They had taken a seat in their respective chairs, Cuddy behind her desk, Cameron on one of the chair in front of it. So far so good. Then Cuddy had asked, "So what brings you here, Dr. Cameron?" Just by posing this relatively innocent question, she had unintentionally swept away all of Cameron's righteous anger and determination.
For the time being Cameron just sat there wordlessly, alternately thinking up possible ways of escape and attack strategies.
"Don't get me wrong Dr. Cameron, it's actually nice you dropped by, but unless you start talking soon, I'd rather get back to work," Cuddy said leaning back in her office chair, watching the other woman intently.
Maybe it was the impatient tone of Cuddy's voice or the possibility of being sent away without achieving anything that ripped Cameron out of her reverie. Even later she wouldn't be able to tell. However, whatever it was, it inspired Cameron to blurt out immediately what was on her mind. "I just wanted to tell you that House and I've been seeing each other for a month now."
Cuddy gaped. She was momentarily rendered speechless, something that didn't happen very often. In fact, the last time had been when she had seen what the hospital attorney charged for keeping House out of trouble. "I'm sorry, I think I didn't hear right. Did you just say you and House…" she finally managed to get out.
"Yes," Cameron answered slowly.
"Okay," Cuddy took a deep breath, then slowly got out of her office chair. For some reason she suddenly felt the urge to stand. How could that have skipped under her radar? This was something major; why hadn't anybody told her? She would have at least expected Wilson to be as thoughtful as to inform her if something like this happened in her hospital, but then again …maybe he hadn't known either.
"Okay," she said again, mainly to win some time to formulate some kind of battle plan. This was a delicate situation and Cuddy was well aware that she wasn't exactly what one would call objective. House was…Was it okay to call him a friend? She carefully pondered that thought in her mind and came to the conclusion, that yes, it was okay. Cameron on the other hand, well, they had never really found the time to get to know each other. It wasn't that she found the younger woman to be disagreeable in any way – far from it. Maybe she was acting on a subconscious level. After all, a female dean of medicine was an anomaly in this male dominated field of work. Most of the time she surrounded by men, unless she paid the gynaecology ward a brief visit. In a way, she was the queen bee of this buzzing little bee hive that was the Princeton Plainsboro. The system worked because she was approved of, appreciated and desired by many.
"Maybe it would be best if we weighed our options," Cuddy finally suggested diplomatically, "though I'm afraid we won't have many choose from."
"All right," Cameron responded. There was a hint of irritation in her voice, which Cuddy felt relieved to hear, because it made it easier for her to assess the situation. Cameron seemed to be extremely anxious about this talk, so maybe her intentions towards House were really sincere.
"Good," Cuddy blew out a breath she didn't know she was holding. "Apparently, you have been able to handle the matter with some discretion - more than I actually expected House to demonstrate in a situation like this. You'll understand that for the sake of this hospital's reputation we have to keep this relationship secret. Not that I don't trust you to do that, but you'll agree with me that House…well, House isn't exactly the poster boy for diplomacy," she added in the end, disposing off the formal tone with which she had started this conversation. She was feeling way too exhausted for keeping up pretences.
"So what do you suggest we do?"
"I'll be blunt. If you're able to keep this hushed there won't be any problems, but on the long run it would be probably best if you thought about…" Cuddy hesitated. This was not easy.
Fortunately she didn't have to end the sentence. Cameron relieved her of that duty. "It would be best if I thought about getting transferred to another department. Is that what you're trying to say?"
"Look at it as a precautionary measure. Just in case, you see," Cuddy nodded, unconsciously running her hands over her skirt to straighten it.
Cameron laughed humourlessly. "House will be absolutely thrilled by this idea. You know how much he hates change."
"He can't expect you to stay his fellow for ever."
"I don't want to rush things, if that's alright with you. I need to talk this over with him first, before I start making any plans," Cameron informed her calmly. "It would be the worst kind of betrayal if I didn't - in his eyes and mine as well. We have to take this decision together," she added more silently on an afterthought.
It sounded like something people did in a regular relationship. Cuddy, however, highly doubted House and Cameron had a regular relationship. Whatever reservations she had in this moment, she managed to hide them quite successfully behind a smile. "You do that, Doctor Cameron, but I'd like to have a word with you again in a couple of days, if you don't mind."
"Of course," Cameron rose from her seat, feeling like an actor just leaving the stage after a particularly challenging scene. When she turned to leave the room, the fake smile she had forced on her face in the moment of goodbye disappeared from her face. In the meantime, Cuddy sank down in her office chair, massaging her temples exhaustedly.
"Oh, and please do me a favour and tell Steward to cancel my 3 o'clock, when you pass his desk," Cuddy called after her.
It seemed like the whole universe had suddenly decided to conspire against him. He was by nature a very curious man, so that the fact that Cuddy had headed home at 5 o'clock and Cameron was avoiding him like the plague was driving him up the wall. House did the only thing he had left to do. He vented his frustration on Foreman, who, in his opinion, deserved every ounce of it. When he was momentarily done with taking out his anger on the younger man, he discovered that Cameron had long left without telling him. How rude of her! He had to know what was going on and preferably now. Without giving his impulsive decision a second thought, he grabbed his helmet and his backpack and ambled out of his office to confront her.
"Where are you going?" Chase, who was busy going through some old medical journals in the conference room, dared to call after him.
"Home," he barked in response.
House stopped in track and turned around, suppressed anger glittering in his eyes. "Don't worry. You can leave as well. We've got Foreman to cover our asses. Since he's so worried about his job, he sure won't mind squeezing a few extra hours to please his boss."
"It'll take all night running those tests," Chase tried to reason with his boss. He had followed House out on the corridor, trying to match his stride, which to his own surprise, turned out to be an impossible endeavour. Thanks to his anger House suddenly seemed to have sprouted wings, despite his bad leg.
"He should have thought about that before he decided that blackmail would be a lovely way to start the day," House muttered when he stepped inside the elevator and purposefully pushed a button on the panel, leaving a speechless Chase in his wake.
Today had been one of those days. Cameron had needed a break from the world. The trouble was that she was having a hard time letting go. So, forcing herself to relax at least for half an hour, she took a bath.
The telephone had been ringing a couple of times, but she had not been able to answer it, because she had left it in the living room on purpose. She wiggled her toes in the water. The calmness of the surface was immediately disrupted and tiny waves ebbed against her chin. The phone rang again, the sound was shrill and angry. It was probably House. She lowered herself in the bathtub until the water muted the sound. Her nose was under water as well. She only hoped she would be able to hold her breath long enough for the telephone to stop ringing. Eventually, however, she had to surrender. The telephone triumphed, but not for long. After ringing at least for another 30 seconds it finally fell silent.
Cameron closed her eyes, trying to concentrate on blocking out all unwanted thoughts to the point of thinking nothing. The steady dripping of the tap echoed inside the bathroom. A meditation exercise, she had once tried with moderate success, resurfaced from her mind. Focus on the dripping. With each drop you sink deeper, relax more and more. Drip, drip, deeper and deeper. Deeper and deeper.
The bathroom door flew open without a warning and she let out a high-pitched shriek, flinching violently, so that the bathwater spilled over the edge of the tub and flooded the tiled floor. House was standing in the door frame breathing heavily, his jacket still on and his motorbike helmet under his arm.
"Oh my God! House! What the hell do you think you're doing?! Do you want to give me a heart attack?!" she screeched at him, equally breathless.
House took of his jacket, eyed the wet floor with trepidation and finally put the jacket, together with his helmet, on the toilet seat. Walking cautiously, as if treading on a field of landmines, he made his way to the tub. He took one of her towels, at which she wrinkled her nose in disapproval and dried of the edge of the bath tub, so he could sit down on it.
"What did you tell Cuddy?" He asked without further introduction.
"Is that what this is all about?"
"You wouldn't answer your phone. I've tried playing nice," he scowled.
"I get it. I was practically begging for you to break into my apartment and barge into my bathroom like you just did."
Cameron closed her eyes again, trying to block him out, which turned out to be a rather fruitless endeavour. She could feel his eyes burn into her naked body and even the steady sound of the dripping of the tap wasn't enough to calm her nerves. A shadow fell over her and the dripping stopped.
"Get that damn tap fixed!" He muttered under his breath, after he had forcefully twisted the tap shut.
"House, please!" Her irritation was reaching new heights.
"Just tell me what I want to hear, alright?"
She threw him a very convincing death glare, then let out a long drawn sigh. "I told her the truth. I told her that we've been seeing each other for three month now."
"What did she say?" he asked ignoring her irritated tone of voice completely.
"Not much – the expected. She wants us to keep it a secret. Oh, and she suggested I should seriously consider changing departments."
"Uh-oh! Someone's in trouble. Good luck with getting out of this one!" he remarked nonchalantly.
She frowned, fixing him with perplexed look on her face. "I'm in trouble!? May I remind you that you're in this as well? This is something you and I should decide together."
"I didn't decide to go and run to Mommy to tell her all about Foreman's nasty little trick."
"Fine. So what brilliant idea would you have come up with?"
He had the audacity to shrug his shoulders. "Does it matter? What I'm more interested in now is, how you will decide. Cuddy seems to know you pretty well. She offered you one of those either-or, black-or-white kind of deals."
"What's that got to mean?"
"Either you believe enough in us to stick around or you'll choose to get transferred to another department because you secretly believe that we've got no future and will sooner or later end up making a mess out of things."
"I….I don't know what to say. That thought never even occurred to me. I'd never want to hurt you like that. I just thought of those two options as a rational attempt at solving the problem. I didn't look at it like…like that," Cameron answered, feeling slightly uncomfortable under his penetrating gaze, especially since she was lying naked in a bath tub.
"Well, I do," he said with a stony face. "So which one will it be?"
"Can't we talk about this like two normal people for once?" She pleaded with him.
"You know as well as I do that we're not two normal people."
"Apparently," Cameron raised her chin stubbornly. "You don't seem to have understood why I went to see Cuddy in the first place," she look at him for some kind of answer, which never came. "I went to see her, because I didn't want Foreman to ruin things for us. I know him. His top priority is his job. Things like friendship and trust only take a second place after that. He's my friend, but when he would have explained things to Cuddy, he wouldn't have bothered being diplomatic or doing what's in our best interest. He would have done what was best for his career."
"You haven't answered my question yet," House pointed out, stoically ignoring what she had just said.
"You're an idiot if you don't already know the answer," she glared at him, feeling a fresh wave of irritation wash over her.
"Well, maybe I am," he tried to get up from the edge of bath tub, but slipped on the wet tiles. So much for a dramatic exit! Fortunately he didn't have that much momentum, so all that happened was that he rather slid, than fell backwards into the tub, involuntarily joining Cameron in her bath.
"Are you all right?" was the first thing she asked, when she had recovered from her initial shock.
"Yeah, just peachy," he answered, rubbing the back of his head, which he had slightly bumped on the tiled wall during his fall. His long, dry, jeans-clad legs were sticking out of the tub, while his torso was completely submerged in water. For a couple of seconds they stared at each other speechlessly, then Cameron broke out in hysterical laughter.
She could see him fighting hard to keep a straight face, but the situation was just too absurd to not break out in laughter, so he joined her a only few seconds later. At that point it didn't matter anymore what had transpired between them before. The harsh words that had been spoken were forgotten, even though the problem was still there, because they couldn't simply laugh it away.
When her laughter died away, Cameron could still feel the lump in her throat, a silent reminder that they still had a couple of things to figure out. She scooted forward so that she was at eye-level with him and shyly wrapped her arms around her knees, although it was now far too late to think about such things as modesty. By now there was no way he couldn't have seen everything there was to see.
"Greg, you're an old, insecure, stupid ass, but you're my old, insecure stupid ass and I wouldn't want to change that for the world," she told him in all sincerity, while she laid her hand that had by now become wrinkly from the water on the back of his. He smiled at her weakly, encouraging her to continue talking. "What about…," she hastily broke off the sentence, afraid to scare him away by saying too much.
"What about me?" he volunteered.
"Yes," she smiled. "Do you want to keep me?" The playfulness in her voice was just a show. He knew that deep down she was dead insecure about asking this particular question.
He sighed. It was still difficult talking about his feelings with her, but with time passing the desensitising treatment seemed to start working. "You're an idiot if you don't already know the answer," he echoed.
At that she smiled at him, but her smile seemed to be laced with sadness for some reason. Maybe he was just projecting that particular emotion on her, because he had once again let an opportunity pass by to tell her that he loved her as he had done so many times before. He did really love her. He knew as much now. He just hadn't found the heart to tell her yet.
Realization had snuck up on him in a moment that probably had to be the silliest one of all. It wasn't that kind of story you told at wedding receptions, because it wasn't all that romantic. It had been that night he had first spent at her apartment, when she had dozed off on his shoulder while they had been watching a movie. The scene had been obscenely domestic. When she had awoken later, only to declare that it was time for bed, he had mistaken her words for a not so subtle hint to leave. The thing was that he hadn't wanted to leave, despite his shoulder, which had still been aching where she had laid her head to rest. He could remember how her body had felt snuggled up against his, how her warmth had radiated through his clothes right into him. He hadn't felt that comfortable in years. In fact, he had never felt that comfortable. Leaving had seemed like such a very cruel alternative, when he could still feel the ghost of her warmth. That night he had found out he never wanted to leave…never wanted her to leave, but he had never said as much.
Her voice ripped him out of his reverie. "The water is getting cold," she wrinkled her nose in disapproval.
He looked at her as if he did for the first time. His eyes roamed over her slender, elegant shoulders, her arms still wrapped around her knees, her fingertips that only just dipped into the surface of the water. "You're naked," he remarked, which probably wasn't the most intelligent comment to make at that time.
She raised her eyebrows at him. Apparently she thought so too. "You're only just noticing now? You've been here for at least half an hour. I don't know if I'm supposed to be offended or…"
"Or? Anger can be quite distracting, you know."
"And also exhausting," she massaged her temples. Was he giving her a headache? He hoped he wasn't. "I'm going to get out of the tub," she informed him.
"Then I'll probably become even more acutely aware of your nakedness. Good idea," he grinned.
She ignored his comment. "Are you going to get out as well?"
"Nope. How about you get me this morning's paper, a cigar and a tumbler of Whiskey, honey?" House said. Despite his attempt at sarcasm, the words were softly spoken.
"You're trapped underneath me, aren't you?"
"Which coincidentally isn't that bad a position," he grinned. "It doesn't nearly happen as often as I would like."
Cameron smiled sweetly, but got up nonetheless. He couldn't keep himself from staring at her as the water was tripping down her nude body. "Nice," he whistled appreciatively through his teeth, which made her blush even though they had seen each other naked countless times by now. She turned, thereby affording him the opportunity to stare at her shapely ass before she wrapped herself in a big white towel.
"Help me out, will you," he impatiently motioned her to come closer.
She held out her hands to him. It was only a gesture, they both were well aware of that. Despite his bad leg he wasn't an invalid and well able to get out of the tub by himself. It was just one more excuse to touch her and be close to her. He knew that, but maybe she thought he was just being plain lazy.
Almost effortlessly he got to his feet, barely holding onto her hand. Soon he was standing, the water dripping down from his soaked clothes all over the bathroom floor. "I love you," he said slowly, cautiously as if trying those words out for the first time. In a sense he was. He was reacquainting himself with making himself vulnerable again.
She looked at him for a second unblinkingly. While he stared in her face, waiting for her reaction to his words, he could see the tears gather in her eyes. If she cried right now, he was going to seriously consider drowning himself in that tub behind him. "Please, don't tell me your about to start the waterworks, Allison," he said softly, giving her an awkward half-smile. He could tell her he loved her, but not deal with her crying all at once. That would be too much for one day.
"No, of course not," she sniffled.
"Right," he said tilting his head a little to the left, regarding her curiously for a second. She held his gaze. The contours of his face seemed less ruggedly seen through a haze of tears.
Without a warning he leant in and kissed her. At first she was too astonished to respond - after all, she still had to work through the fact that he had told her he loved her - but when his tongue brushed against her lips, her initial hesitance was swept away and she responded eagerly. When they finally broke the kiss, she felt light-headed and hazy, but not hazy enough not to notice that her towel had incidentally dropped to the floor.
"Ups, so sorry! I think that was my fault," House grinned at her.
"Apparently," she responded with an equally smug grin.
"This time around I'm going to fully appreciate the fact that you're naked," he murmured in her ear before he started kissing her neck.
"What about…?" she started, but forgot what she wanted to say in the middle of the sentence when he playfully bit her shoulder.
He broke away from her, looking at her with his piercing blue eyes that were slightly darkened by dilated pupils. His chest was rising and falling in quick intervals. "What? Flooded bathrooms? Impending doom at work? Or my motorbike that's currently parked more or less in the entrance hall of this building?"
"Yes, basically all of the both," she answered slightly breathless.
"Do you really care right now?" he asked.
"No, not really…" her hands started unbuttoning his clammy shirt as if on their own accord. "Tomorrow there will be still time to figure things out."
"My thoughts exactly," he smiled suggestively, while his eyes skimmed over her naked form. He couldn't help but think what a lucky guy he was. Despite of the many unpleasant things the next day would doubtlessly hold in store, he was sort of looking forwards to facing them, because he no longer had to do that on his own.