The next time they spotted each other in the halls, they both immediately darted in the opposite direction. Their determination to avoid one another resonated strongly with Cameron. What did it mean? Did it signify the end of their relationship? Perhaps it was for the best. Now she didn't have to suppress her feelings for him and pretend they were "just friends."

House had similar fears, except, unlike Cameron, he wasn't ready to give up. Which was why he decided to renew his vigorous pursuit of her the only way he knew how: by pestering her at home.

He came to her one night, not drunk like the previous time, but sober to the point of inhibition. He appeared at a loss as to what to do next. It was as if his entire focus had been on getting to her apartment and knocking on her door, and he wasn't sure how to proceed from there. "May I come in?"

"It's late."

"It will only take a moment."

"I'm tired." The edginess in her tone threw him more off guard than he already was. The Cameron of the past would have never found a reason to turn him away. He wasn't sure how to respond to the Cameron standing before him now.

He used his cane to push open her door, and the tip brushed her shoulder ever so slightly. He imagined how it would have felt if his hand had touched her instead. "Can I borrow a book?"

"House . . ." She gave his cane a shove, and he let it fall heavily to his side. It would have been so easy to push against her, but what would have been the point? To prove he was physically stronger than she? Any fool could see that.

Cameron involuntarily crossed her arms, equipping herself with the best armor she had. "I'm in no mood for your games."

"I don't have to come in. Just hand me a book through the door."

"Go home."

She was holding him back, the strength of her emotional bulwark protecting her from all his feeble attempts at wooing. She had built up a tower around her heart just as his own had come crashing down around him, crumbling into infinitesimal fragments. They were at cross purposes. He left her alone.

Cameron wanted to hate him for putting her through this turmoil. Why did he do it? Why did he pursue her one moment and then ignore her existence in the next? Why did he endlessly toy with human emotions? Why did he have to convince her he cared with one gesture, only to dissuade her of it with another? What did he hope to accomplish? Cameron didn't know, and she wished to whatever Great Force was out there that she didn't care. But she did—far too much.

It was her turn to avoid him. She kept to the emergency room during work hours and went out to the coffee shop across the street on her breaks. House was wise not to follow her. Any confrontation with him in her current state of mind would have resulted in an ugly row. She needed to breathe, to think through this the situation. Should she open up to him after the countless times he broke her heart? Should she trust him? She wanted to—oh, God, how she wanted to. But she wasn't going to let him into her heart unless she knew for certain that he truly loved her. House had to confess his feelings for her, and she wasn't sure he could.

**88**

"She threw me out." House whined to Wilson over a Reuben and soda.

Wilson sighed and rolled his eyes before he could restrain himself. "And I suppose you went to her apartment at some ungodly hour of the morning?"

"It was midnight."

"Go back at a decent hour, when she isn't cranky from sleep deprivation, and try again." Wilson wondered if he would speak to his children in the same patronizing tone.

House picked at the sauerkraut on his sandwich. "I failed once. Why should I set myself up to fail again?"

"Because you love her."

House sincerely wished Wilson wasn't such an insufferable know-it-all. It would save him so much trouble if his friend was an idiot.

The next time he visited her, he used his work as a façade. "Open up! I need help with my case," he shouted so loudly that the neighbors threatened to have him arrested.

Cameron gave him credit for his persistence. If she hadn't been so certain that his pursuit of her was a passing fancy, she might actually have believed he truly loved her. As it was, she still needed vocal proof of his affection.

She humored him for an hour, secretly glad of the inclusion into his life, but before she could succumb to his brilliance and neediness, she sent him home with a collection of short stories by O'Henry. "Read one a day and you'll be done in a week," she instructed, knowing, or at least hoping, that it would take the cynical House much longer to plod through the sentimental and poignant fables.

He came back two days later, an expert on all things O'Henry. Cameron couldn't decide whether to be impressed or irritated at his tenacity. She knew one thing: he had her intrigued, like always.

"Is all classical literature so damned depressing?" he complained, slumping in her chair uninvited.

She wouldn't admit it, but she like his presence in her pristine apartment. He added a warmth—a strange, intoxicating warmth—to the cold, clinical furniture which she had promised for years to replace with something more open and welcoming. Cameron tossed him a smaller paperback. "Give Jane Austen a whirl."

"I'd rather read nothing but Proust for the rest of my life." Considering he hadn't gotten through the first chapter of the Frenchman's novel, that was quite the oath.

"I promise you'll love her." She was enjoying their conversation despite herself.

House didn't know if it was his desire to please Cameron, or the fact that he was actually vaguely intrigued by the opening paragraph of Pride and Prejudice, but he took the book home. He spent the next few days hounding the ER and tormenting Cameron about her terrible taste in writers. When she asked him how he was enjoying Jane Austen he pretended to be disgusted by the corny situations. "Aren't you the one who told me you didn't need a happy ending?" he teased her.

"Sounds like me."

"Then why read this pitifully optimistic novel about true love conquering all?"

Cameron frowned. "There's a huge difference between want and need, House. I don't need a happy ending, but I still want one."

House was too flummoxed to respond. He should have realized that despite the tough front Cameron put on, essences of her younger, more naive self still existed. House realized he didn't mind her optimism. Who could blame her for wanting the storybook ending? She was a damaged soul searching for her own form of redemption. Looking at her, as the bright fluorescent lights created an imperfect halo around her blonde head, he found he wanted his own happy ending, one that included her.

"You had your chance at happiness," House remarked, not able to keep the bitterness out of his tone.

"You mean with Chase?" She felt a stab of betrayal. How could he bring up this painful subject?

"Yeah." He clandestinely eyed her. "What happened between you two kids? You were going so strong."

"We were," she agreed, "until he proposed to me."

House felt sure his infarction had magically spread to his other leg, for he suddenly couldn't stand on either. He groped the wall for support. "Usually an engagement brings people closer together," he managed to get out.

She laughed ironically, sadly. "That's only if the two people in question are madly in love with each other."

"Oh?" House's vocal chords where taut.

"I turned him down. I didn't think it would be fair to lead him on, since my heart wasn't fully into the relationship. It never was."

House waited for her to continue and confess her feelings for him. Wouldn't that show Wilson if after all of his harassing Cameron was the first one to act? But she was as stubborn as House.

"I was still hurting about my husband," she supplied as an explanation. It was partly true. House was the only man who had ever come close to filling the void her husband had unknowingly made when he had died. When Chase had proposed, she had been forced to reconcile with her feelings, and had discovered that a lifetime with the young Australian wasn't going to fulfill her needs and desires.

"Oh." He's voice was flat, but he veiled his disappointment with one of his judgmental lectures. "You're pathetic. You have to move on eventually. You can't wallow in self-pity forever."

"Says the man who vowed never to love again when his lawyer girlfriend left him."

"That was different," he protested.

"I see," Cameron replied sardonically. "You're saying that you're allowed to wallow because Stacy chose to abandon you, whereas my husband didn't choose to die. Nice excuse."

"I'll move on if you move on," he challenged.

She scrutinized his face but couldn't determine whether he was serious or not. "Okay," she finally said. "Let's see who can find love first." She wondered why House couldn't see the love that was in front of him. Unbeknownst to Cameron, House was thinking the exact same thing about her.

**88**

It was only fitting that he should confess his feelings in the place where they had first argued, first felt the magnetism irrepressibly drawing them to each other, and had first kissed. She timidly knocked on his office door, jostling the case file in her hand to let him know that she wasn't coming for any personal reasons. At least, that's what she told herself and hoped he believed. House was eager for any interaction and wouldn't have cared if the case had been mind-numbing and sleep-inducing. He beckoned her in, each movement calculated and controlled, not a hint of enthusiasm.

She calmly addressed him, but she was brimming with tension and a feral need to kiss him. "Twenty-year-old woman with extreme joint pain. She just started hallucinating in the ER." Their fingers lightly touched as she passed him the papers, and she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from gasping at the sensation.

House felt it too. He swallowed a Vicodin. "Could prove interesting," he muttered, which was his way of complimenting her.

Cameron waited—for what, she wasn't sure. He didn't look up from the patient's file, and she knew she had been dismissed. Heart sinking, she turned to leave.

"What are you doing this evening?"

She swung back around, jarred at the inquiry. "I . . . uh . . . I don't know. Watching television—something boring like that."

House's pulse was quickening, and he wanted to drop the whole subject, but his insatiable curiosity needed to know if her feelings for him were unchanged. "Do you still eat?"

She scoffed. "You saw me cooking that omelet." That morning seemed centuries ago, and she couldn't blame him if he didn't remember.

"Yes, but I never actually saw you eat it," he pointed out. "So, is that a yes or no?"

She inhaled deeply and asked the impossible. "Why do you want to know?"

House stood eye to eye with her. He had heard that the eyes were the gateway to the soul, and he begrudgingly had to agree. He had found in the past that Cameron's thoughts were so much more accessible when he was looking right into her green eyes. "Because . . ."

Her face was indecipherable; the new and improved Cameron wasn't so easy to read. He wanted to shake her slender shoulders and knock the truth out of her.

Cameron could tell he was at the breaking point, and yet she pushed. She had to know. "Are you asking me out? A bit late for that. I'm over you, House, remember?"

House's eyes darted back and forth before finally coming to rest on her troubled face. "I know you said you were over me." He paused, his brow creased from the effort of his confession. "But that doesn't mean I'm over you."

Cameron wondered if she was suffering from a stroke or some other neurological disorder that caused her to hear things. There was no way House was confessing his love for her—unless this was some cruel joke. But even then, House wasn't one to put his pride on the line to carry through with an elaborate prank. So if she wasn't hearing things, and he wasn't joking, it could only mean one thing: he had finally admitted his feelings. His puppy dog eyes and short frown indicated as much. She took a deep breath and shook her head to clear her thoughts.

Time was suspended as House watched Cameron deliberate his answer. Judging from the stupefied expression on her face, she wasn't too thrilled with his proclamation. House felt his heart jump from his throat. He knew this wasn't physically possible, but he honestly could no longer feel it beating in his chest cavity. He cursed himself for thinking—hoping—that she still loved him after all the pain, humiliation and ridicule he'd put her through. He was a fool, a stupid, stupid fool.

"Just forget it," he croaked. "Forget the whole damn thing."

Cameron bit her bottom lip, turning it a vibrant crimson. "House," she began tentatively, almost meekly. "When I said I was over you, I lied."

He found his heart had returned to his chest and was pounding loudly. Afraid he would sound too hopeful if he asked her to repeat herself, he elected to conceal his joy with a mocking simper. "Noooo? Really?" His tone displayed his trademark snark. Seeing her chagrined expression, he added, "Don't worry. You almost had me fooled with that line. If you hadn't let me in that night, I would have completely believed you."

She wasn't sure if he was still being ironic, but she didn't think it really mattered at this point. "I let you in a long time ago, House. That was my biggest mistake."

House's blue eyes lost every bit of mirth. He was in over his head. He could either ride the tide out and see where it took him, or fight against the current to get to the safety of shore. Neither option was very appealing. The one decision, to face up to his confession, would leave him at the mercy of Cameron. The other option, to flee, kept him in control but left him alone. Why had he thought he could play the romantic lead?

He closed his eyes and counted to five, then opened them, resolved. "Cameron." It was a statement in itself. She could tell he had changed his mind, but, crestfallen as she was, she listened. She had made her decision to love and trust House, and she would deal with the consequences however heartbreaking.

He continued, despite every desire to bolt from the room. "I'm an old, broken drug addict."

She took a step toward him. "I don't care."

"I've slept with countless of women—most of them prostitutes. Who knows what STDs I've got?"

"I was nearly infected by an AIDS patient. I'm not worried." She crossed her arms in playful defiance and gazed up at him.

House stood his ground, literally and figuratively, his legs shoulder length apart, his cane squarely between them with both hands clutching the handle. "I'm a selfish, arrogant bastard who always has to be right."

She closed the gap between them. The only thing keeping their bodies from touching was his infernal cane—a real, physical barrier representing the intangible one preventing him from letting her in. "I don't care," she firmly repeated.

"I'll leave you like I left Cuddy. I'll—"

"House . . . shut up." She wrapped her arms around him and silenced his excuses with a kiss. House didn't resist. He even dared to press his tongue into her mouth and was happily surprised when she reciprocated. She still tasted like strawberries—strawberries and spearmint from the gum she must have been chewing recently.

When they finally drew apart for a breath, House found that he had somehow dropped his cane during the proceedings and his hands were now stroking the small of her back. He cleared his throat and stepped back on wobbly, uncertain feet. Whether his shaking was physiological or otherwise was an enigma to him. He did know one thing: he was hooked.

A hopeful, exultant smile on her face, Cameron handed him his cane.

"I'm going to make you unhappy," he warned, his voice refusing to come out gruff and menacing. What was happening to him?

"We make our own happiness," she replied philosophically.

House assessed the situation with a tilt of the head and a furrow of the eyebrows. "You're an idiot," he surmised. And he bent in for another kiss.

END