1

"I thought this was your day off!" Cynthia looked up in surprise to see Chloe Marzhal standing on the other side of the nurses' station desk.

Cynthia Genovese was the day charge nurse of 3 South, a general medical/surgical overflow floor that was always ferociously busy.

"Days off were evidently created for useless meetings with equally useless administrators" remarked Chloe, sourly, "I just spent 90 minutes arguing with a brick wall. Just what I like to do on my day off."

Dr. James Wilson was watching this interchange as he was joined by the ducklings (Drs. Foreman, Cameron and Chase).

Chase piped up, "Why are we here?"

Cameron seconded, "We were paged for what?"

Wilson chuckled and replied, "Watch and learn, young ones, watch and learn."

They could hear him thumping his way down the hall before they ever saw him. Actually, Chloe could always detect his scent first, though she'd never admit it. "Cynthia, God may love me, but Jesus hates me today, doesn't he?"

"Spouting more Christian propaganda there, Clover?" Dr. Greg House delighted in mispronouncing her name. It reminded him so much of 'Bewitched'.

"Well, Gregory, someone has to save your soul, what with you dissipating yourself with God knows who, contracting God knows what. Someday you'll see the light." Chloe never looked at him, concentrating on a file she had in her hand.

"Hey, I practice safe sex, I'm just out of condoms at the moment." House rounded the corner of the nurses' station to pull a chart from the rack.

"Oh! Is that all?" she paused, looking at Cynthia slyly. "Cynthia, honey, rummage around in that bottom drawer and pull out that red and white box, I think I hid it way in the back."

Cynthia gave her a funny look, "This one?"

"That's the one!" Chloe smiled, wrapping her hand around the box to hide the label.

Slapping the box on the counter, she looked up at House, "Knowing what a 'frugal' soul you are, I kept this in reserve, just for you. Go ye forth and conquer – you heathen!"

She turned and walked away. House looked at the back of her… head… quizzically, then down at the box. One hundred brand new finger cots.

Knowing he'd been had again, he rolled his eyes and looked up just in time to see Chloe wet her index finger and trace the number 1 in the air.

Wilson was the only one allowed to laugh out loud. House growled in the general direction of the ducklings as they suppressed their glee.

Cynthia walked over to the white board that hung just outside the nurse's lounge. The white board in this case, was entitled House vs house and chronicled the zingers House and Chloe threw at each other. Chloe always seemed to be one point ahead. Cynthia wrote one more slash mark in Chloe's column.

Just as she reached the door to the storage room, Chloe's hand shot out to grab the jam. She stopped dead in her tracks. Wilson was still laughing when he saw her clipboard and file clatter to the tile floor. Her left hand reached for her throat. Her mouth opened, but no sound emerged.

'I haven't had an asthma attack in decades,' Chloe was thinking. She couldn't catch her breath. Suddenly flushed, hot, but cold and clammy at the same time, she tried to call out for help, but her vocal chords failed her.

It was House's turn to notice when Chloe went down on her knees. Cameron was the first to reach her, everyone else not sure if it was an act. "Chloe, are you alright?" Chloe's eyes were wide, then suddenly they went dull and she pitched forward into the floor. Her eyes were half-opened. She wasn't breathing.

Cameron yelled, "Call a code, she's not breathing!" Chase and Foreman helped turn Chloe over to open her airway and assess her pulse.

"No pulse, start CPR," said Foreman. By then, the crash cart had been rolled over and the staff fell into their ACLS roles. Although initially in ventricular fibrillation, one jolt from the defibrillator was all it took to bring her back to a regular rhythm. Her breathing returned to normal, but she was still unconscious.

2

Fifteen minutes later, she was wheeled into the cardiac catheterization lab, which had been her 'home' for several years. Dr. Stanley Irwin, the head of the Cardiology department stepped in when he heard Chloe was in need of his services and at six foot five and 325 pounds (a former Golden Gloves Champion and now a boxing coach), he was the only doctor in the hospital with the moxie to make House wait on the sidelines while he performed the catheterization. He found the offending occlusion, performed a PTCA and stented the right coronary artery. Even House thought he was watching poetry in motion.

Chloe's eyes fluttered open. She was peering into the eyes of her favorite doctor. "Dr. Stan, what are you doing here?" She looked around. "And where is here?"

"Chloe, dear, you've had an MI. It's alright for now, but you and I have some talking to do." Irwin gave instructions to have Chloe admitted under his care and wrote a page of orders for the nurses to follow once she got to the floor.

After Chloe was wheeled out of the cath lab, House limped over to Irwin and congratulated him on a quick job well done. "Well, thank you, House, I'm glad she was here in the hospital instead of at home or out in public somewhere, she might not have made it."

"How can I help?"

Irwin was puzzled for a moment, House offering assistance? "Actually, House, you can help. Chloe is a willful woman and will need 'incentive' so to speak. Did you know that she is the poster child for the average American registered nurse? Middle aged, overweight, performing a thanklessly stressful job and taking care of everyone but herself. She's got to get rid of that weight that's been accumulating over the years, otherwise this may not be her last MI. Let me buy you lunch and we'll talk."

The cafeteria crowd was abuzz when they saw the two most unlikely men actually enjoying an amicable meal together. Irwin was renowned for his charming, sensitive bedside manner and kind treatment of nurses. House was… well… House. What else can be said?

3

Two weeks later, Chloe was back at work. However, at the insistence of Dr. Irwin, she was placed on light duty, which meant day shift and her hated enemy… paperwork. 'God why didn't you just take me?' She muttered to herself at least once an hour. She hated auditing charts, rifling through personnel files, filling out performance reviews. It was so much Mickey Mouse in her mind.

House ambled up to the third floor for no particular reason except to perform mischief, for which he lived. "So Crystal, how's it hangin'?

Chloe sighed and replied, "Well, Gregory, since I have nothing to 'hang', I'd have to say 'it's not'. You have no patients up here, so what do you want?"

"Ah! Another case of penis envy, Freud was right after all!" House dimpled at her. "I came up here to inquire after your love life, actually."

This threw Chloe off completely. "What the… what could you possibly care about my personal life?"

"I'm worried about you. You know, the merry little matchmaker, me" He was actually smiling at her which was discomfiting all by itself. "My cousin Ralph is coming into town. You'd like him, he's a lot like me, except not as tall, or smart… or handsome."

"Thank you for your kind consideration, but I do not need your help finding a… partner… of any kind! Now go away!" Chloe was flushed and totally uneasy discussing her private life.

She stood to walk away from the nurse's station when House fired the first volley. "Well, Clucks, you're not getting any younger you know and quite frankly, I'm not sure what kind of market there is these days for… well, let's say… voluptuous older women just now."

'I will not kill him in public, I will not kill him in public, I will not kill him in public.' Chloe slowly turned and walked back to House, who was now perched on the desk, spinning his cane. "If you're suggesting that my age and weight are a hindrance to my finding love or more likely, since it's you speaking, sex, you are more of a misogynist chauvinist pig than anyone ever thought! How dare you imply that I am unattractive!"

"Well, then, who are you dating at the moment?" He asked ever so innocently.

Chloe never wanted to slap another human being so badly in her life. However, even though she was a natural loner and despised the thought of cleaning up after someone else, it was true she hadn't had a date in a couple of years. She hadn't really thought about it until now.

House leaned closer to her. "Well?"

"What's this really about, Gregory?" Chloe asked, not wanting to answer his question at all.

House walked over to the white board and was about to chalk one up to himself, when he stated matter-of-factly, "I'm betting you'd have to lose 100 pounds before you were even asked out on a date." Now that was just cruel, and he knew it. The other nurses present gasped in horror.

Chloe blushed crimson, not in embarrassment, but in sheer rage. She stormed over to him and grabbed the dry marker out of his hand. "I'll take your bet you sexist bastard," she hissed, "and you'll regret it!"

"Hey!" retorted House, "If you're serious, there have to be guidelines. None of this purging/puking stuff, no diet pills and no liposuction!" This time she did slap him… hard. He rubbed his cheek and added, "I'll give you a year… two pounds a week, that's nice and healthy. If I win, you take down this damned white board forever."

Chloe pounced. "And if I win?" House shrugged, "Name it."

"I will! Now get your skinny ass off my floor!" She stormed off into her office. House smiled, put a slash mark on his side of the board and, winking at the other nurses, left the floor.

Chloe slumped into the chair at the desk she shared with Cynthia. She wanted to cry, but refused to do so. The humiliating thing about it was that he was right. Damn his eyes! She had let herself go. But he had hit on the precise amount of weight she had to lose to fit the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's current height/weight ratio. She was 5'5½" tall and should weigh between 130-135 lbs (that's reality pounds, not Hollywood pounds). She was 232 lbs as of today. Normally, she didn't care what she looked like. Her fashion sense was non-existent. She could never understand why women spent so much time in front of mirrors! Suddenly, she felt like a beached whale. Crap! Seventeen years old again and pizza-faced. Crap!

As for her age, he'd hit a nerve and a raw one. She knew that statistically she'd have a better chance of getting hit by a bus than getting a date at her age, never mind her weight. For the rest of the day, Chloe was on the warpath. Everyone stayed as far out of her way as they could get. When she was like this, it was better to just disappear.

It wasn't until the drive home that it dawned on her what that manipulative SOB had done. 'Dr. Stan… you sneaky little so-and-so! You picked the one person from whom I wouldn't back down. Crazy like a fox, you are. Well, hell, I guess I have some work to do. Uggggh.'

Once home, she rifled through her old VHS tapes and found the Cynthia Kereluk workout video that was her favorite, back when exercising was actually fun. 'No pain, no gain' was an idiot's mantra and she hated bouncy bleached-blonde bimbos in barely-there thongs showing her how impossible it was to look like them. Kereluk was down-to-earth, easy on the eyes and never made fun of her. Chloe started slowly, but, by God, she started.

And she plotted her revenge.

4

Chase, Foreman and Cameron were all seated at the table studying a file when House came in whistling some obscure tune from some even more obscure operetta.

"Starting without me? I'm crushed!" He feigned a perfect Stan Laurel pout.

"We have a new patient," began Chase. "This guy's palate is being eaten alive, but the swabs are all negative. His uvula is gone and he's in absolute misery."

Cameron handed House two polaroids of the inside of a very unfortunate person's mouth.

"Yuk! What's his VDRL result?" he asked.

The three of them looked up at him as though they'd just been smacked. Cameron said, "Syphilis?"

Chase just stared at House.

"Syphilis papulosa mucosae oris?" Foreman exclaimed, mortified.

"Gesundheit! Just because nobody's seen a case of tertiary syphilis in, oh say, fifty years, doesn't mean it doesn't still exist! Get a VDRL and when it comes back positive, get the guy some treatment, and his wife, too… and get rid of those photos! Jeez!" Making a horrified face, House tossed the polaroids on the table and turned to enter his office, then thought better of it. "Next time don't accept a case without consulting papa… 'kay?" Chagrined, the three left the room.

House wandered over to Wilson's office.

"How'd she take it?" Wilson asked without even looking up from his desk.

"Like a man, what'd you expect?" House retorted.

"I expected her to slap you silly and break your other leg, but, alas, I see you're still standing."

House grimaced and sat in the comfy 'bad news' chair. "She took the bait, hook, line and lead sinker. Oh, and because you care, she did slap me. She's got a mean right." He rubbed his jaw again and scowled.

Wilson laughed. "Think she's figured it out already?"

House searched the ceiling, in hopes of finding intelligent life, "Of course, but she won't back down, it's a matter of principal now. No way is she gonna let me win this one."

Wilson went back to the paperwork on his desk, "Well then, this should be an interesting year. Oh, yeah, and because I do care, I still have that Hair Club For Men business card a member gave me last year, let me know if you ever want it." To Wilson's delight, that got House out of his office rather quickly. He pulled open his bottom desk drawer and retrieved the sandwich he'd been hiding.

5

Down in the clinic, no matter how hard he tried, House couldn't seem to avoid patients. He didn't know that the Dean of Medicine, Dr. Lisa Cuddy had sent out the word that under no circumstances were the nurses to acknowledge the unspoken 'Do Not Disturb' sign House posted whenever he was there. The only way the nurses could think of to actually do that was to herd every 'female' malady in his direction. That way, he always had to have a nurse handy. It took him awhile to figure this out, surprisingly. Well, not all that long, as he imagined something was up at about the seventh case of crotch rot. He only had forty-five minutes to go.

"I don't want to see another female patient, Brenda, got it? There's only so many pelvic exams a guy can take, you know. Almost as good as a cold shower."

Brenda replied, "Yezza massa," and handed him a file. Thank God, it was a male.

A male with crotch rot.

Brenda had somehow mysteriously disappeared.

"OK, what's your story," House began. Sore throat was the patient's stated complaint. However, House had a hard time keeping his eyes in his head as he gazed at the worst case of venereal warts he had ever seen. And he'd seen plenty! He quickly donned a pair of gloves. "Please tell me you're not having sex with that thing!"

The patient replied, rather proudly, "Hey, the chicks dig the texture, man! 'Specially the younger ones."

House's face contorted to reflect the headache that was creeping up the back of his neck. He popped a Vicodin and laid into the patient. "What you have there, pal, is not 'texture', it's WARTS! Warts are caused by viruses and every time you use that thing unprotected, you're spreading the genital human papillomavirus. Do you know you can actually be arrested for that?"

The young man looked at him like he'd grown a third ear. "Man, you get warts on you hands, not your Johnson! That's just crazy!"

House was dismayed to read that this kid was a college student, right here at Princeton. "Different HP virus, moron! The kind you have can lead to cancer in you and/or your partner(s). Have you ever seen cancer of the penis? It ain't pretty!"

This seemed to get his attention. "How do I get rid of them?" he asked, quietly.

House sighed. "We can get rid of the warts with medication, but we can't get rid of the virus. There are only about 100 types of HPV, your immune system may very well get rid of the one you have within a year or two, or it may hang around dormant forever. You'll always have to be careful where and how you use your equipment. I'm going to test you for other STIs just in case, seeing as how you did come in with a sore throat… God knows what's growing in there!" House scribbled onto his prescription pad, then stepped out of the room for a moment, returning with a booklet which, hopefully, would educate this guy. "Read this, there will be a quiz! Once the warts are gone, if they ever return, get to a doctor quick, got it? I wanna see you again in two weeks. In the meantime, keep yourself to yourself."

The totally deflated young man nodded and after having blood drawn and various orifices swabbed, numbly left the clinic, heading for the pharmacy, script in hand.

With that lovely image seared in his memory, House signed out of the clinic. Why was he a doctor? He hated people.

6

Remorse? What an odd sensation. Couldn't be remorse. He did what he did for a reason. It was logically thought out and flawlessly executed. And, it had worked. Why, then, did he feel so rotten? He'd done things like this to other people in his life, for ostensibly the same reasons, namely their own good. People never knew what they really wanted, anyway. He still felt like a bum. His leg was really throbbing by the time he got home. He picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number.

"No, not tonight."

"You heard me."

"You have what I want or not?"

"Not necessarily, but she's got to have spunk. And preferably a mute, or a reasonable facsimile thereof."

"Fine, fine, an hour."

He hung up and pondered. He had been really cruel to Chloe, just about as cruel as when he lambasted Cuddy about being a lousy mother. Of course, he was strung out that time, but that's no excuse, not for him. He cogitated on whether he would date Chloe. Just the way she was. Was it so awful? She was, in fact, a very good person. She gave as good as she got and never backed down from him. Never lied to him. Always looked him straight in the eye. She had guts. She had never been afraid of him. Why not? All the other nurses were. He'd caught her from time to time being all emotional and girlie… sadness, happiness, joy, even playfulness at times. She really liked music, too, although she couldn't read a note and didn't know the difference between a major chord and a minor one. But, would he go out with her? Was her age and her weight that big a deal? Forget his near phobic abhorrence of emotional connections, would he date her?

There was a soft knock at the door. "It's open!" He stayed put on the couch and popped a Vicodin, chasing it with a swig of scotch. She entered the room and locked the door behind her. And there she was. As close to a Chloe imitation as he could get. Same height, same weight. Nearly the same age. Pretty face, nice eyes. He flicked his hand in the air in a 'take off your clothes' gesture. Silently, she complied. He studied her until she began to fidget a bit. He blinked twice, then motioned for her to proceed to the bedroom. He studied her as he followed. She made herself comfortable on the bed and he sat on the edge, studying. There was something Reubenesque about her. Cripes, couldn't he come up with something more articulate than that old saw? He was surprised to find that she was not at all repulsive. She never took her eyes off his face. He ran his long, delicate fingers across her body, outlining her shape. He wanted to kiss her, but they never let him do that. Instead, he gently tilted her head away from him and brushed his lips across her throat. She let out a low mewl, then remembered herself. It was that nearly imperceptible sound that did it. It was all he needed to catapult himself into this crazy fantasy.

Soft. So soft.

In the last several years, he'd become accustomed to bony angles, bodies that look great in any clothing, hell, even in feed sacks, but when naked were like lying on a pile of wire hangers. This was so different. It was as if he were caressing a full-length body pillow, covered in silk. He closed his eyes and allowed her to consume him. She knew her business, but he wasn't about to let this end any too quickly. He'd decided he wanted to savor it.

And savor it he did. Fully.

She left as quietly as she had arrived.

Now he really felt like the ass everyone said he was. He ached to call Chloe and beg her to let him come to her. She wouldn't let him anywhere near her now.

He'd finally studied himself to a conclusion. He was an idiot. Men are pigs.

7

"I think it's totally degrading!" shouted Cameron. "It's nothing more than the same old double standard, we've come so far, and yet we're still in the bedroom and in the kitchen! How can she let him do this to her?"

Cuddy sighed, realizing she wasn't going to get any work done until she calmed Cameron down. "You're preaching to the choir, my friend. However, have you thought that perhaps Chloe has a plan of her own? She can be just as devious as Dr. Feelbad, you know. Those two have been going hammer and tongs since the day he entered the place. Maybe, just maybe, this is the incentive she needed to do what she knew needed doing with the added bonus of shoving it back down his throat! I, for one, am going to watch this play itself out, and my money is on Chloe."

"Maybe you're right, I just think it's disgusting" muttered Cameron.

"And anyway, why are you yelling at me?" Cuddy interjected, "Have you spoken to Chloe yet?" Finally, she'd hit on the thing that would get Cameron out of her office.

"You're right!" replied Cameron, "That's exactly what I'll do." She spun on her heel and headed out the door, just as House was entering.

"Ass!" she hissed.

"Baby!" he hissed back.

"Why am I an ass today?" He inquired.

"God, I get rid of one obnoxious teenager and another one shows up." Cuddy rolled her eyes back in her head and resumed her place behind her desk, feeling the migraine descend. "House, what the hell do you want and how much is it going to cost me?"

"I just came to gaze at the alabaster loveliness of the twins. They paged me. Guess they were lonely."

Cuddy closed her eyes and pointed at the door. "House, get out!"

Assuming a comfortable position on Cuddy's office couch he sulked, "I'm just trying to be helpful!"

She opened her eyes. He was still there. "House, what do you want?!?"

"I just wanted you to know that the Chloe thing was Irwin's idea, not mine. Not that I wouldn't have come up with on my own, mind you. I'm just being the bad boy in this drama trauma."

"That's it? Well, I'm glad to see you're not running with scissors as well as playing well with your peers. Now get out of my office, I've wasted enough time today on soap operas!"

He hopped up and exclaimed, "Oh, that reminds me!" and in a flash, he was gone. Cripple or no, he could move his bum when it suited him.

"Who invented this damned 'open door' policy crap?" Cuddy lamented.

8

Six weeks had passed. Chloe was back on the night shift, where, thankfully, she never had to lay eyes on House. And, she'd lost 15 pounds. Ahead of the curve. Good.

Dr. Cameron had been a pain in her rear end nearly the whole time, though. OK, sweetheart, I get it! But this is war! Move on… eat a hamburger!

The white board had been erased and what replaced the slash marks were numbers. Her weight on one side, and smaller numbers on House's side which she wouldn't explain. Yet. But they kept adding up as her weight went down.

It was three a.m. and the nurses were catching up on their charting when she caught the whiff of whatever it is he wears. For the love of God, it's three in the morning, why isn't he at home hung over? When the other nurses heard the thump of his cane, they scattered to the winds.

She didn't even let him open his mouth. "This is how it works, Gregory. I've divided the year into four 13-week segments. At the end of each segment, if I've reached the goal, you owe me twelve hours."

"Twelve hours of what?" He asked, not quite sure he wanted to know.

"Of whatever I want." She paused for affect, "that means at the end of the year, you'll be owing me forty-eight hours of your precious time. Make plans accordingly. I will not be denied." She resumed her charting.

"Forty-eight straight hours? I'm good, Chloe, but nobody's that good!" House was almost wailing.

Without looking up she responded, "You're an idiot. I'll break it up anyway I want, you just make sure you're available."

He could only envision another disastrous 'Camerondate' and really didn't want to go there. "Chloe…"

"Backing out so soon? The Mighty Quinn falls without so much as a whimper? You disappoint me, Gregory. And you're still an unimaginative dolt."

Well, that did it. "The Mighty Quinn does not refer to Vicodin, it…"

Chloe stood up and shouted without raising her voice. "I know damn good and well what it refers to, Gregory, I vaguely remember high school and college! Now, unless you're here to see a patient at this God-awful hour, I have work to do… and weight to lose." She dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

He stood there, dumbfounded. He'd never lost a bet in his life. Well, that wasn't exactly true. He'd bet himself that Stacy wouldn't do anything stupid while he was in a coma. He lost that one. Hopefully, this time, he wouldn't walk away missing another body part.

9

"What I want to know is why is she the only one around here, or anywhere for that matter that I know of, who calls him 'Gregory' and gets away with it." Cameron seemed truly perplexed. She had been monitoring this weird relationship between her boss and this nurse and had been asking a lot of questions. She wouldn't admit she was ever so slightly jealous. What did she have that Cameron didn't? What did she have to change to get his attention? Poor Cameron just didn't get it.

Chase yawned, "His mother calls him Gregory."

"Exactly!" She slapped her hand on the table. "Why would any woman want to imitate a man's mother?"

Foreman was surprised at the vitriol. "What do you care?" He asked her point blank. "At least with this distraction, he's not on our cases 24/7. I'll take anything I can get and be thankful."

"She calls me Gregory for the same reason I mispronounce her name, which, by the way Cameron, is Chloe." The three jumped at the sound of his voice floating out of the darkness of his office. "Sometimes annoying people is a perfectly acceptable end in itself." Chase nearly fell backwards, chair and all. "Of course, she only calls me that when we're vertical."

House smirked at Chase, "See? That was fun."

Chase straightened his tie and tried to regain his dignity.

Cameron was pondering the 'vertical' remark.

House hobbled out of his office and headed for the coffee, tossing a file on the table as he passed. He had gotten used to Cameron serving him his coffee, he did miss that. Ah, well, shit happens. Foreman grabbed for the chart, happy for anything to talk about besides his boss's extra-curricular assignations.

"Twenty-five year old white female admitted with altered mental status and dehydration. Has a history of seizures, but is 'allergic' to all but one anticonvulsant. EEG is normal." House stirred his coffee and waited.

Foreman jumped first. "So what's so special about this?"

"What's causing the seizures?" asked Cameron.

"Has anyone seen these seizures?" queried Chase.

"Bingo! Go ye forth and… and find out." That didn't come out quite as cool as it should have.

"Wait a minute!" Foreman flipped through the file. "Nothing's been done but the EEG? We're picking up a case from scratch? What the…"

"I got really bored and you three obviously need something to occupy your minds… skedaddle!"

Foreman shook his head and hauled himself out of his chair. Out of earshot, he said, "If I live to be a hundred, hell, if I live through this fellowship, I will never understand that man. We're on a fool's errand!"

Chase shrugged.

Cameron was still stuck on the 'vertical' remark.

"Well, at least it's neurological. I can do neurological."

10

Channeling his inner Vulcan was hard work. He kept running into these pesky things called people. People always seemed to need things he didn't have or want things he couldn't provide. This was not logical. Take his dad, for example. His dad wanted him to be a killer. Why, in God's name? His mother wanted him to love his father. Fat chance. Stacy wanted his soul. He couldn't let go of that. Cameron wants his heart. He doesn't have one. Cuddy wants his nuts. For target practice, he supposed. Well, she couldn't have them. And now Chloe. Chloe wants time. Time. For some reason, that made him really nervous. What did she want to do with that time? Change him? Mold him into something more loveable? Good God, she knew better than that. Bring some humanity into his life? Stronger men and some women had tried and failed. Maybe she wants to get into my head. Nobody gets into my head.

"I'm already there."

He woke with a start. He had heard her voice just as clearly as if she were… ack! She was! She was… is… standing right there. Surreal was not the word. But, then again, maybe it was.

"What are you on?" She looked at him as though he'd finally slipped the last tooth in the gear. "You're in the clinic, and I'm here for my weigh-in. Thought you'd like to be in on it."

He recovered, just. It had been six months. She was right on schedule. Dammit. "I think it's finally time I did some new scrub shopping, these things are getting a bit baggy. Seeya Suckah!"

She left the clinic and could barely suppress her amusement until she got into her car. Poor Gregory. Does he know he talks in his sleep? She laughed all the way home. He was so easy.

11

It was Thursday. Payday. One of Chloe's nights off this week. She came in to pick up her pay stub. As she was passing the clinic, Wilson practically leapt at her. "I got them!"

"No way! They were sold out months ago! Who'd you have to kill?" These were primo tickets, she couldn't believe he snagged them.

"Tomorrow night, seven?" Wilson was positively glowing.

"Oh, you are so getting lucky! Don't be late!" She found herself dancing to the elevator. House emerged from the opening door and she grabbed his free hand and twirled around under his arm and onto the elevator. Her laughter was almost contagious.

"What was that all about?" House asked an equally gleeful Wilson.

"That, my friend, was about me getting lucky tomorrow night. I, yes, I, James Wilson, managed to get two front row seats to the Josh Groban concert.

"Who?" House feigned ignorance, already trying to figure out a way to assume Wilson's place at that concert.

"Forget it. You'd be asleep in ten minutes anyway." Wilson bought a paper from the lobby vendor and found the concert advertisement. He jabbed at the ad. "That's Josh Groban. Chloe is absolutely smitten with his voice."

"Right, his voice… he could be her son!" House practically snorted.

Chloe re-emerged from the elevators and joined the two in the lobby. "Show me the tickets again!" Wilson laughed and pulled them out of his pocket.

"What is the big deal?" House was incredulous. It wasn't like it was Ramsey Lewis, for crying out loud.

"What?" Chloe shook her head at House,

"Have you never heard Jimmy's Panty Peeler speech? You could learn a few things, if you'd just pay attention, you big galoot!" Wilson blushed, wondering where she had heard that speech.

She touched his arm reassuringly. "Don't worry, just don't be late!" Chloe nearly skipped out the doors and into the sunshine.

House contemplated for a moment. "Who asked who to this shindig?"

"Don't you mean, 'who asked whom?'" Wilson responded merrily.

"Whatever, whoever, whomever… did you ask her or did she ask you?" House was watching Chloe.

"Well, actually, no one asked anyone. It was sort of a mutual understanding. Whoever got the tickets took the other one with." Wilson shrugged, mystified. "Why?"

"Because, if you asked her, I just lost the bet. And she's figured it out…," he paused, "…now." He watched as she spun around in the parking lot and started back into the building.

Watching from overhead or from afar or from wherever you were perched, you would have thought it was a well-rehearsed scene from a hugely popular play. They each pointed a finger at the other and simultaneously blurted out, "Wilson doesn't count!"

Wilson, shell-shocked, looked first at one, then the other. He threw up his hands in defeat and handed each of them a prize-winning ticket. He'd given up. He walked away, wanting to get as far away from this natural-disaster-in-the-making as he could get. No amount of cajoling or apologizing would console him.

"Well, I guess we have a date, Curly."

She gave him her absolute best FUBAR face and said, "I have a ticket to a concert tomorrow night. I have no idea what your plans are and frankly, I don't care." She headed back out the doors.

"Pick you up at seven?"

"In your dreams, Gregory, in your dreams" came her terse reply.

12

She looked good in this fantastic shade of purple, and she knew it. Nothing fancy, this dress. No plunging neckline or thigh-exposing side-slit. Just beautiful, soft material that shimmered and flowed around her curves. She especially liked the sheer sleeves. They made her feel like a fairy princess. How silly! But she giggled anyway. Her favorite hair dresser had piled her thick, luscious waves all over her head, with tendrils draped in just the right places to show off her neck. That man was a genius.

All her accessories were silver. She loved silver. Kelly, her downstairs neighbor had helped with that part, as Chloe was admittedly fashion-challenged. The chandelier earrings were just enough, but not too much and the three graduated silver strands around her neck pulled it all together. Even her shoes were silver. The hem of her dress just brushed the instep of her foot and from her viewpoint, anyway, they looked great. The finishing touch was the sheer purple flower tucked over her right ear and the oh-so-soft shimmery silver shawl. She was quite pleased with herself.

House actually did attempt to pick up Chloe at seven. But, to no avail. She was already in the theater lobby sipping pre-concert champagne and chatting animatedly with a perfect stranger. By the time he arrived, people were beginning to assume their seats. He had seen the purple people eater three times before he realized with a shock that it was Chloe. She, for her part, had already detected and was deliberately ignoring him.

He came up just behind her right elbow. "You look good enough to nibble." He whispered in her flower-laden ear.

She took a step back and gave him a slow once over, her green eyes sparkling under the lights. "You clean up well, but you do know that the Miami Vice thing is so eighties… please tell me you're wearing socks?" His eyebrow arched upward and a sly smile crossed his face. "Of course, I'm wearing socks, what I'm not wearing is underwear."

She matched his eyebrow and his smile. "Neither am I." Thank God for two glasses of champagne. She just might make it through this ordeal. He suddenly wasn't so sure.

They found their seats and House, for once, played the perfect gentleman. She was confident that wouldn't last long. However, she did allow herself to get lost in the performance. She didn't care that he was studying her like a lab rat. It's what he does.

Chloe really did love Groban's passionate voice. He soared and thundered, whispered and wept and she was right there with every note. The more classical pieces were great, she simply adored listening to his Italian. She couldn't speak a word and it wouldn't have mattered if he were ordering shoestring potatoes, it sounded wonderful. The newer stuff was fantastic. He was stretching himself and she approved. She very nearly burst into tears when he sang 'Broken Vow' and again during 'Lullaby'. Even House got stoked when Herbie Hancock showed up for 'Machine'. What a rousing standing ovation that got! If the music didn't make you feel something, anything, it just wasn't music. That was her only musical theory and she refused to budge from it.

House watched the musicians, but mostly he watched Chloe. He wondered what it would be like if some of that passion he was observing was let loose in his direction. Would he want it? Or would it just take the fun out of things? Pesky people. What he didn't realize was that he was playing air piano on his legs for most of the evening. Admit it or not, he was enjoying himself. What an odd sensation.

Chloe did realize and it gave her one wicked idea after another. This forty-eight hours thing was pure genius, but what she was going to do with it was going to take his breath away and stop him dead in his tracks. He had this whole thing figured wrong. That was part of her secret. She had absolutely no illusions about Greg House. He was what he was, for whatever reason. It didn't matter. She couldn't understand the troupe that continually attempted to change him or even figure him out. What a waste of time. He was much more fun when you just left him alone. If you handled him just right, you could stand back and watch him twist himself into one giant pretzel all by his lonesome. You just had to know when to walk away. You could always count on him to come back for more.

After the concert, House escorted Chloe to her car. She kept spinning off with some song or other going through her head. He never wanted to waltz somebody around a parking lot so bad in his life. She was bubbling over with sincere enthusiasm. He enjoyed the show and, for once, did not feel the need to burst any balloons.

As they approached her car, he suddenly asked, "Hey, come have a drink with me."

She turned to look at him, gauging whether or not this was a joke. "I'm pretty sure I'm already illegal," she giggled again, "don't think that would be a good idea, but thanks for asking." She attempted to open the car door, but he blocked it. Placing her hand on his lapel, she said, "Greg, go home, it's about to rain. Be careful, please."

Clutching her hand, he very quickly leaned down and kissed her gently. "Why must I be careful?" He was so close. What a challenge.

"Because you could get hurt." Never blinking, she left it at that. He let her go.

Then kicked himself for the rest of the night.

You just had to know when to walk away.

You could always count on him to come back for more.

It's what he does.

13

"You're not going to believe this!" Chase practically skipped into the room to make his announcement to Cameron and Foreman. "I just got all the test results back. Her BUN and Creatinine are elevated, she's got proteinuria, she's thrombocytopenic, I actually witnessed her having a seizure and…" He paused to catch his breath, "she's developing a malar rash and her ANA is off the charts! It Really Is Lupus!"

"What's her H&H?" asked Cameron.

"8.4 and 23.9" She's anemic!" Chase was nearly dizzy.

"What about her ESR?" queried Foreman.

"You know ESR isn't specific for Lupus," shot Cameron.

"No, but you know it's almost never normal in a Lupus patient, either." Foreman shot back.

"It's elevated! Everything fits!" Chase was grinning ear to ear.

House walked in, ignoring the ducklings and popped a Vicodin as he limped into his office. Chase followed him in with the good news. "So? What are you doing here, go treat her!" He threw them all out.

Foreman stayed behind for a moment. "You look like hell, are you alright?"

House was massaging the bridge of his nose right between his eyes. "I'm fine, it's just a hangover. Go away."

Foreman rolled his eyes and sighed, "Well, it doesn't take three of us to treat one patient, I'm going to the clinic for awhile. If you need anything, page me."

House waved him away. "Yeah, yeah, fine."

Alerted by Foreman, Wilson wandered into House's office and made himself comfortable. "What the hell do you want, Wonderboy? Here to lecture me on the evils of drink?"

"Nope, I'm here to find out how last night went. Did you get lucky?"

House gave him probably the most evil look he'd ever seen and Wilson had seen just about all House's evil looks. It's a damned good thing looks don't kill.

"That bad, eh? She reject you outright or did you just not pursue it?"

House made the mistake of opening the box. "Just how many kinds of idiot am I?"

"Hoo-boy, you want them alphabetically or chronologically?" Wilson was enjoying this.

"I had her right here," he held up his right forefinger and thumb together, "and I let her go. What the hell is wrong with me? You should have seen her! Not only did she look terrific, she had completely let down her guard. Yet…" he stopped for a moment.

"Yet, what?" demanded Wilson.

"Yet, she warned me off. SHE warned ME. What the hell is her game?"

"Sounds like you've met your match to me, there, Big Guy." Wilson cocked his head to one side and postulated, "Have you ever considered that Chloe isn't interested in..." He had known Chloe longer than House had, knew her history.

"Isn't interested in what?" House was slow on the pick up. His head was throbbing.

Wilson sat back down. "What if Chloe isn't interested in white picket fences, a dog and 2.3 kids? What if the 'friendship with benefits' arrangement is better suited to you and Chloe than to Cameron and Chase?"

"It certainly would be less expensive."

14

Dr. Stan was all aglow. "Well, young lady, you can stop your atorvastatin altogether, your cholesterol is well under 200. Your HDL is where I want it, as is your LDL. Congratulations!" He gave Chloe a big hug. It was week 50 and she'd already met her goal. She'd won the bet. She was a lot healthier, her knees quit grinding about six months ago, and she was going to let Dr. Stan break the news to House. In two weeks she was going on the first vacation she'd had in two years. The first week she was going to spend annoying the hell out of Gregory. The second week was all hers. And she was heading south. She'd never been on a cruise and she had booked a week aboard one of those Windjammer sailing ships. She planned on getting sun burnt and flirting her fool head off.

First things first. She actually had to work thirteen 12-hr nights straight. She'd had one nurse quit without notice and another out on maternity leave. It would be rough, but she'd done it before, she could do it again. She had just finished her sixth night. She'd stocked up on her supply of zolpidem and created a kick-ass sign to put on her door: "Night worker, day sleeper. Knock on this door and prepare to die." A cute picture of Mandy Patinkin brandishing a cutlass appeared beneath the words. She loved that crazy movie. Everyone knew she turned her phone off during the day, so she wasn't worried about that. So far, no one had been prepared to die. Seven sets of scrubs were left laundered and ready. Fresh sheets on the bed. She took a super hot shower, dried her hair, popped an extra sleeping pill, donned her most comfy jammies, adjusted the black-out curtains over her window and hopped into bed.

Last night had been a bear. Two codes back to back and one of the psyche patients had attempted to escape. She didn't get home until almost nine.

Thirty minutes later as she was just drifting off to sleep, there was a loud banging on her door. Somebody had better be dead or dying, or would be. She ignored the first round of knocks, hoping the bozo could read. She got out of bed on the third round and reaching into her bedside table, pulled out her 9mm and flipped off the safety. Padding to the door, she looked out the peephole and was glad she had the sidearm.

The door flung open and there before him stood a very angry woman dressed in gray patterned silk pajamas and pink fuzzy bunny slippers doing the most amazing thing: aiming a gun right at his forehead. She never said a word, waiting to hear his excuse.

"Whoa! Is that thing loaded?"

Her eyes became slits.

"OK, OK, I'm leaving now, backing up very slowly and going away."

She lowered her aim and, speaking low and slow, said "Gregory I will see you on the fourteenth and not a moment before, understand?" She flipped the safety back on.

Her eyelids flickered slightly, and he knew the zolpidem was kicking in (you thought someone else would write her a prescription for double the amount anyone else would need?) . That's when he did the most amazing thing: He charged her, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her hard against him, engulfing her mouth with his. While subtly disarming her, he slammed the door shut and locked it.

There's only so many ways to describe the sex act and most of the words in the thesaurus have been used up by better authors, so, suffice to say there was a lot of groping, groaning, scratching and screaming. Oh, bodice ripping and codpiece bulging, too. Harlequin would be proud.

When she awoke to her alarm that evening, the room as a mess and he was gone. She smiled.

Well, it only took him a year to figure it out.

15

Chloe logged in at six-thirty and went to get report from Cynthia. She made out the night's assignment, listened patiently to the daily 'whine & bitch', then made her first rounds to assess each of her six patients. She had assigned herself what was called the 'back hall'. Six private rooms at the end of the hallway, furthest away from the nurses' station. The only access to this area were the elevators on the opposite end of the hallway and the emergency exit stairwell.

She was charting her assessment on her first patient when she felt a little scruff brush across the back of her neck. Dropping the chart, she let out a squeal and spun around, arms up, hands in front of her face, clenched into tight fists. "Not bad, Coals, but you need to drop your right shoulder a little." House was grinning at her like a monkey.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" she hissed, not wanting to disturb the patients any further with wailing and gnashing of teeth.

House's expression dissolved into puzzlement. "What do you mean, what am I doing? I… I kissed the back of your neck. You like that."

Chloe shoved him into a little alcove off the hallway. "How the hell would you know what I like or don't like? What's the matter with you, accosting me like that when I'm on duty?"

"One question at a time. I know what you like because I was there. Remember?"

Her face was blank. "What the hell are you talking about? You were where?"

Okay, this was getting weird. He reached out and attempted to lift her scrub collar away from her neck.

She slapped him away. "What are you doing?!?"

This was now getting annoying. "Go in the restroom and look at your left shoulder near your neck. Go on!"

She walked down the hall a few doors and entered the staff restroom. Very quickly she came back out, a horrified look on her face. "What the hell did you do?"

House tilted his head to one side, glaring at her. He paused, then asked, "How many zolpidem did you take this morning before you went to sleep?"

"What's that got to do…"

He cut her off. "How many?"

She thought a moment. "Two. I know it's too much, but I was exhausted!"

"Chloe, listen to me. I'm going to ask you a question and I want an honest answer, understand?" He gripped her shoulders for emphasis. She didn't like taking orders like that, but kept silent. "What's the last thing you remember doing this morning before going to bed? Think!"

She furrowed her brow, looking off to her right. "Um, I took a shower, took the pills… oh, yeah, I do remember some numbnut knocking on my door, but he or she must have gone away, because I don't recall getting up to answer… Why are you looking at me so funny?"

Gripping her shoulders harder, he replied, "You honestly don't remember me coming to your apartment this morning?"

She thought her eyeballs were going to melt out of her head, his stare was so intense. "I… I honestly don't remember any such thing. Why? What happened?"

He stepped back and hung his head. He really seemed deflated. "Chloe, what's the number one side affect of zolpidem?"

"I know I took too much, but I told you…"

"Just answer the question!"

She looked at his shoes, then looked up. "Retrograde am…ne…sia… Oh… my… God…! Are you telling me…" Her hands flew up to her face. Her eyes darted left and right in utter confusion. He could tell she was really trying hard to remember something, anything.

He'd had women praise him, he'd had women laugh and even yawn at him, but he'd never had a woman that couldn't remember the event. He turned away and walked down the hall toward the elevators. His head was hanging, he was utterly dejected.

Chloe called after him, trying to apologize, but he just threw his hand up in the air in a 'forget it' gesture.

When she knew he was off the floor for sure, an evil smile shimmered across her face and she snapped her fingers. Gotcha! That'll teach you to call me old, fat and ugly.

That's right, Chloe Marzhal doesn't forget! And she was definitely in the wrong profession. She deserved an Oscar for that performance.