Everything Worth Doing...
Late Wednesday night, after work, food, shower; the phone rang. Cameron perked up. Who would call here? Two rings, three before she retrieved the phone: "Hello?"
"Cameron?" Chase's voice came from the other end.
"Hi," Cameron replied. "What's going on?" Certainly not a case; she would have been paged.
"I was thinking," Chase began, and he sounded hesitant even over the phone. "We both have the day off tomorrow." He paused, and Cameron could hear his intake of breath next to the receiver.
"Yes?" she prodded.
"D'you wanna spend it with me?" His question arrived with a rush of air Cameron could almost feel in her ear.
"Chase, I..." Cameron didn't know quite what to think. She had planned on spending the day in her pajamas and blitzing through trashy novels, the kind she could skim in two hours and in which everyone ended up in happily ever after. "We agreed that sex shouldn't happen again."
"Hah," Chase gave a sharp, short laugh. "I'm not talking about sex or methamphetamines. There are other ways to... what did Kalvin call it? To live a little, to have fun."
"So what kind of 'fun' will we have tomorrow?"
"Are you saying yes?"
There had been a time when she didn't like puzzles. Working around House had made her sensitive to them, and the sensitivity was becoming intrinsic motivation. "What should I wear?"
She could hear Chase's smile in his voice. "Comfort is key. Sneakers would be good. Eight A.M. too early?"
"No," she answered. "Will you tell me what we're doing?"
"What would be fun about that?" The line went silent.
Cameron looked at the phone in her hand for a moment, then at the novel she held in her other hand. Her index finger held her place. She set the phone and the book on the counter, and very deliberately lost her place. Cheap romance was suddenly no longer fun.
"Comfort is key," he had said. What the hell did that mean? Cameron stood in front of her closet, deliberating. Chase didn't seem the type to spend hours walking around a museum. So why did he suggest sneakers?
True to form, Chase knocked on her door at exactly eight. He had probably arrived early and loitered outside until just the right time. Cameron was relieved to see his attire mirrored her own—jeans, running shoes, sweatshirt. He was holding a coffee and a bag of bagels.
"C'mon," he said, handing her the coffee. "We can eat on the road."
"And if I'm not hungry?" she asked as she closed the door behind her.
"You'll thank me," came his voice just behind her ear. He never stood that close in the hospital.
Conversation in the car was pleasant enough for colleagues who had recently had very good, ill-advised, meth-fueled sex. They carefully avoided discussing family since that smacked too much of a relationship. Chase consistently steered the conversation away from the day's activities. That left them with popular culture and work. Popular culture didn't last long because neither of them had much time for it. Chase had a few stories about House from his time as House's only fellow. They had lapsed into a companionable silence, just the radio filling the space between them, when Chase pulled the car to a stop at their destination.
"No. No way," Cameron stated with as much conviction as she could put in her voice. She was staring at a huge goggled face which was either screaming in terror or laughing in ecstasy. "You're taking me skydiving?" She couldn't pull her eyes from the billboard.
"Well, New Zealand isn't exactly a day trip," Chase said. He leaned one elbow on the steering wheel. "Bungee jumping is a great adrenaline rush, but there's not much in New Jersey. Hey, I've never been skydiving either, but I've got a mate from med school who's addicted to it."
"This is insane," Cameron managed to whisper. Her throat was starting to close up.
"No, this is what makes life interesting. Come on," Chase said, with surprising command. "Everything worth doing carries a risk." He got out of the car without waiting for her response.
The meth hadn't exactly been worth doing; the aftermath had truly sucked. Chase, on the other hand...well, like he said, it didn't suck. Cameron took a deep breath and opened the car door.
They were excellent students throughout the training session. They paid careful attention as the instructors explained each piece of gear. Chase said he had never been skydiving, but he was obviously comfortable with strapping himself into a safety harness. Cameron was reminded of Chase bashfully admitting his S&M dating experience, and she stifled a chuckle.
She tried not to think of all the sky above them as they walked across the tarmac.
Once on the small plane, Chase sat reassuringly close. The gear felt heavy and the helmet was awkward on her head. Sitting across from them, the instructors were chatting by shouting in each other's ears. Chase held her hand as the plane leveled out and the instructors motioned for them to stand up.
"Ladies first!" the lanky man who was Cameron's instructor shouted. He moved around behind her and began hooking himself to Cameron's rigging. She squeezed Chase's fingers between her own as Chase's instructor opened the jump door.
"This is insane!" she shouted at Chase. She thought briefly that at least if her eyes popped out in panic, they would be contained by the goggles.
Chase pushed his helmeted forehead against hers. "You can do this," he shouted back. When she started to shake her head, her helmet rolled against his. His voice cut through her panic. "Cameron, stop! Just let go."
But Chase held up both her hands and nodded yes, she could. Then he let go of her, stepping back and away, and the instructor was shouting in her ear. Chase gave a goofy double thumbs-up, then he tilted his shoulders in an excellent imitation of House's lean.
That did it. Jumping out of a plane was easy compared to working with House. The reaction she'd get tomorrow in the Diagnostics office when casually announcing her skydiving experience was an added bonus. Returning Chase's grin, she straightened her shoulders and nodded to the instructor. Together they stepped to the door.
Cameron swallowed her heart as they fell forward into nothing.
Cat + Bath ?
"Hey, got a minute?"
Cameron looked up from her half-eaten lunch to see Dr. Wilson standing next to her table. "Sure," she said, smiling and motioning for him to sit across from her.
Wilson set his lunch on the table as Cameron cleared away what she had been reading. He pulled a folder from under his arm and set it between them. "This is good."
She recognized the folder. "I'd appreciate a little more than that, Dr. Wilson," she said quietly. "You said the last one was good, and you know where that got me."
"It's thorough, it's insightful, it's well-written," he replied as he opened the wrapping on his sandwich. "You included the best parts of your original article, and you added excellent points from your more recent case." He regarded her while he took a bite of his lunch.
Cameron regarded him back. She sat rigidly, unable to eat. For whatever reason, Dr. Wilson had become an ally and a valuable resource. But there was something about him that wasn't nice or friendly or giving, and she never would have seen it if she hadn't seen him with House. No one stayed that close to House without possessing something unyielding. Dr. Wilson hid it well. She waited for his verdict.
"It should be published." Wilson pulled a folded paper out of the folder. "You should also take it here."
She looked down to see a brochure for a conference. "Why?"
"Because your argument is solid. Because it makes you visible in ways an article doesn't. Because you talking about these cases can grab attention," Wilson punctuated his reasons with waves of his sandwich, "and this kind of attention is good for your career."
"No," Cameron replied. "I know all that already. I mean, why are you helping me like this?"
Wilson ducked his head as he looked down at his lunch. When he looked back up, she caught a brief flash of that stubbornness she had finally learned to see. "Because even the smartest people have their moments of idiocy."
Three signatures, that was all she needed. One for the journal submission, one for the conference submission, one for the hospital for funding and leave time. Three bright red 'Sign Here' stickers. This was going to be as easy as bathing a cat.
She knew what House was watching next door without having to hear the television. The daytime schedule hadn't changed since she was in college and the whole dorm had been addicted to the soaps.
Cameron carefully stacked the forms so all three stickers were easily visible. She started the conversation in her head as she walked through the open connecting door. "Would you?" Too weak. "Could you?" Too girly. Asking of any sort would be inviting nothing but trouble. The key to successfully bathing a cat was speed and confidence.
She dropped the forms in his lap and held out a pen. "Sign these."
His chin canted sideways as his eyes slid away from the television. "What are they?"
"Three signatures," she replied. "That's it." She waved the pen insistently.
House's eyes went back down to the papers in his lap. "A conference presentation. Taking Foreman with you? Make-up sex is always the best kind."
Maintain confidence. Don't let the cat sense hesitation. Cameron replied, "I'm going alone. You don't have to make jokes to hide how much you'll miss me."
House was flipping through the papers and skimmed the abstract of the article submission in one glance. "This seems familiar. Only you've tossed in the consent issues from plague girl."
"Which are legitimate issues."
"So not only will you publish, but you'll do Foreman one better by talking about it."
"I care about my career."
"And you're saying I don't?" House's eyes narrowed.
Cameron barely managed to keep the angry tremor from her voice. "You let my first article sit on your..."
House interrupted her with a shout. "Oh, stop! Just let go."
"I can't." Cameron set her jaw as he rolled his eyes. "I won't. You wanted to teach me a lesson; fine. I learned it. Three signatures."
House looked from her eyes, to the pen that she had been holding between them, and back to her eyes. Time for the final rinse. She refused to give under the scrutiny, and he wasn't revealing anything with his expression.
Finally he took the pen and signed all three pages with a flourish.
"Thank you," she said with the sweetest politeness she could muster as she pulled the papers from his lap. "There's a copy in your inbox, if you'd like to read it." She could feel him watching her back as she left the office.
She enjoyed her days away from the Diagnostics office far more than she should have, considering that she was at a stuffy conference. Every so often someone would ask a shockingly personal question about what House was really like, and she understood why he never came to these things. Cameron herself was the subject of gossip and scrutiny.
Her paper was part of a larger symposium on medical ethics, and the room was packed. When she had finished speaking, she was peppered with questions. But somehow questions that would have made her blanch two years ago felt easy now, and she answered them all without hesitation.
Out of the corner of her eye, Cameron thought she saw blue eyes and a pair of skewed shoulders among the onlookers standing in the back of the room. Amateurs, those shoulders said. She shook her head slightly and tried to pay attention to the next speaker. Of course House wasn't there. Of course she shouldn't expect to see pride in his eyes when she got back to the office.
She was in her hotel room before she realized why the questions had seemed easy. Maybe she had learned something from the magnificent bastard after all.
Even cats could learn to tolerate the occasional bath.
Chase let out a shuddering breath as the doors whooshed closed. He turned to Cameron and asked, "What did he say?"
She looked back at him, then at Foreman. They stood in their usual odd triangle, shoulders together, but the three of them felt very alone in the hallway. The noise from the ER was muted by the doors, and the hallway was eerily quiet. Maybe her ears had been damaged by gunfire in an enclosed space. She tried to ignore the House-shaped hole in their group. "He said to tell Cuddy he wanted ketamine."
She looked down at the mess of her clothes as she rubbed her blood-slicked fingers together. She noticed the men were doing the same. The House-shaped hole also extended into their conversation, it seemed.
Foreman looked up first. "There's nothing we can do here. I'll find Cuddy."
Chase inhaled sharply; he didn't shudder so much this time. "I guess I'll go tend to the patient." Cameron tilted her head at him. "You know, swollen ... tongue guy."
She was the only one facing the ER doors directly, the only one who could see the controlled mayhem. Her forearms throbbed from the effort of trying to hold House's blood inside his body. She swallowed and realized that there was one voice she hadn't yet heard in the chaos. One she should have heard. "I'll find Dr. Wilson."
She didn't need to look very hard. Wilson was flying headlong down the stairs near the clinic elevators. As soon as he caught sight of her, he changed direction and cut through the milling crowd. In a breath, he was gripping her shoulders.
"I heard shots! Is it true?"
"It was House. We were all there. He's in the ER right now. They're prepping an OR."
Wilson got a good look at her clothes and bloody hands. He turned her from the onlookers in the clinic with an arm around her shoulders and stepped them both into the empty elevator. Cameron could feel herself turning white.
"Hey," he said quietly near her ear. "Are you OK?"
"I don't think so," she breathed. "I need to wash my hands." She looked up, met his eyes. She needed to tell him. "He was shot twice. He's still alive. I held his artery closed. He said he wanted ketamine."
The world swam in black for a moment; she was propped up by Wilson's shoulder and the elevator wall. "C'mon, stay with me," he muttered. Cameron was thankful for whatever it was that allowed Wilson to keep them both upright as he maneuvered them into the locker room. He sat her down on a bench – the same bench where she had found a towel-clad House hallucinating. She tried not to think about it.
"You should go," she said. "Thank you."
"House is in good hands," Wilson responded. He let out a long breath. "Closest I can hope for at this point is the waiting room. I won't go if I'm still needed here."
She hitched in a breath and leaned into the wall a little. "I'll be fine."
"You're in shock. You witnessed a hell of a thing."
"You should be there. You want to be there," Cameron urged him to go so she could vomit in peace. She looked up at him again. "You're needed there more."
The man who had shot House was dead, hit by a car as he tried to escape security. House was out of surgery. He would survive, whether by luck or sheer pigheadedness, Cameron didn't know. The police had been thorough in their statement-taking, and Cameron was glad she had managed a shower before anyone found her. Chase had to give his statement with House's blood still on his clothes.
Dr. Cuddy had informed them that she didn't want to see them back at work tomorrow, unless they were coming to the counselor's office. At some point during the day, Chase and Foreman had agreed to a night at a bar. They were probably already working their way into a blackout.
Cameron closed her locker and began to wander the halls of the hospital. It was late and quiet, but there was still enough activity to be comforting. She didn't want to go home. She found herself in the maternity ward. She never had been particularly maternal, but the sight of all those babies, all that promise, was necessary just then.
Of course, came House's voice from the back of her mind, one of those babies will probably grow up to shoot someone. Damn it, House.
She next found herself in House's room, and she was surprised to find him alone. Wilson's lab coat was draped carelessly on a chair. House was still sedated; he was obviously very much asleep. She checked his chart. No ketamine yet. Cameron allowed herself to hold his hand for a moment, knowing she would never be allowed to touch him like this if he were awake.
She had always wondered what his stubble felt like. The darkness and quiet of the hospital after the chaos of the day made her bold. She rubbed her fingers across his chin, then along his jaw, her palm following, until her fingertips rested on his cheekbone just below his eye. House sighed and turned into her hand before settling even further into the pillows. Cameron slowly pulled her hand from beneath his cheek, closing her fingers on the prickly memory of warm skin as she left the room. She might never get more than this stolen caress, no matter how much she wanted.
Her feet automatically took her past the Diagnostics office. It was not dark, as she had expected. The desk lamp threw a sad little puddle of light into the conference room. The white board had been righted, and she could see someone on the floor in front of the bookcases.
It was Wilson, on his hands and knees with a bucket beside his elbow. His shoulders were slanted as he worked at the floor. Cameron heard ragged breaths as she opened the door.
He spared her the barest glance. "You would think," he breathed in time with his scrubbing, "that maintenance ... in a hospital ... would know ... how to ... remove a bloodstain."
She knelt next to him, moving the bucket out of the way. "Dr. Wilson, stop. You don't need to do this."
"I can't," he answered without a break in his rhythm. "There's a ... lot of blood ... in this carpet."
Cameron laid one hand between his working shoulder blades. "Please, stop! Just ... let go."
"I can't!" he shouted, but his shoulders stilled. He leaned back on his heels and turned to look at her. "I don't know ... what else to do."
The raw emotion in his face was nearly her undoing. Wilson was hiding nothing. That core she had once believed was unyielding had given way, and she knew he had no idea how to make it right again. He needed to make it right again, before he went back to House's room.
She curled her other arm around him, bringing his head to her shoulder. Slowly, he began to relax into her. He seemed to grow smaller as he started to shake. Her neck remained dry, but his breath hitched across her collarbones as he shuddered. Eventually she could feel his hands on her back, pulling from her what she freely gave.
Wilson had been her prop before, now it was her turn.
Cameron held him in silence. As the tremors subsided, she started to slide her hands up and down his back. Finally she pulled them both to a stand, doing her best to ignore the pins and needles from her sleeping feet. "Come on," she said softly, "I'll buy you something to eat."
"As long as you don't steal my chips," he replied and met her eyes. The stubbornness had returned, battered, but it was there. Wilson was already starting to hide it again behind a small smile.
Cameron felt the world right itself onto slanted shoulders. Those shoulders would always slant toward Wilson.
She would keep her own shoulders straight, just in case Wilson needed to lean.