And here is the epilogue! I don't want to drag it on forever, but it has been fun to write this version of them (a more realistic version than usual I think) and there is always the possibility of Date Number Three :)
Thank you all for your support, as usual, and let me know if a Third Date would interest you or if it's better to just leave it here... obviously my own inspiration will really determine whether I write it, but it's always nice to gauge interest.
It rained all weekend. Not pleasant showers, but raw driving rain that seemed to announce, for those who had missed it, that summer was over and wouldn't be seen again for another nine months. Cameron spent the weekend holed up in her apartment except for a brief foray to the grocery store. On the drive there she saw a brave, or stupid, man out on his Harley and she wondered if she'd get another chance to ride House's bike before it really got too cold.
It was strange how her thought process changed over the weekend. Before the date she had spent long periods of time agonizing about House. She'd spend an hour wondering if she was stupid to go out with him, and a half hour wondering if he'd ever open up, and another half hour contemplating his eyes. Now, thoughts of him just slipped into her mind unbidden, but the obsessive thoughts were gone. She wasn't quite sure what to make of that. She did spend some time wondering how long she'd have to wait for the third date, or if she'd have to initiate it herself. A touch of her lips and she smiled and figured she probably wouldn't have to wait too long.
When her alarm sounded on Monday morning, she cracked her eyes open dreading another bleak day, but the clouds had parted and sunshine was pouring into her room. She hoped it was a sign of how the week would go. With typical efficiency she got herself ready and drove to the hospital humming a bit of a song. She was in the parking garage when she noticed that it was one of the songs she'd heard Friday night. She smiled and kept humming as she walked inside.
The blinds in House's office were open and Cameron saw him thumbing through a file while bobbing his head, iPod firmly in place. She thought about going in to say good morning, but stopped her hand before it connected with the door. Instead, she continued onto the conference room and her little desk by the window. No one else was in, and Cameron hung up her coat and bag before turning to the coffee maker.
She'd taken to drinking tea instead of coffee. Just a little bit of rebellion that meant she had no reason to make the coffee and couldn't be blamed for the sludge House and the others managed to brew. She'd actually been smugly pleased when she'd noticed that House had been reduced to buying his coffee at the cafeteria. This morning she wasn't feeling smug. She was feeling like making coffee.
One hand opened the cupboard to get the coffee while the other opened the drawer to grab the filters. Both hands froze for an instant when she saw a new bag of expensive vanilla hazelnut coffee sitting on the shelf. It was the same flavor, the same brand even, that she had served to House on Friday. He hadn't gone into her kitchen so there was no way he'd seen the bag, but apparently one of his lesser-known skills was flavor identification.
It shouldn't have made her feel the little bubble of warmth in her belly, but it did. It shouldn't have made that little bubble rise into a smile, but it did. From anyone else it would have been nothing. Less than nothing, really. But coming from House, it was practically a declaration of intent. She couldn't decide if she was pathetic for feeling so pleased and being so willing to accept so little, so she chose to shelve her thoughts in favor of the mindless routine of coffee preparation.
When she entered House's office ten minutes later there was a red mug of coffee in one hand and a patient file in the other. He looked up at her without smiling, but with a new expression in his eyes. A fluid motion and the earbuds were pulled out and left to fall to his lap.
"I guess you liked the coffee," Cameron said, handing him the mug, and noticing that he wasn't rushing to pull his hand away or keep their skin from touching, heat to heat, soft to rough.
"Not bad," he acknowledged. Obviously he wasn't going to tell her that he'd made a special trip to Starbucks and smelled all the coffee before identifying the right one. It had been embarrassing enough doing so in front of the multi-pierced, slightly-stoned cashier.
"Good weekend?" Nice short sentences seemed to work best with him.
"Again, not bad. Too wet." It was patently stereotypical, but too much wet, cold weather made his thigh ache more.
"I guess you didn't get to take the bike out."
"Nope." No sense telling her that other than one long ride the weekend after buying it, the sleek Triumph had sat in his garage until the night of their date, and now, after feeling her pressed against him as he rode, he had no desire to go out touring without that sensation accompanying him. Like a corsage, such words would probably just get her hopes up, and he wouldn't want that.
The professional reason for Cameron's visit was still in her hand and she seemed to remember that and thrust it forward. "Dr. Petrovski wants you to take another look at Kevin Trent."
House kept his eyes on Cameron's as he reached for the folder. He kept her gaze even as he spoke. "I thought we sent him up to neurology last week. Simple stroke accompanied by not so simple tumor."
"Dr. Petrovski says he's exhibiting new symptoms."
House rolled his eyes and finally looked away, flipping the blue file open impatiently. "We really need a 'no-tags-back' policy around here," he muttered.
Normally when he released a patient they were on their way out the hospital doors, either to another hospital or their home. He really hated it when they stayed in-house, so to speak. It meant constant pestering from the department he'd signed them over to.
"Think of it this way; consulting on his case will keep you out of the clinic for an hour or two."
The sarcastic tease was something he'd missed from her. She'd grown in snarkiness over the past few months, but it had been grounded in bitterness. The light joking in her voice was much more welcome.
"Since when have you ever tried to help me get out of clinic duty."
"First time for everything," she replied, raising one eyebrow meaningfully before retreating to her desk.
The door swung shut and it felt like a bit of the air had left with Cameron. House stared at the file, and then at the mug before putting down the former and picking up the latter. The first sip of coffee was perfect. Temperature, sweetness, quality. A shade of normality brought back better than before. First time for everything. Maybe there was.
It was lunchtime and Cameron went to the cafeteria, which she rarely did unless she was pestered into it by Foreman, but she'd forgotten her lunch. What thoughts had made her distracted enough to forget food were best left unspoken. Luckily she still had cash in her wallet from a bet she'd made with Chase, so she stood in line with her salad and her soup and wondered if the cashier could possibly go any slower. She was a good girl outside, but that didn't mean she had the patience of a saint inside. By the time she'd reached the front of the line she was already feeling a bit bad about calling the fifty year old grandmother a slow-witted twit, in her head. She smiled extra wide to make up for it and told her to have a nice day even after two quarters slipped from gnarled fingers onto the floor, forcing her to get down on her knees to retrieve them.
The cafeteria was still somewhat empty, with a few clutches of doctors towards the corners and a muddle of patient relatives looking slightly dazed, perched on their seats instead of relaxed against the padded vinyl. It was easy to find an empty table near the window, and Cameron sat down and looked outside while she sprinkled oyster crackers on cream of tomato soup.
A few people were actually sitting outside in the sunshine, but it was too cold for her. She'd grown up in the north but it hadn't made her cold-tolerant, a fact which her brother never failed to pick on her about. In a few months she'd probably think fifty degrees was balmy, but at the moment she considered it freezing.
Blowing lightly on her still too-hot soup, Cameron glanced around the room again, making note of who was where. She knew that Chase and Foreman had gone out to lunch, because they'd asked her to go with them and she'd declined. She was still in a thoughtful mood, and knew she wouldn't be great company which would only lead the two of them to ask her what was wrong. Foreman especially had taken on a brotherly role and she didn't think he'd be too impressed with the fact that she and House had gone on another date. Of course she was a grown woman and it was really none of his business, but she was also Cameron, which made it difficult for her to tell people to back off. Unless they were House. She'd gotten relatively good at saying it to him.
Very delicately she took a sip of broth, wincing when it burned her tongue. She was never patient enough. About anything really. So often quiet, and relatively unassuming, but then something would grip her and she would have to deal with it right then, right there. No easing into it, or working up to it. She'd been like that with college and later, medical school; filling out applications months in advance and telling, not asking, her parents what she was doing. She'd wanted to get away and she'd succeeded. She'd been the same way with her husband. She'd seen him and loved him and found out about his cancer and refused to back away in spite of it. The heartache that had followed had been of her own making, but she still told herself that it had been worth it. For a brief time she'd been connected, cherished, loved.
Her feelings for House hadn't hit her in the same way as her early love. They'd grown, matured, just as she had over the years, and it had been months before she'd realized that the tingling in her stomach when he was present had nothing to do with what she'd eaten for breakfast or lunch. Then, once again, her internal clock had sped up and she hadn't been able to wait for things to progress. She'd needed answers, explanations, definitions and conclusions. Things that House wasn't nearly ready to give. Things that he probably still wasn't ready to give. It had taken a long time before she'd been able to accept that things couldn't always happen on her timetable. Long enough that she'd thought the time was long gone. He'd surprised her, and despite what people thought of her, not much was able to do that. She didn't know when the cherished or loved part would come along, but she was feeling the connectedness again; that invisible string that felt like it always tugged in his direction. At least now she knew he felt it too. His eyes told her that much at least, and his kiss confirmed it.
She finished the soup and started on the salad, mind drifting away from the subject of House, and onto the subject of their latest patient. She was supposed to run some blood work as soon as she was done eating. If she hurried she'd be able to beat the after-lunch rush at the lab. Strange as it seemed, the hospital did have it's routines and patterns, and lab-tech's and doctors tended to go to lunch saying 'I'll get on that as soon as I get back' more often than not.
The lettuce was a bit limp, and she speared a tomato with the barely serviceable plastic fork and brought it to her mouth. Naturally Stacy chose to enter the cafeteria at that moment. Somehow she always managed to look like a child or an incompetent in front of the older woman, and cheeks puffed out and full of cherry-tomato fit that image perfectly. She chewed quickly and swallowed. Stacy wasn't even looking in her direction, and from that distance she probably wouldn't have seen anything anyway, but it was the principle of the thing. She could fake bravado and nonchalance, but Stacy Warner intimidated her.
How could she not? The woman had breezed into the hospital, momentarily sent House into a tailspin, snagged a plum job, and now walked around with an aura of ownership. In some moments, Cameron wanted to like and admire her, and in others she reminded her of a female Edward Vogler; present simply to disrupt the well-ordered routine that she so relied upon even in the discomforting moments.
Their one and only private conversation still repeated in her head sometimes. Stacy asking if she liked House. Her naively talking about their date. Stacy's response about how their first date had been horrible too, and then they'd moved in a week later. Had she meant that to be encouraging or demoralizing? She'd said it with a wry look that might have been called smug. Or had it been supportive? Either way, Stacy had laid down a proprietary line in the sand. 'I snagged House in a week. You can't do better than that, little girl.' And she hadn't. Because House wasn't the 'move in a week' type anymore, and Stacy was part of the reason why, no matter what she said about him being practically the same as before the infarction.
Cameron almost jumped, and she did drop her fork onto the table, sending shredded carrot and ranch dressing into a messy arc along the laminate surface. She'd been so intent upon watching her erstwhile competition that she hadn't seen House come in from the patio.
"No… no… sit down."
"You were deep in thought. Fantasizing about me again?" he quipped with that sly little grin that looked so ridiculously sexy despite being a put-on.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Cameron surprised herself a bit with how quickly she could regain her balance around him now.
He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "You tell me yours, I'll tell you mine."
Cameron chuckled, knowing that innuendo would only take them just so far and that neither of them would really play out the game there in the hospital cafeteria, nevermind the fact that they'd shared only one kiss and were hardly at the fantasy-trading stage.
"I thought you didn't like the cold," she said, changing the subject and nodding her head towards the windows.
"Wilson dragged me out there. Insists the fresh air is good for me. Apparently he thinks I'm a plant or a pet of some sort."
"You love it that he pesters you," she said knowingly. "Let's you know you won't be one of those old men who die and aren't discovered until the smell alerts the neighbors."
Cameron's take on the situation wasn't far off, but House was taken aback to hear her put it so bluntly.
"Plus, in your dysfunctional way, you love him. No, not that way!" she said, rolling her eyes when he opened his mouth to protest.
He shut it, then opened it again. "How d'you know I don't just want you to join our little twosome and make it a menage a trois?" he asked with a playful leer.
"Because," she said confidently, "you don't like to share."
The leer was replaced with a piercing, almost annoyed looking, stare. She had him there, and she laughed again, very quietly, just a few little humor-filled puffs of air.
"How was your weekend?" It was his turn to change the subject.
"Didn't I ask you that question this morning?"
"Yes, and now I'm asking you."
She nodded her acquiescence. "Fair enough. It was cold and wet. I stayed inside reading and doing laundry. Very boring."
"What, no girly get-togethers with nails and hair and chick-flicks?"
"Nope," she replied, and the slight flicker in her eyes reminded him that she'd admitted that she was as alone as he was.
He was awkwardly quiet for a minute, drumming his fingers on the table-top while she debated rescuing him by asking about their patient.
"Movies would be a good third date," he announced, just as she was about to speak.
Cameron swallowed and blinked. Sometimes… most of the time… he was very tough to keep up with.
"Yes. Movies are good," she said, and clenched her fork so hard she almost broke it as she berated herself for her barely intelligible reply. "For a few minutes there, I thought you were going to consider this our third date," she said, recovering quickly.
"Nope," House said as he got to his feet and leaned on his cane. "When it's a date, you'll know it."
He almost smiled, leading her to give him that soft look that made his chest feel too tight.
"Bring the blood work to me as soon as its done," he said, slipping back into surly doctor mode, but as he limped behind her chair, he rested his hand on her shoulder, and she knew it wasn't a matter of balance.