The drive back to Princeton is not nearly as enjoyable as the drive there had been. Her conversation with Blythe has subdued her significantly. She can't even begin to fathom what it's like for this other woman to survive each day thinking she's outlived her only child. She wants so badly to lift that burden for her: the truth danced on her tongue for the entire visit, threatening to fly from her lips and spill into the space between them. The only thing that kept it contained was her continued fear that while House had indeed been alive six months ago, she has no way of knowing if this is still the case. She can't bring herself to give his mother hope without a guarantee that it wouldn't be false.
Exhausted, emotionally and physically, she returns to her hotel room. Following an all too brief phone conversation with her daughter, she climbs into bed with a plate of room service French fries and her laptop.
Bringing up her Word document, she updates her notes for today's activities and then stares hopelessly at the remaining people on her list: a psychiatrist, bound by doctor/patient confidentiality; a sick, self-destructive woman who may even be dead herself; and two of House's ex-girlfriends, neither of whom she knows how to contact even if she wanted to, which she most decidedly does not.
Yeah, this search is looking promising.
Closing the laptop in frustration, she sets it on the nightstand and lays back against the headboard, picking up a lukewarm French fry, coating it in ketchup, and then setting it back down again, uneaten.
What the hell is she doing here?
House is an adult. For better or for worse, his choices are his own, and more and more she's questioning her own motives in conducting this search. Are her fears for House, while not entirely illogical, mainly just a cover? Are they simply an excuse to chase after an old dream that should be long dead and buried right alongside House's empty coffin?
Her life is in Chicago: her child, her career, and the future she needs to figure out. It may not be the life she was hoping for when she left Princeton, it may not be the one she envisioned as a child, and it may not even one that many people would envy, but it's honest and it's real and it's hers. And no one but her is going to be able to shape it into something that will make her truly happy. For once in her damned life, she needs to deal with her problems instead of running away from them. It's what she always does, and it's what she's doing now, except this time instead of chasing after something new and different, she's chasing after the past.
It's time to go home.
She checks out early the following morning and it's raining as she carries her belongings to the car, the wind whipping her hair across her face. Her last-minute return flight leaves at noon, but she's got one more stop to make before she goes to the airport.
The cemetery looks as a cemetery should: gray and misty and forlorn. The grass has been recently cut and it sticks to her sandaled feet as she wanders around, looking for the right place.
She finds him near the back, resting beside a wrought-iron fence lined with wild rose bushes. His stone of black marble is carved simply with a caduceus, his dates and name: James Evan Wilson, MD.
She hadn't come back for his funeral. She doesn't have a good excuse; she doesn't really even have a bad one. She just hadn't. Couldn't. Couldn't attend another funeral for another mentor within the space of six short months. She had figured Wilson, of all people, would understand.
"Hi Wilson," she says now, pulling her sweater more tightly around herself. The rain has eased, but the wind is chilling her to the bone. "I'm sorry I haven't come before now."
She pauses, as though waiting for an answer, but when one comes, it's not from the dead man she addressed.
"I don't think he minds." The voice comes from behind her, the sound of his approach hidden by the wind gusting through the trees.
She jumps, but doesn't turn. She knows who it is. Really, she should have been expected him.
"Mom said you were looking for me."
She turns around to find him watching her from beneath an old oak tree. He looks much healthier than he had the last time she'd seen him: a couple of pounds heavier, enough that he doesn't look sick anymore, and he's got a bit of a tan, as though he's been spending more time outdoors. He's neatly dressed in a newish t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Someone has clearly been looking after him, and she bets she knows just who that person is.
"She knows? Are you kidding me!" she exclaims. "The whole time I was talking to her, feeling like an asshole for not telling her that her son is alive, and she already knows?"
"Of course she knows," he says. "And she also knows that you know, so when she invited you to stay for a glass of tea, it was so she could try and figure out what you were up to, since you were so obviously lying to her. Don't lie to my mother, Cameron. It never works out well for anyone." He shudders.
She glares at him and without another word, turns away, intending to storm off to her car. She can't believe she's wasted so much time and money trying to find him and he's been here all along, clearly fine, and living with his mother!
"Goddamned idiot," she curses herself under her breath as she walks. "Never going to fucking learn."
"Hey! Cameron! Hey, wait up," he calls, limping after her. His long legs allow him to catch her easily; he grabs her arm and jerks her to a halt.
"Did you really think I'd let my mother think I was dead?" he demands. "What the hell kind of person do you think I am?"
"The kind who lets people think they're dead! Exactly that kind!" She pulls her arm free.
"Well sure. Other people. Not my mother." He sounds horrified.
"Oh, okay then. Just me. And Chase and Foreman. Or do they know you're alive too? Exactly how many people have I made a fool of myself in front of these past few days, huh House?"
"No one," he says, wiping the rain from his face with the back of his hand. "The only people who knew originally were Wilson and, because I'm not a monster, my mother. And now you. That's it. But while we're on the subject, what the hell did you think you were doing, going around questioning people? Are you trying to get me found out?"
"What? No! Of course not."
"Because you know, I will go back to jail if the police find out."
She does know that, but it had seemed an acceptable risk at the time, or at least she had been able to convince herself it was.
"I was worried about you," she says now, shaking her head. "You disappeared so suddenly, didn't say goodbye, gave me your book, I…I was worried you might have done something stupid." She whirls around and walks away from him until she's back in front of Wilson's grave. "Damn it," she whispers under her breath. "Damn it."
She doesn't realise he's moved to stand directly behind her until he speaks. "You thought I was going to kill myself," he says. It's not a question.
She nods in the affirmative, and then qualifies. "Well, not so much thought as feared. Giving away prize possessions, it's one of the signs, you know."
His hands land on her shoulders from behind and he leans down until his mouth is close to her ear.
"If I was going to do that," he says lowly, "I would have done it when Wilson died. Think about it. What more did I have to live for? I was already legally dead. My career was over. My best friend was gone. It would've made perfect sense to end it all."
"But you didn't."
She can't see him, but somehow she knows he's shaking his head.
He laughs sharply, and drops his hands from her shoulders, moving to stand beside her. "Why didn't I kill myself?" He smirks down at her. "One could take that question the wrong way."
She flushes. "Obviously I didn't mean I think you should have."
Then, after several long, silent seconds: "I watched him die, you know."
"I…no," she says. "I guess I assumed, but no, I didn't know."
"It was ugly. Death always is. But Wilson, he deserved something better. He shouldn't have died emaciated and in pain in a crappy hotel room in Atlantic City. It wasn't fair."
"Life isn't fair."
"Neither is death. Everyday thousands of good people die in horrific ways not of their own choosing. They don't get to decide how they go. Why the hell should I?"
He falls silent as she considers this.
"But, the book…"
"It was just a gift, Cameron. Don't read more into it than there was."
Ah, well. She does do that, doesn't she? It's a long term failing that always seems to get the better of her when she's dealing with this man. She shrugs. What can she do but believe him? Sometimes a gift is just a gift.
"So what are you doing now?" she asks him. "Generally speaking."
"Spending some time with my mother. She's in pretty good health, but she's not getting any younger. I'm sticking pretty close, for now." Until she's gone, he doesn't say, but she hears anyway.
"I help her in the garden," he continues. "She makes me eat my vegetables. I've got her hooked on Prescription Passion. We're doing okay. The neighbours think I'm her nephew, her favourite sister's only son. That's what she told them. I'm sure they think I'm robbing her blind, but so far no one's said anything."
"Good. That's…good." And it is, she realises. She's found what she was looking for: assurance that he's doing okay. That's all she ever wanted. Or, almost all, at least. She still has one unanswered question left.
"Why did you leave without saying goodbye?"
"Don't you think we've had enough goodbyes, Cameron? You'd just try and shake my hand again, and that never goes well."
No more goodbyes works for her.
A/N: Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story.