She was supposed to be off at six, but then came word of the bus accident. Thirty kids were on their way home from a hockey tournament. The driver hit a patch of black ice five miles from home and the bus landed on its roof in the ditch. Thankfully, bumps and bruises were the main result, along with a couple of concussions, a broken wrist, and a stress induced asthma attack. She refuses to think about how much worse it could have been. If they'd still been driving at highway speeds…
It's nearing ten when she finally pulls on her coat and slings her bag over her shoulder. Megan is at Tim's tonight, as per their newly inked custody agreement, and she almost wishes for another emergency just so she doesn't have to go home to her empty house and face her first Christmas Eve alone in years. Almost, but she can't. She can't wish tragedy on another family just so she doesn't have to be by herself.
"Good night, Janice," she calls to the intake nurse seated behind the cluttered ER desk. "Merry Christmas."
"Thanks Dr. C. You too." Janice is a divorced mom too, on her off-year of alternating holidays. The two women exchange sympathetic smiles before Cameron turns to leave.
Pulling on her gloves and zipping up her coat under her chin, she pushes her way out the ER side door and into the cold, Chicago night. It had snowed while she was working, though it's stopped now, and a blanket of the white stuff covers the staff parking lot, cars and sidewalks. A maze of footprints leads to and from the door to the cars, mingling with tire tracks and other whirls and scuffs.
Her car is at the far end, on the right. The lot had been jam packed when she arrived during the day, but now, with the hospital down to a skeleton crew, it's less than half full. There are no cars within several spots of hers and the snow is undisturbed.
Almost. Almost undisturbed.
A single set up footprints leads up to the passenger side of her car. She frowns. Someone mistaking her car for their own? Or…Tim? It must have been Tim. She tries to remember whether he has a key to her car. It's possible, though what he'd want in her car, she can't imagine. Maybe Megan had left something in there? A teddy or a book?
She examines the footprints as she walks, trying to determine whether there is a set leading away from the car superimposed on the ones going towards it. She can't tell. There is an odd scuffed line following along the right side of the prints, but she can't tell if the footprints themselves are all facing the same direction.
Shrugging, she walks toward her car, digging her keys out of her bag as she goes. She points the key at the car and the instant she clicks the unlock button is the instant she notices the man slouched in the front passenger seat.
Her heart leaps into her throat and she stops in her tracks, her hand flying up to cover her mouth. What the hell! Who is that? She looks around wildly for help, but there is no one in sight. The hospital, she's got to go back into the hospital! She'll call the police from inside.
As she begins to back quickly away, the passenger door opens. The man, alerted to her presence by the click of the unlocking door, is struggling to emerge from the car. Her hand falls away from her mouth and she stares, slack-jawed, as he straightens up and starts toward her.
He's older, thinner, grayer. The years haven't been particularly kind to him. But there is no mistaking who it is that now stands before her.
"But…but you're dead," she informs Gregory House.
He laughs. "Some doctor you are, Cameron. Do I look dead to you?"
Inside the hospital cafeteria, Cameron warms her still-chilled hands on her cup of coffee as House finishes his story. She holds no doubt that what she's just received is a highly edited version of the last five years, but at the same time, there's a ring of truth in what he's said. His description of the months spent with Wilson before he passed jives with what she knows from Wilson himself. He'd told her much the same story in the brief email updates she'd received from him before his death, though he hadn't mentioned that his companion in his last days had been House.
She has to pause to wonder then: had she known all along? If House had resurfaced after Wilson's death, would she have been surprised? Maybe. Probably not. But so much time has passed by now, that any lingering suspicions had long since been extinguished.
He claims to have been living more or less as a vagrant these last few years, though a well-funded one, thanks to money Wilson had funneled to him. He spent his time traveling from town to town, working when he felt like it, veering between sober and, she suspects, far worse off than he's admitting. He seems clean now, but she knows him far too well to take that for fact.
"With Jimmy gone, I didn't know what else to do. I hadn't gotten that far in the plan before the roof caved in," he tells her, his blue eyes still bright in his lined and gray-toned face. "Gregory House was dead." He shrugs. "Dead is dead. No cure for that."
"Why didn't you call me, come to see me before now?" she asks, reaching across the small table and touching the back of his hand. "I could have helped you. Done…something." What, she has no idea. How do you bring a dead man back to life? Perhaps she should have watched more soap operas in her youth.
"You were married, had a kid. Last thing you needed was me showing up on your doorstep when you were finally happy, free of me, free of the past. I'm an ass, but even I'm not that selfish." He pulls his hand from her reach, scratches the back of his head, and drops it into his lap.
Yes you are, she thinks. If he wanted something from her, he wouldn't have hesitated to turn her life upside down. Exhibit A is sitting right in front of her. But she doesn't press the point.
"I'm not married anymore," she volunteers instead. "Widowed once, divorced twice and just barely forty. Happy and free aren't exactly the words I'd choose." Her voice catches, and she lifts her coffee cup back to her lips, sipping away the irritation in the back of her throat.
He nods. "I know. That's why I'm here now."
Of course he knows; she should have realised. "You think because there's not another man in my life right now, that you can manipulate me into helping you." It's not a question.
He grins wolfishly. "Merry Christmas, Cameron."