A/N: Hi all, this is a bit of a writing experiment for me. I wrote this prior to Season 5 starting, so there's no link to anything new. Hope you enjoy.
ADDED NOTE: For all those new to this fic, please note that it is structured to follow two parallel storylines in alternating chapters. So chapter and 1 and 2 are quite similar - setting up the groundwork - and then chapter 3 follows on from 1, and 4 follows from 2, etc. If you've ever seen the movie Sliding Doors, that's the sort of thing we're talking about - similar events happen in the two storylines, but with different outcomes.
Thanks to those reviewers who've written to me and let me know that they needed more explanation to make sense. I'm really glad you took the time to tell me, rather than just give up!
Jess stretched languidly in bed, her muscles protesting the fact that they'd spent most of the previous night being very active. Busy making up for the fact that during the whole of the previous week she hadn't shared more than a brief hello and goodbye with him. He'd had one of those patients, keeping him at the hospital for hours on end and making him mentally unavailable to her, even when they were in the same room. But, since the phone call she'd received on Monday, Jess had to admit she'd been kind of been glad for the excuse to avoid talking to him. She knew she was being a coward; it was well overdue for her to fess up.
By Friday she'd decided this weekend was it, she was absolutely, definitely and finally going to tell him everything as soon as she saw him next. Except all her good intentions melted when he'd called her to say he was going to be home by five, his voice gruff and tired, but leaving no doubt as to the underlying purpose of his call. She'd felt that familiar tightness in her heart and jolt in her pelvis and had left work in a flurry of excuses, avoiding the usual Friday night drinks in order to get herself to 221B Baker Street as fast as possible. As soon as she'd walked in the door he'd easily made her forget about anything other than the lips, hands and other parts of his anatomy that made her feel so good.
"You know, I think we're getting good at that," House said from the pillow next to her, still slightly out of breath.
"Yeah?" she asked lightly, gathering her dark, shoulder-length hair into a bunch behind her neck.
"Yeah. Almost perfect." His foot strayed over in the bed and his funny-shaped toes stroked her calf, as tender a gesture as he ever sunk to.
"Almost perfect?" Jessica asked, turning to him, her green eyes open wide with surprise.
"Well you know what they say: practice makes perfect."
"Ah." She nodded sagely. "So more practice needed then?"
"Lots more," he promised.
He yawned and stretched his arms above his head, his skin catching some of the morning light that was sneaking in through the closed curtains. The sight of his shoulder muscles playing under his skin was enough to send a shot of desire through Jessica, despite her very recent satisfaction.
"But I need a nap first," he said sleepily. "And then some breakfast."
He snuggled himself into the pillow and closed those compelling blue eyes of his. Jessica couldn't help but give a secret smile. As obtuse as it was, any reference he made to a future together always made her happy. Greg House was the best thing that had happened to her in a very, very long time.
She stretched again and tried to make herself more comfortable amongst the rumpled sheets, but pulled a face as her legs rubbed together and she felt the combined fluids of their lovemaking, wet and sticky on her thighs. She hated that feeling. Although she was quite happy to spend all day in bed, she wanted to clean up a bit first, maybe put some underwear on.
"I'm gonna have a shower," Jess announced to him, and he grunted sleepily in response. She spoke quickly, as if getting the words out fast would somehow lessen their impact. "And Greg? After that, I need to talk to you. I've got some work news I need to tell you." Jess knew it was cowardly to start the conversation while he was nearly asleep, but at least she'd made a start.
Mentally running through the toiletries she'd started stocking at his place, she rose from the bed. But once she was on her feet the room seemed to darken at the edges, stars swimming in from the periphery of her vision. She staggered and sat back down again, hard.
"What's the matter?" The gruff edge in his voice would have made anyone who'd overheard guess that he was annoyed he'd had to ask. Even through her haze, Jessica knew better. Knew that he was like a winning lottery ticket and if you just scratched the surface with a fingernail you found the true value underneath. This was his version of concerned – you just had to know what to look for.
"Has sex with me finished you off? Have you had a stroke? A heart attack?" He was joking, but he propped up on one elbow to get a better look at her when she didn't answer immediately.
"No, I haven't had a stroke or a heart attack. I just felt a little faint. I guess the blood hasn't got back to my head yet."
Jess twisted around on the bed to face him. He sat up and peered into her eyes, pulling down her lower eyelids, then took her hands in his, examining her fingernails and then her palms.
"Looks like you could be anaemic," he diagnosed.
She shrugged. "I guess that would make sense; I had my period this week and, on top of everything going on at work, it really wiped me out."
He nodded. "We'll get you a vitamin supplement. And let's go to Charlies for a steak tonight. Your treat."
"Ha!" Jess snorted. "I'm malnourished, so I get to buy you a forty dollar steak?"
"Fair's fair. You could have paid a doctor forty dollars for the information I just gave you for free."
"Uh, Greg, I work at a hospital remember? I don't pay for medical treatment."
"Oh no, that's right," he said, mock-thoughtfully. "You work in PR at St Mary's General. You give doctors blow jobs instead of money, like the good little Catholic you are."
"Oh! You little shit!" She launched herself across the bed as if to tackle him. He laughed heartily and they play-fought for a while.
Eventually, despite his weak leg, House's sheer weight and muscle strength overwhelmed her defence and he had her pinned to the bed, his hands grasping both wrists above her head.
"Surrender?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Surrender," she agreed. "I'd show you my white flag, but I think I left my panties in the living room."
He chortled a quick laugh and then rolled off her.
"What was your work news?" he asked, watching as she rubbed her wrists to restore the circulation.
Jess swallowed, the laughter in her body suddenly abating. "I thought you were going to have a nap?" she asked, even as she berated herself for her cowardice.
"Yeah, well I'm awake now. It must be something serious if you waited for a post-coital moment to share it."
Jess hated to think that she had been so consciously manipulative. She had been waiting for the right moment, but then in nearly four months there had never seemed to be one. And now it was pretty much the last moment.
"Um." Jess stalled, searching her memory for the carefully crafted words she'd been practicing for weeks. Trying to remember how exactly she had decided she was going to break this news to him.
She took a deep breath. "There's a job going at Princeton Plainsboro. The head of the PR team is retiring. It's pretty much the best hospital PR job in the state."
"So… We'd be working at the same place. When you had cases that attracted media interest, we'd be working together."
He shrugged. "We could car pool."
Jess was surprised by his cavalier response, but then the whole working-at-the-same-place was really just the small issue.
"You really don't mind?"
"Done it before. I can do it again. Although Cuddy might not be thrilled."
"What do you mean?"
"Stacy worked at Princeton Plainsboro for a few months."
"Oh." Jigsaw puzzle pieces of House's life suddenly clicked into place in Jess's mind. He only referred to Stacy occasionally, but enough for her to know that she was the most significant previous relationship in his life. She hadn't realised that they'd worked together.
"No one at the hospital knows about us other than Wilson, right?" she asked.
"Well, I just wondered if I need to be prepared to answer questions about our relationship in my interview."
"You already have an interview?" He frowned and Jess's nervousness returned.
"Yes, on Monday."
"So, you're not exactly waiting for my permission to apply for the job then," he said and she couldn't miss the frostiness in his tone.
"No, I'm not."
He looked guarded, frowning at her. But whatever mental process he was going through, he obviously came to the conclusion that he didn't really care too deeply about the situation.
He shrugged again. "As far as I know, Wilson's the only one who knows about us. And actually that's probably just as well if you want to have a decent chance."
Jess tried hard to keep her expression neutral, so that he couldn't see that it was no accident that she'd asked him to keep their relationship quiet.
"If I was you, I'd keep it to yourself until you land the job. Cuddy found having Stacy and I working together a little…stressful. But then, we weren't exactly always…ah…" he searched for the right word, "…friendly."
"Really?" This was a complication that Jess hadn't prepared for. She wanted their relationship to be secret in case it had any impact on her chances of selection, figuring she'd deal with it after she got the job. She certainly hadn't suspected that House had had a previous work relationship that had gone sour. Hmm. That just complicated things even further.
"If you have to come clean with Cuddy do it, just let me know." His eyes sparkled with mischief. "If only so I can prepare for her weeping and rending of clothes in overwhelming grief at the fact that I'm no long available for her."
Jess laughed. There was more to be said, but she couldn't bring herself to ruin what had turned out to be an easier conversation than she'd ever expected. Even though she'd barely scratched the surface. But then, maybe he didn't need to know everything? It was the life they shared now that was most important – she was sure he'd recognise that. He had to know her well enough by now to trust her, to trust her motivations.
She was sure. Mostly.