A/N: I can't thank my beta enough for the notes and the fast turnaround on this. Plus, she came up with the title. Thanks, blueheronz.
This was written for my dear friend jesmel, as a (very late) birthday gift.
By the way, I still don't own these characters, nor am I profiting from them.
As Cameron emerged from the elevator, he looked her up and down from his spot at the nurses station. In dressy black pants with a bit of shimmer to them and a gauzy blouse that skimmed her subtle curves, her hair swept up in a wispy knot of blond silk, she looked like a starlet from classic Hollywood. Greta Garbo, reincarnated.
He fell into step beside her, matching his pace to hers. "Need a ride," he stated, as she glanced at him curiously, adjusting her bag on her shoulder.
"I can't, House. I've got dinner plans. Call Wilson. Or a cab."
"Won't take long," he said, as if she hadn't just turned him down. "Chase will wait."
She stopped abruptly, turning on her heel to stare him in the eye. "Why?"
Sighing, he glanced away briefly, and when he looked at her again, there was a hint of defeat in his eyes. "My patient's dying. I need someone to go with me and check her home."
"That's what you have a team for," she argued, steeling her heart against him and turning to walk away. She told herself he was playing her, as usual, and that he didn't really need her help.
"Right," he shouted to her retreating back. "Except Kutner's dead, Thirteen is nearly dead, and Foreman's got his head up Thirteen's ass. Figuratively speaking, I hope," he added as an afterthought. "That leaves Taub, and he's only slightly better than useless."
Softening, she turned back, fingertips sliding across her forehead as she contemplated his request. Which was not a request at all really. More like a command. And yet she knew she would give in anyway, because he was House and she was Cameron and this was the pattern they always followed.
"Fine. You've got one hour, House. One," she repeated emphatically, holding up her finger to demonstrate her resolve.
Two Hours Later
The passing scenery outside her window became more and more of a green blur as they left civilization behind.
"Where exactly does your patient live? And why did you drag me along?" Cameron grumbled from the passenger seat of her car. Twisting the strap of her bag in her hand, she thought of Chase waiting for her, always waiting, and a little jolt of guilt struck her conscience.
"Patience, young Jedi," he scolded, glancing at her briefly. "We'll be there soon. I know a short cut."
Forty-seven Minutes Later
"We're lost," Cameron groaned, spinning in a slow circle, leaves rustling beneath her feet and the canopy of foliage above them blocking out the fading daylight. A fine mist hung in the air, causing her hair to stick to her head in damp tendrils.
"We're not lost," House responded impatiently, but at the look on her face he rolled his eyes and conceded. "Okay, we're lost."
"Great. Just great," she muttered, swatting at the swarm of gnats that buzzed around her face. "I can't believe I let you drag me into this. First you practically abduct me, then you miss the turn, run over the only sharp object in a fifty mile radius and lock the keys in the car with my cell phone. And now you've got us lost in the woods. So much for your great shortcut."
"I did not abduct you. You practically jumped at the chance to go with me. You love that I gave you an excuse to spend time with me and you know it."
Her only response was to glare at him with such heated anger he thought she might set the forest on fire.
"Look, all you have to do is climb one of these trees. Get high enough and you'll be able to see the road," he suggested, pointing at the nearest sturdy looking tree.
"Getting high is your specialty," she retorted, arms folded across her chest.
"You can't expect me to climb a tree," he snarked, waving his cane in her face.
"Sorry, but I didn't wear my tree-climbing shoes," she snapped, pulling one sharp heel out of the soft earth to prove her point.
"And I'm supposed to suffer because of your poor choice of footwear? C'mon, I'll give you a boost," he offered, hooking his cane in the crook of his elbow and cupping his hands together.
With a put-upon sigh, she kicked off her shoes in compliance, muttering her displeasure in a whiny mimicry of him. "If we just cut through these woods, there's a town right on the other side where we can call for help. Where's your sense of adventure, Cameron? Don't be such a girl!"
"Are you this annoying with Chase?" he asked, unwilling to admit she was kind of cute all riled up.
She gave him another hard look that threatened to wither the surrounding plant life.
Placing one hand on his shoulder for leverage as she put her foot into his strong grasp, she reached up for the nearest branch and gasped as his large hands pressed against her butt.
"Any excuse to get your hands on my ass," she accused, hiding her smile from his view.
"Just trying to help," he answered with false innocence.
Struggling up the tree, the rough bark scratched at her skin, leaves slapping against her arms and legs. House stood below, bellowing out instructions on where to place her feet and which branches to grab, but she ignored him in favor of worrying about snakes and bugs and how she would get back down when she was done.
She never told him she was afraid of heights.
When she felt she was high enough, she shimmied out across a thick branch, her legs wrapped tightly around it and one hand pushing aside the leaves. "I see it," she called out. "It's that way." Stretching her arm out to point, she nearly lost her balance and shrieked before clinging once again, her eyes clenched shut as her heart threatened to crawl out of her throat.
"House?" she murmured, refusing to look. "How do I get down?"
Despite the panic in her voice, he smiled. She looked so cute up there clinging like a koala, and he felt a surge of affection for her. Somehow she'd carved out a Cameron-shaped hole in the thorny hedge around his heart with her delicate beauty, her steadfast belief in truth and ethics, her desire to see the good in people. He hadn't let her in exactly. It was more like she'd forced her way in and let the hedge grow back behind her. And somewhere along the way he'd realized he was okay with that.
One shimmy at a time he talked her down, grinning when she fell the last few feet and landed on her perfect little butt. Sitting on the forest floor, she huffed out a breath of frustration, rested her elbows on her knees and looked up at him expectantly.
Despite his leg, he knelt before her, took one tiny foot in his hand and slipped it into her shoe, repeating the action with her other foot and ignoring her sharp gasp of surprise. With streaks of dirt across her face, her hair all askew, and several rips in her pants, she was still exquisitely beautiful; a grubby Greta Garbo.
"Let me guess, you were too busy playing with your Barbies to climb trees as a child," he said, eager to get his thoughts off their current track. "You probably had Barbie and Ken and their little Barbie babies living happily ever after in their Barbie dream house."
Amused, she stood and took his arm, leading him in the direction of the road. "No, my Barbie dumped Ken for GI Joe. Ken was too... pretty. Too perfect."
"Not to mention anatomically incorrect," he added with a wry grin. "He'd never be able to satisfy her sexual needs. I bet Barbie's mom loved him though--so clean cut and wholesome."
"Parental approval is overrated," Cameron replied, grinning back at him.
He quirked an eyebrow at her, studying her face while she smiled into his eyes, a small twig sticking out of her messy hair.
"What was so great about GI Joe?" he finally asked, plucking the stick from her blond locks and tossing it away.
"He was more rugged, more... manly, with the beard and the chest hair," she answered, blushing a deep red as the implications of her answer kicked in. Embarrassed, she rushed on thoughtlessly. "I had to sneak GI Joe out of my brother's room, because he didn't like me playing with it. He used to put the doll in the GI Joe Jeep and try to blow it up with his chemistry set. I think he was trying to duplicate a war scene from some old movie. I always had to glue Joe's limbs back on."
"So your propensity to fix damaged men started early," House interjected playfully. "Did you make him a little GI Joe sized cane?"
Her lips turned downward as she paused, staring at the ground, thoughts as tangled as the underbrush surrounding them. Could it be true, she wondered? Had she always preferred damaged men? And if so, what was so bad about that? Were damaged people undeserving of love?
"It was a joke, Cameron. You're thinking too much."
Tentatively, he reached out and placed his hand on her cheek, his thumb swiping at a streak of dirt.
Looking up at him, the heat of his eyes, a deep blue like the heart of a flame, seared into her skin, and all she wanted to do was kiss him, feel his arms around her, lose herself in that heat.
The corners of his lips turned up involuntarily in the slightest of smiles as she looked up at him and then closed her eyes, leaning toward him.
There was no rain, no forest, no sound on earth but their mingled breaths. He moved in slowly and made contact, a throaty moan escaping him at the sensation of her lips on his.
Nothing could compare to kissing Allison Cameron. She was shelter in a storm, water for his thirsty soul, and everything else that was good in the world, with just a touch of something forbidden that hit him as his tongue tangoed with hers.
She broke away first, her breathing ragged and her hands grasping his biceps in a death grip.
"It's time for Barbie to dump Ken," he said, studying her intently.
"I know," she frowned, "but it's not that easy. I don't want to hurt him."
"You'll hurt him more if you stay with him. Because you want to be with me."
Taking in the truth like the thick, damp air she was breathing, all she could do was nod in agreement. In her mind she packed Ken away, and when she looked up GI Joe was waiting, a cocky grin on his face.
"Besides, GI Joe doesn't share."