Summary: House has to go visit his mother after an interfering neighbor calls his office to complain about Blythe's deteriorating health. During his visit House has to come to terms with being an adult and learns more about the connection between mothers and sons. House/OC romance but very House-centric. Sex scenes.
A/N: A very long one-shot or a short saga, whichever way you want to look at it! Ten chapters in total. Written in response to the Fox Forum Friday Night OC Challenge, prompt: An Affair to Remember.
Affair to Remember
"Hello? Is that Greg House?"
"Who wants to know?"
"This is Emma Porter, I'm your mother's neighbor. She—"
"I don't have time for this."
Emma pulled the phone away from her ear in astonishment as the disconnected tone beeped at her. "He hung up on me," she muttered. "I don't believe it."
"Never mind dear. Everything will be fine."
Emma's neighbor reached over and patted her hand consolingly. Emma shook her head and smiled, because what else could she do? "I'm sure you're right Blythe," she said giving her hand a squeeze.
The older woman frowned and leaned in. "When we're around the other wives, it's probably better if you call me Mrs House. You understand, my husband is a colonel."
Emma smiled again. "Sure, Mrs House," she agreed, despite knowing that tomorrow – or maybe even five minutes from now – her neighbor would wonder why Emma was calling her Mrs House and insist on being called Blythe. She wondered who Blythe even thought she was – some kind of servant, perhaps? Today was a bad day.
"Shall I make us a coffee?" Blythe asked with a bright smile. "Then we can talk about the auxiliary."
"Sure, you go ahead." Emma had no idea what talking about the auxiliary meant, but so far Blythe still seemed capable in the kitchen, and giving her a job to do gave Emma time to think. She stared at her cell phone, at the name and number she'd programmed in one day at Blythe's request – a day not long after Emma had moved in, when storms had cut electricity to both their homes and they'd sought refuge in neighborly good will. When the lights had come back on, the elderly woman had pressed a piece of paper with a phone number on it, confessing it belonged to her son, Greg. And that someone should have it, "in case of emergencies."
Now, six months later, Emma was here in her neighbor's kitchen while back at home her list of things to do grew exponentially with every minute she sat there. And Blythe's son, the one who should have been doing this, had just hung up on her. A pulse of anger fizzed through her and she grabbed the phone and redialed. No way was she letting him hang up on her again.
"Dr House's office," a woman's voice answered after the phone rang several times.
"Hello, can I speak to Greg House?"
"I'm afraid he's busy right now. This is Dr Hadley, I work with Dr House, can I help?"
Emma gritted her teeth. "This is a personal matter, but I guess since he won't speak to me, perhaps you can help. My name is Emma Porter, I live next door to his mother, in Norfolk. She's . . . ah . . ." How to describe what was happening? Emma wasn't even sure herself. One day Blythe was switched on, as energetic and whip-smart as a seventy-something-year-old woman could be. The next day she didn't seem to know what year it was. "She gets . . . confused. I think he needs to come and visit because—"
"Who are you talking to, dear?" Blythe asked.
"It's Dr Hadley," Emma answered quickly. "She works with—"
"Oh, a doctor? My son wants to be a doctor when he grows up!" Blythe interrupted, her eyes lit up with excitement. "His father worries about the fact that he likes to play with dolls, but I think he's just practicing. He makes little hospitals and works out what's wrong with them and then bandages them up. It's very sweet to watch a little boy be so nurturing. You have two sugars, don't you dear? Just like my John." Blythe hummed to herself as she went back to making coffee.
"Um, Ms Porter?" Emma's attention was drawn back to the woman on the phone. Her voice was a strange mix of somberness and amusement. "I couldn't help hearing that, and I think I get the picture. I'll talk to him about it."
Emma sighed. Blythe had just illustrated what was happening far better than any explanation Emma could muster. "Thank you Dr Hadley." Emma dropped her voice. "I'm getting worried. I look out for her when I can, but I can't be there all the time. And I try to get my . . ." Emma stopped herself. No point going in to her entire life story with a stranger. "He needs to think about . . . what she needs."
"I understand. Does he have your phone number?"
"I don't think so." Blythe might have passed on Emma's number to Greg in the way she'd passed his to Emma, but for some reason she didn't think that mother and son were particularly close. Blythe spoke often, and glowingly, about her only child, but there was precious little evidence of his presence in her life.
"Okay, well, give it to me, I'll pass it on and see if I can get him to call you. It probably won't be today," Dr Hadley warned.
"That's fine. But the sooner the better," Emma added as she watched Blythe put the instant coffee jar into the microwave and close the door. Emma was ready to leap up and rescue it if Blythe had switched it on, but she didn't, she just kept going on to the refrigerator to at least put the milk back in the right place.
Today was a very bad day.
Emma gave her number to Greg House's colleague and hung up. For a moment she stared at the phone and wondered, not for the first time, what the strange dynamic might be between mother and son. As far as Emma was concerned, Blythe was entirely lovely and, before she'd begun to fail, she'd been a godsend to Emma and Cammie when they'd first moved in. Watching this effervescent woman lose her mind was a tragedy. "Here you are, Emma."
Blythe put two cups of coffee on the table and then took a seat opposite.
"Thanks, Mrs House," Emma said.
"Oh, call me Blythe, dear. Now tell me, why do you look so sad?"
Three days later, House found himself in a hire car he'd picked up at the airport, on his way to his mother's house. The first time he'd been there since . . . Nope, the first time he'd ever been to the place where she and his father had finally settled – where she now lived on her own. He hadn't been drugged, blackmailed or tricked into coming, although there had been a serious amount of cajoling, pleading and rationalizing from the usual suspects.
Perhaps Wilson was right. Perhaps House was getting – ugh – nicer.
Strangely it had been Thirteen's argument that had been most convincing – probably something to do with her own screwed-up mommy issues. She'd even left the embarrassing childhood story his mother had apparently spilled until they were alone. That had been interesting – House would not have returned the favor.
Nah, he wasn't getting nicer.
House blamed it all on this interfering neighbor. If she'd never called, Thirteen wouldn't have got all worried, wouldn't have roped Wilson and Cuddy in to support her cause, and right now House would be enjoying his Friday afternoon – most likely working out how to skive off clinic duty and go home early.
Besides, House was sure this interfering next-door-busybody had over-reacted. It wasn't like he never talked to his mother and, when he did, she always seemed perfectly fine to him. They spoke once every few weeks – she was the one who always initiated the call, but he always took it. Mostly. When he didn't have a patient or wasn't busy. When he wasn't depressed. When he wasn't drunk. When he wasn't institutionalized. His mother still didn't know about that.
He remembered his mother talking about the new neighbor, Mrs Porter, moving in about six months ago. From then on she was mentioned in just about every call – Mrs Porter that, Mrs Porter this. They played mahjong together. They went for drives into the countryside on the weekend. Mrs Porter took her to the doctor when she needed a new prescription for her arthritis meds. In return, his mother helped out with looking after Mrs Porter' dog – or maybe it was a cat? By the time the conversation got around to that, House was inevitably not listening properly anymore.
He pulled up in front of his mother's place. He didn't need to check the address – it was clearly the right house. Neatly trimmed lawn, roses lining the front picket fence, the number twenty-four shone from a brightly clean brass plate on the letterbox.
His father might be dead, but his influence lingered on.
From out of nowhere, House felt a clench of apprehension in his stomach.
Why had he come back?
Did he owe this woman, his mother, anything?
She hadn't hurt him, not in the way that his father had, but she'd let it happen. She'd been there.
She'd also patched him up when he'd fallen off his bike. Hugged him in the middle of the night after bad dreams had woken him. Given him special treats when his father wasn't looking. Helped him with his homework. Listened to his childhood tales of heartbreak. House had got out of there and not looked back as soon as he possibly could, but that decision was definitely more about his father than his mother. She'd just been left behind too, because she was with him.
He turned off the ignition and sat in the car for a while, swallowing hard to try to bring his emotions under control. If he'd still been in New Jersey and felt like this, he'd have run straight to Doctor Nolan. That thought didn't necessarily make him feel any better.
He was fifty years old for chrissakes. He could face his mother. He could fix up what needed to be fixed up. He could move on.
House looked up and saw his mother step down from the front porch, waving with a big smile on her face. She must have been watching out the window and seen his car pull up. He'd called to let her know he was coming, but maybe he shouldn't have. Then at least he might have had the option of changing his mind and driving away.
It was too late for that.
He took a deep breath and let it out in a rush, grabbed his cane, opened the car door and walked over to where his mother stood in the driveway.
In the kitchen, House looked around with wide eyes. Whenever his eyes lit on a plate or a knick knack that he remembered, he was hit with a weird combination of melancholy mixed with déjà vu. It was real, and yet, it wasn't.
"I'm so glad you could come for a visit. I've got the spare room all made up for you." His mother chattered non-stop as she bustled around organizing food. She was a little thinner than he remembered from the funeral, the last time they'd been face-to-face, but it wasn't a drastic change.
"Sit down, sit down," she insisted, and House took a seat at the kitchen table. Everything was orderly, but somehow the place had a faint sense of neglect. House couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. Still, his mother was seventy-three and it wasn't unexpected that her housekeeping wasn't up to the same standard that it used to be.
Otherwise, everything seemed fine, and House felt his anger growing about wasting his time on this trip. "You look well, Mom," he said, keeping his voice neutral. It wasn't his mother's fault, he managed to rationalize. He'd save his anger for this Mrs Porter. Maybe she was the one going senile and was just deflecting her symptoms onto other people.
His mother gave him a broad smile. "I'm fine," she said. "Here you go, you must be hungry after your trip."
She put down a plate with a lump of unidentifiable casserole and some salad along with a glass of lemonade. House felt like a kid, but he was hungry. "Thanks Mom." He took a forkful of casserole. It was nice, but it was cold. Did you eat casserole cold? Maybe she didn't want to turn on the oven just for one serving. He left it and ate the salad instead.
His mother sat down at the table opposite him. "And how are you?" she asked, narrowing her eyes shrewdly.
The cold casserole he'd swallowed turned into a ball of soggy dough in his stomach. His mother could always tell if he was lying.
"I'm . . . doing better," he said eventually, figuring it was the truth.
She gave him a sad smile. "I'm glad. I'm just sorry that . . ." she trailed off.
House couldn't stop himself asking. "Sorry about what?"
"Sorry that it didn't happen sooner."
He managed a short bark of laughter. "Me too." House picked up the glass of lemonade. It was sticky and, when he held it up to the light, it was obvious that the glass hadn't been properly cleaned.
Blythe noticed and jumped up. "Whoops!" She took the glass from him. "It's my fingers – the . . . the . . ." She broke off and fumbled for the right word. "Oh, you know."
"Arthritis?" House guessed. He looked at his mother's hands. They'd changed: the knuckles on her thumbs and forefingers were swollen and her right forefinger was beginning to curve away from her other fingers. They looked painful.
"Arthritis, yes. Sometimes it's hard to do the dishes properly. That one slipped through."
"Don't worry about it, Mom." That was all it was. Her hands didn't move the way they used to and of course that make the housework difficult. Maybe House could organize for a housekeeper to come in and help with things. He'd check what kind of meds she was on for her arthritis, maybe talk to her doctor if he thought changes were required. That was all that was needed. Problem solved. Could he go home now?
"I thought you might like a little rest and then we might go out for dinner?" His mother babbled on excitedly as she poured him a fresh glass of lemonade. "We could go down to the club – some of your father's friends would like to say hello. And then tomorrow I thought we might take a little trip and go see . . ." She paused and an expression of frustration crossed her face. ". . . that place. I can't remember the name, but I'll think of it later. I don't drive much these days, because of my hands, so it would be lovely to go out and about. I'll just have to check with next door and make sure I don't need to look after Cammie tomorrow afternoon, but even if I do, maybe he could come with us? I'm sure it will be fine."
Dinners and day trips and dog-sitting? With his Mom?
Sounded like the seventh circle of hell.
But House would grit his teeth and bear it. He was leaving Monday morning. Surely he could give the woman who'd raised him a weekend of his time.
He had to.
It felt like a punishment. It felt like a debt. It felt like a duty. It felt like the right thing to do.
House put his backpack and overnight bag on the floor of the spare room. It was tiny and held a single twin bed – House grimaced looking at it. He hadn't slept in a twin bed for decadesand, with his leg, it was going to be very uncomfortable. He pulled down the quilted bedspread to find the bed had been made up with two blankets, but no sheets. She'd obviously forgotten. He'd fix it later.
Shrugging, House threw the bedspread back and then flopped on top of it, staring up at the ceiling. For a moment he was grateful that his parents had moved so much. He hated to think what it might feel like to be fifty years old and back in his teenage bedroom, staring up at the same ceiling, perhaps even the same rock band posters, ripped and fading, decorating the walls. No, this was a completely anonymous, completely unfamiliar room. And that was a good thing.
His eyes lit on a macramé owl hanging on one wall and he flashed back to watching his mother make it. That had been in . . . Japan, maybe?
Not completely anonymous then.
He lay there for a while, trying not to think about anything, but he wasn't tired enough to sleep and his leg hurt from the flight. With a sigh, he got up again and headed back into the living room. Through the window he could see his mother out in the front garden, kneeling down in one of the garden beds, a blue cap on her head. He watched her weed for a while, her body moving stiffly and awkwardly. He realized someone must come and take care of the garden, because clearly she wasn't responsible for the neatly trimmed lawns and cleanly swept pavement. He sighed before turning away and pacing up and down the room.
House tried to avoid looking at the framed photos on the walls, the falsely happy memories captured for eternity, but he couldn't help it. There were many of his father, stern-faced, dress-uniform crisp and perfect. There were a number of his mother and father together, his mother always smiling, standing in front of some icon or famous building from the travel they'd done after his father had retired. There were a few older ones that showed the three of them: his father looking harassed and angry, his mother smiling determinedly, a teenage House scowling. One of House at his graduation looking hungover – which he certainly had been.
Happy family indeed.
A dresser held his mother's collection of antique china cups and saucers. He bent down to look at the dusty, floral-patterned porcelain. It was amazing that they'd survived the moves, but then the collection had definitely grown since they'd settled here. In the middle of the top shelf sat a Pyrex measuring jug. House had no idea what the collectable value of that might be.
"Hey," a voice called, and House straightened up as he heard the back door open and close. "Blythe?"
House stepped into the kitchen, and stopped short at the sight in front of him. The boy – House was pretty sure he had that right, although those had to be girls' jeans, he'd never seen such skinny-leg pants on a guy – was a vision in black: black jeans, black My Chemical Romance t-shirt, black ten-hole Docs. Died black hair, greasy and floppy, obscured half his face. The part that was visible was spotted red with angry acne.
He looked startled when House appeared. "Who are you?" At the "you", the kid's voice went squeaking upwards and House cringed inwardly, feeling a brief flash of sympathy for the hormone-riddled teen.
"No, who are you?" House couldn't help making his own voice as deep and sonorous as it could get. It was petty, but then so was puberty.
The kid seemed flustered by House's authoritative tone. "Mom asked me to bring these over for Blythe."
House belatedly noticed the kid was holding a couple of grocery bags. He relaxed and leaned against the door jam, but didn't take his eyes off the intruder. "Right."
The kid seemed to remember that he was supposed to be a scary emo/goth/whatever they were calling themselves these days, and he straightened his shoulders and shook his head in an effeminate way so his floppy bangs flicked back to reveal both eyes. "Are you her son? She said you were visiting. You look too old to be her son."
House narrowed his eyes.
"I guess everyone has a mom. Even old people." He gave House something that was halfway between a sneer and a grin. It was trying hard to be a coolly dismissive emo expression of distaste, but it was hamstrung by a sunny disposition that was trying desperately to peek through. Determined to stay stony-faced, annoyed at being called "old", House never-the-less found himself feeling a pang of sympathy for the teen. The poor kid was precisely halfway between childhood and adulthood and seesawing between the two. House did not envy him one little bit, despite the two functioning legs, full head of hair and no doubt constant erections the boy enjoyed.
"Bite me," House muttered, stepping into the kitchen. He gestured at the grocery bags. "What's in them?"
"Some food and stuff," the kid said, plopping them on the kitchen table without ceremony. "Okay, well, see ya." Without waiting for any further comment from House, the black streak beat a hasty retreat, the screen door banging shut behind him.
House let out a breath. He stepped to the door just in time to see the black t-shirt disappear through a gap in the fence. The kid was obviously familiar enough with House's mother to walk in without knocking, but House had never heard his mother mention a kid. He shrugged and turned to the grocery bags. Unpacking them, House found they contained an assortment of essentials – soap, butter, eggs, dishwashing detergent, toilet paper. That last one reminded him of something he wanted to do, so he grabbed the pack of rolls and headed for the bathroom.
House wondered if his mother seriously wanted him to go with her to his father's old club for dinner. Surely he'd be able to convince her that ordering a pizza and watching TV was a better way to spend the evening. Then he could pretend he was back in the loft with Wilson, although he'd have to keep the subject matter cleaner and lighter than he was used to. Yeah. That might be okay. Perhaps this weekend wouldn't be as big a problem as he thought it was.