So...I've decided to wrap this story up here. :) A thousand pardons for being so slow to update, but RL has been kicking my butt. Thanks for reading and reviewing along the way, and remember, as always, that I don't own House (dammit).
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House snapped his phone closed and shoved it back in his pocket, heaving himself out of the Eames chair with a huff of irritation. The phone call with Alex had managed to churn up all sorts of feelings that House had no idea how to handle.
He eased himself back into his desk chair and returned to his charting, attempting to push thoughts of Alex aside. Whatever else the young man was doing while he was in Los Angeles was surely none of House's business. Alex was young, single, and attractive. He would have no problem keeping himself entertained for a few days when he wasn't doing business.
House set the chart he was working on aside and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes thoughtfully. This was ridiculous. There was no reason for House to feel what he was feeling, and yet, here he was, unable to concentrate on this most menial task that he would have ordinarily shoved off on one of his fellows.
The idea that Alex would find his own entertainment troubled House. That entertainment could very well include other people, other people who were sure to feel as drawn to Alex as House was.
House shoved himself out of his desk chair, irritated with his own train of thought. It's not as if he and Alex were committed to each other. They had never gotten that far in any discussion of their relationship, which was mostly fine with House, up until now.
Alex had been right. There was no point in trying to have this conversation while he was on the other side of the country. House wasn't sure he wanted to have to conversation at all, if there was even any point. If Alex was smart, he would eventually make the move to Los Angeles, and the whole discussion would be irrelevant anyway.
House was so lost in thought as he poured another cup of coffee that he didn't hear the conference room door open behind him.
"House?" Cuddy's familiar voice jolted him out of his reverie.
"Still working on those charts." House snapped as he wiped up the small amount of coffee he spilled.
"I think this might be slightly more interesting." House turned to see Cuddy holding out a case file with a slight smile on her face.
House felt his mood lift ever so slightly as he took the file from Cuddy's outstretched hand and flipped it open. He quickly read over the previous doctors' notes, mentally cataloging symptoms, already starting to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
He shrugged casually to cover his interest in the case. "Has potential, I suppose."
"Good." Cuddy's smile grew a little wider as she turned to leave.
"If I take this case, does that mean I don't have to finish the charting?"
Cuddy paused at the open conference room door. "Finish the charts, then look over the case."
"But Moooom!" House whined mockingly.
Cuddy merely arched an eyebrow as she fixed House with a meaningful look. "The patient isn't dying, and you've been behind on your charting for months."
"Not my fault." House countered.
"Not the point." Cuddy answered. "I'll expect those charts by the end of the day."
House rolled his eyes as Cuddy left, picking up his coffee and returning to his office. Between the charting and the possibility of a new case, he wouldn't have time to be bothered with whatever Alex might be doing out in Los Angeles. That suited House just fine. The busier he kept himself for the next few days, the better.
# # #
The next couple of days flew by as House dived headlong into his new case, thoughts of Alex barely entering his mind. Occasionally he would check his phone to see if the young man had attempted to contact him, but so far, nothing. House didn't know what to think about that.
Fortunately, House's patient kept him and his team hopping until early into the following week, when they finally discovered the chronic disease that had been hidden since the patient's admittance.
Upon the patient's discharge, House packed up and headed home with every intention of crashing out on the nearest piece of furniture. He had just toed off his shoes and stretched out along the length of his couch when his phone started chiming in his pocket.
House dug it out with a groan, flipping it open to answer. "House."
"Hey." Alex's voice was tinged with concern. "Did I call at a bad time?"
"Nope." House pushed himself to a sitting position, scrubbing his hand over his face. "How's La-La Land?"
Alex let out a short laugh. "It's been nuts. I haven't had any downtime at all. Nothing but meetings, meetings, and more meetings." There was a brief pause. "Been kind of lonely without you."
House was silent. Truth be told, if it hadn't been for the case that had kept him so occupied, these last few days would have been a lot harder for him to take. He wasn't sure he wanted to admit that to Alex. "Yeah, well...won't be that long until you come back, right?"
"Right." Alex paused again before continuing. "So...I did my thing for the children's hospital."
"Yeah?" House felt his heart pound a little harder.
"Yep." Alex answered. "Stewart seems to think they were pretty impressed."
House rolled his eyes. "Again with this Stewart guy. What is he, your pimp?"
Alex laughed. "No, he's just promoting the hell out of me. Got a few more galleries that want to take me on. He's big on getting me to move out here."
An all too familiar sinking feeling washed over House. "Seems like the logical thing to do. I mean...if that's where the action is, it kind of makes sense."
There was a long silence before Alex spoke again. "I guess, but...I'm not so sure I like it out here."
House was puzzled. "Are you nuts? You're out of the snow and the cold. What's not to like?"
"There is that." Alex responded. "I don't know. The place is just...weird. Kind of defies explanation. Nice place to visit, but..."
"You're a goddamn moron if you don't stay out there." House snapped. "I thought this is what you wanted."
"I thought it was, too." Alex replied with a hard sigh. "Doesn't matter right now. Not like I can just pull up stakes and move out here anyway."
"But if you get the hospital project..."
"That's a big if, Doc." Alex told House firmly. "And even if I did, there's no reason I can't do most of the work in Princeton. Besides, I've still got a business to run, you know. Can't just drop that."
"Any idiot can run that." House argued. "You've got a rare opportunity to do what you've always wanted to do. Who knows if you'll ever get this kind of chance again?"
"If I didn't know you better, I'd almost say you didn't want me to come back." Alex laughed shortly.
"I never said that." House quickly answered, running his hand over his head.
"Then why are you pushing so hard for me to stay here?"
House had to think hard about that. Normally he would be all about trying to keep Alex here in Princeton with him. He took a deep breath before answering. "Because you've got one hell of an opportunity, and...I don't want you to regret not taking it."
"If I stayed out here...it might mean you'd never see me again." Alex answered quietly. "Would you really be okay with that?"
"I don't know..." House didn't want to face his own feelings. "Why would it matter?"
"Because..." Alex paused again, letting out a shaky sigh. "Fuck, Doc, I care about you, and...I miss you. The idea of not having you in my life...I'm not okay with that." He took a deep breath, and it sounded as if he were clearing his throat. "You've become an important part of my life for a lot of reasons, Doc, and...I'm just not ready to give you up just yet."
House twisted his mouth, suddenly feeling conflicted. He wanted Alex to take full advantage of the opportunity that had fallen in his lap, but he felt the pull the young man had on him. "I want you to do what's right for you. If that means losing you, then...I guess that's what happens."
Alex let out what sounded like a disgusted snort. "That's very noble of you. Noble...and fucking stupid."
House felt as if Alex had just smacked him in the head. "What the hell do you mean?! There's nothing noble or stupid about making you do what's right for your career."
"Jesus, Doc, have you listened to a word I've said?!" Alex practically shouted in House's ear. "I'm not staying out here. I've already told Stewart that I'm coming back to Princeton. He thinks I'm being an idiot, too."
"You are being an idiot." House snapped.
"I probably am." Alex conceded.
"And yet, you're coming back." House snorted. "So why did we even bother with this conversation if you were going to come back anyway?"
"I was planning on coming back, at least short term." Alex explained. "Talking to you just sort of solidified my decision to come back permanently."
House huffed irritably. "There's no such thing as permanent."
"I don't just mean because of you, Doc." Alex pointed out. "I've got the business, I've got close friends, family...it just wouldn't be the same out here."
"Well, I guess that settles it, doesn't it?" House finally told him.
"Sure does." Alex laughed. "See you in a couple days?"
House allowed a slight smile to creep across his weathered face. "Guess you will."
"Cool." Alex sounded a little like House felt. "Gotta go, but...I'll see you soon."
"Bye." House snapped his phone closed and tossed it on the coffee table. For some reason that damn smile wouldn't leave his face.
Alex was coming back, despite the opportunities that he could have had in L.A. He might be an idiot, but for the time being, it appeared that he was House's idiot. Oddly enough, House was completely okay with that idea. The little smile remained as he fell asleep, thoughts of the young man floating through his mind.
# # #
Alex was oddly relieved as he boarded the plane home a couple of days later. After his conversation with House, he had told Stewart of his decision to stay in Princeton. As expected, Stewart had sighed and shook his head, telling Alex that he was making a big mistake.
Mistake or not, Alex was just as happy to leave Los Angeles behind. It was a beautiful place to visit, but not the kind of town he envisioned himself living in. Even the visits to smaller galleries in nearby beach towns had failed to convince him that staying here would be the right move.
Besides, House had been on his mind almost from the moment Alex had landed here. Everywhere Alex went, he found himself imagining what House's reaction would be, how much House would or wouldn't enjoy certain aspects of the city.
Alex was surprised at how much he missed the older man. He knew he had gotten attached to House, but this trip had shown him just how strong House's hold on him was.
He still wasn't entirely convinced that House felt the same way, especially considering how hard House had pushed Alex to stay in L.A. Alex tried not to concern himself too much with that, reminding himself that House wasn't the sole reason he was returning to Princeton.
After a short layover in Chicago, he soon arrived in Newark, where Karen greeted him almost immediately with a tight bear hug. "Welcome home, kiddo." She told him warmly. "How was L.A.?"
"Interesting." Alex told her. "Nice place to visit, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to live there."
Karen tilted her head at him questioningly. "So you're staying here?"
Alex shrugged. "Kind of looks that way."
"And what about all those galleries you visited?" Karen questioned him. "Any takers?"
"A few." Alex grinned. "I'm arranging to ship a few pieces for display. Managed to nail down a couple of sales, too."
"Excellent." Karen beamed as they made their way to her car. "Sounds like a pretty successful trip."
"Yep." Alex fell silent, and it was a relatively quiet ride back to Princeton, punctuated by the occasional snippet of gossip or a story about Alex's adventures among the artsy elite.
Soon Karen pulled up in front of Alex's building, turning to wrap Alex in another hug with a sigh. "I'm glad you're hanging around, but...are you sure you're doing the right thing?"
"I'm sure." Alex answered, returning the hug with a pat on her back. "This is home. Can't really imagine living anywhere else."
Karen smiled warmly as she released him. "Well, nothing's set in stone, kid. You can always change your mind down the line."
"Right." Alex opened up the back door of the car and grabbed his duffle bag. "Thanks for the ride. See you around."
Karen pulled away, and Alex bounded up the steps to his building, stopping to check his mail before proceeding to his apartment. He unlocked the place and flicked on the light switch with a grin. It was good to be home, and Alex suddenly felt a hell of a lot better about leaving L.A. behind.
He unpacked and soon found himself aimlessly wandering around the apartment. It was fairly early in the evening, and Alex was itching to get back in the studio and get to work.
When he let himself into the studio, starting up the CD player and digging out a chunk of clay, he finally felt completely at home. He soon lost himself in his work, easily falling into his usual work groove. This alone was well worth returning to Princeton.
The sound of something banging against his studio door snapped him back to reality. The only people who knew Alex was coming back today were Karen and House. He couldn't imagine that Karen would come back to the studio so soon, although that was certainly possible.
He rose from the stool as the incessant banging on the door continued, a slight smile creeping across his face. All that pounding could only mean one person, one very persistent person.
Alex quickly unlocked and opened the door, revealing a somber-looking House. "Well, hello."
House quietly entered the studio and closed the door behind him, studying Alex with those bright blue eyes. The two men stood almost toe to toe, and Alex wasn't sure how to approach him. He wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around the other man and never let him go. Somehow Alex didn't think House would appreciate such an openly affectionate greeting.
Finally Alex held out a hand to House, and the older man reached out to wrap his fingers around Alex's hand, pulling slightly.
Alex wasn't sure what House had in mind, but decided to allow House to take the lead. House pulled him in closer, and Alex felt House's other hand slide in to wrap around the back of his neck.
He tentatively touched his lips to Alex's, lightly stroking Alex's jaw with a rough thumb. Alex responded almost immediately, releasing House's hand and bringing both hands to House's face, stroking the rough stubble as he deepened the kiss, evoking a low moan from House.
They finally broke apart, and Alex drew in closer, sliding his hands to slip around House's waist, wrapping his arms around him. He could feel House stiffen slightly at the move, and Alex couldn't help but laugh a little. "Relax, Doc." Alex told him as he lightly rubbed House's back. "Not going to get all mushy on you."
"Good thing." House rumbled in response. He let out a short sigh and wrapped his long arms around the young man, setting his chin on Alex's shoulder. "Are you really staying?"
"As far as I know." Alex answered.
"Good." House spoke softly. "You're still an idiot."
"Yeah, I know."
"At least you're my idiot." House ventured.
Alex pulled back ever so slightly. "Am I?"
House looked baffled, and a little worried. "Aren't you?"
Alex grinned slightly. "As long as you want me to be."
House's expression barely changed as his eyes darted over Alex's face. "Might be a long time."
"I'm good with that." Alex told him.
House nodded, still appearing deep in thought. "So...is this some kind of commitment thing?"
"It could be." Alex pressed a brief kiss to House's lips. "I already told you I wasn't looking for anyone else."
House returned the kiss before snorting and shaking his head. Alex tilted his head questioningly. "Something on your mind?"
House shrugged, lightly running his hands up and down Alex's back. "Just never thought I'd fall in with a guy. Never have before."
Alex chuckled in response. "But it works, right?"
"Then just roll with it." Alex started to lean in for a deeper kiss.
"No promises." House muttered.
"I know." Alex paused just before he touched his lips to House's. "Look, I'm not looking for a lifetime commitment, okay? I just like being with you, and I kind of want to see where things go. What do you say, Doc?"
House huffed loudly and twisted his mouth before nodding firmly. "What the hell?"
"Thought you might say that." Alex murmured. "Hoped you would."
"And if I hadn't?"
Alex shrugged casually. "Not really an issue now, is it?"
"Guess not." House answered softly.
Alex finally leaned in for the kiss, slowly at first before he felt House's tongue slide into his mouth, tangling with Alex's. He heard a low moan, and he wasn't sure which one of them had made the sound.
Right now, as he felt House's rough hands make their way up the back of his shirt, Alex didn't give a damn. This alone was more than enough to keep him in Princeton, for however long House wanted him. He broke the kiss just long enough to look into those bright blue eyes, now hooded with desire. "Hey, you won't get freaked out if I tell you I love you, will you?" Alex asked him gently, lightly stroking House's rough cheek.
House looked thoughtful for a moment. "No, I guess not." He sighed softly, glancing away. "What about you?"
Alex's heart sped up at the thought. "Definitely not."
House frowned, giving Alex a sharp look. "Don't get used to hearing it all the time. I'm not really that kind of guy."
"Fine with me, Doc." Alex smiled in response.
House nodded and leaned in again, and they were soon once again a tangle of tongues and limbs, eventually ending up on the couch, clothes slowly disappearing as they became lost in each other.
They stretched out on the couch afterward, catching their breath, Alex laying on House's chest as the other man wrapped a leg around him. He felt House press a light kiss to the top of Alex's head. "Are you really okay with this?"
Alex lifted his head, puzzled. "Okay with what?"
House waved an arm around. "You know, all of this. Staying in Princeton, taking baby pictures, doing your art on the side."
Alex shifted so that he was face to face with House, pressing a firm kiss to his lips. "All of that means I get to keep you in my life. Hell yes, I'm more than okay with this."
House smiled slightly, dragging down the blanket that was on the back of the couch to cover them before wrapping his arms around Alex. "Yeah, I am, too. Now quit being so goddamn mushy and get some sleep."
Alex chuckled a little as he lay his head back on House's chest, listening to the other man's breathing even out as House fell asleep. He turned slightly and pressed a kiss to the middle of House's chest. "I love you, Doc." He murmured.
"Yeah, love you too, kid." House rumbled in response. "Now shut up and let me sleep,"
Alex closed his eyes, laughing to himself. It was good to be back here, back to what had become their normal. It was unconventional, but it worked. Alex silently hoped they could make it work for a good long time to come.
# # #
Now I turn it over to you. Read and review, and thanks for taking the ride with me. :) Your reviews mean the world to me.