A/N: Final chapter. It's been a journey. Thanks for traveling it with me.
Dusk settles over the yard just outside the window, as they sit side by side on the couch in the study. The television is on, and House is watching New Yankee Workshop while Cameron reads a medical journal. With one arm slung around her, he toys with the ends of her hair. He finds himself unable to keep from touching her now, as if he's making up for the years of denying himself any and all affection. The date is significant; he's been thinking about it all day. Two years ago, she married Chase and he went off to Mayfield; two events that changed the course of their lives. But there is still a bit of unfinished business about Mayfield that he wants to address so that she'll know and never wonder.
"I want to tell you about Lydia," he says, suddenly breaking the quiet.
Surprised, she puts down her journal and turns to face him. "House... you don't have to."
"I know. But I want to."
"Okay," she replies, but she can't help but clench as her insecurities float to the surface. The memory of the two of them together in the yard at Mayfield, the knowledge that Lydia touched a part of him that Cameron couldn't reach when he was at his lowest... It stirs up a knot of nausea in the pit of her stomach.
There's a long pause as he contemplates where to start, what it is he wants her to know.
"Did you love her?" she asks, surprising both him and herself with the question. It's as if the words come out without her permission.
"I cared about her," he admits. "I needed to reach out to someone, and she was there."
"And you slept with her." It's not a question.
"Yes. Once. And then she left."
"But you wanted her to stay," she says, and though it hurts, part of the pain comes from thinking about how hard it must have been for him to let her go.
Nodding, he answers, "She was the first person I actually trusted there. But she was married and there was no future in it."
"What if she left her husband and came back? What if she wanted you back?"
"It wouldn't matter," he states, pulling her into his arms. "She was something I needed at the time. Now I just need you. Okay?"
Things at work are quiet. Her small group of colleagues, like her, get so engrossed in their research they often forget anyone else is around. So everyone is startled when Cameron's cell phone blares a tinny rendition of Hot for Teacher which House programmed in without her permission.
The voice on the other end is unfamiliar, foreboding. Goosebumps break out all over her flesh as the man, Agent Garcia with the FBI, informs her that her mother's killer has been found. Jim Brody. The man next door that they all trusted. The man who slipped peppermints into her hand, and bounced her on his knee when she was a little girl. The man they all trusted. This keeps repeating in her mind. He killed her mother, and at least a dozen other women over the years. That's all she hears as her knees threaten to buckle beneath her and unbidden images of her mother's terror hit her like a sudden and violent storm.
The next thing she's aware of, she's sitting on a bench outside PPTH. One of the slats of wood on the bench is sagging beneath her butt, so that she's lopsided, but she doesn't care. The entrance is a mere ten feet away, but she can't bring herself to go through those doors and back into a place that holds so many negative memories and associations. She's falling apart, but she's not going to do it in front of those people who proved they're only interested in themselves. So she sits there and silently wills House to come out and find her.
House finds her there, a broken girl on a broken bench. He's never seen her like this and something like panic pulls at his insides. "What's wrong?" he asks, and she launches herself off the bench and into his arms.
Holding her close, he tries to get his breathing under control. His active mind has conjured up a hundred different scenarios, each one worse than the last. In her thin blouse, she shivers in his arms and he's at a loss. What do you do when the woman you love is breaking and you don't know why? He can't even bring himself to say any words of comfort, like, "It's okay" or "Everything will be fine," because it's not okay and he has no idea if everything will be fine and he sure as hell isn't going to lie to her or offer her platitudes. But he feels useless, just holding her and pressing kisses to her head.
Through the thick wool of his pea coat, he feels something jabbing him in the back and realizes that she is clutching her keys tightly in her hand.
Pulling back for a moment, he yanks off his coat and wraps it around her, prying the keys from her fingers. Then he lifts her chin, searching her face for answers and says, "Tell me."
Her eyes sparkle with unshed tears, like rain on stained glass, and she swipes at her nose with one hand as she speaks, haltingly, about the news she received. As he listens to her tell how a man her family trusted did unspeakable things to her mother, he wants to drive to the federal prison that holds that man and do equally unspeakable things to him with his cane and his fists. And maybe the gun tucked away in his desk drawer.
"C'mon," he urges, tucking the coat more firmly around her as she continues to shake. "I'll take you home."
He leads her to her car and eases her into the passenger seat. Her face, peeking out from beneath the wool that swallows her small frame, is as pale as a lily and just as delicate, and he reaches over and takes her hand in a gesture of reassurance.
From inside the lobby, Chase witnesses the entire scene and his heart breaks a little bit more.
When they arrive home, Cameron is still too pale, teeth chattering, and House wonders if he should have taken her into the hospital and treated her for shock. Concerned, he sits her down in front of the fire and throws the afghan over her.
"You want me to call Evan?" he asks, taking her hand and running his thumb over her knuckles in a soothing gesture.
"No, I'll do it," she answers, staring into the flames, trance-like.
Heading into the kitchen, he brings back a bottle of water and orders her to drink.
"I don't know what to do," he admits, sitting down beside her and tugging her to his side. "I suck at this. I'm sorry."
Those words seem to snap her out of her trance, and she turns to him and gives him a wan smile. "You're doing just what I need," she says, and places a kiss on his cheek and then burrows into him. "When I got that call... all I wanted was this."
She pulls herself together enough to call Evan, only to fall apart all over again. It's a comfort to hear his voice; to have someone who knows what the pain is like. As House lingers in the background, she tells Evan everything she learned: that Jim Brody killed dozens of women over the years, starting with their mother, that he got caught when he tried to abduct a woman at a car wash, a woman well versed in self-defense, who gave him a good beating before calling the police, that he confessed after his home was searched and evidence from each victim was found.
Standing, she paces as they work through the shock and cry together for their loss, for the horrors their mother experienced at the hands of someone they trusted. She desperately wishes Evan was there with her so she could feel his arms around her, not just for herself, but because he has no one there and it hurts her to think that when they break this connection, he'll have to deal with his grief alone. That thought sends her into another spasm of sobs, and House gently takes the phone from her hand and wraps his free arm around her.
"Evan, she'll call you back," he says, adding, "I'm sorry about your mom."
"Sure. Thanks. And House? Take care of her, will you?"
"Yes," House answers without hesitation. Just before Evan hangs up, House blurts, "You know, you could come for a visit. Might be good for both of you."
There's a pause and then Evan responds. "That's a good idea. I'll see what I can do."
House's invitation to Evan makes Cameron smile through her tears, and she wraps her arms around him as tightly as she can. All the little things he does to insure her happiness, those are the things that make her love him more than she thought it possible to love another human.
"Thank you," she murmurs, and he grunts and tells her to stop strangling him. But she notices he doesn't loosen his hold on her even a little bit.
The next day, Cameron finds Chase sitting on the porch like a stray puppy.
"Chase?" she asks. "What are you doing here?"
"I want to know what was wrong yesterday," he demands, and the angry undercurrent to his tone has her bristling immediately. "And don't tell me it's none of my business," he snaps. "All the time we were together you rarely told me anything personal. You rarely came to me for comfort. So I want to know what the hell happened that made you go straight into House's arms. I think I have a right to know."
"No you don't," she retorts. "You tossed me aside, remember?"
Chagrined, he takes a deep breath, calming himself. "Why," he asks, "do you open up to him when you never did with me?"
Sighing, she releases her anger and thinks for a moment before answering. "Believe it or not, I didn't open up to him easily either. But House... doesn't take no for an answer, and maybe that's what I need. Someone who won't let me shut them out. Doesn't mean it was your fault I didn't open up to you. It just means we... we weren't right for each other."
"I hate that you're with him," he admits. "I hate seeing his smug face every day, knowing that he gets to come home to you. I hate that he knows more about you than I do."
"Chase, please. You need to move on from this. We hurt each other. I've already said I was sorry for my part, and I'm not going to say it again. It's behind us now and we can't change it. But I really hope you can find some way to be happy. That's what I want for you."
"Okay," he sighs, accepting. Reaching up with one hand, he touches her face and she leans in and kisses him on the cheek.
Coming in from work, she finds House in the kitchen chopping vegetables. She knows immediately that something is wrong just by his demeanor, the set of his mouth as he works. As has become habit, she comes around the counter and kisses him, but there is not nearly as much enthusiasm on his part, and she worries. Things have been so good, she wonders if this is the beginning of the end.
"What's wrong?" she asks, and he shrugs and says, "Not a thing."
Right, she thinks. But if he's not ready to talk about it, what can she do?
"You sure?" When he says nothing, she turns to go to the bedroom and change. She's about two steps down the hall when it comes.
"Chase is leaving."
Pivoting, she looks at him, confused. "O...kay." She runs her hand over her forehead as she contemplates what it is exactly that bothers him about Chase leaving. She knows he hates change, so maybe that's it. "And... you don't want to have to hire someone new?"
He rolls his eyes at her, and tosses the knife down as he moves to stand in front of her, staring her down, studying her. "He's leaving the state. Maybe the country. Going to start fresh somewhere else."
"Well, that's good. Right?" She is still so confused. Why does this bother him so much?
"House, what is the problem? What are you getting at?"
"This is what you wanted with him. You could be going with him. Getting your fresh start together."
She opens and closes her mouth, unsure what to say. She did want that, once. But she's long since gotten over it, and she can't believe House doesn't know that. Before she can reply, he continues, and his eyes are so vulnerable she melts a little inside.
"You have any regrets?"
"Yes," she says, moving in until she is pressed against him, her chin resting on his chest as she looks up into his eyes. "I regret marrying him in the first place, when all my instincts were against it. I regret hurting him. But I don't regret that it ended and I really hope he finds some happiness."
"You sure?" he asks, wrapping his arms around her loosely. "You're stuck with me now. This House still needs a lot of work."
Smiling, she pushes up on her tiptoes and kisses him before answering, "I know. We'll work on it together."
He half smiles and rolls his eyes, saying, "We are so cheesy."
Laughing, she agrees. "Cheesy is okay sometimes." Brushing her thumb over his lip, she brings him down for another kiss. "Happy now?" she asks.
Smiling back, he nods, and realizes that he is. He's happy.