Chap 40

As Valentine's Day crept closer and closer, House became more and more nervous and unsure of himself. He hated feeling this way but he just couldn't work up the nerve to ask her. He could barely work up the nerve to go see her. Completely contrary to his normal routine, he kept finding himself standing just outside the clinic so he could watch her through the glass.

On day five, Cuddy pounced. She knew he'd been sending Price to cover his clinic duty and she'd let it slide for a few days but if he was going to make such an easy target of himself she was going to take advantage.

"House!" Cuddy barked at him, catching him by surprise.

"Cuddy, my leg is crippled not my ears," House said, sticking a finger in his ear and wiggling it for dramatic effect.

"You must be missing the clinic, this is at least the third day I've seen you standing out here and staring wistfully. Get in here and see some patients," Cuddy demanded. She knew full well he was here watching Allison and she loved having that little bit of leverage.

"Already worked my hours today," House mumbled.

"No, Price worked your hours today," Cuddy replied, taking him by the arm and dragging him through the doors. "And yesterday, and the day before that." Cuddy took the first chart from the pile and shoved it into his chest. He stared at her for a minute and she stared back.

"You caught me," House said. "But my obligation to the clinic has been fulfilled for the week."

"But Price's hasn't. You can work his hours," Cuddy said. "Exam Two." She turned on her heel and walked back to her office, winking at Cameron on her way through. Cameron hid a smirk, not wanting House to know she had been the one to notice him hanging around.

House grumbled as he limped his way to the exam room. He stepped inside without bothering to look at the chart and paused when he entered. A middle aged man was sitting on the exam table and his left foot was encased in a block of concrete. Interesting.

"Foot trouble?" House asked.

"I think my ankle is broken," the patient said.

"We'll have to do an X-ray, but first we have to get that cement off," House said.

"But that's what the cement is for," the patient replied. House gave him a confused look. He'd assumed the man was just an idiot. If you stuck your foot in a bucket of cement, why not just pull it out and wash it off before it set? It seemed perhaps he'd underestimated his stupidity.

"You did that on purpose," House said. The man nodded. "Can you elaborate?"

"I fell off a ladder at my house. I landed on my leg; pretty sure I heard a crack. So I mixed up some cement and stuck my foot in it. It's just like a cast," he explained.

"Uh, huh." House commented. "Well, seems like you've got it all under control." House stood as if to leave.

"It burns," the patient said quickly.

"That would be the chemicals in the cement eating away at your skin," House told him patronizingly. "I'll call somebody down here who can remove that and set it properly." House picked up the phone in the exam room to call for an orthopedic consult.

"Couldn't you just give me something to take the edge off the pain?" the man asked. House dropped his head to his chest. He finished his request for the consult and turned back to the patient in amusement.

"It takes at least six weeks for a break to heal. In that time, the chemicals in the cement will have dissolved all the skin and most of the tissue on your foot and ankle, and will probably have started eroding the bone. If we don't remove it, you won't have any bones left to heal," House told the patient. He stood and walked to the door.

"Is that for real?" the patient asked him.

"No idea. Just wanted to gross you out. Sounded cool though, didn't it?" House asked and walked back to the reception desk. That guy was definitely going in his top ten list of clinic patient morons.

Three hours later, House having completed Dr. Price's clinic hours, he went back to his office. It was lunch time and he was starving but he wasn't in the mood to eat alone. He'd been avoiding Wilson ever since he'd told him about the ring; he just couldn't stand the constant nagging. At that moment, Wilson walked into House's office.

"I'm meeting Lisa downstairs for lunch, want to come with?" Wilson asked. House considered for a minute. Wilson might have a big mouth but he was no fool. House had been crystal clear in his insistence that his plan remain a complete secret. He wouldn't have told Cuddy anything and he wouldn't bring it up in front of her. Deciding he was safe, House grabbed his cane from the edge of the desk.

"When have you ever known me to turn down food?" House asked, brushing past Wilson on his way out the door. Wilson smirked; he hadn't said he was buying and even though most people would have found it annoying, Wilson loved that House assumed.

Downstairs, Cuddy was getting ready to meet Jimmy for lunch. As she walked out her door and into the outer office, she remembered how sad Cameron had looked eating lunch at her desk the last few days.

"Allison, I was just going to meet Jimmy for lunch, would you like to join us?" Cuddy asked.

"Thanks, but I don't want to intrude," Cameron declined.

"You're not. Come on, have lunch with us. If you don't come, he'll expect me to talk and I'm far too hungry to carry on a conversation." Cuddy cajoled her.

Cameron grinned. She'd noticed the increase in Cuddy's normally light appetite. "Okay, why not?"

Cameron and Cuddy made their way to cafeteria chatting pleasantly about Cuddy's pregnancy woes. They got in line in filled their trays, Cameron with a salad, fruit and water, Cuddy with a large sandwich, salad, fruit, jell-o and juice and paid for their meals. Cuddy scanned the cafeteria looking for Jimmy, but didn't see him. She and Cameron sat at a table when Cameron realized she had no utensils to eat her salad. She went to get a knife and fork when Wilson sat in the empty seat beside Cuddy.

"Hey," Wilson said, leaning over and giving Cuddy a kiss on the cheek. Cuddy only nodded, her mouth full of a quarter of her salad. Wilson chuckled and opened his own salad container.

"Cuddy, you're supposed to be eating for two, not ten," House commented snidely looking at the two meals that appeared to be spread out in front of Cuddy. She looked up quickly and then looked at Wilson.

"That's mine," Cameron said quietly, returning to the table with her cutlery. House just stared at her, tray in hand. Wilson and Cuddy looked at each other in dismay. Cameron looked confusedly at Cuddy and House glared at Wilson, certain he'd been set up.

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"House, I swear I didn't know she invited Cameron to join us," Wilson insisted for easily the fifth time since they'd left the cafeteria. They were now in House's office, Wilson pacing and House twirling his cane absent-mindedly.

"And if you had, that's exactly what you would say," House countered. He was furious, and even though it was exactly the sort of passive-aggressive meddling that Wilson specialized in, he actually did believe that Wilson hadn't done it on purpose. He wasn't furious with Wilson; he was furious with himself for being such an ass to begin with.

"House," Wilson started again, but House held up a hand to silence him. He stopped his cane and hooked it on the edge of the desk. He reached into his pocket, withdrew the ring and held it out to Wilson.

"Take this." House ordered. Wilson looked unwilling. "It's making me nervous. As long as it's in my pocket, it's all I can think about. Take it, I'll ask you for it when I need it." Wilson took it reluctantly. House visibly relaxed. He was over-thinking. He needed a break. Remembering what Wilson had told him about Price a few days ago, he seized upon the perfect thing to distract himself.

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"Allison, I really didn't know he would be there today. He hasn't been all week," Cuddy told Cameron as they entered their offices from the cafeteria.

"I believe you. I should have known better anyway, the two of them practically come as a set," Cameron said somewhat bitterly. Last night was the first night in over a week that she'd slept the night through. No waking at 2am to spend three hours staring at the ceiling, no nightmares where House is dying and she can't save him or she's dying and he won't save her. Thirty minutes sitting elbow to elbow with him was certain to have ruined that for tonight. "I'm going to the clinic and work my hours, maybe I'll feel better. No chance of running into him there."

Cuddy frowned. She knew how much her doctors hated the clinic. It wasn't exactly her favorite part of the job either, really only second to trying to manage House. Cameron didn't seem to mind it as much as most, but to go there to cheer up was just sad.

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Jasper and Foreman sat in the conference room, going over the chart of their last patient. He was being discharged this afternoon and would require physical therapy for some time to fully recover. Jasper and Foreman were reviewing notes because House had ordered Price to handle all the discharge paperwork and physical therapy referrals.

House seemed to be taking great pleasure in torturing Price the last two or three days. At first Foreman had been annoyed that House was having Price do so much of the work. Then he and Jasper had discussed it and decided House was either testing his limits, a very likely possibility, or just screwing with him because he was House, also quite likely. It didn't really matter. With Price doing the grunt work, Foreman and Jasper had time to collaborate on a theory and had actually diagnosed the patient before House.

"Hey, how are things with you and that nurse working out?" Jasper asked Foreman, pushing her chart away and rubbing her eyes. All that extra research had given her a headache.

"Really good," Foreman said, pushing his own chart away. There was no reason to finish this right now. It would only mean an hour of sitting in the conference room bored if he finished early. "We've been kind of taking it slow, you know? I think it's working out for the better."

"I think that's the way to go," Jasper nodded her head at him. "Sex comes with too much emotion, no matter how hard you try not to let it. The emotion should come first."

"Oh you women, always looking for feelings," House snarked as he entered the conference room.

Jasper rolled her eyes, standing to get a cup of coffee. She reached up for a mug and began to pour herself a cup, not noticing that her blouse had slipped down off her shoulder slightly and revealed the strap of her bra. House cleared his throat loudly, and then pointed when Jasper looked in response.

"That blouse is a little too big for you," House commented. "Must be a nice change."

Foreman winced. He hadn't heard House harp on Jasper's weight yet, but he supposed he should have known it was only a matter of time.

"I guess I've lost a few pounds," Jasper said slowly. "Must be all the sex."

Foreman winced again. Not that he wasn't thrilled that Jasper could give it right back to House, but her comment just automatically put all sorts of images in his mind that he would have been very happy to have never imagined.

"Nice. I knew there was a reason I hired you," House said, turning his back and limping into his office.

"He hired you for sex?" asked Chase, who had heard just the tail end of that conversation. "Something you want to tell me?" Jasper just laughed.

"Where's the new guy?" Chase asked, leaning in for a quick kiss on Jasper's cheek.

"Discharging our patient," Foreman said. "He's been gone over an hour, which means House should be paging him any minute now."

Chase just grinned, thank god for the NICU.

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Price groaned as his pager went off again. He didn't even bother to look at it; he knew it was House. House had been paging Price every time he was out of the conference room for more than an hour, even when he'd just given him two hours worth of work to do.

Price handed the patient's file to the nurse at the station, the discharge now complete. Straightening his tie, he went back to the diagnostic offices to see what the tyrant wanted this time.

"Took you long enough," House barked at Price before he was even fully through the door.

"Sorry, Dr. House," Price responded. "What can I do for you?"

"Dropped my ball," House said.

"I beg your pardon?" Price asked.

"My ball," House pointed to the floor in front of the desk. "I dropped it. Could you pick it up for me?"

Price picked the ball up and placed it on the desk. He looked expectantly at House.

"Thanks," House said.

"What did you need me for, Dr. House?" Price asked again.

"That was it," House said, now not even looking at Price.

Price looked at House in astonishment. He turned and walked slowly out of the office, but House distinctly caught a muttered 'bugger off' as the door swung shut.

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"Dr. Cameron, could I have a word with you about something?" Price asked as he entered the lab.

"Of course, what can I do for you?" Cameron answered standing and gathering a few papers. "Do you mind following me back to my office? I've finished here."

"You worked for nearly three years with Dr. House. How did you cope with him?" Price asked as he and Cameron strolled down the hall.

"I don't know what you mean," Cameron said cautiously. Price looked around to see who would overhear these next comments.

"He's a miserable old sod! I know he's brilliant, but really, he's absolutely off his rocker. He paged me yesterday to pick up his tennis ball!" Price looked truly flustered, quite the feat for such a proper young man.

"He's just testing your limits," Cameron said.

"To what end?" Price asked.

"He needs to know your breaking point. That way he knows exactly how far to push to get the most work out of you and to help you learn the fastest without sending you up to the fifth floor," Cameron explained.

"Well, another few days of this and I'll tell stupid git to take a bloody leap," Price grumbled.

Cameron laughed. She couldn't help it. As long as he was carrying on a normal conversation she could hold it back, but Price in a snit was just too comical. Price, however, took her laugh to mean that she agreed with his assessment. Feeling emboldened, he placed a restraining hand on Cameron's arm before the entered the clinic.

"Dr. Cameron, I was wondering, would you like to have a spot of dinner with me sometime?"

Cameron froze. She didn't know what to say. She wasn't interested in Price, but the first words that had come to mind were 'I'm sorry, I'm already seeing someone'. The thing was, she really wasn't. She didn't want to lie to him, but she wasn't sure how much to say without inviting a lot of embarrassing questions.

"That's very flattering, Dr. Price, but I'm not really available," Cameron said. Not a lie, she wasn't available. She belonged to House; even if he wasn't sure he wanted her.

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that. He's a very lucky man, whoever he is," Price said respectfully. She was beautiful, certainly, but a gentleman did not encroach on someone else's love.

Cameron smiled at him brightly. He really was a gentleman, something House would probably only laugh at. She patted him on the arm and walked into her office. Price walked toward the elevators.

House consciously loosened the grip on his cane when he became aware of a sharp pain in his knuckles. He'd been on his way to the clinic to avoid working his hours when he'd heard that laugh. He recognized it instantly, and he had to know what could make her so amused. He had paused in an alcove between the elevators and the clinic, where he overheard the entire conversation. She hesitated. He was relieved when she had told Price she wasn't available, but then she smiled at him. That was his smile.

Reversing his course, he went back upstairs and limped past the diagnostics area straight into Wilson's office.

"I need that ring," House said. She wasn't going to smile like that at anyone but him.

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Cameron had just flopped herself down on the couch when she heard a knock at her door. She groaned; she was too tired to get up. Whoever it was would just have to go away. The knock came again, much louder this time.

Cameron heaved herself off the couch and opened the door, ready to give an earful to whoever was taking her away from her precious couch.

"House?"

He didn't say anything, just pushed his way inside. Cameron rolled her eyes, but only a little. She was too nervous to be really annoyed. This could only mean one of two things. He either wanted her back, or wanted her gone.

She turned and stared at him. He stared back. Neither moved or spoke for what was certainly an eternity, or maybe just two or three seconds. Finally, House unzipped his jacket and removed it, throwing it on the couch.

Cameron felt tears spring to her eyes. Emblazoned across his chest of his t-shirt were the words 'Property of Allison Cameron, M.D.'. House still didn't speak. He threw his cane on the couch as well and limped heavily to close the distance between them. Pulling her close, he kissed her as deeply as possible. When he pulled away, she was dizzy and breathless.

House released her, and Cameron became concerned when he seemed to be stumbling or losing his balance. When she truly understood what he was doing, she gasped.

From his position on the floor, all his weight now resting on his left knee, he took the ring box from his jeans pocket and opened it to her.

"Busy for the rest of your life?"

THE END

A/N: Okay, I know, it's a terrible place to end a story, and horribly cruel to leave it open ended like that for any faithful reader. But I've decided to make this a three-part series. The next section, titled Accpetance, will be coming soon. Thanks to all who have read & reviewed. I hope you'll stick with me for the next installment!