Something a little bit lighter as I continue to work on 'Three Dates Later'. Although serious in places, hopefully this will make everyone smile. I should be finished with it by next week. All comments and criticism warmly welcomed!
It was cold, it was snowy, and Cameron had slipped on her front steps and was fairly certain that her coccyx was broken. All in all, not a good start to the day. The lone thought that kept her going was that it was Friday and since their current patient was on the mend, she wouldn't have to be on call over the weekend. Pulling her car into the garage, she let out a tiny sigh of pleasure. A good parking space. Well, maybe things were starting to look up. She'd get in the office, make the coffee and still have time to sit and read the newspaper while she waited for everyone else to arrive.
Except that one of the members of her team was already there, and looking distinctly peevish about having to make his own coffee. Well, tough. What was he doing there so early, anyway? He never arrived before nine fifteen, and that was on a good day. A year ago she would have been apologizing for her tardiness and asking if he needed anything. Coffee? Tea? Me?
A lot had changed.
A lot had changed just in the past month.
She had thought that they'd been settling into some semblance of a friendship, or at least a decent working relationship. Stacy's presence put him on edge, but that actually seemed to work in her favor. He was more interested in snarking at his old girlfriend than at her, which suited her just fine. She was over him, after all. Definitely over him.
Then they'd had the case of Kalvin Miller, and her world had shifted again.
She hadn't expected anything from House. No heartfelt sympathy, no tender words, no gentle hugs. But she hadn't expected the utter and complete coldness either. The way he barely looked at her, and openly mocked what she was going through.
"Cameron can do it… wouldn't want to lose any more of my staff"
She'd obviously been out of her mind to 'liberate' Kalvin's drugs from the lab and take them herself. She'd been even more insane when she'd slept with Chase, but it was done, and she couldn't take it back. Somehow she'd foolishly thought that it would remain just between them. Of course that wasn't even a slim possibility with House suddenly staring at her in the elevator and in the conference room and seeming to just smell sex on her. And of course he couldn't just keep it to himself. No, he'd had to announce to the room that she'd fucked up. The remains of that day were a bit blurry. She preferred them that way.
So now, two weeks and two snow storms later, she was pretending that everything was back to normal. She and Chase had talked. She and Foreman had talked. Hell, even she and Cuddy had talked. She and House had said nothing, but he'd gone back to snarking at her, and she wasn't pulling her punches either. Right back to normal.
Except now she felt even emptier than before.
"Cameron!" House called to her while she was still at the coffee maker, and she ignored him.
The coffee was still brewing and she was still staring at it when she heard the familiar three-beat step behind her.
"Going deaf now? I don't think that's a symptom of HIV, but you may want to get it checked out."
The line of her back, already straight and taut, grew impossibly tighter as she flinched. She reached for a mug, poured coffee, poured creamer, clasped her hands around the red ceramic and turned.
House actually had the decency to look ashamed.
"Sorry," he muttered because even though she hadn't said anything, her face looked paler than it should and her eyes looked harder, as if she had something to prove.
"Whatever," she brushed off his apology, not really believing it anyway. "Why were you calling me, and why couldn't it wait five minutes?"
"I need a favor." He said it with a straight face although he was thinking he would be better off looking a bit more pathetic.
"What? A favor?"
"I'm going away this weekend."
Her brows furrowed as she looked at him. "And?"
"Wilson's going too."
"Ah, so the rumors are true," she quipped with a smug smile.
"Ha." His typical mirthless laugh. "Very amusing, but no." Why he felt the need to clarify that with her when he randomly teased Wilson about it was something he didn't want to think too hard about.
"So you and Wilson are having some manly weekend away. Why do you need a favor?"
"We're going to the monster truck rally in Albany. Julie is not pleased. She refuses to watch Steve."
"Wilson's wife refuses to watch Steve McQueen movies?" Cameron looked completely confused and House was hard pressed to find it frustrating rather than adorable.
"She refuses to watch Steve McQueen my rat."
Realization struck and yet astonishment remained. "You still have that thing?" House and pets didn't seem a natural combination. Of course if he was going for a good match, rat was probably at the top of the list.
"Right. I can't leave him alone for that long. He needs a babysitter."
Cameron's free hand was propped on her hip and she was staring at House's face, searching to see if he was telling the truth or pulling one over on her.
"You need me to be your ratsitter."
"Cuddy's not very maternal and I wouldn't trust Foreman or Chase with a cactus."
"Good to know I was first on your list," she commented.
Oh damn. Was she actually upset? House rolled his eyes.
"Look, there is no list. You're the only one I'd trust him with."
Cameron knew that it was completely pathetic to be pleased about such a thing, but she was.
"So what do I get in return?" she asked, already knowing she was in for a weekend of rat watching.
"I'm not sure what the going rate is," House snarked. "I didn't contact the ratsitter's union. How about I give you fifty bucks and act extra nasty to Chase next week."
"Deal," Cameron said, because she knew what she really wanted wasn't worth mentioning.
No mention of their little deal was made for the rest of the day, and they both fell into their pre-assigned roles once Foreman and Chase arrived and a new patient, a nine year old boy with a long term unknown illness, was referred to them. Snark, sympathetic suggestion, snark, angry look, eye-rolling agreement, heavy sigh, cut scene. The new patient would be arriving on Monday. Cameron wasn't sure if House was admitting him because he was actually interested or because he thought he owed her due to her upcoming extracurricular responsibilities. The idea that he could be doing it to be nice barely had time to leave a shadow in her mind before it disappeared. She couldn't afford to let thoughts like that linger.
After that one brief meeting, everyone had dispersed to different areas of the hospital House had clinic duty, Chase had lab work, Foreman had been asked to assist up in Neurology, and Cameron… Cameron had spent most of the day doing paperwork and trying not to feel stupidly lonely. She knew that it was ridiculous, but she preferred it when they were all working on a case together as a team. That feeling of connection - of togetherness - was one she craved.
Four-thirty rolled around and she saw House slip into his office. Obviously he'd managed to sneak out of the clinic early, but she wasn't about to run to Cuddy; she was hoping to leave early herself. She waited a few minutes to see if House was going to run off again. After feeling the rumbling bass of a Queen song shake the thin wall by her desk, she decided that House was relaxed enough for her to approach.
A quick knock on the glass door and then she pushed it open. House was at his desk, medical journal in one hand and bottle of vicodin in the other. He looked up at her as she entered, and she was surprised to feel herself blush. His gaze hadn't done that to her in a while, but the appraising look he was sweeping over her body was one he hadn't given in a while.
"Problems in paperwork paradise?" he asked.
"No. Actually I was thinking of leaving early," she said, gesturing with the coat and pocketbook she held in her arms.
He actually considered asking if she was all right before remembering that he wasn't supposed to care.
"Technically, when you're sneaking out early, you're not supposed to tell your boss."
"I needed to ask about Steve. Do you want me to pick him up or are you dropping him off? And when?"
"Ah yes, Steve, my main man… well… rat. Wilson and I are leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow, or at least that's what he thinks. I can drop him by tonight. I assume you'll be around?"
The unspoken insinuation was 'Unless, of course, you're out getting high and screwing acquaintances.' At least that was what Cameron heard. When she actually looked at House's expression she saw only an honest question, and she wondered if she was actually becoming as cynical as he, reading negativity into everything.
"Yeah, I'll be around," she answered, a little annoyed with herself.
"Good. I'll come by around seven."
Cameron nodded, feeling suddenly weary. "Fine. I'll be waiting," she said.
She didn't wait for him to respond, and she didn't see House watching her with something approaching concern as she walked out of the office and down the hall.
It was still snowing lightly as she pulled out of the garage and she was glad that her commute wasn't very long and that her building had good maintenance. She wouldn't have to shovel any walks when she arrived. Traffic was slow, with cautious drivers keeping the speeds half of what they usually were and Cameron tried not to tense up as she replayed her most recent interactions one Doctor Gregory House in her head. Her slender, leather-clad fingers gripped the steering wheel and she concentrated instead on the gentle swoosh of her windshield wipers.
As expected, the parking lot and walkways of her building were nicely shoveled and her heels clicked along the gritty salt-strewn pavement on the way from her car to the front door. She checked the clock as she hung her pocketbook and coat on the rack just inside her apartment. Barely five o'clock. She'd give the apartment a once over, eat a little something, and then try to keep herself occupied while she waited for him to arrive.
She was just putting her soup bowl into the dishwasher when she hard a sharp rap on the door and jerked her head up to stare at the clock over the stove. It was only six thirty. She rolled her eyes. Leave it to him to be early. More insistent rapping followed the first tap, and she shut the washer with a little more force and noise than necessary and padded out of the kitchen and through the living room.
His cane was still in mid-air when she opened the door.
"You're early," she told him as she motioned him inside.
"I thought I'd get it over with in case the roads got bad," House lied. Truthfully, he'd gotten sick of sitting around his townhouse twiddling his thumbs while he waited for the right time to leave. "Steve was also eager to make your acquaintance," he continued, holding up the rat in question.
Cameron's expression started out as exasperation, but she couldn't quite keep her quirky smile in check when Steve's little nose started twitching. She reached out and touched the cage lightly to see if he'd venture closer.
"You're still keeping him in this cage? It's much too small, and he shouldn't have that wheel. He could hurt his little foot."
House's left eyebrow made a sudden move skyward and he tilted his head to peer down into Cameron's eyes, which were currently occupied with examining the furry rodent she'd agreed to watch.
"And you know this, how?"
She straightened up and hoped that the warmth in her face wasn't an indication that she was blushing. "My brother was a post-modern Noah. If it could be rescued, adopted or purchased for under ten dollars, he had it."
That small bit of personal information got a twitching lip from House. Not quite a smile, but close.
"Steve's very large and very opulent triple-decker condominium is sitting next to my piano. I didn't think you'd appreciate having it here."
"Well I did agree to watch him for you, didn't I? No reason he should have suffer."
"Yes, well there's also the small problem that it doesn't fit in the 'vette."
"How'd you get it home in the first place?"
"Ever hear of 'some assembly required'?" he asked with no small amount of sarcasm.
Cameron sighed, took Steve's travel cage and set it gently on the coffee table. Then she grabbed her coat and her pocketbook off their hooks.
"Where are you going? You still need to hear Steve's daily feeding requirements and routine," House said, pivoting around and holding up his cane hand, which also held a plastic grocery bag.
"I'm following you back to your place to get Steve's cage. It should fit fine in my car," she said, as if the answer should be obvious, when in truth she was a bit shocked at herself for taking the initiative to basically invite herself over to House's place.
Blink. Jaw twitch. Eyebrow gathering. Piercing blue stare. "Fine," he said, wondering when the tables had been turned. "Good idea."
"Yeah, now let's get moving before the roads get any worse."
Again, Cameron couldn't keep her smile in check when House limped over to the coffee table, patted the cage, and muttered, "Be a good rat."