COMFORT, Pt 7 LOVE & TREES

Installment number 7 in this series. Dr. Gregory House and Dr. Lauren Sheridan, a neurosurgeon at PPTH, have a solid and deepening relationship. House is stressed and struggling over a very difficult case, and once again, Lauren is there to help him. And he finally says something right…

No sex in this one, but rated M/Adult for language, and just to be safe!

My muse craves reviews! So please send them… thanks!

All the usual and applicable disclaimers and warnings apply, such as don't like - don't read; I don't own House or any other characters, or anything or anybody else, blah, blah, blah…

NITEJASMINE

COMFORT, Pt7 "LOVE & TREES"

House MD fanfic by NiteJasmine

*****

Cuddy had built up a full force fury on her way up to House's office. It was very late, she was tired, she wanted nothing more than to go home. And House was, once again, denying her that privilege. He was struggling with his current case, and beginning to run out of options and time. The patient had just survived an emergency surgery, and was temporarily stable. But odds are that was only going to last through the night. They had removed a symptom, not the cause, and they all knew it. But this latest barrage of House's outrageous demands was way over the top, and she was damn well going to set him straight.

She was fully armed and ready for all-out battle when she strode silently up to his office, her shoes still covered in surgical booties, he would never hear her coming… but in the silent, half-darkened hallway, her hand poised on his office door, she looked in through the glass before she pushed the door open. What she saw stopped her in her tracks. House was sitting at his desk. But aside from that, this was nothing like what she had ever expected to see. He was wearing only his pale blue T shirt and jeans, his jacket and button down shirt tossed across the back of another office chair. And Lauren was with him. He had still not solved this case, and it showed on his face. He looked tired, frustrated, and stressed. Lauren was standing behind him. Cuddy was surprised to see her here, she certainly already knew that he and Lauren were a serious item and that they practically lived together, and the heated verbal exchange she had traded with Lauren a few weeks ago regarding the arrogant diagnostician was still fresh in her mind. But she also knew that Lauren normally stayed away from his office, especially when House was working a case. And this one had so far been particularly tough. Tough on everyone. On his team, and on him. He had gotten very little sleep over the last 4 days, and between code blue emergencies, rapid-fire surgeries, lab visits and MRIs, House had been on his feet nearly non-stop, covering one end of the hospital to the other.

Cuddy thought about it for a minute. In order for Greg House to do something as simple as just walk across the room to get a cup of coffee, he had to use his cane, and his right shoulder as well as his back had to bear his full weight, over and over again. Something those muscles and tendons had never been designed to do. So aside from his normal level of brutal pain from his thigh, he had to be in agony with the additional burden being demanded from his weary shoulder and back these last few days. Cuddy felt a sharp pang of guilt. House was such an abrasive, selfish, childish ass, she tended to either seriously discount or forget altogether his mobility issues and his pain.

However, even though she herself had either dismissed or forgotten that aspect of him, it was obvious that his lady more than understood. Lauren was his Angel. She was standing behind him, her right hand firmly massaging his right shoulder. House's head was leaned off to his left side, his chin resting in the palm of Lauren's left hand, supporting him. His eyes were closed, but she could see the effects of Laurens massage, working the tensions out and the knots loose. House would catch his breath just a bit, and the slight touch of a wince crossed his features, but then disappeared just as quickly and his body would relax again, under her loving touch. Cuddy watched the scene in front of her, frozen in rapt attention, like she was watching a movie. Lauren leaned down nearer to him, and spoke something softly. House never opened his eyes, but he lifted his eyebrows and a tired smile curled up at the corners of his mouth. He answered something back, and Lauren had laughed softly. Then she had pulled his cradled head back in her hand, against the back of his chair, and had leaned over him and they kissed, briefly but sensually. She said a few more soft things to him, then Cuddy saw her unmistakably mouth the words "I love you," with a warm loving smile. And House opened his bleary eyes and looked back up at her, tired and stressed, but reached a hand up, and even at the awkward angle, had caressed her face, his eyes all soft and crystal blue, and she was positive she saw him say something that ended with "…love you too."

And then she realized she must have made a noise of some kind because they both immediately turned and looked at her, standing there in the hallway, seemingly spying on them, an unwitting voyeur. So she gathered herself quickly, pushed the door open and walked in.

*****

House was exhausted. He had been going full speed for over 4 days now. The burning drive he had to solve a case had carried him through the first 60 hours or so, but he was running out of time, the patient was running out of options, and he was running dangerously low on sleep. His whole body hurt. He felt like he had run a 20K marathon through the Himalayas over broken glass. But he hadn't stopped to think about that too much, he was still obsessing over the symptoms on the white board, and the latest test results, and the most recent round of lab work. Fuck. The answer has to be here. Why the hell can't I fucking see it? The patient, a 42 year old obese male, was currently in recovery from the emergency surgery House had ordered, removing half of the guy's liver. He should remain stable until morning. It was only a temporary reprieve, they were removing a symptom, not the cause, and he and his team damn well knew it, but anything was fine right now, if it would buy more time. And he was still no closer to a diagnosis that he had been 4 days ago. And by morning, the patient's organs would begin randomly crashing again, and his survival chances would plummet. He had to figure this out…

He dug into his jacket pocket, found his Vicodin and popped one, tossing the bottle onto his desk. Then he shrugged off his jacket and long sleeved shirt and tossed them onto a chair, paring down to his comfortable T shirt. He hunched over his desk in his darkened office and rubbed his tired eyes. He hadn't seen much of Lauren all week. As usual, she always stayed out of his way when he was working a case. And that had been fine in the past, but right now, it was late, he was tired and stressed, and he was wrestling with this damn case that he couldn't quite crack. And he seriously missed her. Missed her touch, her smile, the warmth and comfort that was his Angel. And then he looked up, and there was Lauren, walking into his office. He wondered how the hell this woman always seemed to be able to read his mind. She stopped at the edge of his desk and leaned one hip against it, fixing her deep brown eyes on him.

"Hi," she said, smiling at him.

He smiled tiredly back. "Hey. How's my Angel?" he said, looking up at her, while cradling his forehead in his hand. She liked his term of endearment that he had adopted for her, he only used it when they were alone together. Every time she heard him call her 'his Angel,' it made her feel like she was glowing inside. She could see the warmth in his eyes when he looked at her, even through the exhaustion. And he was definitely running on empty. God, he looked like he hadn't slept in a month.
"I'm fine. You look awful," she said with a soft smirk on her face, trying to add some levity. "Rough day at the office?"

"Yeah," came his weary reply. He sighed heavily. "Tough case," he said, looking down at the spread of files on his desk.

"Oh, damn it. I'm interrupting you…" She got up on her feet, a serious look on her face, like she had just inadvertently trespassed on somebody's private property. Oh Shit. She hadn't meant to derail him. The man was obviously working. She knew how intently focused he got with a case. She knew enough to leave him be, and let him work. She knew what he needed. And what he didn't need. Some needy girlfriend in here fawning over him. Goddammit. She had just been worried about him and wanted to check in on him.

"No…" he said, almost a little too quickly, snapping his head up. He saw her jump to her feet, and wanted to do anything to keep her from bolting for the door. "No… no you're not. Really. I'm glad you came by. I haven't seen you... I mean, I haven't been home much this week… I just…" He leaned forward while he was talking, and started to reach his hand out to touch her, to tell her how much he missed her, but the sore muscles in his strained right shoulder stiffened up before he got there. He stopped short with a sharp inhale through clenched teeth. He gripped his sore shoulder with his left hand and leaned further forward across his desk, cussing softly.

Lauren moved quickly but smoothly around behind his chair, removing his hand from his aching shoulder and replacing it with her own. OK, so maybe a little fawning is in order… she thought.

"Lauren, you don't have to…." He started, but she gave his shoulder a firm gentle squeeze and it stopped him in mid-sentence. He closed his eyes and grunted softly, teeth still clenched.

"Greg, I know you've been on your feet for days now. Practically been running laps around this hospital." Her soft hand could feel all the knotted up tension as she slowly began massaging his strained muscles, eliciting a heavy sigh from him.

"I'm fine," he answered, but not very convincingly.

"Oh just be quiet and relax a minute," she said, and felt him comply. She reached around and cradled his chin in her left hand, supporting him and leaning his head over slightly. The room went quiet as she worked. The only sound she heard was his breathing catching just a little whenever she found a tough knot and rubbed it out.

She leaned in closer over the back of his chair, working deeper and deeper into his shoulder muscles, releasing the tension and chasing the ache away. She wanted nothing more than to give him some relief, take him home, put him to sleep. But the stack of files on his desk and his stress level told her he hadn't solved this puzzle yet. He still had work to do. And the clock was still ticking…

"You have enough knots in your shoulder to make a rug," she said finally, a trace of humor in her voice.

He didn't open his eyes, but she heard the smile in his reply, "A new rug? Great. I can take a nap on it."

She laughed softly, then gently laid his head back, and kissed him. He returned the kiss immediately, their lips and tongues lazily tasting each other. She pulled back and looked down at his tired features, his eyes still closed. She smiled sweetly, glad she could help chase away some of his pain, even if only for a few moments.

"Anything I can do to help you Greg, you know that." And then, repeating the same three words that she had been telling him for months, she added, "I love you," almost as an afterthought.

He opened his gorgeous blue eyes and looked up at her, reaching a hand up and caressing her face. "You just did. Thanks. And I love you too."

Lauren was caught completely off guard. It was the first time he had ever actually said those words out loud to her. I love you. Sure, she had said them to him so many times, but had never really expected him to say them back. Ever. And she had been OK with that. But he just had. And it had happened so casually, so naturally, so comfortably. She wanted to wrap herself around him and squeeze the stuffing out of him. But the timing sucked, and before she could do or say anything else, there was a noise outside House's office. He heard it too, and they both turned their attention to his door. And there was Cuddy was standing there, frozen in place. Cuddy. What the fuck? What the hell is she doing standing out there? Apparently seeing both of them looking back at her shook Cuddy out of whatever trace she had been in, and she pushed open the door and walked into House's office.

*****

Lauren bristled as the Dean entered the room, but kept herself in check, staying still and quiet. Both women had been deliberately going out of their way to avoid each other since their angry clash in the lab a few weeks ago. That whole issue was still very much unresolved, and Lauren was still harboring quite a grudge. And this was definitely not the most opportune moment for Dr. Cuddy to show up and spoil her mood. But regardless, there she was, standing in the middle of the room, looking more pissed off by the minute.

*****

House roused himself out of his relaxed mode, sat up and steadied his gaze at the intruding Cuddy. He had overheard every word of the heated exchange between her and Lauren that had taken place down in the lab, and although Lauren knew that House had been standing in the next room, Cuddy didn't. He hated being wrong, and the things that Cuddy had said to Lauren that afternoon had really driven home the fact that he had seriously underestimated and gravely misjudged the ambitious Dean of Medicine. At some point in the past, he had actually thought that there may have been something more between Cuddy and himself, not just the ancient one night they had shared way back when. He had actually thought that there was some bizarre kind of affection in their arguments. And maybe at some point, there had been. Or maybe she had just been on a guilt trip and felt sorry for him. But whatever may have been there, it had certainly been gone for quite a while. And the more he thought about it all, the more his entire perspective on Dr. Lisa Cuddy had seriously shifted over the last couple of weeks. But he knew he had to be careful, she was still very powerful and obviously quite vindictive. And she was still his boss. And he didn't exactly relish the idea of getting fired. Because now, with Lauren in his life, he definitely had something to lose, and he knew it. And Cuddy knew it too.

Lauren was standing silently behind him as Cuddy had marched into his office.

"Dr. Cuddy," House said, making his voice sound slightly amused. "You should be home in bed. You're missing your beauty sleep…"

"I'm not agreeing to any of this," she sternly interrupted him, holding the patient file up. "No way. Have you gone completely insane? I am not going to let you start randomly carving out pieces of this guy's organs. No. You find another way."

"Then the patient is going to die within the next 24 hours, maybe less," House replied flatly. "Why don't you go tell his wife that you said no? She's the one sitting next to his bed in ICU."

"Oh, don't you play the guilt card on me, House," Cuddy spat, her eyes narrowing. "I'm not telling his wife anything. And I'm certainly not telling her that now we want to start cutting off little pieces of every organ in her husband's body because the best diagnostics doctor in this hospital still has no idea what's wrong with him."

"Look, this the only to get enough tissue to…" House started, but she cut him off again.

"No, House. No. Do whatever other tests you want, but you are not carving this guy into little pieces."

"We've done all the other tests!" House rallied. "They're all inconclusive! There's nothing concrete…"

"Then you missed something!" Cuddy fired right back. "So go back and find it. Without the scalpel. Am I clear?"

"Yeah. Crystal," he answered, clearly annoyed.

Cuddy sighed. "Look, House, I know you really want to solve this case, but I can't just let you go around carving your name into people's internal organs," Cuddy said, trying to sound more maternal and a little less overbearing. "You're tired. You should go home, get some sleep and…" This time House cut her off.

"Oh, don't you play the pity card on me," he snapped at her angrily. "Save it for someone that it will work on."

Cuddy sighed again. "Fine," she said evenly.

She looked over at Lauren, who had not moved or said a word. Cuddy could see the harnessed tension in Lauren's body language, but Lauren remained silent. The two women looked at each other wordlessly for a moment, then Cuddy looked away, directing her attention back toward House.

"House. Make yourself some coffee. Play your Gameboy. Watch your soaps on Tivo. Call your team back in. Draw on the walls if you want. Do whatever you need to do for that brain of yours. But absolutely, No. More. Cutting. You remember that," she finished, pointing a harsh, school-teacher finger at him. And with that, Cuddy turned and left the room.

*****

House and Lauren watched Cuddy leave his office. "Fuck," House muttered in frustration. He checked his watch. "I'm running out of time."

"Greg… You didn't really expect her to let you do that… did you?" she asked cautiously.

He sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair. "No…" he said quietly.

This was way outside of Lauren's specialty, but she felt like she should offer whatever she could think of. Even a weak differential with her might help somehow. She didn't know what else to do.

"At least you have half of his liver, that's got to help eliminate something," she offered.

"Yes, it does, but it's not enough," he said. He slammed his fist down on his desk in frustration. "Dammit!" He took a minute to calm himself down, then opened another file on his desk that was crammed full of test results. "It's gotta be here. But I can't see it… Why the hell can't I see it?"

She could hear his escalating frustration, but had no idea how to help him any further.

"I don't know," she said, sounding defeated. "I wish I was better at this…" she said, shaking her head, feeling desperate to offer him something that could help. "It could be just a matter of perspective. Maybe you're too far away, not seeing enough of the details. Or maybe you're too close, like not being able to see the forest through the trees. I don't know. Maybe you should wake up your team and call them back in, because I'm…"

She stopped, seeing that Greg was no longer listening to her. He had looked up and was suddenly deep in thought, staring off at some distant point in space, with that look. The look of revelation. An epiphany. "The trees," he said quietly. A slow knowing smile spread across his face. He was on to something. He turned in his chair, and hopped to his feet, grabbing his cane. He stopped briefly in front of her, cupped her face and quickly kissed her. "I gotta go see a man about a tree," he said, almost cheerfully. She could see the sparkle back in his eyes, even though she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

"Sure, catch you later," she said smiling, but he was already halfway to the door, then bolting out and down the hall towards his patient, with surprising speed.

*****

Of course, House was right. He was still bone tired but running on the adrenaline of another case solved just in time. He was smugly explaining everything to his team early the following morning, how the answer wasn't showing up in any of their tests because this poor sap's particular genetically inherited syndrome didn't manifest itself until after death. The bad gene hides inside the organs like an evil step-child, wreaking havoc at will, defying detection. No cases had ever been correctly diagnosed with the patient still alive. He had spent the night grilling the guy's wife with medical questions about her husband, having to go digging further and further back into their family tree to find the answer. And he had found it. Heavy doses of the proper meds and a few rounds of dialysis and the guy would be making a full recovery. His vitals had already stabilized and were showing positive trends.

He directed his little ducklings to follow up and monitor the guy, before the weariness of the past week finally started to catch up with him again, and he called it a day and headed for home. It was Saturday morning, and if he hurried, he could probably still find Lauren snuggled up all warm and soft in bed. He really hoped she had decided to sleep in this morning…

*****

Lauren was still sleeping soundly when she felt his weight sink into the edge of the bed. She heard the familiar rattle of his pills as he took one and set the bottle on his nightstand. She opened her sleepy eyes and smiled warmly at him as he slipped under the covers next to her. The thought of spending the whole day in bed cuddled up with him sounded like the most wonderful idea in the world.

"Hi, baby," she said softly, snuggling closer to him.

"Mmmmm, Hi Angel," came his weary reply.

He had a very self-satisfied look, but she could still see the total exhaustion right underneath it. "Another case solved?" she asked, although him being here in bed with her made the answer obvious.

"Yep," he said, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her closer, delighting in the delicious warmth of her naked body against his. He sighed and kissed her on the top of her head, feeling like one of the luckiest men in the world. "Thank you. For everything," he said into her hair. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, and she felt his whole body completely relax and settle.

"Mmmmm. You're welcome. Now go to sleep, you need it."

"Kay," he whispered, already drifting off. They were comfortably wrapped around each other, and both of them were fast asleep in less than a minute.

*****

TBC…