'Everybody lies' – that had long become an axiomatic statement rather than an assumption, the one and the only postulate that life invariably proved right. No matter what useless excuses or noble motives people made up to justify themselves, the fact remained - they did lie. House never failed to remember it. Until now.
Somehow he had forgotten that Cameron was no exception to the rule, the only difference was that she had always preferred to lie to herself. Hell, he had been the one to rub the fact in her face on numerous occasions. Which is why it was especially frustrating that he hadn't discerned a self-delusion in her "I'll call you later, House."
It had been three weeks, and she still hadn't. House had thought about trying to reach her, yet every time dismissed the idea – it would mean admitting a mistake, while he still believed that he had been right. After another two weeks he became irritated. Started lashing out at Chase and Thirteen, because, clearly everything that had happened was their fault and no one else's. Though venting on them was satisfying, he was perfectly aware that he once again was treating the symptom rather than the illness.
The situation hadn't bothered him, or so he had told himself at first. Cameron and he had never set dates or a time for talking before, it just happened. Spontaneously, at varying intervals – a day, a week, four days. If it was a melody, the pace would seem utterly erratic. Rationally he knew that a pause was expectable: apparently, Cameron needed more time to get over whatever moral battle she was fighting with herself. A wise course of action would be to wait and see what it all would come down to. Yet he had never played wise, so there was no reason to start doing it now. Put another way, House didn't trust Cameron to reach her own conclusions, knowing all too well that he wouldn't like them.
However reluctant he was to admit it, however uncomfortable it made him feel, the fact remained – he missed her and didn't want that weird thing between them to end just yet. It didn't take a genius to figure out that he needed to do something to bring everything back to the way it used to be. It took a genius like him, however, to come up a solution. It also took Wilson's credit card, some Internet surfing and a few phone calls to arrange everything. No more deliberate and tricky schemes, he had an inking that Cameron had had enough. No declarations or cheesy Wilson-like tricks – there was no need to start lying about who he was. Actually, his idea was kind of lame, but Cameron used to like lame once.
A week later, seeing the familiar code-name on the screen, House involuntary heaved a sigh of relief. His plan worked, and surely the satisfaction of being right was the one and the only reason why he suddenly felt at ease, for the first time in a few weeks. He waited a bit before picking up, and if anyone asked him, he would swear that it had everything to do with a desire to get a payback for the silent treatment Cameron had been giving him, and nothing with a sudden hesitation, brought on by a treacherous thought that lame might not work for her any longer. He would swear up and down, thereby reaffirming the fact that everybody lied.
"You know," Cameron's voice was guarded, but amused none the less. "I can buy my own coffee. Or brew it…"
"The latter is dubious, unless you want to get food poisoning, of course." He suspected that Wilson might soon wonder why he was billed for the daily delivery of Frappuccinos to a certain office at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. House made a note to himself to come up with a cover-story later. "Took you long enough to figure out."
"Two days, in fact." However, she called after five – the true message of her words wasn't lost on him. "How did you find a Charlie Brown cup sleeve?" Curiosity was getting the best of Cameron, and he would bet that there was a faint smile on her lips.
"If I said, I'd have to kill you."
"I just hope it didn't cost Wilson too much."
"Since when are you a psychic?"
Playing pretend, sidestepping the problem was easy, House had perfected the moves long ago. It worked almost every time, even with Wilson and Cuddy. Today was different though: for all his efforts to ignore it, he still couldn't get rid of that nagging need to clear things up between him and Cameron.
He meant to make it sound as a casual, routine question, but his own voice didn't quite play along: it shouldn't have sounded that serious and almost tentative, and yet it did.
"I wasn't mad at you. Or…" Cameron stopped, making him wonder where that moral compass of hers had led her this time – they could have drifted too far apart to regain some balance, or meet half-way. She continued: "Not only at you."
"Then who's the other scapegoat?"
How did she manage to do this? Many things, many explanations seemed to fit her, but he had yet to find the one that would actually stick. He could and maybe even would interpret her words in a hundred ways possible, but he already suspected that none of his answers would fully capture the essence of her. A fleeting thought entered his mind that he had never considered believing in those answers that she herself had been giving to him. A good puzzle never solved itself, or did it?
"I can't stay mad at you for long." Then she added as quietly, as humanly possible: "that scares me."
Fear worked both ways, yet she didn't need to know it. Come to think of it, 'fear' might be too much of the word, while 'alarming' would certainly suffice.
House tiredly closed his eyes, resting his head on the back of the sofa, grateful for the sanctuary of his apartment - no one was around to see him. There had been times when an imaginary alarm would ring in his head, warning him, awakening him to reality where he would find himself short of crossing the safety lines and letting Cameron crawl under his skin. House would back away, put distance between them, fearing to acknowledge that Cameron's reaction mattered, that her disappointment, hurt and devastation hit him harder than he was ready to admit.
As a litmus paper turning red in acid, her words brought on a realization - he didn't want to give her a new reason to get mad, and upon this an alarm started roaring again. He had no idea what to do with it, though. He didn't want to push Cameron away one more time, but the truth he was going to say just might.
"I can't say I'm sorry about the Chase thing. I'd do it again, in fact."
Cameron's quiet voice was void of any reproach. Instead, there was a hint of another emotion - Acceptance. The only one he hadn't expected from her and looked for elsewhere. After all, it had been logically impossible that Cameron with her persistent need to fix everything would have accepted him as he was. Or hadn't? After all, logically, after knowing him for twenty something years, Cuddy should have known better than try to change him, yet she had obstinately carried on her futile and tiring attempt.
Though he would never say that he was sorry, House suddenly felt an urge to let Cameron know:
"But… I never intended it to get ugly."
"Funny thing is," it could have been a dramatic pause with anyone else, but House knew that for Cameron it was anything but. Probably she was debating with herself whether to continue or not. She did, eventually: "I know that too. That's why it's difficult… to stay mad."
Her words stirred something long forgotten. House couldn't quite name it, but it was not an unpleasant sensation, rather strangely comforting, relieving even. Yet, as any novelty, this feeling immediately started worrying him, since it made him feel exposed and absolutely unprepared for anything that might happen next.
"One would think," her tone was suddenly teasing, and House guessed right away that she was trying to steer the conversation away from getting too serious. Obviously, she needed a distraction as much as he did. Cameron continued: "that you have a secret crush on Chase: ruining all his relationships and all…"
"What can I say, his hair just does it for me."
"I suspected that much."
"Good, now let's skip the part where you're getting jealous and move straight to make-up sex."
Cameron laughed, and that's when he knew they were back to where they used to be.
Days like this made Cameron feel lonely and unfulfilled for they would always taunt her with visions of what she could have had, had everything played out differently.
The first time it happened, it had been painful, albeit not devastating. Six months after her husband's death, she had been invited to a friend's wedding. She was happy for the newlyweds, but a tinge of regret and, selfish as it may seem, some envy for the bride had been nagging her the entire evening. She had wanted her husband to be alive, sitting with her at the wedding reception, lacing his fingers through hers. Small part of her had even wished Joe was still a friend, and not an almost committed transgression.
With passing years it had become easier to survive these sudden reminders of what might have been.
Cameron had lost it only once - when they had had a case with a suspected epidemic among children in the hospital. Seeing a dying infant had stricken her then, just like seeing a happy mother and her child being discharged, accompanied by a beaming husband with balloons and flowers. She had dreamed of those ridiculous balloons that night. Not a happy dream, not even a bittersweet one, rather the one that had trapped her in the past, draining from within. Every happy moment that would flare through her mind would momentarily get buried under the weight of regrets, loneliness and guilt.
When she had married Robert, she secretly hoped that there would be no more of these days for her. There had been none – for the five short months they actually lived together as husband and wife. After her divorce the days came back with a vengeance and became devastating as well as painful.
Cameron didn't want a new serious relationship, fearing that it would end up in yet another disaster. She found substitutes – her work, her patients, her family: mom, dad, brother and a niece. Occasional concessions to her mother who sometimes tried to set her up with "reliable" guys – no harm done, since Cameron was careful not to let them get too close.
That was enough.
Until yet a day like this would happen to her. Until she'd crave… a connection.
Today at the christening of the Dean's grandson, she felt it again – a striving for a life that would consist of more than just work, for a life that she could've had by now, had her marriage with Robert survived. Or had she been wise – or hypocritical – enough not to abandon her back-up plan right after Robert and she returned from their honeymoon.
"I have doubts, normal doubts… It's not wrong to prepare for things to happen even if you don't expect them to. I don't expect my condo to burn out buying fire insurance."
"Your condo rules don't let you buy insurance, would you go homeless?"
Cameron had to admit that House had been right while giving this advice; logical reasoning was his strong suit, most of the time at least. But he hadn't thought of what might happen, should a condo burn down with no fire insurance whatsoever. She hadn't either, trying to prove to herself how serious she was about her marriage. It had seemed a good idea at the time, especially with the prospect of them working for House again looming on the horizon. And that's how she ended up both homeless and unprotected.
Cameron mentally slapped herself for indulging in self-pity. It was neither time, nor place.
She felt a sudden overpowering urge to leave, to get her mind off the memories she usually preferred to ignore. One of the benefits of having doctors as acquaintances was that they'd always understand a sudden page from the hospital. They didn't need to know that it was non-existent at that point. After all, once she arrived at the hospital, she would surely find more than enough urgent matters to take care of.
A few hours later, entering her office after examining her latest patient, Cameron noticed a cup of coffee on her desk. The fifth this week. She carefully took it, looking for a note, printed or written down by the delivery man, but just like the four times before, found nothing. Not that she needed a note to guess who the sender was, but a hint, anything to indicate what he wanted, would help. Actually, she knew what it was about: House was trying to get over that rift in their friendship? Companionship? Pass-time? Whatever. She had never wanted to give a definition to their unexpected connection. A definition wouldn't make it more real, but it would surely complicate things.
Cameron took a sip of the delightful liquid. There was another reason she didn't want to look for a definition – if she tried, she might have to admit that House was still a part of her life, that she still cared more than she should and certainly more than he needed her to. Stupid, really, pathetic, dangerous, irrational… but she didn't regret it.
Her initial reaction over House's latest mind game with Chase and Thirteen had been overwhelming, as a stinging sense of déjà-vu clouded her mind, bringing back in full force the memory of her own relationship with Robert crumbling as a collateral damage in one of these games. After a while, however, a tiny voice in her head started whispering that just like with her failed marriage, House couldn't and shouldn't be the only one to blame.
Maybe it was because it had been an emotional day, but she didn't even register how her hand reached for the phone and dialed his number.
"You know, I can buy my own coffee. Or brew it…"