Thanks for the reviews. Hope you enjoy. I'm thinking two more chapters, and maybe an epilogue. Should you be wondering.
Chapter 9: In Which Everyone Else Has An Opinion
The wind swept fallen leaves in swirling paths along the pavement as the sun set over Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Shadows fell upon the ground and intermingled with the dying light, working in conjunction with a gentle breeze to cool the air in preparation for nightfall. From the parking lot came the sounds of engines starting and hasty goodbyes being interchanged, people hugging their jackets closer to their bodies to compensate for the unexpected chill of the evening.
Cameron's lab coat proved itself inadequate and she shivered slightly, causing House to snap out of his trance-like state.
"You're cold," he observed, dropping his arms and reluctantly stepping back. He cleared his throat nervously.
She gave him a small smile, and walked over to where he had dropped his cane. She proferred it to him and he took it with a grateful look. "We should probably go inside," she said gently. "People will talk."
He shrugged, not knowing how to respond. For absolutely no good reason whatsoever, he suddenly found himself feeling extremely awkward. Leaning on his cane and pursing his lips, he noted gratefully that Cameron seemed to pick up on his discomfort. Perhaps she had attained a greater understanding of his character, perhaps not - regardless, she kept silent on the subject, instead of insisting that they talk about it as he had feared. She lead the way back to the hospital, opening the door for him and walking alongside without comment. She wore a distant expression on her face. Perhaps she had her own thoughts to sort out.
They reached the elevator and she casually waved goodbye, turning towards the clinic entrance. Feeling supremely unsure of himself, he stuck out his cane and poked her in the back. She jumped, and turned around.
"Ow," she said, rubbing the point of contact and wincing.
He frowned slightly. "Did you drive?"
She gave him a strange look. "Today?"
"No, three weeks ago," he said, rolling his eyes. "Tuesday, to be exact."
"Funny," she answered, shoving her hands into the pockets of her lab coat. He fixed a cool, blue stare on her and she relented with a gentle sigh. "No, I didn't. Why?"
He shrugged. "I'll give you a ride home." The elevator came and he stepped into it, not turning around until he was absolutely certain that the doors were closed.
Cameron stood in place, watching him go. A smile forced its way onto her face. House was a strange, difficult man, and suddenly she didn't feel the least bit guilty about liking that.
Twenty-four minutes and thirty-three seconds, Cameron had been gone. Cuddy watched Cameron closely as she entered the clinic, picked up her files and resumed her task of looking busy. Her facial features showed no trace of their usual tension and she stood up a little straighter, making her seem more sure of herself. For her part, Cuddy was sure that something had happened between her and House. Now it fell to her to find out exactly what. She smiled to herself and made a mental note to pay a visit to the rest of House's team, relishing the idea that maybe someone had finally put House in his place.
Preoccupied with her train of thought, Cuddy failed to notice Stacy's presence beside her. "Lisa," Stacy said, after several subtle attempts to get her attention. Intrigued by Cuddy's lack of response, she followed the line of her sight. "Why are you watching Dr. Cameron?" she asked, her curiousity piqued.
Cuddy shrugged. "Just keeping tabs on things." She diverted her attention to the impeccably dressed attorney in front of her. "What can I do for you?"
Stacy handed Cuddy a file, continuing to watch Cameron's actions out of the corner of her eye. "Did you approve this procedure?" she asked.
Cuddy scanned the file quickly, her eyebrows knitting in confusion. "No..." she said, flipping through the pages rapidly. Her eyes were drawn to a scrawled signature at the bottom of a page, and she scoffed aloud. "It figures," she said tiredly, handing the file back to Stacy and striding to the nearest phone. Stacy followed, both concerned and amused by the turn of events. Cuddy dialed a number with an ease born of familiarity, her facial expression contorting as she spoke into the receiver. "You, my office, now," she said in clipped tones. She hung up and sighed heavily. "Care to join me?" she asked Stacy, gesturing towards her office.
Stacy smiled sympathetically. "Wouldn't miss this for the world."
Cameron walked into the conference room and sat down at the table with a small sigh. "I'm so glad this day is almost over," she said.
Foreman looked up from his work. "Are you okay?" he asked, concern evident in his voice.
She seemed surprised by the question. "Do I not look okay?"
He took in her appearance. "Actually, you look happy. Which begs the question, why?" He jokingly pointed an accusing finger in her direction. "Are you high, Dr. Cameron?"
She laughed, a clear ringing sound that he hadn't heard in a long time. "No, unfortunately."
"I'm watching you, young lady," he warned, now genuinely curious.
She smiled. "Don't worry. Everything's fine."
He nodded, still suspicious. "Yeah, because I should really believe you when you say that."
"Seriously," she assured him. "Everything is fine." She allowed her gaze to drift to House's office, where he was clearly absent from his desk. "Where's House?" she asked.
He narrowed his eyes. "Okay," he said, drawing the word out to indicate his skepticism. He leaned toward with his elbows on the table and looked directly at her. "What happened." She held up her hands in a silent protest of innocence, which he dismissed easily with a wave. "Don't give me that. Spill."
Her smile stayed fixed in place, where it had been ever since she had returned from the clinic. "What, I'm not even allowed to be happy anymore?" she asked, pretending to be offended.
"After everything that's happened in the past few days?" She shot him a look, and he sighed. "You go to the clinic. House disappears for a while. He comes back, nods at me." He raised an eyebrow. "At ME."
Cameron scoffed. "So he nodded. Big deal."
"Ah, but that's not all," said Foreman in a wise tone. "Let me finish."
Cameron shook her head bemusedly, sitting back in her chair and waiting expectantly.
"Then," continued Foreman, checking items off on his fingers as he spoke, "He gets a call from Cuddy. Looks slightly panicked. No objections, no arguments, nothing. Walks out of here as fast as he can."
She seemed surprised by this new piece of information, but restrained herself from comment. He grinned. "It's called guilt," he advised. She rolled her eyes. Knowing that he had her cornered, he continued, "And you come back, wearing this huge smile on your face and asking about House."
Cameron opened her eyes wide to assume an innocent expression, a last ditch attempt to deflect the question. "What, I can't wonder where people are?"
Foreman crossed his arms. "Cameron..."
She gave in, knowing that she would have to tell him eventually. "We talked."
Both of his eyebrows went up at this revelation. "And?" he prompted.
She looked down at the table demurely. Foreman's eyebrows shot up as far as they would go. "NO way," he breathed.
"Why not?" she asked in an attempt at defensiveness, her growing smile betraying her true feelings.
"Wow," said Foreman, at a loss for words. He took a deep breath in a valiant effort to quell the misgivings in his mind. "That's great, Cameron," he said sincerely. "That's what you want, right?"
She nodded, and he granted her a smile in return. Distractedly, she patted her pockets and frowned. "I think I left my pager in the clinic," she said, getting up from the table. "I'll be back."
He grunted in acknowledgement and watched her leave the room. He was unsure of House's motives and weary of Cameron's newfound happiness, but if House was what Cameron wanted, then Foreman would be happy for her. He shook his head. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't see this ending well.
Chase walked into the room and gave Foreman a quizzical look. Foreman sighed. He hated being the bearer of bad news.
"There was nothing abnormal on the MRI!" Cuddy waved the offending file in House's face. "Nothing whatsoever to back up your diagnosis!"
House smirked. "Except that I was right." His calm demeanor was a result of secret relief, having believed for the briefest of moments that his summoning had been for a transgression of an entirely different nature.
Cuddy glared at him. "You got lucky. Do you know how dangerous your actions were? To the patient?" She leaned towards him. "To this hospital?"
House bowed his head in an exaggerated manner. "Fine. I'm sorry, I'll never do it again. Is that all?" He indicated Stacy with a nod. "And what's she doing here?"
"Trying to keep you out of jail," Stacy answered, giving him an exasperated look.
"Yeah, sure," he said sarcastically.
"Their counsel thinks you mishandled the case," interjected Cuddy, folding her arms over her chest.
"I'll undo the damage I caused," he said, shrugging. "Give me a knife, I'll put him right back where he started."
"Witty retorts aren't going to make this go away," said Stacy.
He looked at her. "Will they makeyou go away? I'd settle for that."
Cuddy sighed. "Look. You saved the kid's life, so probably nothing will come of it."
"Then why are we here?" he said in a plaintive tone.
"You're here," exclaimed Cuddy, "Because you're out of control!" She waved the file in the air again to emphasize her point. "You forged my signature, for God's sake!"
He paused. "Oh yeah. That." He plastered a sickly sweet smile onto his face. "Sorry?" he offered.
Stacy scoffed. He glared at her. "You, stay out of this," he muttered. She rolled her eyes.
Cuddy sighed. "Just..." She cringed, fully knowing the futility of her words. "Please, don't do it again."
He nodded emphatically. "I'll be good, I promise. Really, I will," he said, in a tone that clearly indicated the contrary.
She gave him a tight-lipped smile and shook her head. He doffed an imaginary hat and left her office, but not without first casting a glance in Stacy's direction. When the door closed, she and Cuddy shared a look. "I'll talk to him," Stacy said, getting up and following House.
Cuddy seemed surprised. "Uh," she began. But the door was already closing behind her.
House walked as quickly as he could towards the doors of the clinic, not wanting to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in the place he considered his own personal hell. In his haste, he almost bowled over a small figure in a lab coat. She stumbled and cluched at his cane arm for support, causing him to gasp out in pain and turn to her with an insult ready on his tongue. He was just about to unleash his anger when he took a closer look at the offender. Realizing who it was, his mind rapidly switched gears and he coughed to buy himself some time. "Cameron?" he said, finally regaining his composure.
She straightened up and looked at him sheepishly. "Sorry. I was looking at my pager, didn't notice you coming." She let go of his arm and stepped back, smoothing out the creases on her lab coat and flashing him a gentle, if awkward smile.
He shrugged, ignoring both the throbbing pain in his leg and the panic sweeping across his brain. "Happens." He looked towards the doors. "Going back?" he asked casually, indicating with his cane the elevators beyond the clinic threshold.
She nodded in response, smiling slightly when House opened the door for her. Together they exited the clinic. Unbeknownst to them, Stacy watched as they walked away, her expression pensive.
Cameron decided to stop by radiology to see if she could persuade them to rush a few films she was waiting on, and bid goodbye to House on the second floor. He rode up the rest of the way by himself, using the moment of silence to ponder the events of the afternoon. The elevator door opened, and he walked towards his office with a slightly uneasy feeling in his stomach. Seeing the look on Foreman's face as he got up from the conference room table to meet him, House did a complete one-eighty and veered towards another direction. Maybe it was time to pay Wilson a visit.
Despite House's best efforts, Foreman caught up to him with ease. "Get into trouble with Cuddy?" he asked.
House shrugged, still walking. "You know how it is. Insult a patient here, fake a signature there, and all of a sudden everyone's out to get you."
"So it was about a patient," said Foreman. "She let you get off with a warning?"
House glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "what can I say. She loves me."
"I'm sure," came Foreman's response. House took a bottle of Vicodin out of his pocket and opened it with one hand, tapping a pill into his mouth in a well-practiced motion. He dry-swallowed it and grimaced.
With an obvious gesture of his arm Foreman indicated House's leg. "Your leg hurt?"
"It always hurts," answered House. "What's your point."
Foreman smirked. "My point is, you should learn to appreciate what you've got."
"Ah, advice from the great black sage," said House derisively. "Thanks."
Silence fell between them, the two doctors walking side-by-side down an otherwise empty corridor. House had no idea where he was headed, walking purely for the purpose of getting Foreman to leave him alone. His plan, so far, was not working.
"It'd suck to lose your other leg, wouldn't it," mused Foreman aloud.
Something in his tone caused House to shoot his junior a look. "You talked to Cameron," he said slowly. Foreman met his gaze, and they shared a look of understanding. House sighed and waited for Foreman to begin. He was not disappointed.
Foreman tried again. "So much as..."
Rolling his eyes, House interrupted impatiently, "Yeah, I get it. No messing with your homegirl."
"I swear I'll..."
House held up a hand. "Shut up."
"Every bone in your..."
Fluttering his eyelashes, House interjected in a sweet tone, "Please shut up?"
They turned into another hallway and passed a group of nurses headed down to the cafeteria for their break. Foreman nodded at them, while House kept his gaze fixed straight ahead and his expression grim. When they were out of earshot, Foreman resumed his line of conversation. "Why are you doing this?" he demanded.
House contorted his face into an expression mimicking sincerity. "Because it's fun."
Foreman clenched his jaw. "Look, you..."
They approached the spot where House had emerged onto the floor several minutes earlier. Jumping into an available elevator and pressing the 'door close' button with his cane, House smiled sarcastically and waved goodbye. Foreman threw his hands up in a gesture of disgust and turned away, uttering a muffled oath under his breath.
As much as House detested having his personal life scrutinized by outsiders, he couldn't really blame Foreman for his concern. He cursed his conscience for its bad timing and smacked the closing door with his cane. He cleared his throat, causing a surprised Foreman to turn around and face him. With one hand on the elevator door and the other hand pressed heavily down on his cane, he stared at Foreman with a crystalline blue glare that indicated in no uncertain terms that any further conversation on the matter would be ill-received.
"I won't hurt her," he said quietly. Then he stepped back and allowed the door to close, leaving Foreman to gape at the elevators.
He wondered if Foreman had believed his words. He wondered if he believed them himself.
Wilson had been with a patient, shooing him away with the promise of a visit the very minute that he was done. Restless but left without other options, he returned to his office, carefully surveying the environment and noting with satisfaction that neither Cameron, Chase nor Foreman were anywhere to be seen. He was grateful to finally have a moment to himself, sitting down at his desk, closing his eyes and allowing his thoughts to take over.
"Greg," came an all too familiar voice from the doorway. He felt his shoulders sag slightly, and reluctantly opened his eyes.
She was stylishly dressed, every bit the attractive, intelligent businesswoman than he had fallen for to begin with. She stood at the door, and he stood up awkwardly. "Hi, Stacy," he said slowly, all too conscious of the conflicting emotions that hit him everytime they spoke.
She smiled, and he felt a brief stab of pain somewhere in his chest. "So, Dr. Cameron," she said, slowly walking up to him. It was an open-ended question, and she arched a delicately sculpted eyebrow at him.
He stared, willing himself to appear distant but painfully aware of her increasing physical proximity. "What did she do?" he asked, his expression carefully schooled into neutrality.
She knew him well, not even bothering to acknowledge his attempt at feigning ignorance. "It's a small hospital," she said, smiling wryly, and he remembered a previous conversation where he had postulated the exact opposite. He fidgeted with his cane as she continued to walk towards him. "I'm glad you're happy," she said, stopping less than a metre away.
House looked uncomfortable. "I didn't ask for your opinion," he said, not nearly as forcefully as he would have liked.
She nodded, still smiling. "I know." He looked at the floor, glancing up at her in an almost furtive manner. She added, "I just wanted to you know."
He coughed, shifting his weight to one leg and quickly back again. "I don't see why."
"I care about you. I want to see you happy." She touched his arm lightly and looked up into his eyes. "If Allison makes you happy, that's all that matters."
He flinched, hearing her speak Cameron's first name with an ease that he had not yet attained. "Thanks," he muttered, still deliberately averting his eyes. A movement from the doorway caught his attention, and he looked up to see Cameron standing at the door, her eyes wide and her mouth slightly open from surprise.
Caught in an awkward situation between the only two women with the ability to make or break him, he looked quickly from one to the other, realizing with a pang just how much younger Cameron really was. In a battle of wits she simply no match for Stacy. Strong but not fierce, Cameron was relegated to helpless observer status while Stacy stood a hair's breadth away from House, looking at him in a most intimate manner without so much as acknowledging the younger woman's existence. House closed his eyes and braced himself for the onslaught that never came.
Finally, Stacy drew her hand away and stepped back. "Dr. Cameron," she said easily as she turned away. "I was just on my way out."
Cameron nodded dumbly, and after giving House a small wave Stacy made a graceful exit. House stared at his hands, his face a blank slate.
An ominous silence settled over the room, and it was a full minute before he worked up the courage to look at Cameron. He half-expected her to break down into tears, run out of the room crying, yell at him for being an insensitive bastard or do something similarly dramatic. She stood in front him, a weary and uncertain smile on her face. Then, in a motion so swift that he barely registered it, she kissed him gently on the cheek. He froze, and was briefly convinced that his heart had stopped.
"I'll wait for you downstairs," she said softly. He nodded wordlessly and she walked into the conference room. He could hear her gathering her belongings in the next room, the sound of her laptop bag being zipped up, her slipping into her jacket, her light being turned off, her door closing. He sat down heavily at his desk and stared at his paperweights, tapping his cane on the floor.