Cameron was still curled beside him, her cheeks rose-stained from physical exertion and her hair slicked back from her face, her lips turned up in a small satisfied smile. Beneath his fingers her hair felt like velvet, which made House think about the little velvet box in his duffle bag that he'd been carrying around for weeks. Was this the moment, he wondered. Would she even want to marry him?
On the one hand, she seemed quite content with the way things were and had never made any mention of marriage. On the other hand, he was still suffering from an uncomfortable sort of twitching sensation in his heart region every time someone called her Cameron. The idea of giving her his last name was quite appealing. Then everyone would know she belonged with him now. He knew that there was never going to be anyone else for him. She was the one. But then, the one thing that had hindered him thus far was the idea of an actual wedding, the ceremony and the vows and the people all staring and wondering what the hell she was doing marrying the bitter misanthrope with the bum leg. Assuming, that is, that she'd say yes.
Then she stirred and reminded him her parents would be back soon and they needed to get dressed to go to Matt and Shelly's for dinner. Just like that his opportunity was gone.
For the moment, he thought. Only for the moment.
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Cameron was taking a tour of Matt and Shelly's new house, exclaiming over the gleaming hardwood floors and the stylish furniture with her sister-in-law. In her arms she cradled their new baby boy, Ryan. House had looked at the new spawn for what he felt was an appropriate amount of time and then wandered off to find Matt, and hopefully beer.
In the kitchen, Matt stood at the counter making hamburger patties out of raw meat and plopping them on a plate like a kid making mud pies.
"Hey Dr. House! Welcome back. I'd shake your hand but..." Matt waved a hamburger patty in the air.
"Right, not while you're handling your meat," House deadpanned, smiling a little when Matt guffawed. "You got any beer around here?"
"Sorry, we only drink the hard stuff," Matt replied, nodding toward a baby bottle on the counter, and grinning. "I hope you've overcome your milk phobia."
Laughing at House's unamused expression, Matt slapped down the last burger onto the plate, then washed his hands and grabbed two bottles of beer out of the fridge. He handed one to House, then snagged the plate of burgers and led him out to the back, where the rest of the family had gathered.
The barbecue was fired up, smoke curling into the afternoon sky and the smell of charcoal filling the air. In the corner of the yard, Jack was building castles in the sand box with his grandson Greg, now a toddler.
House plopped himself down on the swing, watching Matt line the burgers across the grill. Once Matt had them arranged to his liking, he laid down his spatula and sat down beside House in the place House had silently been reserving for Cameron.
"Looks like my sister is happy, which is good 'cause that means I don't have to kick your ass."
"How lucky for me," House retorted. "I really hate getting my ass kicked."
Matt chuckled, patting House's knee, and said, "I'm just saying, I like you."
"Aww, that's sweet. But I'm just not that into you," House remarked dryly. "I dig chicks."
Shaking his head, Matt continued, "You seem happier too, by the way. I'm glad you guys worked things out." He stood to go attend to the food, but paused and added, "But if I did play for the other team, I'd be all over you like spackle on drywall. I mean, let's face it, for an old geezer, you're one fine hunk of man." With a comical wink, he stood and headed back to his burgers.
Cameron passed Matt on his way back to the grill, taking the seat he'd vacated. Resting on her shoulder, her new nephew slept with one tiny fist curled up beside his cheek, tufts of dark hair sticking straight up from his head like a mohawk. "What was that all about?" she asked, adjusting the baby in her embrace.
"I think your brother was hitting on me," he replied, smiling as she laughed.
Observing her with the baby stirred up a complicated maelstrom of feelings inside him. She looked right at home with an infant in her arms, and he wondered if she wanted one of her own someday, and if so, would he be able to handle it. There was a part of him that wondered if he was capable of sharing her with anyone else, even a baby, and another part of him that might be willing to try if it made her happy.
Sitting beside her, he decided that the best plan was to ignore the issue entirely. Never ever bring it up and hope that she wouldn't either. And if she ever did, well, he'd deal with it then.
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After the food was consumed, Matt brought out a huge cake and placed it in front of House, starting an off-key rendition of Happy Birthday that no one joined in on.
Trailing off, he muttered good naturedly, "You all suck," as everyone laughed at him.
Suddenly the center of attention, House turned and glared at Cameron. "You told them it was my birthday?"
"No she didn't," Matt explained. "I found out last year when I rifled through your wallet... and then I ran a credit check on you."
Eyes narrowed, House just stared, unsure if Matt was bullshitting him again.
"Did you really?" Jack asked, half laughing as Shelly and Jill passed around slices of cake.
"No. I didn't actually run the credit check, but that's only because he doesn't carry his social security number with him." He turned back to House. "Smart move by the way," he joked, slapping House on the shoulder.
"You suck," House blurted, throwing Matt's words back at him and scowling as Matt laughed.
"Lighten up, dude. At least we're not making you wear a party hat."
Shoving a giant forkful of cake in his mouth, House chewed forcefully, swallowed and mumbled, "So, presents?"
"You've already got my daughter. What more could you want?" Jack replied with a wink, pulling little Greg onto his lap.
"Good point." Under the table House squeezed Cameron's thigh to let her know he was sincere.
"That was a joke. We actually did get you something," Jack added, as Matt ran into the house and came back out with a rectangular package wrapped in the most garish paper House had ever seen.
Ripping off the wrapping, House revealed a set of season one DVDs of Monk, much to his dismay. "Damn, I was hoping for Girls Gone Wild."
Everyone laughed, while Cameron rolled her eyes at him.
"Kidding," he said. "This is... nice. Thank you."
As Shelly and Jill began to clear away the mess, and Cameron swooped up little Greg, Matt leaned over and whispered to House, "Just so you know, I switched out the DVDs. That's actually season one of The L Word."
Opening the case, House found that Matt was being serious for once. Grinning, he replied, "Oh you sneaky devil, you. I think I might actually love you."
"Sorry, I'm just not that into you," Matt retorted dryly. "I dig chicks."
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Newark Airport was as crowded as ever. House played the cripple card and flagged down a ride on a glorified golf cart, slinging his bag onto the seat and waving Cameron over.
"So? Good trip?" House asked, as they zipped around the hordes of weary travelers.
"Yes. Good birthday?" she inquired, linking her arm with his.
"Yup. Would've been better if I'd gotten a present from you."
"You did. I just had to leave it at home. You'll see."
The driver dropped them at the escalators that led to baggage claim and they made their way down. Standing beside the carousel, he realized that this was the right moment. On the flight back, he'd decided that he could sacrifice one day of his own comfort for a wedding if it made her happy and showed her the depth of his love and commitment. Pulling the small velvet box out of his pocket, he pressed it into her hands as they waited for their luggage.
As she opened it, a look of wonder on her face, he tried to swallow the lump in his throat. His voice was rough and gritty like sandpaper when he finally spoke. "I thought we could do that thing, with the rings and the vows and the changing of your last name. What's that called again?"
"Marriage? You... you wanna get married?"
Solemnly he nodded, having never felt more nervous in his entire life. "You?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered. "I do."