Just as Chloe was starting to wonder if House had forgotten his promise to have lunch with her, he walked in, carrying flowers. Pale pink-and-white peonies in a long sheath, wrapped in pastel tissue.
She was touched; her room was bare and they were stunning, tasteful blooms.
He handed her the flowers and gave her a quick kiss that Chloe savoured long after his lips left hers.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Good. Not tap-dancing good, but relatively pain-free good."
"Excellent. Are you up for a little company?"
"What do you mean?" Chloe was confused. There wasn't anyone else to visit.
Then Wilson walked in carrying a white box, followed by three doctors she'd never met who seemed a little bewildered at being there.
Wilson set the box down on her tray table and opened it up, uncovering a large chocolate cake with pink frosting roses.
"Happy birthday," Wilson greeted her, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
Chloe was amazed and a little overwhelmed. She'd totally forgotten it was her birthday – her fortieth. She looked up at House.
"You? Have you been planning this?"
House looked a little sheepish.
"Ah, actually no. I forgot until this morning when I noticed your birthdate on your chart."
Chloe smiled broadly. It didn't matter whether he'd organised it that morning or a month earlier, she was still deeply moved by his thoughtfulness.
Wilson gave her a beautifully wrapped gift that contained aromatherapy candles called 'Relax' and instructions to light them whenever she needed – especially if you decide to go home with House, Wilson added in a whisper.
She spent time chatting with House's fellows – the three doctors she hadn't met – House gruffly introducing them and hovering somewhat anxiously until all three of them received pages that called them away. Chloe harboured a suspicion that House may well have organised it.
Wilson started cutting the cake and there was a half hour of chaos as the word spread of free cake and nurses came from everywhere to grab a piece.The noise and excitement was wonderful, but Chloe quickly tired with the effort of keeping up with everyone and the conversation. Wilson nudged House when he noticed Chloe slumping a little in the bed, still smiling, but looking pale.
"Right everyone, out," House called.
A nurse collected up the now empty cake box and tidied up the room as everyone left. Eventually House and Chloe were left alone.
Chloe leaned back into the pillows, closing her eyes to rest for a moment.
House watched her for a while. Although he was still sure he knew what he wanted, he was scared about what it would be like to have her living with him, dependent on him. But then, he thought, as he eyed the curves of her breasts under the hospital gown, there was a lot to recommend the idea of her in his bed for an extended period of time. After that, once she got well… well, they'd cross that bridge when they came to it.
He leant over and kissed her lightly.
"Happy birthday," he said quietly.
Chloe opened her eyes and smiled up at him.
"Thank you so much for my party. Here I was thinking that catching a Buffy marathon on cable would be the best thing that would happen to me today."
House snorted a laugh.
"Well, I guess that is hard to top, but then again: chocolate cake."
"Mmm," Chloe agreed. "Kiss me again," she murmured, leaning up to him, catching his face with her hand and bringing it to hers.
She kissed him gently, lips just touching his, her eyes closing at the sensation. It took just a moment, but then House was kissing her back, bending over to reach her properly. He sat down on the edge of the bed, bringing one hand up to caress her cheek, leaning into her to explore her mouth thoroughly. Her tongue met his enthusiastically, one hand on his chest and the other at his neck, pulling him into her.
After long moments he pulled back, not wanting to take things to the point where he'd need to close the curtains and do very inappropriate things considering her medical condition.
Chloe opened her eyes slowly, having closed them as she'd felt the kiss deepen. She smiled up at him, wanting more, knowing it wasn't possible for now.
Something clicked into place as she looked at him.
"That was nice," she said, one hand still pressed to his chest.
House reluctantly pulled away from her.
"There's more where that came from," he said, his voice growly with desire.
"I know," Chloe said softly.
"I'm offering you twenty-four-seven access," he said, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
"I know," she said again.
She grasped his hand in hers and looked into his eyes deeply.
"Can I accept? Is it really okay? Do you really mean it?"
A sarcastic comment immediately sprung to mind, but for once House bit it back, knowing it wasn't the time.
"I really mean it."
Chloe smiled at him.
"You accept?" House asked with a slightly incredulous tone.
Evening, a few days later
House opened the door to his apartment and left it wide open. He turned to watch as Wilson helped Chloe slowly up the corridor and through the entrance.
"Sofa or bed?" House asked as brightly as he could muster, trying hard to play the part of the congenial host, but the sight of her limping through his doorway already had him feeling that this had been a terrible idea; feeling invaded, inadequate to the task, vaguely panicked.
"Um, bed, I think," Chloe said quietly, her concentration still on putting one foot in front of the other.
Wilson nodded curtly to House. House probably couldn't see it, but Wilson could feel how much Chloe was leaning against him, especially since they'd had to walk almost a block to the apartment from where they'd parked the car. She really needed to be lying down.
"Wow, clean sheets," Chloe admired as Wilson helped her into the bedroom.
"Yeah, well the last lot were pretty manky," House said.
"That would be my fault, I guess." Chloe gave him a weak smile.
"And just look at those fabulous pillows," Chloe said, giving House a weak, but cheeky smile.
House smiled back wanly.
Deliberately taking his time, Wilson gently manoeuvred Chloe onto the bed in a sitting position, then reached down and put his arm under her knees to help her swivel around and lie down. Once she was horizontal Chloe could feel how much the trip had cost her – she felt as if she'd run a marathon not just walked a block. She closed her eyes for a moment to rest, then opened them and smiled gratefully to Wilson.
He could see the gratitude in her eyes.
"Welcome." He gave her a simple smile.
"What do you want to do now?" House asked, standing in the doorway as he watched Wilson tend to Chloe. He was still comprehending the idea that she was really there, in his home, dependent on him. He would have known what to do with a patient in the hospital, but this was Chloe, in his bed. He was at a loss.
"Sleep, I think," Chloe murmured, her eyes closing again.
Wilson pulled a throw rug from a chair and draped it over her, relieving her of the need to move again to get under the covers.
At the feel of the cloth over her, she smiled, but didn't think she had the energy to say anything more.
"I could use a beer," Wilson suggested, keeping his voice low. He was definitely picking up the panic vibes from House and decided it would be a good idea to stick around for a little while – at least until House calmed down.
House shrugged in agreement and he and Wilson walked out to the kitchen in silence, grabbing beers from the refrigerator and then taking seats on the sofa. They had clicked on the TV to a sports channel and had been watching for a just a few minutes when Chloe called out from the bedroom.
"Greg?" Her voice was wavering a little.
House looked at Wilson and rolled his eyes, a sarcastic gesture to cover the deep concern he immediately felt. A little voice told him that he wasn't cut out for this, that he couldn't cope. What had he been thinking inviting her to stay with him? How could he possibly take care of her when he could barely look after himself?
Wilson didn't make him feel better when, at House's hesitation, he just gave a warning look and a shrug that clearly communicated: You said you wanted this…
House nodded and put down his beer stoically, rising and walking up the corridor. When he reached the bedroom he took one look at Chloe and knew exactly what was wrong. He reached the side of the bed with the trashcan just in time to hold her hair back as she vomited. There wasn't much to come up, but he could tell that her body ached with the retches.
Wilson could hear what was happening and rose to grab a glass of water and wet a washcloth. When he walked into the bedroom he stood for a moment observing.
House was sitting on the bed next to Chloe, one hand grasping her hair in a bunch, the other lightly rubbing her back as she leant over the side of the bed. He was murmuring to her in reassuring tones that she was sick because she was exhausted, nothing more than that. Wilson smiled at the unexpected sight. After a moment, he unobtrusively handed the water and cloth to House, then went and stood back near the door in case he was needed for anything else.
"I haven't had anyone hold my hair back since my boyfriend in college after a tequila night. Ugh," Chloe said, shuddering at the recollection.
House helped her to sip the water and then get settled back in the bed. He handed her the cloth to wipe her face.
"Mmm, tequila." House said in mock delight. Then his face changed into a frown. "I want to hear more about this boyfriend. How long exactly did he hold your hair back for?"
"I don't remember, but it was a lot of tequila," Chloe bantered back, feeling better.
"Slammers or laybacks?"
House grimaced. "That's revolting."
"I know. I followed those with grasshoppers. You know that saying 'technicolour yawn'? I don't even want to think about it." She rested back, closing her eyes again.
House was struck by the fact that for once she hadn't apologised or thanked him. He was relieved and, for some reason, pleased with himself. The panic he'd been feeling started to recede. Maybe he could do this after all. Why would he question his instincts? After all, he never would with a medical decision.
He looked at her closely and smiled.
"How 'bout we get you into bed properly. Want me to grab your pyjamas?"
Chloe smiled bashfully and looked up at him with a shy pout in request. House rolled his eyes in response.
"Yeah, yeah, I get it," he said, rising and moving to his drawers, pulling one open and grabbing one of his t-shirts from within, tossing it onto the bed.
He looked over at Wilson, still standing in the doorway.
"Thanks, Wilson, but I've got this bit," he said, accusingly.
Wilson couldn't help blushing; House would have known full well that Wilson wasn't hanging around to cop a look at Chloe changing, but it still embarrassed him a little. He returned to the lounge.
House helped Chloe take off the light clothes he'd brought in for her to wear when she was discharged. He couldn't help the charge he got from seeing her breasts as she changed into his t-shirt and slid under the covers.
He leant over and gave her a quick peck on the cheek, knowing she was tired and still nauseous.
"I'll just be out in the lounge with Wilson. Holler if you're going to holler again," he said.
Chloe nodded, eyes closed. She felt sick, but she felt so much better being at home than in hospital. She realised that she had just thought 'home' as being her home, and of course it wasn't, but the feeling was the same. Safe, comfortable, relaxed. She sighed a little and felt herself drifting off to sleep.
House joined Wilson back on the sofa, collecting their beers from the table. They both stretched out their legs and crossed them, one ankle over the other, in unison.
Wilson took a long draught of his beer, then looked at House frankly.
"I think you're gonna be fine," Wilson said.
House nodded, took a drink and smiled a little to himself.
It was late when Wilson left. House saw him out, still vaguely nervous about him leaving, because after that it really was him alone with Chloe, no one else to help with looking after her. But short of asking Wilson to stay on the couch, there was no choice but to face it.
House cleaned his teeth and stripped to his boxers, climbing into bed gently, trying hard not to disturb Chloe. As he settled down he couldn't help the groan that left him from the ache in his shoulders. The bike ride he'd taken a few days previously to work out his thoughts had taken his leg a long time to recover from, and the need to lean more heavily on his cane had made his back and shoulders ache. With his left hand he tried to massage the tightness away.
Chloe stirred with the movement in the bed.
"Are you okay?" she asked sleepily.
"Fine, just a bit achy," he admitted. "Go back to sleep."
"Lie on your stomach," Chloe said, now awake, noting his attempt to massage his shoulder.
"Oh, just do it," she encouraged.
House rolled over, lying flat, his arms by his sides. Chloe sat up, careful to find a position that didn't aggravate her surgical wound.
She began by running her hands over House's back, shoulders and arms, smoothing out over his skin. Then she started digging more deeply, pressing into the knots and whorls of his tense muscles. House groaned in pain and pleasure.
"Is that pressure okay?" Chloe asked, concerned.
"It's okay as long as you never stop," he growled between sighs and groans at the release of tension.
Chloe smiled and kept kneading, working out the contracted muscles.
After a long while she started to feel tired, and changed her movements to sweeping, long strokes, intended to pull the tension away from his shoulders, down his arms and out through his fingertips. She finished by running her thumbs firmly over his palms and pulling gently on the fingers of each hand – a movement that had House squirming in realisation that he couldn't do what he longed to do with the response she'd provoked, at least not for a week or so.
She lay back in the bed next to him, laying her arm over his with their palms pressed together, fingers lightly entangled, keeping the contact between them.
"You know," House began, turning his head to face her, "you're going to be well enough to go back to work in a couple of weeks."
"Yes…?" Chloe said, wondering what he was getting at.
"So I get to look after you for just a little while until you're well again."
"Hopefully," Chloe said.
"On the other hand, I'm always going to need looking after."
Chloe could hear the vulnerability in his voice, the need, and also the vague embarrassment at making the admission.
"You've managed so far," she said lightly.
"Yeah. But not very well."
"Think you need some help?"
House took in a deep breath.
"Probably could use it," he admitted.
"Well, I guess I'd better hang around then," Chloe said, smiling.
"Go to sleep," House said, turning on his side and reaching out to hug her to him.
Chloe snuggled into his warmth.
"Okay. See you in the morning," she said quietly.
"G'night," House said, breathing deep, inhaling the scent of her skin, feeling her warmth under his arm. Knowing he wanted to wake up to it tomorrow and for a long time to come.
A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who made this my most reviewed story ever! It has been very exciting logging into email each morning to find reviews waiting for me. Now I'm completely addicted! Which means I have to get moving on a new story so I can start posting and feed my addiction again soon. For those of you out there that have been reading and have yet to leave a review, now's your chance to earn some really great karma…
Special thanks to Ladyfr who was the beta of the original story which morphed and changed a lot as it went, thanks to her encouragement.
Special thanks also to Sokerchick, Momsboys, Chicagochicklett, Gypsy71, Jennifer, and RavenDiesel who've been there and reviewed all along the way. You guys rock!
And thanks to House and Chloe for letting me meddle with their lives again. I've already been asked about a sequel (another one!) – there's nothing currently planned, but you never know, so stay tuned.