A/N: As usual, thanks to Kate J for being my muse in so many ways. Thanks to Niicelaady for serving as my beta on this chapter. This chapter is dedicated to three awesome readers who have championed my writing for a long time: Houserocks1, HouseCam63, and SilvaK, thanks for always commenting and encouraging me.
Thanks as well to all the new readers who have taken a moment to comment. I'd love to hear from other new readers and from those who have invested in this story from the beginning. Blue button, bottom of page.
Cameron woke as the wind blew smatterings of rain through the window screen and cool morning air chilled her naked frame. The only toasty part of her anatomy was her backside, where House curled around her in sleep. His strong arms circled her, holding her body close to his beneath the thin cotton sheet.
(When had that happened? Her last memory was lying on her back in the bed next to him, their shoulders touching, after making love for a second time. She had reached for his hand entwining her fingers in his as they lay in the darkness, utterly spent.)
She felt the muscular length of him and the latent power of his limbs – felt the rhythm of his breathing, the warmth of air brushing her hair as he exhaled. As she shifted a little in the bed, his hand moved, touching the soft skin of her belly and tangling in the dark nest between her legs.
Still he slept.
With great care, she turned so that she faced him and, driven by the need to absorb his heat, she tucked her body into his like a puzzle piece, finding a perfect fit. In his arms she grew warm and sleepy like a kitten and drifted off again.
In her dream, he wore his tux but had taken off the coat so the muscles of his chest were notable beneath the dress shirt.
There was something about a man in a crisp white dress shirt, a freshly pressed button-down shirt, that made her insides curl with desire. She was dressed in a white cloud that rose around her body and wrapped it up like an embrace, but he didn't seem to see her. He leaned against the hallway outside his office at the hospital, his hand at his throat as he tugged off the black tie and stuffed it into his trousers pocket. Fingering the buttons of the shirt, he loosed a few of them until she could see his Adam's apple and the hollow underneath it. In an unconscious gesture, he moved his hand over his breast as her breath caught in her throat. She wanted to feel the expensive cotton beneath her fingertips and the warmth of his flesh beneath the expensive cotton. Drifting like mist in his direction, she tried to touch him but her body dissolved.
For a second time she awoke, remembering the way his jaw had dropped when he saw her in her red dress the night of the hospital fundraiser. What he couldn't know was the effort it took her to keep her hands clenched at her sides so she wouldn't reach out and touch his chest in that crisp white dress shirt.
The gray patch of sky visible through the curtains signaled morning as clearly as the red digits of the alarm clock, but she was reluctant to start a new day when the previous 24 hours had given her more than she ever thought she'd receive from House. Irrefutable proof that he wasn't indifferent to her existence.
A palpable ache made a home between her thighs, reminding Cameron that she'd been properly fucked, and by whom. The second time, they hadn't made it back to bed. Buddy Guy's silky voice and her body visible beneath the see-through teddy had been more than enough to thicken House's erection. A few seconds into slow dancing was all the sentiment House could take before he needed to claim her again, damning tenderness out of hand and pushing her up against the back of the couch with his hard on insistent against her midriff.
She smiled against his shoulder at the memory.
He'd held so much of himself back from her for so long, and last night she had felt the power of his feelings spill out of him and into her. The things he couldn't say flickered in his eyes. The things he couldn't say she felt in the way he touched her with an air of ownership, parted her as if he were her first.
Soon he would wake and there was still a tiny part of her that feared he'd drop-kick her from his bed, claiming that he'd blacked out and that she'd taken advantage of him.
But that was nonsense.
Her real fear was that if she stayed, she'd never leave. They'd end up moving in together after one night of admittedly off-the-chart sex. That's what had happened with Stacy. It had worked for the two of them, but then again, they'd lived together for five years and never married or made any steps toward having children.
As for herself and House, Cameron feared that the sexual tension that crackled between them would soon evaporate as their relationship became mundane and he would tire of her. If she didn't walk out the door, House would never have the chance to ask her on a date, to actively choose a relationship on his terms. If he were ever going to date her – and he claimed he wanted to – she'd have to go home and give him time to ask her on a date.
Slipping out from under House's arm, Cameron slid from the bed and went in search of her clothes. She found her jeans crumpled on the floor and shimmied into them. A cursory search for her bra turned up nothing so she appropriated a green button-down from House's closet and nearly drowned in it. Wearing it made her feel as if she belonged to him. The soft cotton brushed her bare, sensitive skin.
She perched on the edge of the bed, looking down at House as he slept. He had rolled over onto his back. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she reached out and lightly stroked his scruffy cheekbone with her thumb, and then traced his bottom lip, remembering the way he tasted, the intoxicating smell of alcohol on his breath and the heat of his mouth on hers. The blanket covered his legs, but the rest of him was naked and in full view.
None of the indignities of sleep marred House's face. His mouth didn't gape, there was no drool, crud hadn't formed in the corners of his eyes, and he didn't even snore. The corners of her mouth lifted. Gently, she laid a hand over his left breast and felt his heart thumping. The sight of his throat and the hollow beneath it was better than any fine art she could buy at a gallery, and she wished she had her cameras so she could index each part of his body in color. In black and white. The scar on his neck where he'd been shot stood out in ruddy contrast to the rest of his skin and she touched in lightly, and then pulled the blanket up to cover his strong shoulders. The smell of their sex wafted up from the bed like an aphrodisiac.
He rolled over again, flinging an arm out and nearly clocking her so she walked out and into the living room to revisit the historical landmarks of the night before.
In the living room, bits of wax stuck to the floor from those Patron Saints candles. Now that she was thinking straight, the candles made her laugh. What had possessed House to use them? Most people kept votives around in case of a power loss, but then, that was House. He wasn't like other people.
The remnants of their dinner remained on the plates. Cameron set about cleaning up. She studied the bag that their food had come in with its Cafe Spoletto insignia and shook her head at the memory of their first date.
If House had thought that his pointed analysis of her, his lame efforts to tell her what it was that made her tick would crush her, he had been wrong. At her apartment, later on the night of that ill- fated date, she'd carefully unpinned the corsage and disassembled its blooms, tying the stems with a string, and hanging the flowers to dry in a corner of her bedroom. There they remained, reminding her that even House felt something like sentiment.
Even House let his guard down … sometimes. With Wilson. With her, she realized, the memory still sharp of ministering to his self-inflicted cuts when Cuddy restricted his Vicodin use. She had cleaned the razor-thin cuts, checking her impulse to kiss the wounds and taste his blood on her tongue.
A cough came from the bedroom, once, twice, and then it was quiet.
It was time to go, before he awoke and wanted her again. If he looked at her, she'd be immobile. She wouldn't be able to walk out the door.
She couldn't just leave without a note. Not after Stacy.
For a moment she stared at the blank sheet of paper, the pen poised in her hand. He would never be "Greg" to her, but with the memory of his skin beneath her fingertips and the ache that lingered sweetly between her legs, could she still think of him as "House?" That name conjured up the taskmaster who was always on her and at her, demanding that she look at diagnosing diseases in ways that to her remained unorthodox. The name brought to mind the teacher who pushed her to look outside conventional medicine for answers to problems that were often found in the secrets people kept from one another.
This was House. A man who kept his distance from people, but to whom solving medical mysteries was deeply personal. Never mind whether or not he knew their patients' names. If he could figure out their fatal flaw, their Achilles' heel, what point of pride or source of shame lurked behind what they revealed in their medical histories, he could usually solve their case. House was House. He was her one forbidden drug; she'd been sure if she touched him she'd sustain third-degree burns. He was the one who spilled whatever he couldn't say in lingering looks. What mattered passed between them, from eye to eye.
Finally, she scrawled the initial G. on the page. And then it occurred to her. House's initials spelled 'GH.' As in his favorite soap. How poetic was that?
Thank you. For dinner. You don't need or want the thanks, I know. But as you know, it means something to me. (Yes, I can see your eyes rolling. I'm that good). I hate sports metaphors, but - about dating? The ball is in your court. You know where to find me.
On her way to her car, she paused to admire the maple tree. Its little leaves were curled up inside their buds, trying to keep warm in the cold rain. Any day now, they'd cut loose, and the cycle of life would continue in the shoots of green. In New Jersey, spring settled in slowly, and she pictured the perennials shriveling back into the warmth of their bulbs beneath the earth. Was it just yesterday that she and House had walked in the sunshine to Tiffany's for coffee and their game of 20 Questions? It seemed as if years had passed since then.
Arriving at her place felt like a letdown. Cameron stepped inside, allowing the heavy door to swing shut behind her. Dropping her tote, she leaned back, surveying the apartment critically, the way a stranger might.
An antiseptic quality characterized the living room with its dutifully neutral paint job and humdrum furnishings that, she saw, lacked imagination. The place was tidy and stark with few personal touches adorning its surfaces or decorating its walls. Books filled the shelves, but they were mostly medical texts. Despite her feeble efforts to make the apartment a home, it still looked like a hotel room to her, especially when she compared it to House's place.
His digs looked lived in. His personal touch was everywhere in the interior. There was warmth in the masculine wood and leather theme of the furnishings that made her feel welcomed and embraced. In direct contrast to the adjectives that most often were used to describe him, adjectives like pathetic and miserable, his home was filled with life, and in evidence were some of his pleasures: books, music, and art. The prominent presence of his baby grand anchored the interior of the townhouse and gave it a soul that came to life at the touch of its master.
Those who knew House peripherally, those who knew him only by reputation, be it his reputation for being an exceptionally talented diagnostician and a great brain, or his reputation for being an egotistical ass, often missed the fact that House had an inner life. His brain contained fully furnished rooms, she thought. Some he kept locked. Those were the rooms where dust cloths covered up the hurt. At least, that was how she imagined it.
It was obvious that House had, over a period of years, amassed a collection of black-and-white photographs, many of them indicating an interest in architecture and design. Other items, like the phrenology heads and his collection of old medical instruments, reflected House's interest in medicine and its history. And there was the cactus she gave him, still alive and well sharing space with all kinds of books. Dante kept time with Descartes. A biography of John Coltrane rubbed shoulders with a book on Frank Lloyd Wright.
She sat on her sofa and pulled off her boots as she scrutinized her living room. A more accurate term for it would be a waiting room, she decided with a frown. The only personal item she had on display was the framed photograph from her wedding day where she stood between John and Joe, arms looped around both their waists, the smiles on all three faces strained with the burden of John's prognosis.
Her marriage hadn't been about physical passion, and it hadn't been about bliss. She had married John because he had wanted her to marry him and because she could understand why. He had wanted a beautiful wife. He had wanted a normal life, even if that life would only last six months. Her biggest regret was that she never got pregnant because above all, John had wanted a child to carry on his name. Her marriage was her acknowledgment that if you believe that something is right, you act on your convictions. Everything else in life – including life itself – was precarious and impermanent.
In the photograph, John and Joe looked like mere boys. John would never grow older, and Joe was still living in Illinois, working as a bartender and hanging out with his old frat buddies. Last time they had talked, the only thing they had in common was a ghost.
Walking to her closet, she hung up her coat.
Up above her clothes were the old shoeboxes that contained her photography. Soon, sitting cross-legged with a cup of coffee on the floor of her bedroom, she flipped through stacks of photographs. Most of them were close-ups. She could never get close enough to the things that moved her the most. Like the little red berries clustered on the end of a tree branch in winter, tiny red circles of hope. She had used T-Max black and white film for that shot, sticking to the Pentax K-1000 SLR her father had given her when she was 10, that and a macro lens. Later she'd scanned the image and added the red.
There was a series of a single oak leaf. Oak leaves lasted forever. Did they ever biodegrade? She loved their strength, but the one she'd picked to capture was so decrepit that spidery veins spread across its surface. Those images she'd washed in a greenish-blue hue that evoked within her a pensive mood.
Her favorite pictures were the ones she'd shot of the insides of flowers, the secret, sexually charged, sickly-sweet-smelling cavities where bees or butterflies stuck their genitals. The images were so close up that they were seriously abstracted, but still there was a discernible power to the blur of color that stirred her imagination.
Cameron made a decision. She would frame some of her work and put it up in her apartment. So it didn't fit the modern, pedestrian rooms. So what? It was a part of who she had been, who she hoped to be again – a person who loved beauty and truth.
The phone rang, and she picked up. For a moment, there was silence, and then the voice she heard penetrating her eardrum was House's.
"Want to have breakfast later? You eat breakfast … I eat breakfast. We could eat it together. Worked out OK yesterday even if you did cheat at 20 Questions." He hesitated, and when she remained silent, he continued, "I'm cooking. You coming?"
"A date. So soon? Sure you're not rushing yourself?" She gathered up the photos, laying out a few that she decided to have framed.
"It's about momentum. Gotta kick the ball and keep it rolling, otherwise I'll end up sitting on the sidelines for another couple years while you figure out that Chase is … just as complicated as I am. That he's as damaged as me."
Again she paused before replying.
"And according to your theory that would make him irresistible. You say you're cooking? Does that mean Egg McMuffins? No sausage for me; it tastes like sawdust."
"Omelets," he said. "Fresh basil. Feta cheese. Roma tomatoes. Garlic. In butter, not olive oil."
"You … don't cook."
"So you say."
"So Wilson reports. When he stayed with you he … you ate all his food. You … couldn't stop talking about his macadamia nut pancakes."
She heard him yawn into the phone and hang up. She waited. The phone rang again.
"One hour," he said. "Don't be late."
"Is there a … dress code?"
"Can't find fault with your birthday suit," he said, ending the call.
Cameron stood, the phone pressed against her forehead, and slowly began to unbutton the green button-down shirt that belonged to G. House.
A/N: Sorry updates have been sporadic. That's what I get for attempting to work on more than one multi-chapter fic. If you want to see more soon let me know since I'm juggling this story with the other ones that are in-the-works ...