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It's How You Play the Game

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"It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." Grantland Rice

 

"Hey, batter. Hey batterbatterbatter!" House leaned forward on the metal bleachers, hands cupped around his mouth to increase both the volume and the level of obnoxiousness as he harassed the twelve-year old boy who stood at home plate with an aluminum bat perched on his shoulder. House wasn't the only obnoxious parent in the stands by any stretch but he did his best to not only raise the bar for everyone else but to leap over it himself.

There were plenty of parents, and grandparents, for House to intimidate because it was the sort of early summer afternoon made for baseball. Wispy, high clouds rippled across a blue sky, too thin to diminish the sunlight. A faint westerly breeze kept the temperature comfortable as well as wafting the aroma of hot dogs and sunblock over the Little League fields.

Sitting next to House, Wilson was still dressed in the clothes he'd worn to work. He'd left his suit coat in the car, loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves but all the same he was trying for a more decorous attitude than House exhibited. As usual, he didn't really have to try very hard to achieve that goal. Decorum and House were strangers to one another and House preferred to keep it that way.

Still, decorous or not, Wilson was the first to let out a muttered oath when the batter connected on the next pitch and sent the ball soaring into the outfield. He leaned forward, echoing House's posture as they watched the ball sail to Nathan's position in right field. Both men pretended they weren't relieved when Nathan fielded the ball because that would've implied they doubted his ability. However, House was unable to suppress a strangled groan of disbelief when Nathan's return throw bounced in front of the shortstop, allowing the runner on first base to advance to second.
House clutched at his ball cap, tugging it flat against his head as he turned on Wilson. "I thought I told you to take him to the park after school and teach him to throw."

"I did," Wilson protested.

"I didn't mean you should teach him to throw like a girl."

"Excuse me?" Rachel looked down at House from her perch two rows back, both eyebrows drawn into pointed arches. She sat at the end of the row, the toes of her shoes beating an impatient tattoo on the metal of the bleachers as she waited for his response. Her curly brown hair was pulled back in a thick braid and she was dressed in her soccer gear: cleats, shin guards, black shorts and pink shirt. Other than her dark brown eyes, she looked more and more like her mother every day…right down to the disdainful looks she gave any male who said anything she took to be derogatory about women. House found it a bit creepy coming from a seven-year-old.

"Present company excluded," House said, twisting around to look at her. "You don't throw like a girl."

"Yes, I do," she said logically. "I am a girl."

House frowned at her, frustrated he was unable to refute her reasoning. As he always did when on the losing end of a discussion, he changed the subject. "Don't you have to be at practice?"

"Dad, where's Mom?"

"I'm sure she'll be here." Wilson gave his watch a quick glance before he focused on the baseball game again. "She's just running a little late."

"Duh. And she's gonna make me late."

"Give her ten minutes," Wilson said, looking over his shoulder at Rachel. "If she's not here by then, we'll take House's car."

"The hell you will," House said.

"You, shut up," Wilson told House. He pointed his finger over his shoulder at Rachel. "And you, be patient."

Rachel heaved a dramatic sigh and planted her elbows on her knees, chin cupped in her hands. Wilson gave a little shake of his head at her childish display of passive aggression--years of House's childish displays had made him nearly immune--and turned back to the game.

A few moments later, Cuddy jogged up to the side of the bleachers, keys jingling in her hand. Unlike Wilson, she'd taken the time to change from her work attire into comfortable jeans and a blouse before leaving the hospital. She glanced out at the field, pushing her bangs out of her eyes as she squinted through her sunglasses to see Nathan against the late afternoon sun. "Hey, sorry I'm late. What's the score?"

"We're ahead by one run," House told her.

"How's Nathan doing?"

"Two walks and a single," Wilson said.

"That's my boy," Cuddy said proudly. She lifted her hand to shade her eyes and watched Nathan's team come off the field at the end of the inning.

"As if you had anything to do with it," House said with a dismissive snort.

"I carried him for nine months. I have everything to do with it."

"He's ten," House protested. "How long are you going to milk that pregnancy thing?"

"Forever," Cuddy said blithely. She continued trying to watch Nathan's every movement even though all he was doing was finding a seat in the dugout. Rachel jumped down from the bleachers and yanked at the strap of Cuddy's purse.

"Mom, come on. I'm gonna be late for practice."

"Rachel." There was a hint of exasperation in Cuddy's tone as she attempted to free her purse from Rachel's clutches. "I'd like to watch Nathan play for a minute."

"I'm gonna be late."

"Your dad will take you," Cuddy said.

Wilson turned to Cuddy with a look of surprise on his face at the unexpected change in his plans. He opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it when Cuddy gave him a stern look. He sighed, his shoulders slumping in surrender. He got to his feet and pulled his keys from his pocket, bumping past House's knees as he moved to the side of the bleachers.

"Wuss," House said under his breath as Wilson passed by.

"Bite me," Wilson muttered in return. He lowered himself carefully over the side of the bleachers and dropped to the ground. He and House had only been sitting in the third row but he wasn't as reckless as he had once been. A guy could get hurt jumping even that small distance. Or worse, he could just fall down and look like an idiot.

The minute his feet hit the dirt, Rachel attached herself to him. She grabbed his hand with both of hers and started to drag him toward the parking lot. Cuddy turned and held out her hand, motioning for House to help her up.

"You used to be able to jump up here by yourself," House said as he reached down and grabbed her hand, boosting her up onto the bleachers.

"I also used to have an ass that could pass the pencil test," Cuddy said dryly as she plopped down beside him. "We're all getting older. Get over it."

"Your ass can still pass the pencil test," House said, eliciting a smile from Cuddy. He waited a beat, then added, "Your breasts, on the other hand…."

Cuddy turned her head slowly, tugging her oversized sunglasses down just far enough to look at him over the top rim. "Yours aren't looking so perky either."

"At least they don't have as far to fall."

Cuddy pushed her sunglasses back up. "Shut up and watch the game."

~~**~~

"No mushrooms," Rachel said. She was sitting at the end of the booth, swinging her legs and bumping her feet against the table leg. The five members of the House/Wilson/Cuddy clan had met up at their favorite pizza joint after Nathan's game and Rachel's practice. The official reason for pizza was to celebrate Nathan's team's win. The unofficial but equally true reason was that there wasn't much food at home and Cuddy wasn't in the mood to cook even if there were.

It was near the end of the dinner rush and the restaurant was still crowded so they'd taken the only available seating--a booth meant for four. House and Wilson sat on the inside on either side of the table, pressed up against the outer wall. Each child had slid in next to his or her father, leaving Cuddy to commandeer a chair which she'd centered at the end of the table.

"I like mushrooms." House was busy shaking red pepper flakes into his spoon. It was taking him a while to fill the spoon because most of the seeds were wafting down on the table like red snowflakes. He wasn't going to let a little thing like that stop him, though.

"They're slimy," Rachel protested.

"You're slimy," Nathan said.

"What about pepperoni?" Wilson asked before Rachel could come up with an equally childish retort. He eyed the menu even though they'd come to this pizzeria so many times he knew the choices by heart. House listened with only half an ear as he balanced the pepper-filled spoon on the salt shaker.

"I don't like pepperoni either," Rachel said.

"Canadian bacon?"

"You're not supposed to put bacon on a pizza," Nathan protested. "It's not natural."

"It's completely natural. Besides, it's not actually bacon," Wilson explained, and not for the first time. "It's Canadian bacon."

"Look at you trying to push a Canadian agenda," House scoffed. His expression turned to disbelief as Cuddy reached over and took his loaded spoon away from him.

"I don't like bacon," said Rachel, who didn't care about anyone's agenda but her own.

"Enough." Cuddy's voice was low but there was a bite to it. "We'll get what we always get and you'll eat it or you can go home and eat bologna sandwiches."

"Actually," House said, lifting his hand as a tentative and hopefully preemptive white flag. "I ate the last of the bologna last night for my midnight snack."

"Then you can eat bread sandwiches."

"That's not a sandwich. That's just bread," Rachel said, looking puzzled.

"Then you'll eat bread." Cuddy stared at all of them, her eyes wide in disbelief. "What is it with you people? I spend all day running a hospital and then I have to come home and make sure everyone else is clean and fed and clothed and taxied to wherever it is they need to be. And the four of you do nothing but whine."

"That's not entirely fair," Wilson said. "House and I did take Nathan to his game this afternoon. And I took Rachel to practice."

"You took Nathan because you wanted to see the game and you only took Rachel because I told you to." Cuddy shook her head. "I need a little help. I need the four of you to do your chores."

"I help," Rachel insisted.

"What are you supposed to do on Sunday mornings?"

Rachel stared at her mother with wide eyes. "Clean my room?" she said in a small, hesitant voice.

"Why are you phrasing that as a question?" Cuddy asked. "You know you're supposed to clean your room." She turned to Nathan. "And when I tell you to take out the trash, I mean now. Not after you finish playing video games or tomorrow morning--I mean now."

She next turned on House and Wilson, who both froze under her glare like bunnies in a hawk's shadow. They were both stuck in the inside ends of the booth seats, pinned in by Nathan and Rachel. There really wasn't enough room for a grown man to climb out of the booth and onto the table. That meant the only escape was under the table and through the legs of their accuser. And she had deadly aim with those pointy-toed shoes of hers.

Cuddy started with Wilson. She pointed her finger at him and opened her mouth only to falter before she could fire off an accusation. "Okay, you're not too bad. But you…." She swiveled the gun of her finger to take aim at House.

"I do the laundry," House protested immediately.

"Not until the pile's big enough and old enough that it's developed its own ecosystem," Cuddy shot back.

"Once," House retorted. "I created a new life form once. I'd think you could cut me some slack on that one."

"Apparently you've forgotten the other new life forms you bred in the refrigerator."

"Experiments," House said. He wore a mask of innocence. Unfortunately for him, that mask had long since worn thin. "For the children's benefit."

"You thought the kids would benefit from being exposed to botulism?" Wilson asked.

"They'd certainly learn to never do it again."

"I'm going to order the pizza," Cuddy said, a pointed attempt to end the conversation as she got up from her seat. "Sausage and mushroom."

"But I don't like mushrooms," Rachel repeated.

House stared across the table at her with the same sort of horrified fascination he'd experienced while watching "Wild Kingdom" as a child. Ever since he'd been old enough to ponder the point, he'd wondered at the lack of survival instincts shown by the average human child. Fortunately for Rachel, Cuddy was less likely to eat her own young than some wild animals. She merely gave Rachel a quelling look and headed toward the counter.

"So what brought that on?" House asked Wilson.

"Aside from the mountain of laundry and lack of food at home?"

"Yeah," House said impatiently as he reached for the spoon Cuddy had confiscated. "And aside from the hormonal riptide of PMS."

Wilson snatched the spoon from the table before House could grab it and stuck it in his breast pocket. He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. "Nope, I think that pretty much covers it."

"What's PMS?" Nathan asked.

"I thought we had the sex talk," House said as he eyed Nathan's spoon.

"PMS is a sex thing?"

"It's…." Wilson glanced at House. "It's a female thing."
"I don't have PMS," Rachel volunteered.

"Not yet," House agreed. Rachel opened her mouth to pursue the topic. She was an extremely logical and literal child which often led to confusion in her conversations with House. Normally Wilson would simply let the two of them butt heads, but he doubted Cuddy's patience would last the length of that long and meandering verbal path this time. He grabbed Rachel's arm and distracted her just as Cuddy returned to the table.

For a moment after her return, no one spoke. Cuddy sat in her chair, her spine straight and her lips pressed tightly together. She made a point of not meeting anyone's eyes. Both kids studied their parents, not yet able to read all the emotional currents.

"Well?" House finally said, twisting in his seat to look at Cuddy.

"I'm sorry for losing my temper," Cuddy said very formally. Then her exasperation got the better of her again. "But I wouldn't get so angry if all of you would just do your chores, and without me having to nag you."

"Now, see," House said, shaking his head in mock disappointment. "You went and ruined a perfectly good apology by putting conditions on it."

"Like you'd know a good apology," Cuddy scoffed.

House gazed at her for a moment, his expression blank. Then he scooted closer to her, crowding Nathan toward the end of the booth, as he pressed his hand over his heart. "Dear lady, I regret to the very bottom of my heart that I have caused you any distress and I promise--nay, I swear upon the blood of my noble ancestors that I will never again eat the last of the bologna."

House finished with a flourish of his arm and a bow that brought his nose to the table top. His silly behavior provoked a giggle from Rachel. Nathan rolled his eyes and turned away, pretending he didn't know the other people at his table. Wilson smiled, shaking his head as he gave Cuddy a sideways look. She tried to maintain her angry glare but even she couldn't resist House at his most outrageous.

"Now that was an apology," he said, sitting upright again.

"You're an idiot," Cuddy said. She still sounded grouchy but it was less forceful now.

"Maybe, but I'm an idiot who knows how to apologize."

~~**~~

Cuddy sat on the side of the king-sized bed and rubbed lotion into her tired feet. She'd already washed her face and changed into her nightgown. As soon as she finished her nightly beauty rituals, she could slide between the crisp, cotton sheets on her bed and relax. That was the plan, at least until she heard her bedroom door open. She looked up, her eyebrows lifting in a question when House eased himself into the room. "If you're looking for another apology…."

"If I were, could it be the silent kind? You down on your knees and…." House gestured suggestively at his groin. Hope sprang eternally carnal for him, even if his dick didn't always follow suit.

Cuddy very deliberately set the tub of lotion on the bedside table before she turned back to stare at him. Although she didn't show it, she was surprised…and yet she shouldn't be. House never passed up an opportunity for sex, or for sexual harassment. However, his devotion to lechery didn't mean she had to respond in kind. "Do you think I enjoy being the bad guy?"

"A little." House sat next to her on the bed. He pretended to wince when she elbowed him but there was a hint of amusement in his eyes. "You're the organizer. The delegator. The administrator. This is what you're good at, and running a house can't be any more difficult than running a hospital."

"You'd be surprised," she retorted. She gave a frustrated wave of her hand. "It's no good organizing and delegating if no one does what they're supposed to."

House shrugged dismissively. "So Wilson will whip the kids into line."

"Just Wilson?"

House scoffed. "You know I won't be any help."

"Ass." She glanced at her alarm clock, noting the hour. It was early for House's bedtime but late for Wilson's. "Speaking of…. Where is Wilson?"

"He got a page. One of his dead people needed him. God knows for what."

"A real page or was he just looking for an excuse to avoid dealing with me?"

"Probably both." He balanced his cane on the floor and then gave it a light tap with his finger so that it fell perfectly into the corner, resting in the joint between the walls. He turned to Cuddy and gave her a rakish grin. "And since we managed to get rid of him for the evening, what do you say we fool around?"
"You want to cheat on Wilson?"

"Seems only fair. I cheated on you with him last week."
"That's okay. I cheated on you with him last week, too."

"That slut!" House exclaimed in mock disgust. He grabbed her and rolled on top of her as he pushed her shoulders to the mattress.

"You wouldn't have him any other way." She looked up at him, a muted grin on her face as she reached up to muss what was left of his hair.

"It's also the only way he'd ever let me have him." He pressed back against her hands, like a big, scruffy cat being stroked. "Fortunately, I don't have a problem with that."

~~**~~

House walked into the small room at the back of the house they used as a combination study/office. He dropped his backpack on a chair in the corner and turned to study his partners. Cuddy and Wilson were seated at the desk, shuffling through a set of densely printed forms and a couple of artful brochures. House leaned over Wilson's shoulder and frowned. He'd need his glasses to read the small print but he could make out the heading.

"What's with the application to Kehilat Shalom? I thought you were already members."

"We are," Wilson said. "These are applications for Hebrew school."

"I don't think you're going to get any more 'Hebrew' at this point," House said as he shucked off his jacket and tossed it over his backpack.

"It's for Nathan and Rachel," Cuddy said as she picked up a pen.

"Oh, hey, wait just one kehilat minute." House protested, turning back to glare at both of them. "Obviously, you two can do whatever you want with Rachel…if you want her to be mindless pawn of organized religion. But I get to have a say in what Nathan does."

Wilson sighed and turned away. He'd been hoping to avoid a confrontation. He hadn't expected to, but he'd hoped. Optimistically, he'd hoped to get the children enrolled in Hebrew school and for House to not notice until sometime after they left home for college.

Cuddy met House's gaze with a firm look. "What's the problem? Nathan's Jewish. You know that."

"Nathan's Jewish by default," House argued.

"He had a bris."

"That was before I…."

"Before you decided you are somebody's daddy?" Cuddy asked, her eyebrow arched as she reminded him of his initial vow to remain uninvolved in Nathan's life. Of course, he'd never been completely uninvolved no matter how many times he'd said it. He'd given disinterest a good shot, though. He'd sidled slowly up to fatherhood and even though he'd been the one to suggest they all move in together, he still tried to disavow his responsibilities from time to time.

"Yes, fine--I'm his father. That means I should have some say in this ridiculous decision to brainwash him. And my say is no. Or, for you Jewish types--lo."

"I've been raising him as Jewish from the beginning," Cuddy argued. "Why are you objecting now?"

"Because now it's getting serious."

"We--you included--celebrate Hanukkah," Wilson interjected. "That's not serious?"

"No one in their right mind objects to a holiday with that many presents," House argued childishly. He stepped back and rubbed fretfully at his forehead. "Look, it was one thing when you were just exposing him to some of the traditions and history. I did agree to that. But now you're talking about actually sending him to Jew school."

"He's eleven. He needs to get some education before his bar mitzvah," Cuddy explained.

"I haven't agreed to a bar mitzvah either," House pointed out. Wilson had to press his lips together to keep from putting in his own two cents as he looked between the two of them.

Cuddy stared at House for a moment, slowly shaking her head. "The arrangement hasn't changed, House. You still get to teach Nathan your beliefs--or lack thereof--and I get to teach him mine."

"But you're sending him to school to learn yours," House argued. "There is no school for non-belief."

"Actually, he already goes to a school for non-belief five days a week. It's called the public school system. I'm just adding one day for Hebrew school."

"But…."

"Here's a suggestion," Wilson said, unable to refrain any longer. He held his hands up like a referee holding two opposing linemen at bay. "Why not let Nathan choose? Send him to Hebrew school but when the time comes, let him decide if he wants a bar mitzvah."

"Why do we even have to send him to school?"

"Because that's the only way he can make an informed choice," Cuddy pointed out. "If he chooses to reject Judaism, I'll respect that decision. But he has to know what it is he's rejecting."

"She's right and you know it," Wilson said, watching the struggle on House's face as he sought to come up with a rational argument.

"Oh, shut up," House muttered.

~~**~~

Nathan sauntered out of the double doors, just one drop in the flood of students escaping school for another day. He was busy talking to two of his friends so he gave the parking lot only a cursory glance, expecting to see his mother's car. He looked around again more intently when he didn't see the car. On his second survey, he did a double take when he caught sight of House leaning casually against the tree near the main entrance, swinging his cane in wide circles. Nathan said good bye to his friends and strolled up to his dad with a somewhat suspicious expression. "Where's Mom?"

"She had a meeting, or so she claimed." House pushed off from the tree and began walking. "Come on." He gave Nathan's shoulder a nudge toward the car. "I gotta take the two of you to Jew school."

"Mom gets really pissed off when you call it that," Nathan said, although he didn't seem much bothered by House's lack of reverence himself.

"I know. Why do you think I do it?"

"Umm…why?" Nathan asked, looking up under the brim of his ball cap, nose wrinkled in puzzlement.
"Because your mother's hot when she's hot." House said with a wink. He hesitated, wondering if he'd been unclear when Nathan's face curled up into an expression somewhere between horror and disgust.

"You'll understand when you're older."

"Ew."

"Not 'ew.' There's no 'ew' to sex." House hesitated as he recalled a few of his more memorable clinic patients before adding, "Not usually."

"It's you and Mom. It's…."

"Mom and I are just like everyone else." House glanced down at Nathan. "Do we need to have the sex talk?"

Nathan stopped dead in his tracks and stared at House with a horrified look on his face. He looked around furtively, as if afraid his father was going to pull a couple of full-sized, anatomically correct dolls from the trunk of the car and start giving a demonstration right there in the parking lot of the school. House would--with great glee--but unfortunately he didn't happen to have a couple of life-sized, anatomically correct dolls with him. This time.

Unwilling to risk it, Nathan jogged over to the car, in a hurry to get out of public view or hearing. He glared at Rachel, who was already entrenched in the front seat, and yanked the back door open. He tossed his backpack across the seat and slid in after it. "Dad, we already had the sex talk," he said once he was safely within the privacy of the sedan.

"That was just the anatomy and physiology of sex," House explained as he folded himself into the driver's seat and slid the key in the ignition.

"What else is there?" Nathan asked, puzzled.

"Well, there's the fun stuff. And the romantic stuff." He gripped the keys to turn on the ignition, then he left them to dangle and looked over his shoulder. "There's the mental side of sex."

"Seriously, Dad, I don't need a sex talk."

"I don't need a sex talk either," Rachel piped in before anyone could get the opposite idea.

House bit as his lip to hide his smile. "I'm pretty sure Mom already gave you a sex talk."

"So I don't need another," she said.

"Not yet," House agreed. "Your brother, on the other hand, is probably ready for the next level of sex talk."

Nathan looked like he wanted to sink right through the floorboards and find a convenient manhole to crawl into. Rachel clearly regretted having taken the shotgun position and was looking for a way, any way, to put a little distance between herself and House.

"We could have a sex party," House said, brightening as the idea came to him. Both kids stared at him in mute horror so he tried to reassure them. "Not like an adult sex party but kid's educational sex party. Seriously," he added. "We could invite all your little friends over for movies and demonstrations."

"Demonstrations?" Nathan asked, incredulous.

"Mom could teach everyone how to put on a condom with their mouths." House waited for some kind of response but both kids simply continued to stare at him. He didn't know if they were confused or merely horrified to the point of shock. Either way, they were a tough crowd. "She'd use a banana for demonstration purposes, of course." Nope, still nothing from the kids but blankly horrified expressions. House sighed. "Or not."

"Do you have to be such a freak?" Nathan asked, sinking even lower in the seat and pulling the brim of his cap down over his face. "Everyone already thinks we're weird."

"I'm not a freak," House said sharply. He could be considered something of a pervert, depending on the definition, but only a little bit of a pervert. And he definitely wasn't a freak.

"Whatever," Nathan muttered. "Can we please just go to Jew school?"

~~**~~

House shuffled into the kitchen, scratching his hand through his sleep-sculpted hair. He stood in the doorway, pajama pants hanging loosely on his hips as he stared blearily at all the activity. "What the hell is up with dragging me out of bed at the crack of dawn?"

"It's the crack of nine," Cuddy said dryly. She stood behind Rachel in front of the stove, guiding her daughter's attempt to cook an omelet.

"It's Jimmy's birthday," Nathan said through a yawn. He didn't look a whole lot more awake than his father. He was slumped in a chair, feet tucked behind the rung. His hair looked exactly like House's, except there was more of it. "We're making him breakfast in bed."

"You're not making anything," Rachel pointed out in a superior tone. Nathan gave a sleepy shrug.
"Neither am I," House pointed out. "So why am I here?"

Rachel turned to House. "You have Daddy's present."

"I do?"

"Greg!" Rachel's eyes flew open wide with dread. In her distraction she nearly flipped the omelet out of the pan and onto the floor but Cuddy quickly grabbed her wrist and kept the omelet from making a break for freedom.

"He has it," Cuddy said, grasping Rachel's shoulders and physically turning her attention back to the breakfast. Cuddy looked over her shoulder and gave House a warning look. He sighed but thumped his cane against Nathan's chair.

"Go fetch it. It's in the piano bench." Nathan gave him a put-upon look but he dragged himself out of the chair and headed into the living room. The moment the chair was empty, House hooked the handle of his cane around it's leg and pulled it over to him. He plopped down and looked up at Cuddy hopefully. "Coffee?"

Cuddy shook her head but she grabbed a mug from the cupboard above the coffee maker and poured him a full cup. Then she grabbed a plate and set it next to the stove. She held the skillet while Rachel carefully scooted the omelet onto the plate. It wasn't the best looking omelet ever made--a bit uneven and torn at one end--but Wilson wouldn't care. At the very least, it would be edible.

Nathan trudged back into the kitchen carrying an envelope. He tossed it at his father and pulled out another chair to sit on after noting his father had stolen his seat. House quickly checked the contents of the envelope, then sealed it. "Let's get this over with."

"Wait, wait," Rachel said in a slightly panicked tone as she buttered the toast. Cuddy gathered the plate and a glass of juice and arranged them on a tray. She snatched the envelope from House's hand and tucked it under the plate.

They made a rather odd parade as they filed down the hallway to the bedroom. Rachel led the way, her knuckles white as she concentrated on keeping the breakfast tray level. Cuddy leaned around her to open the bedroom door, then she stood back to allow both kids to enter the room ahead of her. Wilson was lying in bed, pretending to be asleep. His exaggerated yawn when Rachel set the tray on the bed and 'woke' him was utterly transparent to Cuddy and House. Maybe it was even to the kids but if it was, they pretended not to notice. Rachel's pride at presenting her father with breakfast in bed, however, clearly wasn't a pretense.

"This looks great," Wilson said as he pushed himself up into a sitting position and leaned back against the headboard. He took a napkin and spread it across his lap as he surveyed the contents of the tray. "But what are the rest of you going to eat?"

"Already ate," Rachel said. She was twisting her fingers together anxiously. "Open your present first."
"There's a present?"

Nathan had climbed onto the bed near Wilson's feet and he leaned up to flick his finger at the envelope. Wilson tugged it out from under the plate and made a show of hefting it, shaking it, listening to it.

"Kind of light for a present, isn't it?" Wilson said as he sniffed it in order to prolong Rachel's agony. "Kind of small, too."

"Good things come in small packages," Rachel recited.

"Well, you know I didn't teach her that," House muttered under his breath. He patted Cuddy's ass lovingly. "I like big packages."

"Dad," Rachel begged, oblivious to Cuddy smacking House's hand. She was too excited to pay attention to anything but the gift that needed to be opened. "Open it."

Wilson opened the envelope but he took his time, slowly inching his finger under the flap and gently popping it open before he pulled out the card. Rachel was in an agony of excitement, bouncing on the balls of her feet like she needed to pee.

As he opened the card, a brightly colored flyer fell onto the tray, narrowly missing the buttered toast. Curious, he laid the card aside on his pillow and began to study the brochure. "What…?" Before he could finish his question, a receipt slipped out. Wilson picked it up from his lap and stared at in shock. "I….
You…. For me…?" He gave his head a violent shake. "I'm going to fantasy baseball camp?"

"Yes!" Rachel clapped her hands together in delight. Cuddy put her hands on Rachel's shoulders to stop her from jumping any higher. She was going to hurt herself, or someone else. At the very least, the breakfast she'd worked so hard to make was going to end up splattered all over the bed.

"Oh, my god." Wilson stared at them, a look of complete shock on his face.

"Isn't it cool?" Nathan asked enviously.

"It's only like the coolest birthday present ever."

"You do realize you're going to look like an idiot out there with real ball players, even if they are all washed up." House's tone was sarcastic but there was a pleased expression on his face as he watched Wilson's reaction. Wilson was often too easy to please. He welcomed any gift--except for a few House had given him through the years--and seemed to genuinely subscribe to the belief that, when it came to gift giving, it was the thought that counted. It was rare, though, to give Wilson a gift that made him smile like he was smiling right then.

"Don't care," Wilson said immediately. "In fact, I can't even begin to describe how much I don't care--that's how much I don't care."

"I've already talked to your assistant and we've cleared your schedule for the week of the camp," Cuddy said, smiling.

"This is just…. I'm speechless." Wilson reached up and cupped his hand around Rachel's neck, pulling her down to plant a kiss on her forehead. At the same time, he extended his other hand over the breakfast tray and gave Nathan a high five. "You guys are the best," he said. He reached for Cuddy's hand, pulling it to his mouth for a kiss. Then he looked at House.

"I'll collect later," House leered at him.

~~**~~

"Dr. Cuddy, you've got to do something about House."

Cuddy looked up from her desk as Chase crossed her office looking thoroughly exasperated. Even the stubble on his jaw looked annoyed. She set her pen down and asked, "What's he doing?"

"He's doing nothing." Chase took a seat on the other side of her desk and crossed his arms over his chest. "The problem is he's doing nothing in my office, my O.R., in the surgeon's lounge…. And when he isn't, he's doing nothing with Cameron or Foreman."

Cuddy smiled, shaking her head as she picked up her pen again. "Wilson's gone this week; House is bored."

"Right. The baseball thing." Chase nodded to himself as he looked around the office. He looked back at her, head cocked to the side. "When's he getting back?"

"The camp finishes on Friday. But House is leaving Thursday and taking the kids to Florida. They're going to meet up with Wilson and head over to Disney World."

"House in the Magic Kingdom?" Chase said incredulously. He shook his head as if trying to dislodge that disturbing image from his mind. "That's just so wrong. It's like turning Satan loose in…well, Disney World. "

"He'll enjoy it," Cuddy said, chuckling. "He'll deny it, but he'll enjoy it."

"He might. I'm not so sure about the thousands of other patrons," Chase said skeptically. He took a moment to study Cuddy's body language. "You're not going?"

"We just sold my parents' house and I've got to go help my sister clear the rest of the stuff out before the closing." She would've loved to join the rest of her family for some fun and sun time in Florida but some things wouldn't wait. Her father's Parkinson's had gotten so bad that, after her mother passed away, he simply hadn't been able to manage a whole house on his own. They'd found an assisted living facility for him and he seemed happy there. Unfortunately that left the house her parents had lived in for fifty years needing to be cleared out and only she and her sister to do the deed.

"Do you need any help?"
"Thanks, but no. A lot of the big stuff has been hauled away already. It's just the smaller, personal things left and Julia and I are the only ones who can do that."

"Sometimes I think I'm lucky I never had to deal with my parents getting old and sick. Not that I escaped completely, with my mum being…you know. Still…."

"Does it feel like you were lucky?"

"Not most of the time, no," Chase admitted.

"Well, it's got to be done and it'll be easier without my crazy family around." Cuddy gave a little shrug. "Besides, if I know my sister--and I do, all too well--she'll bring a bottle of wine. That'll make the day pass faster."

"I suppose it would." Chase grinned as he got to his feet. Just as he turned to leave, though, he stopped and looked back at Cuddy with a questioning expression. "And speaking of making the day pass faster…."

"No, you cannot get House drunk." Cuddy's response was both immediate and firm. "It might make your day go faster but it would make mine last forever. And then I'd make yours last forever."

~~**~~

Cuddy settled into the neck-deep water of the tub. She tucked her bath pillow behind her neck and stretched her legs out as far as the tub would allow, bubbles drifting around the exposed islands of her knees. She closed her eyes and groaned when she heard a knock on the door. Why did everyone choose the time she specifically set aside for herself as the prime time to talk to her? "Go away."

"Mom?"

"Rachel, honey, give me fifteen minutes, okay?"

"But…um…."

"Is it important?"

"Are we illegal?"

"What?" Cuddy's face screwed up into a frown as she tried to figure out what Rachel could mean. House was, admittedly, somewhat borderline when it came to legalities but as far as she knew, none of them were in blatant violation of the law.

"Aunt Julia told Grandma Wilson you should get married so we won't be illegal."

Cuddy let her head thump back against the lip of the tub. She was fairly certain Julia had been talking about the children being illegitimate not illegal, but more importantly, she was going to kill her sister. "Honey, I can't get married. I'd have to marry both Daddy and Greg and it's illegal to be married to more than one person at a time."

"So if you got married we'd be illegal but if you don't get married, we're not illegal?"

Cuddy hesitated a moment to make sure she'd understood what Rachel had asked. The hell of it was, she wasn't sure Rachel understood what she'd said but it didn't really matter as long as her daughter got one message straight--that there was nothing wrong with her or her parents. "Exactly. We are a perfectly legal family just as we are."

"Okay."

Cuddy waited a moment but she didn't hear the tell-tale sounds of Rachel leaving her spot by the bathroom door. "Is there something else?"

"Sort of." There was a brief hesitation and a faint shuffling noise from the other side of the door. "I'm supposed to tell you Greg is going to kill Mrs. Dawson's cat."

"Greg's always planning to kill Mrs. Dawson's cat," Cuddy said, relaxing back against the pillow. "I'm certainly not going to run through the neighborhood after House naked and wet for that."

"Um…Mom?"

"Again," Cuddy added emphatically, blushing at the memory. She gave an exasperated sigh. "Tell your Dad to take care of it."

"He can't. Greg locked him in the closet."

"God," Cuddy muttered as she rose from the bath. "I can't wait for all of you to take your vacation."

~~**~~

"Stop it," Rachel hissed at Nathan. Five seconds later, there was a slight rustle of clothing and a faint sticky sound of flesh moving against the leather interior of the rental car, followed quickly by another hissed warning from Rachel. Five seconds after that…. "Dad, tell him to stop touching me."

"I'm not touching you," Nathan said, adding under his breath, "Squealer."

"Daaaaaaad…."

"Nathan," Wilson said, looking into the rearview mirror. "Don't touch your sister."

"Words to live by," House muttered. Wilson shot him a warning look but drove on in silence…for about a minute.

"Dad, he's still touching me."

"Next person who touches anything, I'm going to feed them to the alligators," House snapped. After a full day at Disney World, everyone was tired and sun-parched and coming down from a sugar high. Both children had moved at full speed from the moment they'd arrived at the theme park, which meant their fathers had been moving at full speed all day, too. By this time of the evening, the only thing that had any gas left was the car.

"You can't do that," Rachel said confidently. "It's illegal."

House turned to look into the back seat and took in her smug expression. "Can't I?" he asked, his face a carefully composed blank. His sunburned nose took away somewhat from his menacing tone but his expression was unreadable.

"No," she said, but her certainty faltered when she couldn't see any obvious signs he was just pulling her leg.

Nathan frowned as House turned back to face the front. He gave his sister a quick glance but he found no reassurance there. "Um…Dad…?"

"Don't test me," House warned.

"Come on, kids," Wilson said, including House in his comment. "We just spent the day at the 'Happiest Place on Earth.' Let's not ruin it by bickering all the way back to the hotel."

"Disney World is not the happiest place on Earth," House argued. He reached across the front seat, grabbing at Wilson's head. "And take that stupid hat off."

"Hey!" Wilson took one hand from the steering wheel to deflect House in defense of his Mickey Mouse hat. "Don't mess with the ears."

"So what is the happiest place on Earth then?" Nathan asked.

"House," Wilson snapped before his partner could say anything that would result in Cuddy removing their testicles once the kids had repeated it to her. Because they would. And she would. And Wilson wasn't ready to part with his nuts just yet.

House gave an exasperated sigh, but turned to look into the back seat. "Okay, Disney World may be the happiest place on Earth for kids. For adults, not so much."

"You liked Space Mountain," Rachel said.

"Yeah, okay, I liked Space Mountain."

"You liked the food," Nathan added.

"They do have good snacks," House admitted as he shifted back to face front again. The kids settled back to watch the scenery, satisfied they'd made their case.

House glanced over at Wilson and muttered, "But Cuddy's g-spot is a happier place." Wilson's hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as he managed to both glare at House and peer into the rearview mirror to gauge the kids' response. He relaxed when it became obvious neither of them had heard House.

House slouched down in the seat and pulled the brim of his ball cap over his eyes. Just as he was about to nod off to the lullaby of 4-ply riding the asphalt….

"Stop touching me!"

House pressed his head back against the seat to make his cap rise from over his eyes. He gave Wilson a sideways look. "Whose idea was this?"

"I believe it was Cuddy's."

"She's an evil, evil woman," House said, letting his cap fall over his face again.

~~**~~

Wilson and Cuddy were lying face to face on the bed, indulging in some sleepy kisses before they were forced to get up and prepare to face the work day. House walked in from the bathroom, saw them, and launched himself onto the bed. He climbed up behind Wilson and threw his arm over both of them.

"Yes, thank you for the wake-up call," Wilson said dryly when his mouth was jostled away from Cuddy's. "And watch where you're sticking that thing."

"Hey, that 'thing' is just happy to be in a condition to be stuck," House retorted, pressing more firmly against Wilson's back. "Besides, someone has to turn up the heat in here. I swear, you're like a couple of old ladies."

"There's only room for one woman in this bed, and Wilson doesn't have the cleavage for it," Cuddy said. She completely ignored the 'old' description because otherwise she'd have to hit someone.

"Hmm…. I'm not so sure about that." House slid his hand between them and groped Wilson's chest. "I'm detecting a certain fullness in the mammary region."

"Bite me."

"I would, but my doctor says I should cut down on the amount of fat in my diet."

Wilson shoved House's hand away. He reached back and pinched some loose flesh at House's waist and gave it a jiggle. "You're not exactly rock hard yourself."

"Try grabbing little lower," House leered against Wilson's neck. He waited a moment, then gave an exasperated little harrumph when neither Wilson nor Cuddy seemed inclined to take him up on his suggestion. "I've been thinking…."

"Wait, let me get my crash helmet," Wilson interrupted in mock fear.

"I've been thinking," House repeated, raising his voice over Cuddy's sniggering. "I'm going to retire."

"What?" Cuddy pushed up on one elbow, looking over Wilson at House. Her eyes were wide with surprise. House pushed up on his elbow and looked directly back at her. "Why?"

"I'm tired of the grind."

"What grind?" she asked, incredulous. "You haven't worked a full day since I hired you."

Wilson was being squeezed between the two of them as they talked. When it reached the point he started to worry about his air supply, he pressed the backs of his hands together and slid them between Cuddy and House's bodies, pushing them apart to give him room to breathe. He reconsidered his position once he'd gotten a lungful of air, then nudged Cuddy back closer so her breasts were bobbing just over his head.

"Seriously?" Cuddy stared down at Wilson in disbelief that he'd be looking for a cheap thrill while House was threatening to quit. House merely smirked in approval.

"Hey, he's the crazy one," Wilson said, resting comfortably on his back.

"And he's the horny one," House added quickly.

"Thanks, I'd almost forgotten." Cuddy turned her gaze back on House. "I haven't forgotten what you just said, though."

"I haven't either," Wilson added.

House sighed and flopped over on his back. "What's the big deal? I'm getting older. I want to do something different while I still can."

"Different like what?" Cuddy asked.

"Go to Rio. Experience Carnival." House gave a longing sigh. "Non-stop parties. Non-stop half-naked women. Now that's a retirement I could get down with."

"Have you considered that it would far more difficult for us to bail you out of a foreign jail than it is to bail you out in New Jersey?" Wilson asked. "And it's none too easy here."

"Don't rain on my Carnival," House said. He shook his head then to clear away his dreams of a retirement filled with scantily clad women and reluctantly refocused on the present. "It's time for me to leave. I'm old. I've slowed down a step or two. I'm cranky. "

"Like that's different," Cuddy muttered.

"I'll still be available for consults," he said, ignoring her. "And Chase is ready."

"Chase?"

"He's got what it takes. The others…they're all good doctors, but Chase has a knack for thinking outside the box. It comes naturally to him." He glanced at Cuddy. "He'd be good. You should offer him the job."

"You are serious," Cuddy said as she studied his face for a clue, any clue, he was just messing with her again. "You really want to retire."

"He doesn't want to retire," Wilson argued. "He just wants the retirement party."

"There's a party?" House asked, affecting surprise. He grew serious then, resting his hand on Wilson's shoulder. "I mean it. I want to have time for other things. Music. There's a couple of local jazz groups that have invited me to play. I'd have more time to watch Nathan's baseball games and Rachel's soccer matches."

"You'll have to take on some more responsibilities around here," Cuddy warned. House's equivocal nod didn't reassure her. "I'm serious."

"You always are." House gave her a pleading look. "So, Mom, can I please retire?"

"Fine," Cuddy sighed. Then she reached over and smacked him on the shoulder. "And stop calling me Mom."

~~**~~

"Is it true?"

House let out an exasperated sigh. He hated being interrupted while playing 'Bury Your Dead' on his office computer; one of the corpses always went in cockeyed and ruined the pattern. He left the rest of the dead to tumble any which way and turned to look at the intruders in his office. Cameron led the way followed closely by Foreman. Chase straggled in behind them, trying to look blasé but not quite pulling it off.

"Wow, the Three Musketeers together again." House frowned and swiveled back to the far side of his desk. He started rifling through the drawers, tossing out the occasional broken toy. "Which reminds me--it's snack time."

"Are you retiring?" Foreman asked once the three former fellows were lined up in front of the desk.
House pulled a snack pack of M&Ms from his desk and ripped it open. "Damn gossip around this place is out of control."

"Right," Foreman scoffed. "Like you mind the gossip. You're one of the worst offenders. You toss out tidbits just to see what kind of reaction you get."

"Like chumming for sharks," Chase added.

"Then I need to work on my chumming skills." House nodded at them. "Because all I'm getting is guppies."

"Well?" Foreman prodded.

"Let me guess--you've already updated your resume. And you're worried I'm having some kind of midlife crisis," House told Cameron. He finished with Chase. "And you…don't give a damn."

"I am curious," Chase said. "I always thought you wanted to die with your boots on."

"I'd rather die in bed," House said, popping a few M&Ms in his mouth. "As the filling in a Wilson-Cuddy sandwich."

"Ew," Chase said, mouth puckered up as if he'd just tasted something bad.

House eyed him. "Do we need to have the sex talk?"

Chase goggled at House, his mouth opening and closing as he struggled for some kind of response that wouldn't encourage House to expand further on the sex talk idea. Foreman ignored him and got to the point. "Who's taking over the department?"

"Don't know," House said. The bag crackled as he dug in for more M&Ms. "Cuddy will handle the interviews."

"So the field's wide open?" Foreman asked.

House gave a rather ambiguous nod. Technically, anyone could apply for the job. It wasn't his place to advise 'anyone' as to the fact they shouldn't bother because they didn't have a chance in hell. If Foreman didn't remember how his last opportunity to run the department had turned out, well…. House was trying to take the high road, if only so he had a better view of the inevitable crash.

"My only input is the condition that whoever gets hired has to keep my current staff until they finish their fellowships."

"Not a problem," Foreman said.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Cameron asked, her entire body exuding concern.

"I'm peachy," House said. "I'll be even peachier when I retire and I can catch up on my backlog of porn." He made a dismissive wave and turned back to his computer. "And unless you're here to help me catch up on my porn, you can address any further concerns about my retirement--and your resumes--to Cuddy."

~~**~~

"You're coming in late with your left hand," House said. "And ease up on the pedal."

"I like it better this way," Rachel argued, but she stopped playing and shifted her hands over the keys to replay the last three bars.

"You have to master the correct way of playing the piece," House said. He sat on the couch across the living room from the piano. He was replacing a frayed string on Nathan's guitar, frowning in puzzlement at the damage. Nathan sat beside him, doing his best to look both ignorant and innocent.

"You don't follow the music."

"Because I've already learned to play the songs correctly," House said. As lies went, it was only a little one. He did know how to play the songs as written. The fact he rarely bothered to do so was irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

"Why do I have to play it this way if I like it better another way?" Rachel let her hands drop to her lap and turned on the piano bench to look at House.

"You have to understand what the composer was trying to say." House grimaced as he unthreaded the damaged string from the guitar, unable to fathom why it looked like something with very sharp teeth had been chewing on it. "The only way you can know that is to play the piece as he wrote it. Once you understand his message, then you can add your own voice to it."

Rachel looked distinctly unconvinced but she lifted her hands and began playing again. House finally got the string pulled free from the neck without damaging anything else.

"Why can't I get an electric guitar?" Nathan asked, eyeing the battered six-string acoustic with disdain.

"Because electric guitars require an amplifier and your mother would castrate me if I gave you an amplifier," House said, his words slightly distorted by the string he held between his teeth.

"Can I at least play your Gibson?" Nathan asked hopefully.

"Not until I figure out how you managed to shred this string," House said. "What did you do--use a cheese grater as a pick?" Nathan's guilty face made House wonder if he hadn't tried exactly that. House had come up with all kinds of creative ways to destroy things over his lifetime but he'd never seen anything like this.

"Hey, guys," Wilson said in greeting as he walked into the living room, coat in one hand and briefcase in the other. Cuddy followed right behind him, a large bag of carry-out Chinese food in her hands. She waved Rachel over to take the bag from her and carry it to the dining room.

"Nathan, set the table, please," Cuddy said as she shed her coat. "And both of you--wash your hands first."

"Great, I'm glad you're all home," House said as he finished tuning the new string. "I need one of you to develop a really cool disease."

Cuddy turned to stare at him, an utterly dumbfounded look on her face.

"Can I miss school?" Nathan asked.

"Sure," House said.

"No," Cuddy said immediately. She grabbed Nathan's shoulders and gave him a push toward the kitchen before turning back to House. "What are you doing?"

"I retire in two weeks and I've got nothing but boring cases. Boring clinic patients and a boring case," House complained. "I want to go out on a high note."

"What about your guy?" Wilson picked up the destroyed guitar string and tossed it on the coffee table so he could take a seat next to House on the sofa. "The guy who ate the flower bulbs? That's interesting."

"No, it's not," House said with disdain. "He's an idiot. Idiocy is common. Common is boring."

"You just don't want to retire so now you're making excuses."

"I'm not making excuses. I am going to retire. I just don't want bulb-eating idiots to be my legacy."

"Oh, I don't think you have to worry about that," Wilson said, settling back on the couch with his arms crossed over his chest. "Your legacy is already firmly established as the guy who performs pre-mortem autopsies, takes more pills than his patients, and sleeps with not one but two of his co-workers at the same time."

"Well, sure, but that's old news."

~~**~~

The Special Events room in the hospital wasn't all that special in itself. It was a rectangular room with a non-descript dark gray carpet and plain, cream colored walls. Once the dietary and housekeeping staff finished with it, though, it didn't look half bad. In fact, round tables covered with heavy linen tablecloths, gleaming china, and centerpieces of fresh flowers made it look almost elegant. The room was certainly better dressed than the night's honoree usually was.

On the far side of the room, Wilson and Cuddy leaned against a window sill, arms crossed in nearly identical fashion. Behind them, the glass reflected the brightly lit and crowded room. "Are you sure it's a good idea to let him do this?"

"He's a grown man. It's his choice," Cuddy said. She moved her hands and braced them on either side of her hips, her legs stretched out in front of her and crossed at the ankles. She wore a deep plum-colored cocktail dress with a low-cut, beaded bodice, the ubiquitous high heels, and a wary expression.

"He's an overgrown child," Wilson muttered, tugging at his tie.

"What do you want me to do?" Cuddy asked. Her gaze was on their children who were both wandering around the room, visibly chafing at the formal clothing she'd made them wear for the occasion.

"I want you to stop him." Wilson hesitated, then turned his head toward her with a suspicious look. "I thought you wanted to stop him."

"I want him to be around for a few more years," Cuddy said. "He's getting older and you know how he is when he sinks his teeth into some crazy case; he runs for days on caffeine and arrogance. His body can't take it anymore."

"What about his mind?" Wilson pointed out. "He needs to be engaged. He needs to be challenged."

"Do you know why I hired Chase as the new head of diagnostics?"

"Because…he has pictures of you from high school?"

Cuddy tore her gaze from the children and gave Wilson a deadly stare before continuing. "Chase knows House. He actually likes working with him. When Chase needs help--and he will--he'll call House in for a consult."

Wilson turned that information over in his mind and realized that Cuddy had made sure House would remain engaged without forcing him to deal with the day to day stress of running a department. Sometimes he forgot she really was good at her job. "I should never doubt you."

"No, you shouldn't."

"Still," Wilson said hesitantly. "There's a big difference between working a few days every couple months and working every day."

"That sounds like you doubt me."

"No, well…it's tiny," Wilson said, pinching his fingers together to illustrate. "It's a tiny bit of doubt."

Cuddy opened her mouth, but stopped and turned to look for the source of a sudden commotion. Standing in the center of the room, House held his glass of non-alcoholic punch high. At least, it had been non-alcoholic when Cuddy poured it. She wouldn't make any bets as to what a lab analysis would show now.

"A few--very few--of you are here to wish me well." House turned slightly to give Chase a pointed look. "One of you is here to grab my seat before it's even cold."

"What can I say? I like being in the hot seat," Chase shot back.

House gave him a smirk of congratulations. Then he looked around the other people milling around the room. "And the rest of you are only here to watch my ass as I exit for the last time to make sure it really is the last time."

"That and the free food," Foreman added.

House rolled his eyes. "My point is most of you don't like me. In case I haven't made it clear during my tenure at Princeton-Plainsboro--the feeling's mutual in most cases. The bottom line is we're all happy I'm leaving, so let's party." He waved at the group to dig in to the goodies spread across the table at the front of the room while he slammed back the punch.

"Thank you," Chase said as he fought the tide of people flowing toward the food to stand closer to House.

"For retiring?" House asked.

"For recommending me for the job. It means a lot."

"It means putting you in Cuddy's direct line of fire," House said dismissively.

"That's all right--I know all your hiding spaces."

"So does she."

"I'll manage," Chase said with good-natured confidence.

"Really? Foreman hates you," House said. "I'm not sure Cameron's not a bit miffed herself."

"Foreman's disappointed but he doesn't hate me." Chase took a sip of his punch and with an elaborately casual air added, "Too bad you couldn't stick around for a few more days."

"You'll be fine."

"No, I meant… We got a really interesting case yesterday."

"When?" House stared at Chase for a moment, then took off limping as fast as he could without waiting for Chase to confirm his answer. "You!" House made a beeline toward Cuddy and Wilson's position, brashly shoving past anyone in his path. He stuck his finger in Cuddy's face. "You tricked me."

"If you want to keep that finger, you'll move it. Now." Cuddy waited until House had removed the offending digit, then shrugged. "I didn't trick you. I simply spared you any distractions or temptations."

"But...."

"House, there will always be interesting cases," Cuddy said calmly. "Being retired means you have to learn to accept you can't be part of all of them."

"But this could've been my last, great case."

"Now it could be Chases' first great case."

"Like anyone cares about Chase."

~~**~~

"Dad." Rachel was tugging Wilson by the hand, slowly inching him out into the hallway. "Can we go now?"

"Why? The party's just getting started."

"It's kind of lame," Nathan said, slouching along behind Rachel. Cuddy started to reprimand him for speaking disparagingly about his father's retirement party but Wilson spun around, nearly pulling Rachel off her feet when she wasn't prepared for the abrupt change in direction.

"He's right," Wilson told Cuddy, his cheeks colored with a faint flush. "We need music. Dancing. More punch."

Cuddy grabbed the punch cup from his hand before he could slosh the contents all over himself. "No more punch for you."

"Wilson's schnockered," House said, grinning as he leaned against the door jamb.

"I am not schnockered," Wilson said, speaking with the elaborate precision of the gently schnockered. "I am having fun." He suddenly grabbed Cuddy by the hand and pulled her to him. He placed one hand against her silk-clad back and grasped her right hand, raising it in the air. He set off along the hall in slightly wobbly version of the tango. He danced them back before dropping Cuddy into a deep dip that made her whoop in surprise and delight and just a touch of fear.

"Your daddy's definitely drunk," House said.

"How embarrassing," Rachel muttered, her arms planted on her hips in the patented Wilson posture of disapproval.

"This is nothing. You should ask him about the duck."

"Duck?"

"Where?" Wilson asked, spinning around to face House and Rachel. He caught sight of House's smirk and gave a disgusted sigh. "The first rule of the duck is no one talks about the duck."

"Fortunately for you," House said as Wilson danced Cuddy away again. As Wilson and Cuddy came dancing back, House looked around. He skip-hopped over to one of the artificial potted plants that lined the hallway and pulled a silk flower from the arrangement. When Wilson spun Cuddy around in a dramatic twirl, House tossed the flower at them. "If you're going to tango, you have to do the flower between the teeth."

Rachel hid her face with her hands, mortified by her parents' actions, as Wilson snatched the flower out of the air. "You're supposed to use a rose," Cuddy said as she looked at the rusty orange flower with disdain.

"So?"

"This is a mum," Wilson pointed out.

"Improvise."

Wilson studied the flower, then shrugged and stuck the plastic stem between his teeth before twirling Cuddy away again. Cuddy burst out laughing and nearly tripped over her own feet before she fell into step with him. Surprisingly, Wilson was a better dancer drunk than sober, artificial mum and all. He lost some of his self-consciousness and stiffness and let the music move him, even music that existed only in his own mind.

"Mind if I cut in?" House asked, using his cane to tap Wilson on the shoulder as he and Cuddy danced by again.

"If you must," Wilson said, releasing Cuddy from his grasp.

"Great." House tossed his cane to Cuddy and stepped up to face Wilson. He snatched the mum from Wilson's mouth and clamped the stem between his own teeth. He raised one hand as Wilson raised the other. For a moment they played the opposite game, each switching to the other hand just as the other corrected his stance. They finally settled for Wilson resting his hands on House's shoulders and House settling his hands at Wilson's waist. With their hands finally sorted out, House started to lead to the left…and Wilson started to lead forward. House gave him an aggravated look as they stumbled to a stop. He tilted his head in a questioning posture, Wilson nodded, and they started off again…in different directions.

"See? This is why we never go dancing," House complained around the flower in his mouth as he tried to force Wilson to let him lead.

"No, we never go dancing because you're a cripple," Wilson said, trying to step forward while House was pushing back. "But sure, let's blame it on your complete inability to give up control."

House scowled, then flung his hands up and turned to grab Cuddy. Wilson stared at them for a moment, then shrugged and reached for his unsuspecting daughter's hand. Cuddy grinned at Rachel's full-body cringe, then she turned her attention to House. She smiled at him as they swayed gently from side to side. "It actually is time to go home, you know," she said as she plucked the plastic mum from his mouth.

"You're no fun," he said.

"Yes," she said. "But you should be used to that by now."

~~**~~

"Dad."

House pulled the pillow over his head.

"Dad." Nathan tugged the pillow down to House's chest and House opened his eyes to see Rachel standing right next to Nathan at the side of the bed. "We missed the bus. You have to take us to school."

"Retired," House said, reaching for his pillow. "Any idea what that means?"

Nathan held it out of reach. "Mom said it means you'll have plenty of time to take us to school."

"Mom or Wilson can take you."

"They left." Rachel toyed with the strap of her backpack, plucking at the buckle.

"What?" House knew his partners couldn't have been gone long. He'd heard them getting ready for work and disturbing his sleep while they did. If they'd left, they'd done so while deliberately leaving the kids behind, the sneaky bastards. "Like two minutes ago?"

"Five," she said.

House let out a disgusted sigh. He pressed his hands to his eyes and rubbed. "Okay, fine, but if I have to get up, we're going…."

"Mom said you're not supposed to take us anywhere except school," Rachel said.

"But if she doesn't…."

"She said she'll know." Nathan nodded agreement with Rachel's statement. He didn't look entirely happy about it, but he corroborated her story.

House threw his hands over his eyes with a grunt. Some retirement. Cuddy and Wilson made devious plans to insure he couldn't even sleep late.

"And you have to take me to Jana's birthday party after school," Rachel said, adding insult to injury. House wasn't sure she knew that's what she was doing but she was doing it nonetheless. She'd been well trained by her mother after all.

"Who's Jana?"

"Only my best friend," Rachel said, disgusted by House's lack of best friend knowledge.

"She's Dr. Morrison's kid," Nathan explained.

"Morrison? You don't want to go there. He's an idiot."

"Dr. Morrison is a woman," Rachel said.

"Sure, now she is."

"Dad," Nathan sighed. "Come on. We really do have to go."

"Fine, fine," House grumbled. He gave his face another rough rub. "Go wait for me in the living room."

"Maybe we should stay here, so you don't go back to sleep," Nathan suggested.

"Suit yourselves, but I'm naked," House announced as he began to push the sheets down. He grinned as the kids collided with each other in the doorway, both trying to get out of the room as quickly as possible. He'd never seen either of them move that fast before.

~~**~~

"I think if we can squeeze a few more dollars from the transcription budget, we could justify the new imaging software." Wilson presented the folder which contained his budget manipulations and waited for Cuddy's response.

She'd been paying attention, she really had, but as Wilson laid out his argument, her face suddenly flushed. She tried to continue to focus on what Wilson was saying but after only a moment she unbuttoned her blouse. Since her blouse was already at one button below Administrator level, Wilson's interest was piqued. She noted his interest and tried to deflect it. "I'm hot."

"I'm… flattered?" Wilson said. He was hesitant to make an assumption but kind of hoping he was right. He didn't really have time for anything but a quickie and Cuddy had always had a strict 'not at work' rule but he was willing to….

"You have nothing to do with it."

His expression fell for a moment. "Hot flash," he said. His expression brightened again as the answer came to him in a flash, albeit not a hot one. "You're menopausal."

"No, I'm not," Cuddy said, rapidly fanning herself with an incident report.

"What other explanation is there for hot flashes in a healthy woman?" Wilson asked. "And you are the right age."
"I'm not old enough to be in menopause," Cuddy insisted, her jaw set in a stubborn expression. "I can't be, not when my son has barely started puberty."

Wilson stared at her for a moment, watching her fan herself, watching her flush, watching her sweat. She sure looked like a woman in menopause to him. Before he could expound on his line of reasoning, she turned a look of aggressive denial on him and he raised his hands in the universal symbol of surrender. After all, he was just a doctor--what did he know about menopause?

"I'll…just come back later," he said, backing slowly but very steadily from the office. He turned once he'd shut her door to find her assistant staring at him with a bemused expression. Wilson gave the man a feeble smile then made a break for the clinic.

"Wilson!"

Momentarily confused, Wilson gazed across the desk to where House was standing in the entrance, shouting through the glass wall of the clinic. Exasperated, he obeyed House's wave and joined him in the foyer. "What are you doing here?"

"Lunch."

"I can't. I have an appointment in fifteen minutes."

"So reschedule," House insisted as he grabbed a newspaper from the information desk.

"Can't do that either. I'm afraid you'll have to find another diversion for today." He glanced back at Cuddy's office, hesitant to verbalize his diagnosis in case she could hear him. She couldn't, of course, not through three sets of doors. But she was Cuddy and she had a way of knowing when either of her partners was talking about her. Motherhood had made her hearing exceptionally acute and she never hesitated to use her superpowers against her lovers as well as her children. "Cuddy's going through menopause."

"Well, duh." House dug a bag of peanuts from his jacket pocket and tossed one in his mouth before holding the bag out to Wilson. "Her periods have been irregular for the last six months."

"Why didn't you warn me?"

"Why didn't you notice?"

"I try not to notice those things." Wilson made a little wave with his hand, as if he could drive 'those things' away. He sighed as he started walking with House toward the main entrance. "I think we should go on a vacation."

House paused mid-nut and frowned. "You and Cuddy? Dude, she's menopausal."

"I meant you and me."

"Wimp."

"I'm not being a wimp. Nathan's hormones are turning on and Cuddy's are turning off. Absence is matter of self-preservation."

"What about Rachel? Are you going to leave her to face her mother alone?"

"She'll be fine. She's tough," Wilson said dismissively.

"Fortunately, she didn't inherent the wimp gene from you," House agreed.

"I could leave her a bus ticket to my mother's, just in case." Wilson looked around, perplexed to find himself standing in front of the elevators and not the exit. He hadn't been paying attention as they walked a full circuit around the reception desk. "Wait, I thought you were leaving?"

"Chase is in my office. I'm going to go annoy him."

"Technically, Chase is in Chase's office, and I suspect he's got better things to do."

"It'll always be my office," House said as he entered the elevator and pressed the button for the fourth floor. "And Chase will never have anything more interesting to do."

~~**~~

"How many years has he been playing?" House said, staring in a kind of disbelief as Nathan's throw to third base was too weak to cut off the runner. Unfortunately, that had been a recurring theme over the years of Nathan's involvement in Little League. His arm had improved but it still wasn't strong enough to make him a top outfielder. The kid played with his whole heart. The rest of his body simply didn't play at the same level.

"What's the problem?" Wilson turned to look at House, peering over the top rim of his sunglasses. "So he doesn't have a great arm."

"He doesn't even have a good arm."

"He's a decent fielder and a better than decent hitter," Wilson pointed out. "More than that, he enjoys playing."

"He should move to the infield. He wouldn't be great but his arm just isn't strong enough for the outfield." House nodded to himself. It seemed like such an obvious solution.

"And maybe you should stop talking like your dad."

House turned on Wilson. "Way to hurt a guy." His tone was pure sarcasm but he couldn't completely hide the hurt in his eyes.

"I'm just saying maybe you shouldn't tell him to do what you think he should do because maybe he likes playing right field."

"But how can he?" House knew Nathan enjoyed playing--the kid always had a big cheesy grin on his face the moment he slapped on his glove--but House couldn't understand how he could continue to enjoy something he was never going to be really good at.

"Because he's not you, House," Wilson said, a hint of exasperation in his tone. "Nathan doesn't need to be the best." Wilson rolled his eyes when House looked at him with suspicion and maybe a little bit of confusion. "It's a good thing. You've raised your son to enjoy what he does, to do something for the sheer pleasure of it. "

House glanced back to the field, chewing his lip thoughtfully. "I know. I just don't know how that happened."

"You've been smart enough to not push him to do things he doesn't like, or to have to be the best at the things he does like. House, it's a healthy attitude."

"Which would argue against me having much influence," House said dryly. Wilson merely shrugged. Periodically, he and Cuddy suffered through House's bouts of uncertainty. He got unsettled by the kids, by who they were becoming, by what his influence was supposed to be. He did occasionally slip into a John-inspired dictatorial tone but it was usually temporary. Wilson had learned to let it go and House usually settled down again.

He glanced down at his watch. "I have to go."

"Cuddy tightening your leash?"

"Fundraiser." Wilson clapped House on the shoulder and climbed down from the bleachers.
House spent the last couple of innings watching the other parents. He was always amused, and highly cynical, of the parents who whooped and screamed encouragement to the players who made Nathan look like a Golden Glove recipient. He knew a lot of parents deluded themselves about their offspring's athletic and academic abilities but he'd never understood why. And he was determined to never do it himself. Except on those occasions when talking up Nathan was necessary to talk down some other loser who was trying to steal his thunder.

Once the game was over, House waited for the bleachers to empty, then slowly made his way down the bleacher steps. By the time he reached the ground, Nathan was waiting for him, face sweaty and nose red from the sun.

"Nice catch in the second," House said.

"Yeah," Nathan said, looking almost bashful under the brim of his cap. His mouth twisted a bit as he looked to the side. "The throw wasn't too good, though."

"It…could've been better," House said. He glanced down at Nathan. "Hey, you got a couple of good solid hits and you made some good plays in the outfield. You did a good job."

House motioned to a picnic table near the diamond. Frowning, Nathan followed. He sat down, watching House intently for any clues as to what kind of trouble he was in.

House hooked his cane on the end of the table and folded his hands together. The picnic table had been painted green…and then brown and then green again. House could see the layers where the local delinquents had carved witticisms like "Yo Mama" in the surface. He started picking at the edge of one, scratching away the alligatored paint with his thumbnail.

"Dad…?"

House let out a deep breath and plunged ahead. "I know your mother is in all her organizational glory with planning this bar mitzvah but I need to know if you really want this."

"You think it's stupid."

"I think…." House pulled a face as he squashed his initial response. "I think it's unnecessary. I think you don't need to follow the rules of some mythological, anthropomorphized being."

"Anthropo…what?"

"God," House said, leaving the vocabulary lesson for another time. "Do you believe in God?"

"Mom says God is the good part of all of us."

"Of course, she does," House sighed. "What does Wilson say?"

"Jimmy says he's never discussing religion with any child of yours."

"Once again proving he's not as dumb as he looks." House rubbed his hand over his mouth to hide the faint smile. Then his expression sobered as he looked at Nathan again. "Do you actually like going to temple?"

"Not really but…." Nathan chewed at his lip as he pulled his ball cap from his head and started picking at the brim. He had a severe case of hat head, his sandy-brown hair mashed flat where the cap had been pressed close to his head and curled up at the ends where it had escaped around the brim. "But I sort of do like it."

"Why?" House asked sharply. "Because it gets you on the good side of a being that doesn't even exist? Because it assures you a place in a heaven that doesn't exist?"

"Because…. It's like…my baseball team."

"Of course," House said sarcastically. "Because Jews also wear funny hats and slap each other on the butt after a good play?" He paused thoughtfully. "Actually, they do wear the funny hats."

"Dad, it's…. I don't know how to explain it."

House stared at him for a long moment, then rubbed his forehead. "It's someplace you feel like you belong," he surmised. "People you feel like you fit in with."

"I guess." Nathan shrugged and turned his hat over and over in his hands. "Is that wrong?"

"It would be wrong if you're pretending to be someone you're not just to fit in."

"I'm…just Nathan."

House let out a faint snort. Sometimes he wondered how Nathan could be his offspring. The kid was so lacking in guile it was almost painful.

"Are you mad?"

"No." House pulled a face and added more truthfully, "Yes. But not at you. Not…. I just wish you didn't buy into this hokum."

"Are you going to make me stop?"

"You have to do what you think is right, whether I believe it or not. So if you want to do this bar mitzvah thing, I won't interfere." He let out a faint sigh. "Could you not encourage your mom, though? It's like living with the mutant offspring of Martha Stewart and Emily Post."

Nathan let out his own resigned sigh. "Like Mom's ever needed any encouragement."

~~**~~

Cuddy handed the shopping basket to Rachel and tore her list in two, handing one half to her daughter. "You get these things. I'll get the rest and we'll meet at the checkout in ten minutes."

Nathan let out a frustrated sigh as Rachel walked confidently to the canned goods aisle. "Mom, you said we only had to pick up a few things."

"We do," Cuddy said, planting her hand on Nathan's shoulder and guiding him to the fresh produce. "Trust me--we'll be home in plenty of time for whatever it is you think is so important."

"But…." Nathan froze as he heard his name called, cringing slightly in embarrassment as he turned slowly to face a woman who could give Cuddy a run for her money in the perfectly groomed category. She'd lose, but it would be close.

"Hi, Mrs. Carpenter," he mumbled almost inaudibly.

Mrs. Carpenter smiled at Nathan in a knowing way, then she turned to Cuddy. "You must be Dr. Cuddy. I'm Diane Carpenter, Kayla's mother."

"Oh," Cuddy said with genuine pleasure. She offered her hand. "It's so nice to finally meet you. Kayla's a sweet girl."

"It's wonderful to meet you as well," Mrs. Carpenter said, giving Cuddy's hand a light squeeze. "I've told Nathan I'd love to have you all over for dinner but he always tells me you're busy. I guess that happens when you're a doctor."

"Yes," Cuddy said slowly, looking sideways at Nathan. His ears had turned bright red and he was doing his best to will himself into invisibility. "We can make time to meet Nathan's friends, though."

"That would be fabulous. The only member of the family I've even seen is Uncle Jimmy."

"Oh, James isn't Nathan's uncle. He called him uncle when he was little but he's not. He's Rachel's father."

"So he's Nathan's stepfather?"

"Sort of."

"I see." Mrs. Carpenter's face was frozen in an expression that indicated she didn't see as clearly as she'd like.

Cuddy had learned through the years not to volunteer too much information about her relationship with House and Wilson. She never lied about it and she always told the people who needed to know but she'd found that all too many people simply couldn't wrap their minds around a threesome. Not a threesome that was an actual ongoing relationship, anyway. They could understand an occasional kinky sex indulgence, maybe, but not three people who lived as husband and wife and husband and were raising children together. Even people who could 'forgive' the occasional kinky sex indulgence often withdrew their approval when it came to something more permanent…which had always struck Cuddy as being completely backwards.

"I know Nathan's looking forward to having Kayla as a guest for the bar mitzvah," Cuddy said, moving right past the topic of the House/Cuddy/Wilson family dynamics.

"Mom," Nathan pleaded under his breath.

"I know she's looking forward to it, too," Mrs. Carpenter said. She'd regained her composure and she gave Cuddy a gracious nod. "I'm sure you're busy with that right now, but maybe afterwards, we can arrange dinner?"

"Definitely," Cuddy said. "I'd really enjoy that. I'll call you once things have settled into the usual state of chaos."

"Sounds great." Mrs. Carpenter gave them a little wave as she pushed her shopping cart past them. "See you later, Nathan."

"Okay," Nathan said, still mumbling, still with his eyes fixed on the floor.

Cuddy shook her head and nudged him toward the tomatoes. "You'd think parents were the ultimate embarrassment."

"Only some of them," Nathan said to himself.

~~**~~

It was the middle of the night and House paced his bedroom, illuminated only by a small lamp on his bedside table. He preferred the dark; it made the pain both bigger and smaller, which suited his contradictory nature. His fingers rubbed at the top of his thigh, occasionally digging into the muscles in an effort to ease the bone deep ache. He glanced at the clock and let out a frustrated groan when he realized it was still too early to take another pill.

The door opened, the top hinge creaking because House never remembered to oil it, and Wilson dragged himself into the room. He was wearing nothing but his boxers and one sock. He barely had his eyes open as he walked straight to the bed and flopped down face first on the mattress.

House stood silently for a moment, waiting for some kind of explanation. Wilson, however, remained just as silent and unmoving. "Wilson."

"Uh huh," Wilson muttered, voice muffled by the pillow.

House rolled his eyes. "Wilson, this is my bedroom."

"Uh huh."

"My bedroom, as in it's my place to go when I can't sleep."

"Yep," Wilson said, just to vary his response.

House leaned down and gave the mattress a sharp shake. "What are you doing in here?"

"I can't sleep with Cuddy." Wilson rolled to his back and sniffed at the smell of sweat on his skin. The sweat wasn't his own and worse, it hadn't been acquired through any remotely pleasurable activity. "These hot flashes are insane. The bed's soaked with sweat."

"Nice image, but you can't sleep in here," House insisted.

"Apparently not," Wilson said, realizing House wasn't going to give him a chance to sleep. "But at least it's dry." He looked up through bleary eyes as House scowled at him. "Give it your best shot, but you and your leg are never going to be as scary as Cuddy and her hormones."

House thought on that a moment, then shrugged in defeat. He settled gingerly on the side of the bed, staring at the wall. He remained silent for a moment, running the heel of his hand up and down his thigh. "Cuddy wants me to attend Nathan's bar mitzvah."

"I know," Wilson said, folding his arm over his eyes to block out the light of the lamp. "Are you going to do it?"

"How can I? I don't believe in that crap. I only agreed to let Cuddy raise Nathan as Jewish as long as I didn't have to pretend I agreed with it." House rubbed his hand over his face, frustrated and torn.

"You compromised on that. So compromise again."

"It would be hypocritical of me."

"I can't do existential crises in the middle of the night," Wilson said through a frustrated groan. Clumsily, he pushed himself up on his elbow and looked at House. "How would it be hypocritical? Everyone knows you don't hold with any religious belief. Nathan knows it. If you go to the bar mitzvah, he'll know it's not because you've suddenly found God. He'll know you're doing it so you can share his big day. You'll be doing it because you love him."

House was still for a moment, then he gave an equivocal little half-shake, half-nod of his head. He still had some reservations. It would be almost too easy to excuse his presence at the bar mitzvah by saying it was just to show his support and love for Nathan. That made it sound okay, like sticking by his kid was more important than sticking by his principles. And maybe it was. House didn't know. He'd always stuck by principles more than people.

"You won't be compromising your principles, House. You don't have to participate in the ceremony. You don't have to condone the ceremony. You just have to be there."

This time, House's nod was more pronounced. More than that, his shoulders relaxed and he became visibly less tense. Right or wrong, making a decision eased the knot at the base of his skull. It didn't stop him from continuing to protest, though. "I have to wear a suit, too."

"Fine. You have to be there and you have to wear a suit. It's horrible, I know, but you'll live. Now stop worrying and come to bed."

House reached over and turned off the lamp on the bedside table. He swung his legs up and scooted next to Wilson. For a moment, he simply lay quietly with his head resting against Wilson's shoulder. Then he wrinkled his nose up and sniffed at Wilson's neck. "You smell like a menopausal woman."

~~**~~

"Tomorrow after school we'll go pick up your suit," Cuddy told Nathan as she ladled marinara sauce over the spaghetti on his plate.

"Don't want a suit," Nathan muttered sullenly.

"You have to have a suit for your bar mitzvah and your old one is too small," Cuddy said. She doused Rachel's spaghetti with sauce, too, then handed the bowl of sauce across the table to Wilson. She walked around the end of thetable to take her seat as Nathan continued to grumble.

"Don't want a bar mitzvah."

Holding the pot of sauce in both hands, Wilson looked at Nathan with a puzzled frown. "Since when? You've been looking forward to this for months."

"You and Cuddy have been looking forward to this." House broke off the heel of a loaf of French bread and waved the loaf at Wilson like a saber. "Leave the kid alone. You promised that if he didn't want to participate in your hypocritical rituals, he wouldn't have to."

Cuddy glared at House but put a calm, encouraging expression on her face as she turned back to Nathan. "What's wrong? I know you were excited about the party, at least."

"Yeah," Wilson said. He snapped his fingers, trying to remember the name of Nathan's latest little crush. "What about…. Kayla, right? You were excited about inviting her."

"She's not coming."

Wilson made a little 'o' with his mouth and looked at Cuddy. She looked up at the ceiling as if pleading for patience. "I'm sorry, honey, but you can't cancel your bar mitzvah just because Kayla has other plans."

"She doesn't have other plans. Her parents won't let her come because my parents are perverts."

"Oh, hey," House said sharply while Wilson nearly dropped the wine glass he'd just picked up. Rachel set her fork down and looked on with interest.

"Well, it's true," Nathan said belligerently. "If Mom had just kept her mouth shut…."

House slammed his palm against the table. Wilson put his hand over House's and shook his head. "Nathan, none of us is going to lie about who we are."

"You should."

"I happen to know there are kids at school with only one parent or with same sex parents," House argued.

"That's okay. Why couldn't you just be gay? At least that would be normal weird."

"That's an oxymoron, and why would I want to limit myself like that?" House retorted.

"House," Cuddy said in sharp warning. She turned to Nathan. "I'm sorry you're upset but the problem isn't us."

"Damn right it's not us," House interjected. "Kayla's close-minded, bigoted parents are the problem."

"Right, of course they are," Nathan said, pushing back from the table. "'Cause you're not a freak at all."

There was silence for a few moments after Nathan stormed out of the room. Wilson held his wine glass but he was too stunned to drink. Cuddy looked shaken, as if she was about to cry. Rachel simply watched everyone else, eyes big.

House suddenly pushed his own chair back from the table.

"House…." Wilson began.

"I'm just going to talk to him."

"Maybe you should let him cool off," Cuddy suggested in a tight voice. She turned and reached across the table to lay her hand on Rachel's. "Honey, would you please take your dinner in the kitchen so we can talk?"

Rachel looked at the three adults, then reluctantly picked up her plate and carried it into the kitchen. House, Cuddy and Wilson sat in silence for several moments after she'd left, each toying with their silverware.

"Well," Cuddy began hesitantly. "It's not like we didn't expect to have to deal with this."

"We shouldn't have to," House argued. He got up and began to pace heavily around the dining room table, his cane making dull thuds against the carpeted floor.

"Yes, well, in a perfect world, we wouldn't. But in case you hadn't noticed, the world's not perfect."
Wilson put his hands up, fingers clawing in as if he were restraining himself from strangling someone. He shook his hands loose and let out a deep breath. "We're a normal family. We may not look like a normal family but we are. We take each other for granted, we steal each other's secret stashes of chocolate, we nag the kids about their homework, they whine about how much we embarrass them…. We are the typical American family. Only better, because our kids have three parents taking care of them."

"Typical, except for the kinky threesome sex," House muttered.

"Yeah, but it's not like we do much of that anymore." Wilson shrugged in response to House's incredulous stare. "Well, compared to ten years ago, we don't."

"I don't think telling the Carpenters we've cut back on three-way sex is going to reassure them," Cuddy said.

"Why should we have to reassure them?" House asked.

"We don't," Cuddy said. "But we do have to help Nathan and Rachel deal with some of the stuff they're going to hear."

"I thought we'd already done that," Wilson said.

"Things change when you're a teenager."

"Being thirteen is hard. Being thirteen and not fitting in is harder. I know," House said. "I get it."

"And you survived," Wilson pointed out.

"Not without damage," House retorted. He stopped pacing and rubbed his hand over his forehead. The situation was confusing. He wanted to yell at someone for upsetting Nathan, for upsetting him, but he wasn't sure he knew who to blame. Or rather, he felt like everyone was to blame. "Hell, I don't even know whose side I'm on. Ours? Nathan's? The Carpenters?"

"Definitely not the Carpenters'" Cuddy muttered.

"Look," Wilson said, finally setting his glass down. "There are no sides. Nathan's not angry at us. He's angry because the girl he likes isn't coming to his party."

"And who's responsible for that?" House asked.

Wilson waved him off. "Not us. We are who we are, and who we've always been. The only thing that's changed is Kayla's parents. That's their problem, not ours. And Nathan will realize that when he calms down."

"You're being pretty optimistic about a teenage boy's ability to see reason."

"He's not stupid," Cuddy said, a hint of hope in her voice. "Wilson's right. When he gets past the hurt, he'll understand."

~~**~~

"Lunch?" Cuddy asked, leaning on the door handle as she poked her head into Wilson's office.

He looked up at her, the normally dapper Wilson looking frazzled. His tie was askew and his hair had been pulled one too many times, leaving tufts sticking in all directions. "I…can't," he said, throwing his arms wide to encompass the mess of papers on his desk. "I've got to get all this data from the drug trial organized and ready to send to the FDA by five. And Lawry called in sick."

"Again?"

"Don't say it," Wilson said with a sharp wave of his hand.

Before she could get out the door, Wilson looked up again. "Did you talk to Nathan?"

"You mean after House did?" She shook her head. "There didn't seem to be any point. House actually did a reasonable job of controlling his temper but Nathan's just too caught up in teen angst to listen to reason. He's not going to listen to me either." She hesitated, then confessed, "I did do a little detective work and found out Mrs. Carpenter got suspicious when she found out you aren't really Nathan's uncle. She started asking around and…."

Cuddy shrugged. Some of the parents of Nathan's friends already knew about her relationship with Wilson and House and some didn't. Since they didn't hide the relationship, it wasn't all that difficult to find out the truth and…. Well, there was nothing to do about it. As Wilson had said, they were who they were and who they'd always been.

She hesitated, glancing at Wilson. "Maybe I should cancel the bar mitzvah."

"No," Wilson said firmly. "Nathan made a commitment and he needs to step up and honor it. A bar mitzvah isn't about girls, or presents or even how freaky he thinks his parents are."

"I know," Cuddy said in a resigned tone. "It's just…god, the drama."

"Just wait 'til Rachel hits puberty," Wilson said dryly.

"Bite your tongue," Cuddy said. With a wave, she closed the door and left.

Wilson had just gotten back into the groove when his cell phone started to vibrate across the desk. He picked it up and sighed when he saw the caller ID. "Busy," he said as he flipped the phone open. He rolled his eyes when all he heard in response was a few grunted syllables. He pinned the phone against his ear with his shoulder and picked up the next file. "Seriously, House, I don't have time for playing 'Heavy Breathers' today. Try calling Cuddy."

The grunts became more insistent, they sounded more like garbled words, and Wilson felt a sudden stab of fear in his chest. "House? House?" Wilson dropped the papers when the garbled sounds on the phone grew more demanding although no more clear. He banged his thigh against the corner of the desk as he practically threw himself out of his chair. "House, stay on the phone with me. I'm calling an ambulance." He slapped his hand over the phone and yelled for his personal assistant. "Caroline!"

"Dr. Wilson?" His assistant was a middle-aged woman, on the plump side, and she looked absolutely stunned by the rude behavior of her usually mild mannered boss.

"Call 911. Get an ambulance to my house," Wilson ordered as he grabbed his lab coat from the coat stand and pushed by her.

"Why…?"

"Just do it," he barked. "And tell them they have my permission to kick in the door if they have to."

"Yes, Doctor Wil…."

Wilson didn't wait for proof of Caroline's obedience. He'd already rounded the corner and he started banging on the glass wall of the Diagnostics Department the moment he reached the conference room. Chase was standing in front of the whiteboard, marker in his hand. He whirled around with a perplexed look as Wilson made the glass rattle with the force of his pounding. Once Wilson knew he had Chase's attention, he didn't wait for him either. He turned and headed straight to the elevators.

"Wilson," Chase called as he stepped out of the office.

"It's House," Wilson said, slamming his hand against the elevator call button. He was still listening to the sounds coming through the phone. He still couldn't understand what House was trying to say. At the moment, that wasn't important. He just needed House to keep talking so he'd know his partner was still with him.

Chase let the door to the office close behind him and started walking quickly toward Wilson. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know." Wilson flung his hand out in frustration when the elevator failed to appear, then whirled around to face Chase. "I've got an ambulance in route. I want you in the emergency room when he arrives." Wilson kept turning, as if he didn't know which direction to go. "Cuddy. I need to find Cuddy first."

"Where is she?"

"She was in my office fifteen minutes ago. Now…." Wilson gave half a shrug, the phone still plastered to his ear as he tried to maintain contact with House.

"Go." Chase grabbed Wilson by the shoulders and shoved him in the direction of the staircase. "I'll find her. We'll catch up with you."

Wilson nodded, out of breath before he even started down the stairs. He ran down them by twos, muttering an apology when he nearly knocked a lab tech on his ass. "Hang on, House. We'll be waiting for you."

~~**~~

Cuddy sat in an upholstered chair. Her feet were flat on the ground, her knees together and her spine straight and stiff. Her face was composed into a sober mask. The only sign of her emotional state was the tissue she was ripping to shreds with her fingers, hands cradled in her lap.

Wilson stood by the open door of the office, shoulders slumped as he kept an eye on the children. They sat on a couch in the anteroom of the funeral home. Nathan was slumped into the corner, head resting on the hand he had propped on the arm of the couch. He stared at the floor, the walls, his hands, anything but people. Rachel was at the other end of the couch, perched on the very edge of the cushion. She kept her eyes fixed on Wilson. She didn't look at anything else. She barely blinked. She'd hardly let him out of her sight in the last twenty-four hours.

"I hope you haven't been waiting long." A burly, balding man entered the office from a second door on the other side of the room. He walked directly to Wilson, hand extended.

"No," Wilson said, shaking the man's offered hand. "We're actually a bit early."

"Dr. Cuddy?" the man asked as he turned to offer his hand to Cuddy. "We spoke on the phone last night. I'm Mike Norton."

"I remember," Cuddy said softly. Her hand disappeared in his huge mitt but his touch was deceptively light, no more than a gentle squeeze.

Norton turned and looked at the other door, taking in the kids. "Should we leave the door open?"

"That would probably be best," Wilson agreed. "Rachel gets a little…anxious if she can't see me."

"Understandable." Norton eased his bulk behind the desk and folded his hands together. "Please accept my condolences on your loss." He waited as both Cuddy and Wilson gave him tight-lipped nods. "Perhaps we should start with the basic details. Sometimes that's easiest," Mr. Norton said as he opened the file on the desk in front of him. "First, we need to know where to pick up the remains."

"There are no…remains," Wilson said. He shoved his hands in his pockets. "Not yet. He donated his body to the medical school."

"Okay." Norton made a note, nodding easily. "That's not a problem. Just have the school notify us when they're ready to release the remains and we'll take care of it. Will you want a burial or cremation?"

"Cremation, definitely," Cuddy said.

"Very good." Norton nodded again, making more notes. He set his pen aside and folded his hands together on the desk as he looked directly at Cuddy. "Now, I'm not here to tell you what to do. Dr. House was your loved one and you know best what kind of service he would've liked. I'm only here to offer suggestions and to put your decisions into action. In this situation, most people like to have a memorial service and later, when the remains are released, a private burial."

"I…suppose…," Cuddy said, looking to Wilson for suggestions. He nodded somewhat hesitantly.

"You know, let's just put the issue of burial aside for a moment. It's not something that has to be decided now." Norton picked up his pen again and pulled the file in front of him. "Let's talk about what kind of memorial service you want."

"Honestly, it's not something we've ever thought about," Cuddy said, her voice tight.

"Then we'll start with the basics there as well. You'll need to decide which clergy person you'd like to have perform the service, who you'd like to say the eulogy. Music, too. If Dr. House had a favorite hymn or even a popular song…."

"You can't always get what you want," Cuddy recited tonelessly.

"Excuse me?" Norton leaned forward but Wilson interrupted.

"Lisa." Wilson appeared to be in physical pain. He shifted from foot to foot, his shoulders tight. He shook his head at her. "This…this isn't House."

"Then…what?"

"I don't know. We…tap a keg. We put the Stones on the stereo. We put out some chips and salsa. That's House."

Cuddy nodded slowly, then rose to her feet. She leaned over the desk to shake Mr. Norton's hand when he followed her to his feet. "Thank you for your help, and we will be in touch when House's body is released by the medical school. But for now…. House was not a formal person. He didn't like rules or social niceties." She glanced at Wilson. "I think we're just going to have a party. At home. With our friends."

~~**~~

Chase leaned back against the china hutch, and quickly righted himself when the slight tilt of the hutch caused the tinkle of china to seep through its glass doors. He glanced around furtively to see if any of the other two dozen or so visitors in Cuddy and Wilson's house had noticed, but only Cameron and Foreman were paying any attention to him.

"I never thought it would happen like this," Foreman said. He was half-seated on the corner of the dining room table, one leg dangling free. He held a cup of too strong, too sweet tea in one hand and with the other, he fidgeted with the button of his suit coat.

"How did you think it would happen?" Cameron asked.

"Drugs. Motorcycle wreck. Injecting himself with some weird disease to prove a point." Foreman shrugged. "I didn't expect it to be an ordinary stroke."

"House mellowed," Chase observed as he eyed a plate of cookies on the other end of the dining room table.

"House?" Foreman's eyebrow rose in disbelief.

"Sure, he was still a crazy bastard but…." Chase shrugged as he tore his gaze from the cookies and turned his head toward Foreman. "I don't know what it was--having kids, being with Cuddy and Wilson, or just age--but he hadn't been taking the insane risks anymore. Not like he used to."

"I suppose you're right."

"That's not to say his past craziness didn't have something to do with it," Cameron said. "With all the abuse he inflicted on his body, it was bound to catch up to him."

"House was a big fan of self-abuse," Foreman agreed in a deceptively bland tone. Chase looked at him, a grin twisting the side of his mouth. Foreman's respectful façade faltered at bit when he looked sideways at Chase. He quickly looked away before a smile could break out but Cameron scowled at both of them.

"Hey, guys, how are you?" Chase, Cameron, and Foreman all turned, looking guilty, when Cuddy approached them. Like Wilson, she set the casual tone for the gathering. She was dressed in black slacks and a vibrant, sapphire blue blouse. Other than the pallor of her face, she looked as if she were hosting any casual gathering of friends.

"I think the question should be--how are you?" Cameron asked. She put her arms around Cuddy and gave her a hug, which was not as easy as it would normally be because Rachel had a firm grip on one of Cuddy's hands. Her anxiety had eased slightly in the past week but she still didn't like to let either of her parents get too far away.

"We're managing," Cuddy said with a faint smile. She withdrew her hand from Rachel's and slipped her arm around her daughter's shoulders.

"This was a good idea," Chase said, nodding at the room in general as he tried to inject a note of positivity into his voice. "A 'normal' funeral just wouldn't seem right."

"It's not really a funeral, though, is it?" Rachel asked, looking up at the adults. "Greg isn't even here."

"His body isn't," Chase agreed.

"House wanted to keep teaching new doctors. He wanted them to continue learning from him. That was more important than to be laid out in a coffin," Cameron said, placing a consoling hand on Rachel's shoulder. "Donating his body to the medical school was a very generous act." She frowned and turned her head sharply toward Chase when he stifled a snort. "You don't agree?"

Chase looked around at the group, conflict written on his face. "No…well, it's just…. I wonder if House donated his body because he figured out how to booby trap it before he died. The first med student who cuts in gets a face full of itching powder or a can of snakes pops out of his chest." Chase would've said more but Cameron's elbow drove the air from his lungs.

"That's not funny," Cameron hissed.

"Actually, it is." Foreman had something of a Cheshire grin of his own as he gave Chase a restrained high five.

They both turned with regretful looks when Cuddy let out a choked sound. She pressed her hand to her mouth, unable to stifle another slow, choking noise.

"Oh, shit," Chase muttered, looking guilty. Foreman looked around for a place to hide but Chase reached for Cuddy. "I'm so sor…."

"No." Cuddy grasped his hand, squeezing it tightly in hers. Tears trickled down her cheeks but there was a faint smile on her face. "No, you're right. I'm just surprised House didn't think of it first."

"You think this is a joke?" Cuddy turned to see Nathan standing right behind her, his face red and angry as he shouted at her. "You all think Dad was a joke."

All signs of amusement drained from Cuddy's face as Nathan's accusation hit her. She looked utterly devastated, grief and pain written in every line as she dropped Chase's hand and reached for Nathan's arm. She managed to snag a bit of his shirt but he pulled away from her and ran to the front door as she called after him.

"Just…." Wilson caught Cuddy by the shoulder as he came up behind her. "Let me talk to him."

Cuddy watched Wilson grab his jacket and head out the front door after Nathan. She looked shell-shocked as she turned back to the others and gave a numb shake of her head. "I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize," Chase said instantly. "He's a kid who just lost his father. He's hurt and he's angry and he's grieving. There's nothing to apologize for."

~~**~~

Wilson shrugged into his jacket as he crossed the yard to the sidewalk. He didn't run after Nathan, didn't try to call him back. He simply trailed after the boy as he scuffed down the sidewalk, dry October leaves dancing in his wake. He wasn't surprised when Nathan headed for the small park a couple of blocks from the house. It was a place Nathan had been going almost daily since he was old enough to walk. On a chilly Tuesday morning, there weren't any other children on the playground. A couple of people were walking their dogs around the edge of the park but otherwise, it was empty.

Wilson crossed his arms over his chest and waited while Nathan circled the swing set, kicking angrily at the piles of leaves. "I understand you're angry," he began. "But you have to understand, no one means any disrespect to your dad. They're remembering him the way he'd want to be remembered."

Nathan turned and stared at Wilson, his eyes swimming in tears. "I called him a freak."

Wilson sucked in a harsh breath in surprise. "You didn't mean it."

"Yes," Nathan yelled. "I did."

Wilson grabbed Nathan and hugged him close even when Nathan tried to push him away. "It's okay."

"No, it's not," Nathan sobbed.

"He was a freak, and he knew it," Wilson said. He let out a shaky laugh as he stared up at the bare limbs of the trees, black against a cloudy sky. "You were angry because some people don't like the way we live. You were angry because they were labeling you because of us. House understood that. He didn't blame you." He pulled back enough to grab Nathan's head and lift his tear-stained, snot covered face to his.

"But he thinks I hate him and now he's dead and I can't take it back."

Wilson drew him back into a suffocating hug, resting his chin on the top of Nathan's head. "Trust me--he knows you didn't hate him. Not really. Come on, how often have you heard me or your mom arguing with him?"

"Lots."

"Yeah, lots." Wilson took a deep breath. "And you know what? We regret that, too. We wish we hadn't argued so much…but that's the way it is with families. They argue even when they love each other." He pressed a kiss to the top of Nathan's head. "Let me tell you something else I know. House couldn't be a normal dad. It's not who he was. But he loved you. He loved you when you didn't do your homework and when you puked on his favorite sneakers when you were six and even when you yelled at him." Wilson lowered his head so his mouth was right next to Nathan's ear. "He loved you. He just had to do it his way."

~~**~~

"Rachel," Wilson said, coming to an abrupt halt as he walked in the front door. He took a moment to process the scene. Rachel was seated on a soccer ball in the foyer, the rest of her soccer gear at her feet. She looked up at him expectantly. "I'm…supposed to take you to practice," he remembered.

"Mom and Nathan are at therapy."

"Right. Damn." He set his briefcase on the floor and looked around. "Give me two minutes, okay?"

"Are you and mom going to get married now?" Rachel asked, leaning over to watch Wilson walk down the hall.

He turned back to her, startled. "Why would you ask that?"

"You couldn't get married before because three people can't get married," she said logically. "But now it's just you and Mom and you can. So are you?"

"No." Wilson's response was immediate and emotional, not rational. But as soon as he'd said it, he knew it was the right answer. "No, it wouldn't be right to get married simply because House isn't here anymore."

"Then are you and mom going to split up?"

"No," Wilson said, his reaction again immediate and emotional. "Why would you think that?"

"Because…it's different now," Rachel said. "Everything's changed."

Wilson lifted his hand to the back of his neck, rubbing as he struggled to find the words to explain the situation to her. Struggling, really, to explain it to himself because everything had changed. On a good day he didn't think about the changes. On a bad day, he didn't know how to adapt to the changes.

"You're right," he said. "It's different. We're not the same family we were when House was here. But we're still a family. That's not going to change."

Rachel watched him silently for a moment, then nodded and started to gather up her gear. "Okay."

~~**~~

Chase looked up from the lab reports scattered across his desk when he heard the faint rattle of his office door opening. He started to get to his feet when he saw Cuddy but she quickly waved at him to sit back down.

"Something I can do for you?" he asked.

Cuddy was silent, studying the office as she moved hesitantly toward Chase's desk. Finally, she took a seat on the other side of the desk. "You were young when you lost a parent…."

"It was different for me," Chase said immediately. "My mother was…. Well, alcoholic is too nice a word. By the time she died, she was a drunk. And a little part of me was glad she was dead. And then I felt guilty for being glad."

"That's understandable. We all have times when we don't like the people we love very much. And the situation with your mother was…complicated. I think it's perfectly normal to feel that way."

"It was. But my point is--Nathan's situation is nothing like mine," Chase said. "For one thing, he's not alone. My dad had already taken off and started a new life. I didn't have any siblings, no grandparents, nobody to look out for me. Nathan has you. He has Wilson and Rachel. He doesn't have to face this alone. And you're taking him to therapy, right?"

"Yeah." Cuddy twisted her hands in her lap. "I thought it would be better to get him help, just in case. You know, talk out the issues before he has serious problems."

"Sounds like a good idea."

"Except it's raised some issues I'm not sure I'm prepared to deal with," Cuddy admitted. She bit at her lip and stared out toward the balcony, working up her courage. "Nathan thinks we should've given House more time to recover."

Chase gave her a sharp look. "You did the right thing. House had had a massive stroke. He wasn't going to recover."

"I know, but it's not so easy to explain that to a child."

Chase nodded, tapping a pencil on the desk blotter. "It's hard for a kid to understand death. Understanding almost dead is worse. And it's not like on TV or in the movies. You can't just give the nearly dead a magical pill or potion and wait for them to recover."

"And he resents Wilson. And Rachel," Cuddy confessed in a quiet voice. "He loves them, I know he does, but right now…."

"He resents Wilson for being alive when House isn't and he resents Rachel because she still has her dad," Chase said, nodding. "That's normal. God, I resented everyone. Anyone who had a dad who remembered his birthday, anyone who had a mother who wasn't in an alcoholic stupor by noon: I was jealous of all of them. Nathan will work through it, though. Trust me."

"Thanks," Cuddy said as she got to her feet.

Chase stood up as well, a puzzled look on his face. "I didn't do anything. I didn't tell you anything you don't already know."

"I guess I just needed to hear it from someone who'd been there."

"But what about you? How are you doing?"

"I have good days and I have bad days. I'll be okay." She smiled at him and walked toward the door.

Chase remained standing, feeling like he should say something more. "I suppose one advantage of a threesome is even when you lose one, you've still got someone."

"Sure," Cuddy said quietly, her hand resting on the door. "But as House once pointed out--being part of a threesome means one of us will have to go through losing two partners."

~~**~~

Wilson walked into House's bedroom, his steps hesitant and hands driven deep in his pockets. "Hey."

"Hey."

Cuddy was seated on the side of the bed, staring at…nothing Wilson could see. He stood next to the bed as his gaze swept the room. Most of House's things had been boxed up in the weeks following his death. Some things had been donated. Other, more personal things had been given to people who'd appreciate them. The rest had been stored in the attic. There were still a few items that marked this room as his, though, like a wooden cane resting in the corner.

To Wilson and Cuddy's great shock, House had actually made a will at some point after the children were born. Even more shocking, he'd updated it after he retired. Other than naming both Cuddy and Wilson as co-executors of his estate, he hadn't mentioned either of them again…which was somehow fitting. He'd made only a few specific bequests. Nathan received his treasured Gibson; Rachel inherited his piano. He left Foreman his collection of jazz recordings and Cameron a sperm sample. Well, he'd threatened to leave her a sperm sample but ultimately he left her his battered motorcycle jacket. He claimed he'd already given Chase his most valuable possession--the position of Head of Diagnostics-- and left him nothing more than his stupid, over-sized ball. To everyone's bewilderment, Chase displayed that ball with pride on his desk.

Cuddy and Wilson had, of course, kept a few personal, sentimental objects. The canes, though…. They'd argued over which one to keep. Wilson was partial to the one Cuddy had always called the pimp cane, the one with the silver handle. She'd always had a not-so-secret thing for the flame cane. In the end, they'd decided to keep one very plain wooden cane. The rest of the canes they'd piled up in the backyard and made a bonfire over which they roasted marshmallows.

"How did Nathan's session go?"

Cuddy looked up at him after moment and gave him a wan smile. "Good. The therapist thinks Nathan's doing well. In fact, Dr. Morgan said he doesn't need to schedule any more appointments."

"You don't get over losing your father in six months," Wilson said with concern.

"Or ever," Cuddy agreed. "But he thinks Nathan knows how to deal with his feelings now. We can always pick up a session here and there if he needs it but…. He is doing better. He even made a joke about it the other day. He said he thinks House died so he could avoid going to the bar mitzvah."

"Not an entirely unreasonable supposition."

"No, it's not," Cuddy agreed, a rueful smile on her face. "And speaking of…. He wants to reschedule his bar mitzvah."

"Really?" Wilson tore his eyes away from the cane, caught off guard by Cuddy's announcement. He'd more or less written off the possibility of Nathan ever proceeding with the ceremony given House's views on religion and the way Nathan's feelings had been turned upside down by his death. "You're just full of surprises today. Good ones, just not ones I'd expected." He smiled. "I don't suppose he's going to ask Kayla to the party again."

"Oh, please. Kayla is so last year." Cuddy sighed and shrugged at her son's fickle teenage heart. "Actually, he doesn't want a party. He just wants to do the reading at services, have official recognition of his becoming bar mitzvah."

"Well, that's…appropriate, I guess." Wilson held his hands up, unsure whether she wanted him to agree or disagree. "If that's what he wants."

Cuddy nodded. "So that's my day. How's yours?"

"Rachel wants to know if we're going to get married now. Or if we're splitting up."

"Really?" Cuddy chewed at her lip. "Nathan asked me the same thing a couple weeks ago. I think he was afraid we'd get married for a while. Now he's afraid we'll separate."

"You didn't mention it."

"Didn't want to give you any ideas," Cuddy admitted quietly.

"You…thought I wanted to leave?"

"I…." Cuddy gave a helpless shrug. "I didn't know. Things have changed."

"House was the eye of the hurricane. He pulled us both into his life," Wilson agreed. "But we've always had our own thing. And it's a good thing. I don't want to lose it."

"Neither do I."

"Good. Then I'm glad we had this little talk." Wilson planted his hands on his hips with a huff. Cuddy let out a soft laugh and stood up to kiss his cheek. Then she took his hand and led him out of the bedroom.

~~**~~
Epilogue
~~**~~

Cuddy let out a loud, raucous cheer.

"Mom," Rachel groaned. She'd been doing her best to ignore her irrepressible mother while sitting several rows behind her parents. She kept her eyes glued to her cell phone as she surreptitiously scooted to the side. "You're going to embarrass him," she said, by which she meant her mother was embarrassing her. She was older now, though, and knew it looked better if she pretended to care about her brother's state of mind.

"That's my God-given right as his mother," Cuddy said. She was standing in the bleachers, cupping her hands around her mouth and shouting Nathan's name at every chance.

Rachel gave an exasperated sigh and went right on texting half the population of the free world on her cell phone. At fifteen, she had finally grown into her features. The strong bone structure she'd inherited from both her parents no longer made her look as though her features didn't quite fit. Now she was a striking looking young woman, not classically beautiful but she definitely caught the eye. She certainly caught the eyes of fifteen year old boys. As far as Wilson was concerned, she got far more than her share of notice, but then again, his idea of her fair share was basically none.

At that very moment, she was attracting more than none as one young man kept looking over his shoulder at her. Wilson didn't like it. He didn't like the look of the boy, mostly because he looked like a fifteen-year-old boy. It wasn't that Rachel was looking at the boy because she wasn't…much. It was the way the boy looked at her. Wilson knew that look, knew what it meant, and he didn't like that look aimed at his daughter. He wished House was there to scare the kid off with a look and a boldly brandished cane.

"We need to have the sex talk," he said under his breath, leaning closer to Cuddy so he wouldn't be overheard.

She reached over and gave his shoulder a distracted pat. "I wish you'd stop worrying about that. Lots of men have the same problem."

"Not…not us," Wilson said through clenched teeth. "We need to have the sex talk with Rachel."

Cuddy followed Wilson's eyes and smiled. "Don't worry about Mike. She's not interested in him." Cuddy nudged Wilson with her shoulder and nodded at the second baseman on Nathan's team. "She's interested in him."

"He's too old for her."

"He's sixteen," Cuddy said incredulously.

"Exactly . Old enough to drive. Old enough to get her alone in a car and…."

"And do what?" Cuddy laughed. "Not every boy is the womanizer you were."

"He's sixteen. Trust me--he's as much a womanizer as he can get away with."

"Stop worrying over nothing and watch the game."

Twenty minutes later, the game had finished and Nathan's team had lost…again. Cuddy was beaming with pride, though, as Nathan joined them next to the stands. "Congratulations," she said, giving him a big hug.

"Mom, in case you hadn't noticed--we lost by one run," he said, looking embarrassed. "I really wanted to end my high school career on a high note."

"Honey, the way this team has played all season, losing by only one run is a high point."

"Gee, thanks." At eighteen, it was obvious Nathan had ended up a couple inches short of his father's height. He had the same lanky build, though, and the same wavy brown hair. Unlike his father, though, he had an open face and an easy smile.

"You're welcome," Cuddy said. "So…should we go celebrate?"

"Um…." He looked to Wilson, then sheepishly looked back at his mom. "The team is going out for pizza and I thought…well…."

"Go," Wilson said. He nodded at Cuddy, who was more reluctant. "Have fun."

"And, um…." Nathan glanced over his shoulder at his second baseman who stood a few feet away, a hopeful expression on his face. "Would it be okay if I took Rachel with us?"

"No," Wilson said immediately.

"Yes, but look out for your sister," Cuddy said sternly. Wilson watched helplessly as Rachel quickly skipped after Nathan and Mr. Sixteen-Year-Old Second Baseman and Definitely too old for my Daughter as they all headed across the field.

"She'll be fine. Nathan won't let anything happen to her."

"I suppose," he said mournfully. He gave a little shake of his head and turned with Cuddy to go to their car. "I've been thinking," Wilson said as they ambled along.

"And here's me without my crash helmet."

Wilson nudged her with his elbow and she pushed back before looping her arm through his. "I've been thinking about retiring."

"Now?"

"I'm thinking about cutting back to half-time…if I can get my boss to agree."

"I'm sure she'd be willing to work something out. If that's what you want to do."

"For now." Wilson stopped as they reached the car and turned to her. "Nathan will be leaving for college in a few months. And Rachel will be following him in three years." Wilson shrugged. "I think that would be a good time for us to retire."

"You want both of us to retire when we have two kids in college?" Cuddy gave him an incredulous look.

"We haven't touched House's life insurance; it's more than enough to pay Nathan's way. And we've both been saving for Rachel's college since the day she was born. They'll both be fine."

"I'm not the sit in a rocking chair on the porch type," Cuddy pointed out.

"Which is why I thought we could travel."

"365 days a year?"

"Maybe a little less. I thought we could spend half the year volunteering. Doctors without Borders, maybe. Or the free clinic is always short-staffed. I know you've missed being a 'real' doctor."

"So…." Cuddy twisted her mouth into a puzzled look. "I'm going to retire so I can go to work?"

"I thought you'd enjoy the irony."

Cuddy smiled as she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "But first we travel?"

"I was hoping to," Wilson agreed. "You know, go somewhere weird or exotic."

"Or romantic?" Cuddy asked hopefully.

"Sure, we can do that. I just want it to be something special." Wilson wrapped his arm around her shoulders as he walked her around to the passenger door. "I thought maybe Rio. Carnival."

She smiled wistfully. "I think that would nice."

"Just the two of us, relaxing, having fun, forgetting all about New Jersey or the hospital."

Cuddy settled into the passenger seat as Wilson held the door for her, but she tilted her head up to look at him as she pulled her seatbelt around her. "You are planning to tell the kids where we're going, right?"

"Sure. Of course," Wilson said. He waited until he'd closed the car door before adding, "Eventually."