A/N: Thank you everyone for your kind reviews for this story. I'm really glad you've enjoyed it. If you'd like to know more about it, please visit my blog (link on my profile page) for my 'behind the scenes' post on my writing experiences with this story.
Emma spent the morning working and the afternoon cooking.
From a work perspective, it had been an extraordinarily productive day. Partly because she wasn't stopping to keep checking in on Blythe or having the woman appear and interrupt her day. Partly because she was making herself focus incredibly hard, so as not to think about anything else.
By lunchtime she'd almost made up for the lost day on the annual report and she knew she'd done good work.
The kitchen called to her.
She'd made a trip to the grocery store and her favorite little Italian baker who also sold all kinds of delicious Italian delicacies. And now a big pot was bubbling away with a rich and flavorsome duck ragu, while in the refrigerator a decadently rich tiramisu was setting. Fresh pasta – pappardelle – was waiting to be thrown into another pot of boiling salted water.
Emma was waiting to find out if she had a dinner guest so she'd know how much pasta to cook.
She saw movement in the yard and Cameron emerged through the gap in the fence. A moment later Greg appeared, wearing dark jeans and a black t-shirt that seemed to have an ornate skull pattern on it. If not for the cane and the lined face, he could have been Cameron's brother, or one of his friends. The idea made Emma feel old, but she tried to push the feeling away.
"Not black or red," Greg said with a single raised eyebrow when he entered the kitchen.
Emma frowned and he gave an exaggerated look to her clothing. She was wearing a peacock blue shirt and tan chinos, she'd swapped her red glasses for her shimmery green ones. She shrugged. "No."
"Smells fantastic." He walked into the kitchen and began taking the lids off her pots, sticking in his nose and checking everything out. When he got to the ragu he picked up a wooden spoon and stuck it in to take a taste. "Tastes fantastic too." He gave her a smile. "What's the herb? Tarragon?"
Out of nowhere, Emma felt things click into place. The confusion and wariness she'd been fighting all day faded. She knew where she stood. And she was okay with it.
She smiled back. "Yes, tarragon and some oregano."
"And lots of garlic."
"Lots of garlic," she agreed.
"Greg?" Cameron interrupted. "Come and listen to me play."
"Why don't you bring your sax out here and play for both of us?" Emma suggested.
Cameron didn't bother to hide his irritation. "No. I just want Greg to hear."
Emma tried her best not to take it personally. Cameron just had a thing for Greg and wanted him to himself for a moment. Emma could hardly blame him. "Fine. Off you go."
Greg gave her a funny look, but he obediently followed Cameron to his room. A moment later Emma could hear the thing Cameron had been practicing for the past couple of days blaring out. It actually wasn't too bad. Emma had a strange feeling she recognized the song, had heard it on the radio or something.
She busied herself with setting the table and then put the pasta on, knowing it would only take minutes to cook. Once it was al dente she drained it and called out to the boys. It had been quiet in there for a while and Emma wondered what was going on.
Greg didn't look at her when they emerged, but Cameron came over and gave her a quick, unexpected hug.
"What was that for?" Emma asked, surprised.
"I'll play it for you when I've got it really good," Cameron said.
"Ah." Out of the corner of her eye, Emma saw the two males exchange glances. "That'd be lovely," she said.
They ate quickly, mostly because it just tasted so damn good, and even Cameron complimented her on the meal. She hoped that behavior might last beyond Greg House's visit, but she doubted it. The tiramisu wasn't quite perfect – it needed more time for the cream and alcohol to soak into the cake, but it was still pretty good. Both guys had seconds and Emma realized there wouldn't be a huge amount leftover to see how it developed.
"I've got homework to do," Cameron announced, throwing his spoon into his empty bowl with a clang and pulling back from the table.
"You told me you didn't have any when you came home," Emma said, cross. "I specifically asked you."
"I forgot," Cameron said, with a shifty glance to Greg.
Something was going on, Emma knew, but she wasn't sure what.
"Go do your homework kid, I'll help your Mom with the dishes," Greg said.
"Okay." Cameron disappeared like a shot.
Once the bedroom door was closed, Emma leaned forward. "What was that about?"
"I just got us an evening together, uninterrupted. He's only going to leave his bedroom to go to the bathroom. And even then, only if it's desperate. I tried to get him to agree to peeing in a bottle, but he refused."
"What? Why?" And then she blushed as the answer to that became obvious to her. Then another question occurred to her. "How?"
"Drugs. I've agreed to supply him with hospital-grade pseudoephedrine for his meth lab."
Emma narrowed her eyes. "I'm a Mom. I can get the truth out of you, you know."
He had the grace to look a little scared. "I know. But do you really want to?"
He had her there. Emma sat back in her chair. "How did things go today? How's Blythe?" They hadn't got to that conversation yet.
Greg told her about the home he'd found and the diagnosis from the hospital's neurologist. It seemed like he'd made impressive progress with the arrangements he'd made and it sounded like Blythe was going to be well cared for. Emma was relieved, even though she knew she'd miss the woman too. She silently vowed that she and Cameron would be regular visitors to Blythe's new home.
"You've done a great job," Emma said, sincerely praising him. "I'm really pleased that you managed to get everything sorted out. And it sounds like it's a solution that your Mom is happy with."
"She's not that happy. But she's as happy as she can be."
"So . . ." Emma looked down and played with the spoon in her empty bowl. "So, when are you leaving?"
She nodded. "You have to get back to work."
She looked up and met his eyes. They were so blue. And sad, like she knew hers would be. "Did you really make a deal with my son to stay in his room so we could have sex?" she asked, changing the subject.
"W-e-e-lll," Greg hesitated. "Something like that."
"I can't believe you did that."
"Hey, even if you only give me a blow job, at twenty bucks, it'll still be a bargain."
Emma's mouth dropped open in surprise, but she closed it fast, not wanting to let him know he'd shocked her. "Who said you were getting a blow job?" She lowered her voice for the last two words, even though she knew rationally Cameron couldn't hear.
"It's a serving suggestion," he said, his eyes glinting mischievously. "I could dip Little Greg in the tiramisu if you like."
Emma put on an expression of mock outrage. "You'll do no such thing!"
"What, not even a dollop of mascarpone? It's what all the gourmet hookers are demanding these days. Canned whipped cream is so pedestrian."
It was almost funny. "When's your flight home?" Emma asked.
His smile dropped. "Three-thirty tomorrow."
She swallowed hard. "Need a lift?"
"Yeah, that'd be good. It's cheaper if I drop off the hire car in town."
Emma nodded. She'd say goodbye to him tomorrow. She would be sad, but she wouldn't be regretful. Having a man around had been nice – different, and complicated, and occasionally upsetting, but agreeable.
It felt like she'd blinked and Cameron had gone from a baby to a teen. Another blink and he'd be off to college and Emma would be alone. She'd be a woman that sat in front of the TV and watched soap operas on TV and drank a full bottle of wine by herself without noticing. She couldn't help feeling that Greg House had come into her life for a reason. This weekend might just mark a turning point in her life. She knew she'd always remember it, in more ways than one.
He reached across the table and took her hand in his. "I might come to visit my mother more regularly," he suggested.
She gave him a gentle smile. "But you won't."
His lips compressed into a thin line. "No. Probably not."
"I'll visit her," Emma said.
"I know you will." He squeezed her hand.
"You know . . ." She paused. "Thanks for organizing things with Cam, but I don't think tonight's going to work. I couldn't do it with him in the house." Something she'd have to figure out at some point, she realized.
He didn't look surprised. "I thought you might say something like that. I tried to bribe him to spend the night at a friend's place, but he told me you had some kind of iron-clad rule about sleepovers on school nights."
Emma smiled ruefully. "I do. Oh well."
"I don't suppose . . ."
"Could I sleep here anyway? The bed at Mom's is terrible."
Emma thought that over. It still wasn't setting a great example for Cameron, but it wasn't like he didn't know what was going on – Greg had made sure of that. She shrugged. "Yeah, okay."
Together, they cleaned up the dinner dishes and then they turned off the lights, locked the doors and headed for the bedroom. It almost made Emma wish she hadn't agreed to him sleeping over – doing those little routine tasks together reminded her even more forcefully of what she'd been missing, of what a luxury it was to have someone to help out, of not having to take care of everything by herself.
It was time for things to change.
The next morning House went over to his Mom's place to shower and pack his bag. He hadn't woken up until after Cameron had left for school and by then Emma was already dressed and breakfasted. Sleeping all night in bed with her had been restful and calming. As he stood in the shower, water running over his head, he thought about what it had been like to go to sleep with a warm, soft body beside him. He decided that it was time for him to get serious about finding a relationship. The playing around, pretending – the games with Wilson – it was time to stop and get serious. His mother's decline, his time with Emma, even the connection he'd made with Cameron, it had all been part of a weekend of learning. Lessons he hadn't even realized he needed to know.
He'd identified to Nolan that he didn't want to be miserable. Now he'd had a new realization. He didn't want to be alone.
After making plans with Emma for taking care of the rental car and getting out to the airport, House headed to the hospital to say goodbye to his Mom. As he walked up to her bedside he noticed that she seemed alert and bright. And happy to see him.
"What are you doing here?"
House revised his initial impression of his mother's alertness. "I'm visiting, Mom, remember?"
His mother's eyes sparkled. "Got you."
House rolled his eyes, but chuckled at the same time. "Dementia jokes? Ten points." He remembered that his mother often had a dark side to her humor. He imagined it could only have helped to get through married life with his father.
"If you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?"
Wisely, House didn't answer.
"The nurse says I'll be discharged tomorrow," she said.
House nodded. He'd caught an update on the way in. "That's good. The agency nurse will take you home and stay with you."
His mother's expression faltered.
"You remember what we talked about yesterday, don't you?" he said.
"Yes, I do. I'm moving to a home. And . . ." She sighed. "I understand why. It doesn't mean I have to like it."
House thinned his lips. "No, it doesn't."
"Still, who knows, by the time it happens, I'll have probably forgotten anyway." She gave a snort of laughter.
"More dementia humor, Mom? Maybe you can turn it into an act at the home?"
"Maybe." Her cheer slipped. "When are you leaving?"
She smiled her fake smile. "Of course. You're busy. You have to get back to the hospital."
House sucked in a breath. His Mom usually only used his full name if he was in trouble. Or she was going to say something very serious. "Yes Mom?"
"Are you planning to see Tom?"
House was surprised. And then amazed, because he hadn't even given that idea a moment's thought. Did he want to see his biological father? Talk to him?
His mother was still waiting for an answer. "I don't know," he said eventually.
She nodded and seemed content to leave it at that.
The two of them sat in silence for a while.
"Gregory?" Blythe said with that serious tone again.
She fixed him with her bright blue stare. "More than anything in this world, I want you to find happiness. I know that you won't go in for any kind of deathbed vows, but I want you to promise me that you won't make the same mistake I did."
Mistake? House warred internally with the need to know and the strong desire not to. But of course, he was House. The question couldn't go unasked. "What do you mean?"
"Don't be afraid."
His mother held his gaze until House couldn't bear it any longer and he tore his eyes away, looking down, tracing the cane from where his hands rested on top all the way to the floor. He sucked in a breath and let it out in a rush. "I'll try," he said in a small voice, not glancing up, already breaking his mother's request, already scared.
"You deserve to be happy, my lovely son." Her voice broke and she reached over and put a hand over where his rested. "My wonderful, clever, beautiful son."
House couldn't look up. Couldn't let her see the tears that burned. Keeping his head down he nodded.
The clattering sound of a trolley broke the moment and a maintenance man walked past whistling to himself. He pulled out a ladder just a little way from the end of Blythe's bed and began the work of replacing one of the florescent tubes in the ceiling above.
House watched each movement the guy made, focusing on the ordinariness of the job, on the day-to-day dreariness that made up most of a person's life. Stuff like replacing light bulbs. Like cleaning. And cooking. And the job of caring for others, like his mother. Like Emma.
"I have to go, Mom," he said eventually, feeling composed enough to return his glance to her face. I have to get the car back, and get to the airport."
His mother's expression settled into that mask that she did so well; the one that told most of the world that everything was perfectly fine. Only those who knew her well – her husband, her son, her lover – would have known different.
"Of course you do. Say hello to James from me, won't you? Such a nice man. And . . ." She faltered, looking a little less confident. ". . . Maybe you could give me a call next week sometime? If you're not too busy."
House winced at the fact that his mother felt she didn't have a right to expect him to care about her. To call her. "I will Mom," he said. He'd been honest with Emma, he probably wouldn't visit. But he could call. That he could do. "I'll call you."
He stood up and bent over and gave his mother a hug and a kiss on the cheek. As he straightened up, she put a hand to his face, holding him there for a moment. "I love you Gregory," she said her voice firm. "I always have and I always will. Wherever I am and whatever happens to me, I want you to know that."
He looked into his mother's face, knowing it might well be the last time he saw her. That, even if he did see her again, she might not be in there anymore. Summoning up every ounce of courage he had, he gave her a tight smile. "I love you too, Mom," he said, his voice sounding fragile and rusty to his own ears. He'd had to search down within himself to find those words. But they were there.
House had arranged with Emma to met him at the car rental place. He handed in the keys, paid the bill and walked outside to find her sitting in her car, waiting for him. It hadn't really been necessary – he could just have easily dropped the car off at the airport. But seeing her there, waiting for him, helping him out with this one last task, brought a warm glow that he couldn't have denied himself.
He still didn't really understand why she cared enough to help out. Of course, she barely knew him – and perhaps that was why she did care – but House wasn't going to let his usual self-doubt ruin this; not this time. Not when they only had a few minutes left together. There would be plenty of time in the coming days to struggle with rationalizing her bizarre, altruistic behavior.
Strangely, during the ride to the airport, they were mostly quiet. House couldn't think what to say, so instead he studied her. She was back in her usual black and red colors today. Her red-and-white striped leggings reminded him of The Cat In The Hat, and her black dress was another shapeless tunic-style thing. Red glasses topped off the outfit. He thought it was a pity that she didn't dress to reveal her figure, but then he revised that idea. There was something primal and erotic about the fact that he knew what was under there, but she was hiding it from everyone else.
"Take a picture, it lasts longer," Emma said eventually, one side of her mouth quirking up.
"You'll just have to paint one for me," House rejoined.
She gave a little laugh and then fell silent again.
Eventually they pulled up at the departures zone and House wanted to have time go backwards, to have the trip over again so that this time he could say things, talk to her, tell her what—
Tell her what?
She put the car into park and pulled on the handbrake, but didn't turn off the ignition. Then she turned to him.
House still had no idea what to say.
Her voice was quiet, but he could hear the raw honesty in it. And it baffled the hell out of him."I don't get why you're thanking me. You do realize who owes who the debt here, don't you? And not just for a ride to the airport."
Emma smiled an infuriatingly mysterious smile. "I think we're about even."
"Huh? What on earth did I give you? Apart from two astoundingly fantastic orgasms, I mean?" He added in the quip to cover the fact that he was, actually, confused.
"Oh, the orgasms, sure." She sounded bored. "Three, actually, if you're counting. They were . . . fine." She tried to keep a straight face but then grinned at her own tease.
House shook his head. He changed the subject. "I didn't say goodbye to Cameron."
"He stuck his head in the bedroom before he left for school. He said goodbye and you snored at him. That seemed to be sufficient in his book."
"Good to know." House shrugged.
"I said he's going to send you a recording of that song when he has it perfected."
He gave a small snort. "I can hardly wait."
"He also said not to forget to send him an email. He said you'd know what that meant."
"What does it mean?" Emma asked.
"Uh, guy stuff."
"Right." She looked tempted to quiz further, but then decided to give up. Her glance darted away and she peered out of the windscreen into the distance. "You should get moving, wouldn't want to miss your flight."
"No, no I wouldn't." He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "Emma?"
She turned back to face him, her eyes bright with tears.
"Aw." His shoulder slumped. He didn't want her to cry.
"Ignore this," she gave a weak smile and waved at her face. "Allergies."
He hesitated for a moment, scared away by her emotion, guilty that he was the cause of it. One hand reached for the door handle, but then something inside him quelled the impulse to flee.
Instead he leaned forward and put his hand to her cheek, holding her in place while he took her mouth with his in a soft, gentle kiss. Emma's hand wound around the back of his neck, playing with his hair, and her lips parted against his, her breath sighing out to mingle with his own. House closed his eyes and blanked his mind; there was nothing to think about except her mouth, her lips. Her slightly tart, yet sweet taste. Her clean citrusy smell that mingled with some other kind of scent that he could only describe as warm. The soft skin of her cheek under his palm; the silkiness of her hair against his fingers.
It was an erotic kiss, but it was tinged with too many emotions to be arousing.
Emma sighed and her body leaned further into his, as if magnetically drawn there.
They were both startled by a loud rap on the window.
"You can't park here! Move along!" A sneering, bad tempered parking attendant glared at them, clearly in no way moved by their display of affection.
Emma put up a hand in recognition of the woman's scolding and pulled away from House. She gave a small, embarrassed chuckle. "Seems like our fate is to always be interrupted."
"Not always," House pointed out.
"No, not always." She gave him a sad smile. "Safe travels," she said.
He gave a small, quick nod.
Without another word, he clamored out of the front seat, opened the back door and pulled out his duffle bag. He threw it to the curb with a soft thud. After closing the back door, he put one hand on the roof of the car and leaned down to give Emma one last, longing look.
"Thank you," he said quietly.
"Welcome," she replied.
They both smiled and then House stepped back, closed the door, picked up his bag, and headed inside the terminal. He wanted to look back, but he didn't.
The queue was blissfully short and within a minute or two, he was at the counter, his bag on the scale.
"Where are you headed today, sir?" the attendant asked with a bland smile.
House took a deep breath and then realized the answer was very simple. "I'm going home."