT?”


House swung his face to look at her, blue eyes bright and intense, nearly laser-like in
their focus. He drew his chin up.


“I’ll pay you. I’ll . . . do an extra hour of clinic.”


Dumbfounded, Cuddy blinked at the quiet sincerity in his voice. Carefully, she reached
a hand out to touch his arm. “Are you . . . okay?”


He drew in a breath. Very quietly he sighed. “Yeah. It’s just that I haven’t had a bath in
six years. I can’t get in and out of a standard tub, so I’m stuck with showers, which
aren’t too bad, but every once in a while I want something I can’t have, and it never
dawned on me that I COULD have it if I found the right facility and  . . . forget I said
anything—“ he broke off, embarrassed and annoyed with himself.


There was a quiet little pause.


Cuddy drew in a slow breath. “Give me your keys.”


“Say what?”


She smiled, very gently. “Give me your keys--I’ll go get your change of clothes from your
car.”


Slightly dumbfounded, House blinked, caught unawares by the soft expression on her
face. He pulled his car keys out; Cuddy held out her hand.


“I . . . “ he hesitated. She laughed, reaching up to loosen his tie, the gesture
affectionate.


“Soft bath sheets, hot water. Going, going—“


He dropped them in her palm; she shook the keys lightly enough to make them chingle.


“You drive a hard bargain, Doctor Cuddy. FORCING me, an innocent doctor in your
employ to indulge myself in your depraved personal luxuries. Wait until the ethics board
hears about this,” he tried to tease, but his words had no sting. She shook her head
lightly.


“Therapy. I’ll write it up as part of your PT program and win the board over with my reasonableness. One extra hour of clinic.”


His brows drew together but he didn’t argue.





                                                                                                                                                                                                               Tempered 2


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