Chicago is big enough, but she is not surprised to see the pair of them in her emergency room, looking sheepish with gravel, dust, and leather as two nurses fret over Wilson, who just needs stitches for a large cut in his forehead.
"I have cancer," he says lazily. "And three more months to live - battle scars are totally cool."
Cameron sighs and pockets her phone.
Two months ago, she was at a funeral. She sat next to her ex-husband and an ex-friend, stood up and told a crowd of strange gathers that she loved another man that happened to be her boss, mentor, and a whole lot of other things. What she remembers most is Stacy and her sympathetic smile, sisterhood or something rather. She chooses not to think about this.
Wilson sits and lets her pick gravel out of a surface wound.
"Motorcycles," he informs her.
"Idiots," she says, and this, here, is how she meets a dead man's gaze. She doesn't panic, but in her head, house is house is house repeats instead. She takes a breath.
"It's like a midlife crisis," Wilson offers.
"Except you're dying," she adds, and both House and Wilson look at each other. Remember, boys, she's the one with the dead husband. It's not about pulling punches.
"Three months," House adds.
Her eyes are sharp. "And you're dead."
"Yeah, well." He shrugs, and it's not as off-putting as it should be, throwing herself back into the mix.
It's temporary, she tells herself. The latex spreads into her fingers and the corner of Wilson's bed is pulling a little too loosely into her head. She studies the rest of his face, satisfied that she can start with the stitches.
Tonight's nearly empty. Eloise is with her parents; Vince takes her when he's not at the firehouse. It's rhythms and new habits. It's just a little easier to breathe with no ring on her finger. Vince is just a good man and that's really all there is to the story - they're committed to their daughter, not each other.
She finishes with the wounds she sees. The gloves come off of her hands with a snap.
Wilson shrugs. His palm flattens against his belly and he is pushing up his t-shirt. House makes a noise.
"Bruising," Wilson counters, and Cameron frowns, snapping forward. Her fingers brush over the skin. "I hit my side," he relates too. "I mean, it was stupidly painful."
"I'm ordering a scan," she says.
It's much easier to wave back the nurses and House steps away, leaning against the wall. She orders tests. She makes notes in a file and passes it along. There are five hours left in her shift.
She does not want to talk about what she said anyway.
Vince told her that her eyes were just the prettiest at a bar. Her best friend from high school was getting married again. This wasn't the real bachelorette party; Cameron spent most of the night willing her phone to call her to the hospital. This is how it went.
Sex was nice, sex was okay, and there was just enough space for her to think about wanting to needed in just that way. She's been widowed. She's divorced. It wasn't about her heart, or how it wanted to be six hundred miles back in Princeton, finishing what was started.
Eloise came after. She loves her daughter. She does not love Vince. It works for them and that's all that matters.
House finds her an hour or so later. Her office door is open. There is paperwork on her desk.
"I did it for him," he says.
She doesn't look up.
"I did it for me too," he says. "I do a lot of things for me too."
There is a low sigh.
"This one was right - it was the right time."
She blinks. Her pen spins between her fingers and she only looks up to stare at a picture of her daughter, wedged between her smiling parents. There is half of her brother in the picture, off-putting and a weird testament. But she doesn't think about it.
"I'm not judging you, House," she says quietly.
"I didn't say that," he replies, and then he pushes himself away from the door. He closes it too, almost thoughtfully.
"You never do."
He chuckles. He comes around the desk too. He takes the side next to her legs and leans against it.
"Hi," he says.
She blinks and shakes her head.
"Hi," she echoes back. He throws her a look and she shrugs. "I don't know what I'm supposed to say," she tells him.
"Don't worry about it," he says.
It may or may not be the truest thing she's ever said to him, outside of those patches, the one where she's worn her heart hard and heavy, right there on her sleeve. She blinks back thoughts of the funeral and even further back, the news. It didn't surprise her. It didn't even make her sad. But grief is never that specific and part of her thinks, she's just learned to wear hers as it is.
Leaning back into her chair, she draws her legs up. Her wrists dangle over her knees and she studies him. He's sunburned and warm, and the lazy smile is unfamiliar at best. It's him though and she cannot think beyond that.
"Were you there?" she asks.
He shakes his head. "I left before you."
She remembers. She was just after Blythe. It was a surprise.
"Wilson was the last person -"
"Timing is everything," he drawls.
Cameron rolls her eyes.
"Apparently," she says, and he picks up the photo, the one of Eloise and her parents. He stares at it and frowns, then it's down on the desk just as abruptly.
"There's no ring."
"I don't want a ring."
His mouth quirks. Cameron shakes her head.
"Doesn't mean that I'm not open to other things," she says too. "I think by now, you know that I've never been the tradition sort of person. My mother is happy enough with a granddaughter."
It's the only slip she gives him, at most, so that she can see what he wants from her here. Whatever belongs to Wilson and him, belongs to the both of them; she gets it, and it brings forward a lot of memories, most harder to swallow. But she's here too, and she isn't turning either of them away. It's not what she does.
"Are you happy?" he asks.
It surprises her. Her mouth opens and closes. He's serious though and the question is so unlike him.
"Yes," she says after awhile. "I'm happy."
"You're not really answering the question," he points out.
She laughs. It seems so strange, the sound.
This is never what she imagined. Of course, admitting to that is admitting to missing a man that she never really knew what to expect. It was always about the place and the timing, more so on his part than on hers. She remembers after awhile he stopped scaring her; it's alarming, that sense of need, the kind of need he demands from you. But then again, she knew she was never going to say no.
"Probably not," she says. "But I am."
Cameron offers no more than that. It still makes him chuckle and he is leaning forward, over her space.
His fingers touch her jaw. Her lips twitch.
"Is this how it works with you?" he murmurs.
His fingers move over her jaw and then to her mouth. They flesh together and she sighs over his skin.
"Nothing," he says. "Never mind."
He stares at her this way. She leans into his hand and somewhere in there, it should just feel like an accident. It doesn't. It doesn't feel like anything it's supposed to and she is tired enough to wonder what exactly it means.
Instead, she is into an old habit and her mouth touches his palm. Her sigh is leveled and he is pushing himself up to stand, his free hand gripping his leg.
"Okay," she says, and doesn't press.
His cane is at her door.
Wilson has a couple of broken ribs and a nurse is totally serious, calling in an oncologist because protocol is protocol. Cameron slips in between it all; it takes another hour to smooth it over and to forge a compromise for the two of them.
"I'm not telling you to stay in town," she says dryly. The circles under Wilson's eyes are deeper, much deeper than earlier. "Stay over night and stick to cars for awhile, that's all."
Wilson waves a hand and winces. "Yeah, sure. We can do that - House?"
"Hookers a plenty," he agrees, and Cameron rolls her eyes.
"Just don't be stupid," she says.
And that's that, the clock reads somewhere close to eleven on the wall and she's got to make rounds before she sneaks in a nap and then stumbles home. In the morning, she'll pick up her daughter and they'll have a day off because that's what you do. She needs the day off as it is.
She finishes up her notes though, half-listening to Wilson and House as they bicker back and forth. She'll have to talk to the nurse and then humor Oncology because that's Mercy's office-du-jour and she really hasn't decided what to think of House and his apparent nine lives.
Her head still hurts. She finishes her file work and slips it into the panel at the foot of Wilson's bed. Rubbing the back of her neck, she sees that both men are staring at her and she doesn't exactly know what to say - hello, goodbye, or anything of the in between.
She focuses in on a light smile. "I'm assuming I won't see you tomorrow," she says.
Wilson nods. "Who knows?" he says anyway, and next to him, House grunts.
I do, she almost says.
She leans over Wilson though and cups his face, pressing her lips against his forehead. It's soft and unwarranted, it's not an i'm sorry. She has done enough of those, she thinks.
"Don't be stupid," she says again. She tugs a little at his hair. It's getting longer and he looks up at her in amusement. There's a slight flush and she has to laugh a little. "Go lay on a beach somewhere."
"That would be nice," he echoes.
And they both know he won't listen to her. That's not important. She would never wish dying in a hospital on anyone. She wears both sides like skin now. These things just don't end.
The bed sinks back against her knees though and she nods at House, pushing back into the busy emergency room. There's a car accident. A baby who fell off a rocking horse. There is a cop that was shot and two drunk co-eds who do nothing but look around nervously, and then at their friend in one of the beds.
She leans against the counter, flipping through her next set of cases. His hand drops over her hip. She stops.
"I have a lot to say to you," he says.
Her gaze hovers over the files. Then it shifts and she is watching his fingers curl into her shirt.
"No," she murmurs. "You actually don't."
It makes her wistful. His finger push harder. She feels them sink into her skin now.
"Except I do," he tells her. "I'm not - I don't -" there is a sigh and a pause and the emergency room gets louder. "You don't know," he says, and she turns further, almost into him. Her shoulder hits his chest. "And I don't know how to start."
He's been too honest with her before. She knows because it's why she stood in his office and told him. It was a never a goodbye or pause - in fact, she still isn't sure why she told him.
She doesn't know what this is.
"You can't ask me to wait," she says softly. Her voice is lost. Someone calls her to the left.
There is the familiar swing of the ambulance doors. Her legs are restless but she doesn't move.
"You're pissed," he counters.
Her eyes narrow. "House," she says. "That's not how this works."
"But you are," he says, as if he didn't here her, and really, she wouldn't be surprised. There is a catch in the way he looks her; the low flecks in his eyes seem brighter and then, there it's about the light wrinkles in his mouth, the creases, and the charm of his unpredictability.
"I'm not asking you to wait," he says, seriously too.
Cameron swallows tightly.
"You can't," she says.
"I know," he agrees. She turns into him, this way. The press of her fingers into her eyes probably don't go unnoticed. He remains closer and that should be more than enough. "But," he tells her. "A lot of things happened and I guess, stupidly, I want to talk about them to someone that isn't, oops, wasn't my therapist or my parole officer because, well, I'm dead and jail's kinda serious."
Her voice is dry and he smirks and this is not the place to do this. She is dimly aware of something - maybe Wilson, watching, maybe it's just in her head, but she does know how House takes over and how easy it is for her to let him.
"I'm not making any promises," she says.
She does not say that she is angry, or that she's even sad because this isn't how it's going to go. She won't let it.
She does wait for the argument though. And wait. And finally, over his shoulder, she does see that Wilson is watching openly, half-cocked amusement curling at the corner of his mouth.
"Coming," she murmurs, off-handedly.
"Off-site car accident," the nurse continues, coming into view. She has notes and a clipboard. There is no time down here, really. "Who should I send out?"
House touches her cheek. She cannot wonder what that means. She lets herself pull at his hand though, pushing it off of her hip. She turns into him still and sort of meets his gaze; she is halfway there and there is no apology.
"Bryson," Cameron answers.
She is on her toes and her mouth touches House's - it's quick, it's quiet, and she tastes the wetness of the coffee, licking it away with her own sigh. Her fingers brush over her lips and he's staring at her, dark eyes, set mouth, and no reply ready.
He steps back and there is space again.
"Send Bryson," she repeats.
There is a box of gloves on the counter. She pulls from it first.
This is the hard part.
In a land of choose your own endings, a philosophy that House generally subscribes to and something she does not suspect will ever change, she still expects him to be gone in the morning. She should be gone by morning too.
Eloise is still at her parents' and Vince left a voicemail about a fire and a cat joke. It made her laugh and take a few breathes in her office for privacy, just before she rounded out a break outside with the smokers and the early five am air peaking over the sky and cityscape, a romantic notion in itself.
House is outside, alone.
"You checked out!" she calls, surprised. Or not. Her bones ache. The water bottle in her hand is lukewarm and wet. She wants to see her daughter and curl up with her in bed. She wants an end of the day and to settle.
"In a couple of hours," he calls back.
She moves to him. Away from the emergency room doors. Off the sidewalk and benches and the cluster of nurses who smoke their motivation away for an hour; maybe some of them know her even but she's past caring as it is.
He smirks when she's closer. She fists his jacket with both hands. She considers hitting him. Hard. She considers and she is flexing herself onto her toes and then, too, her mouth covers his and she kisses him as hard as she can.
It's awkward and it's teeth and she is biting his slip because she can and she knows he makes this sound - ah, ah there it is. There is his tongue too, rolling over her lip and into her teeth and mouth and he turns her, back to press against his bike.
She is not kissing him with desperation or expectation, but she is tired and she is sad and she could be sad for a number of reason that she will not give up. His hand moves into her hair and she drops the bottle of water, the echo a distant ringing in her ears. When she pulls back - first, abrupt - and then she slams her fists into his chest, breathless and eyes closed tightly.
"Finish what you're doing," she says.
Her eyes burn. She can't, she won't look at him.
"I will," he says.
"I mean it." She pulls at the zipper of his jacket. The metal scratches her palms. Her teeth bite her lip. "Finish it and finish it the right way."
He exhales. "You're not worried," he murmurs.
"No," she agrees.
He chuckles - or she wants to think he chuckles. It's a familiar sound, low and unabashed. Outside, it's still a little too hazy for a summer morning as it is.
Her mouth turns, but she doesn't smile.
"I'll listen," she says. It feels heavy and settled.
He kisses her jaw. His fingers push her hair behind her ear. The bottle stays on the ground somewhere between them. It's oddly intimate and then it isn't. Her relationship with House has always stood on its own measure.
His helmet dangles at his hand. She blinks and it's over his head.
"I did," he says. "Listen," he says too.
She does not stay to watch him get back on the bike. She touches her lips. She finishes for more change in pocket. Water sounds about right, all over again.
It will hit her later instead.
She wonders what that means.
(It means this:)
In August, Eloise gets a box in the mail.
It goes to her parents' and Vince isn't around; her mother barely believes her when she goes and says it's just from an old friend.
The stuffed lobster is a terrible gift. With welcome to maine! shuffled across its belly, it's more pink than red. The claws are lopsided and too soft and her daughter makes a show of throwing it across the room when it gets too quiet or when Dora needs to be singing on repeat all over again. The poor lobster will see better days too: Vince will find it in his work boots on his days and Cameron will accidentally cause a coffee casualty - it'll make her laugh and smile, in some weird way, knowing a gesture is never just a gesture at the end of the day.
But at night, Eloise never lets go.