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Tempered IV

Chapter One




House glared. He was particularly good at it, given the object of his annoyance. She, 
however, took in his scathing glance with a little shrug of her shoulders and leaned more 
heavily on her cane.



“If I wanted critical and cutting remarks about my ability to paint a porch railing, I’ve got a 
wife that can do that just fine,” he pointed out dryly. Marlena Farber sniffed a little, her 
lined mouth pursing up a bit.



“She lets you off easy, Grrreg, oont you know it. I bet she re-paints everyting after you’re 
done.”



House winced, aware that the comment was probably true. When it came to the 
practicalities of domestic life, he was fine at the small projects and hopelessly impatient 
with the larger ones. Cuddy accused him of attention deficit; he countered that anything 
that couldn’t be done in a single afternoon was worth paying someone else to do.



In the end it became a battle, albeit a cheerful and ongoing one-upsmanship as the two 
of them continued to remodel Blue Brook Dairy. House had to grudgingly admit that not 
only did Cuddy have excellent taste, she also gave in on enough of his creature comforts 
to keep him happy—or at least not grumbling as much as he usually did. There were 
times when he ambled around the bedroom loft, or around the spacious living room and 
felt an odd, private pride in ownership of the place.



Of course he never told Cuddy about the bodies.



He’d found the first one out along the area she’d marked off for the new koi pond, twenty 
feet from the back door. After his spade had hit bone on the second shovelful, House had abruptly told Cuddy to go on without him; he’d finish the job alone. When she’d gone to 
the nursery to pick out the fiberglass hull for the pond, House stayed behind, and carefully unearthed the skeleton, bagging up the moldering bones in a Hefty trash bag.



House estimated the victim had been buried nearly twenty-five years ago, and, given the 
single, efficient bullet hole in the right temple, had probably pissed off some one of the 
Cosa Nostra persuasion. He also knew that if Cuddy found out about the skeleton, she’d 
be compelled to report it, and THAT would mean a police investigation, media attention 
and the end of a happy, quiet home at Blue Brook.



House had other plans.



So he’d carefully taken the Hefty bag out to the dump, along with a few other earmarked 
items and never said a word about it. In his opinion, anyone who’d pissed off the Mafia 
nearly a quarter of a century earlier probably wasn’t being searched for anymore, 
although the juxtaposition did amuse him privately—the whole idea that the victim had 
once slept UNDER where the fishes now were was tacky but still good for a grin now and 
then.



But now he was constantly on the alert every time Cuddy mentioned gardening, and the 
closer spring came, the more she wanted to do, which was annoying as hell. He’d dug 
enough flowerbeds in his time for his mother, and later for Marlena Farber . . . to have to 
do it for Cuddy as well seemed unfair, but given the odds of her uncovering another body, necessary.



Cuddy of course was suspicious. She taunted him and demanded explanations, but he stonewalled and redirected her attention until in time she’d given up and let him do the 
digging, grumbling about macho-ism.



So far House had found three bodies altogether—or two and a half, since he felt couldn’t 
count a disintegrating bowling bag with two skulls in it as a body, per se. None of these 
remains were younger than thirty years by his estimation, and none had any identification 
on them.



Mrs. Farber spoke again, breaking into his thoughts. “Ja, vell I had to come oont see it 
for myself. Hasi Greggie do-ink verk. Voluntarily, even. I should take a picture.”



“Watch it, or I’ll throw a bucket of water and make you melt,” House scowled, resting the 
brush on the rim of the paint can and looking carefully at the section of rail he’d just 
painted. Mrs. Farber sniffed and shifted to the porch swing, settling on the striped cushion 
with a sigh. For a moment they didn’t speak, sitting in the cool of the spring mid morning. 
A breeze made the branches stir, and fresh green smells were in the air. House wiped his 
hands on a rag, and didn’t look at the woman off to his side.



“You’re going back to Austria,” he announced shortly, “And you’re not planning on coming 
back, are you?”



Mrs. Farber sighed. “Ja, mein Liebes. I’m old, Greg, and I vant to go home.”



“I thought you had one, out on South Lace Road,” he replied distantly, trying not to 
sound hurt. Mrs. Farber gave a slow sigh, like air leaking out of a tire.



“I hat a home mit you, and then you grew up. I’ve been vaiting for you to make a home 
yourself before I could call the job finished, nicht wahr?”



“You needed to see me dead or married,” House snorted. “I know which option I would 
have bet on.”



“Ja,” she agreed, making him glance at her sharply. She flashed him a knowing smile. 
“But I suspected your sex drrrive would win out, eventually.”



“You’re a perverted old lady,” House told her, trying not to smile. He rose and came to sit 
next to her on the porch swing.



“Ha! Ziss coming from a boy who made his own Playboy trading cards?”



“I was ahead of my time,” House admitted unapologetically, “Still have a few, somewhere, 
if the She-Beast hasn’t pitched them.”



“She’s goot for you,” Mrs. Farber nodded. “Better zan you deserve, you know.”



“Sure, take her side just because you’ve both got uteruses,” House grumbled, but gently. 
He sighed and looked over at Marlena, surprised to see her eyes slightly wet. She sniffled 
a little.



“Zorry. But it’s true, mein Hasi-Greggie. You HAF a home, and I vant to be buried in mein homeland. To be next to Hermann.”



House tightened his jaw. “You’re not dying.”



“No, but I am getting olt, boychik. I’d rasser go back to Austria on two legs zan in a box. 
Besides, you’re settled now. A king in your own castle.”



“More like the knave . . . with perks,” he conceded, a twisted smirk crossing his mouth. 
“Although we both know who the queen is, no problem there.”



“Lisa . . . “ Mrs. Farber sighed. House looked at her sharply now, arching an eyebrow.



“What?”



“Schwan-ger,” Mrs. Farber smiled.



“No.”



“Yes.”



“No.”



“I’m tellink YOU, Mister Hot-shot Diagnostic man—schwanger, ja.”



“über meinem toten Körper, Marlena—“ House snapped back. “You think I’d miss 
something as obvious as that?”



“Ja, you vould,” she replied comfortably, turning her brown gaze on him and smiling. “She doesn’t know it yet herself, but I looked in her tea leaves ziss morning.”



Marlena Farber’s unshakable confidence; her smile and knowing eyes made the unease 
in House grow. He winced a bit.



“Tasseomancy doesn’t predict anything except that you’ve come to the bottom of your 
tea cup. I’m telling *you* she’s not pregnant. In fact she was riding the cotton pony . . . “ 
House trailed off, trying to think back to exactly when he’d last noticed the tampons out.



When the moment dragged on, Marlena nodded knowingly. House flexed his hands in 
agitation. He sighed.



“No. I’m not daddy material. You of ALL people should know that,” he muttered. “I have 
no interest in beings who can’t take care of their own needs.”



“Zat explains ze medical degree,” she dryly shot back. “Of course. Vell I vouldn’t vorry 
about it, Grrreg. She vouldn’t let you near your baby anyvay.”



For a moment House looked relieved; then speculative. “You may have a point. The She-
Beast does put the *over* in overachiever. With a little careful planning I might not have 
to contribute anything except a few cigars and a picture sitting or two . . . “



“Babies are goot tax deductions too, I hear,” Mrs. Farber added, smiling to herself.



Before either one of the could say a word more, the sound of a car approaching the 
driveway interrupted their conversation; guiltily they looked up as Cuddy pulled up and 
parked, climbing out and studying the two of them. She held a gym bag in one hand.



“Did you finish the porch railing?”



“Did you ever hear of the Emancipation Proclamation?” House called back, rising stiffly 
from the porch swing and reaching for his cane. Cuddy mounted the steps and flashed a 
smile at Mrs. Farber.



“I’ll touch it up while someone has nap time--“



Mrs. Farber nodded, then tried to look innocent when House glared at her. “He did goot. 
Mostly.”



“Mostly,” Cuddy echoed, then cast a suspicious glance at House when he circled around 
her, his gaze intent. “What are you doing?”



“Looking at you—I thought that was obvious,” House muttered. “Did you throw out my homemade Playboy trading cards?”



“What? No—I left them with the rest of your icky boyhood crap in that wooden chest you 
keep under the bed,” Cuddy snapped back, eyeing House with concern. Mrs. Farber rose 
off the porch swing and shook her head.



“I’m goink to take a nap before making dinner. Grrreg—“ came her soft warning, but her 
eyes were twinkling, and House’s mouth twitched. Cuddy spoke up.



“That’s fine—please, go rest, Marlena. I bought what you needed and House can help me unpack the groceries.”



“First the painting, then the groceries; *fine.* I might as well be wearing a collar and rabies 
tags,” he grumbled, shifting to follow Cuddy down the two porch steps. She glanced back 
at him in fond irritation.



“Dogs don’t paint porches . . .what’s gotten into you anyway?”



House paused, then lumbered past Cuddy to the car. “Nothing,” he brusquely told her.



They carried the bags in, and after House had cleaned himself of paint at the sink he gave 
a nod towards the garage. “I’ll be out.”



Cuddy gave a distracted nod, shifting cans of mushrooms on the pantry shelf, her 
attention focused on her stock. House tugged on his leather jacket, hesitated, and then 
came up behind her and awkwardly kissed the crown of her head. Cuddy tipped her head 
back to look up in to his face.



“What’s wrong?”



“Not yet,” House told her quietly. Cuddy stared a moment longer and did a graceful twist 
and turn to look at him as she blew her bangs clear of her eyes.



“Okay,” she agreed quietly. Whatever the burr was up Greg’s ass, he’d reveal it 
eventually. Sometimes he rode for hours; sometimes he drank, with Wilson or alone, but 
so far he’d never failed to come back to her, and Cuddy felt that was about as reasonable 
as House would ever get.



He paused again at the kitchen door and eyed her once more. “And don’t redo the porch.”



“If you did a good job the first time, I won’t have to,” Cuddy pointed out patiently.



“I mean don’t touch the paint. It’s got VOCs in it,” House muttered, and lurched out the 
door. Cuddy blinked a little, watching him go, and when the roar of the motorcycle 
rumbled away, she shook her head and felt her sense of worry grow.



Things weren’t perfect between them; thank God. Most of the life they were making 
together was still half-bicker, half-bang, to the amusement of anyone who knew them. 
House hadn’t let up an inch on the insulting and suggestive comments to her at work; his 
ability to twist an innuendo into a verbal pretzel had become an art in itself.



Cuddy kept to her balancing act, striving to keep herself from either giving in or holding 
out too much, and oddly it worked. If anyone grumbled (and there were still a few 
specialists and departments that did) they didn’t have too much hard evidence of 
favoritism.



Neither House nor Cuddy had mellowed in marriage; and yet the rhythm of their days and 
ways flowed on, time softening an edge here and there with imperceptible slowness.



Cuddy sighed, and wondered if House’s melancholy had to do with Marlena Farber’s visit.



Two days earlier the old woman had called, announcing her intention to visit Blue Brook; 
a situation House protested loudly, although Cuddy could tell it was mostly for show. 
They’d picked her up at the bus station and brought her back, where House complained 
as he took Marlena around to show off almost every feature of the place.



Cuddy liked having the company; Marlena was supportive and good-natured and the two 
of them got along well. She was due to catch a flight to Austria tomorrow; Cuddy would 
be sorry to see her go, but she’d be back, and there was always Christmas of course.



Then she frowned, wondering again if there was another reason for the unexpected visit. 
The automatic habit of thinking in negative terms came far too easily; Cuddy had looked 
at too many test results and scans in her lifetime not to consider Marlena’s health. But 
the woman looked fine and complained of nothing. In any case, House hadn’t even asked.



Cuddy sighed again and moved to the back door, opening it and stepping out onto the 
patio. The sunlight came filtering through the tall trees back here, throwing sparkles on 
the koi pond and dappling the flowerbeds. She noted with annoyance that House had left 
another stack of journals under his hammock, along with a dirty plate.



“I have better things to do on my Saturday than clean up after you, House—“ she 
grumbled, still reaching for the plate anyway. As she bent to scoop it up, her glance fell 
on a little blue inked scrawl graffitied in tiny letters on the canvas edge: Did Lisa here 
04/12/07 nine stars.




She felt the sweet heat of a blush rise on her face, remembering clearly that afternoon 
when they’d put the hammock’s construction through a rather vigorous test. House had 
been in a mood to tease, and Cuddy remembered being so frustrated that she’d finally 
sunk her nails into his ass but good, which had volcanically expedited the situation.



Yes, it had certainly been a nine star afternoon, thank you very much, Cuddy grinned. Her 
gaze wandered around the yard, and she suddenly wondered if House had documented 
any of their other . . . sites.



*** *** ***




“I’m coming!” Emily Mansfield chuffed, waddling to the front door, wishing she hadn’t 
thought dusting was a good idea. At eight months her mobility was limited now, and yet 
the damned nesting instinct wouldn’t stop. Wilson had threatened to lock up all the mops 
and sponges if she didn’t slow down at least a little.



She opened the door and blinked, staring up into House’s face. “Um, hi.”



“Hi. Wow you’re big.”



“And people say you have no tact,” Emily replied dryly. “James isn’t here right now, 
House. His car needs a new muffler.”



“Not here to see Wilson. Got any coffee?” House muttered, looking down as Oliver 
pushed his way around Emily’s thigh and snuffled. Absently House reached down and 
petted him; Oliver’s tail swept back and forth.



“Yes. Come in,” Emily told him, puzzled. She made her way to the kitchen and plugged in 
the coffeepot, measuring out enough for two cups. House wandered in after her, eyeing 
the place.



“Pine Sol. You’re deep into it, aren’t you?”



“I’m afraid so,” Emily agreed. “I had to stop myself from demanding you put on booties to 
come in. So what’s up?”



House looked uneasy. He glanced down at her belly again, his expression guarded, and 
seeing it, Emily blinked. “Do you want to touch it?”



“Do I have to?”



“Only if you give me a dollar first,” Emily solemnly told him. House briefly grinned at that.



“Not bad. What’s it like?”



“Getting uncomfortable. The kid kicks like a fiend and I have to pee constantly. Antacids 
are my new drug of choice.”



“Nothing like chalk tongue to make it all worthwhile, “ House replied. “And the horrifying knowledge that you’re bringing an innocent life into a fucked up world that you’ll never be 
able to fully protect him or her from? How’s that going?”



“Sinking in,” Emily admitted, watching the coffee drip down. “I’ve told James several 
times that I’d like a do over button, and he still thinks it’s funny. I give it until the baby’s 
first colicky night before he’s right there with me.”



“Simethicone, and earplugs,” House advised, but his voice was oddly flat, and Emily 
looked at him out of the corner of her eye. She took her time pouring the coffee, and 
handed House his mug before speaking.



“Okay, enough with the fun and games. You’re not here to see James which means you 
came to see me. Since it’s the weekend and you’re not wandering by to try and steal my Gravedigger, there has to be some other compelling reason why you needed to talk, 
House. So talk.”



He leaned on the kitchen counter, looking into the depths of his cup, stalling for time and 
trying to think of what, exactly to say.



                                                                                                                                                                                                   Tempered IV 2

 



                                                                                                                                                                                       


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