“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Cameron yells as she pulls the curtain back. There’s a short, dark-haired doctor in navy scrubs intubating her car crash patient, and the gray-clad nurses around the bed aren’t any of Cameron’s ER staff.
“Trauma team,” the other woman barks, and having successfully intubated, she bangs the gurney twice. “Let’s move!”
“Hey!” Cameron shouts, still snapping her latex gloves on. “You can’t do that!”
But the team is already in motion, leaving only the debris of opened packets and bloodied towels behind them.
Cameron knows how to steal a patient, and even here in Chicago she’s mapped out the shortcuts and hiding places, more out of habit than anything else. Cursing House in her head one more time, she takes off in pursuit, catching up with these strangers as they stream past elevators, into the newly renovated wing that used to be overspill for the ER patients.
“She’s my patient!” Cameron says, grabbing the other doctor by the arm.
“We’re in the golden hour, princess,” the doctor snaps back, and she sounds tough despite having a pretty, friendly face. “So forgive me if I don’t have time for egos.”
“At least tell me where I can check on her later?” Cameron says as the elevator doors slide open.
“Ask for the trauma team. Dr Zambrano,” the doctor says, the slight accent shift catching Cameron’s attention. But then her patient is gone and her pager is beeping, so Cameron turns around and marches back towards the ER, ready to fend off any other patient thieves.
Three hours later, with bloodied scrubs trashed and her white coat sent off for dry-cleaning, Cameron trudges back to the East Wing in her day clothes. By the time she reaches reception in the new trauma center, she’s starting to wish she had just gone straight home.
“Don’t suppose Dr. Zambrano is still around?” Cameron asks a tall, male nurse, without much hope.
“She’s in Room 414 with her patient,” the nurse replies, not even looking up from his chart.
“Thanks,” Cameron mutters, following the corridor around to the right.
She’s expecting a lot of things when she reaches the room, and sure enough there’s her kidnapped patient, bruised and bandaged and almost completely hidden under a maze of wires and tubes. The part that takes Cameron by surprise is the hunched-over doctor, still in navy scrubs, sitting in a visitor’s chair with her head resting next to the patient’s hand.
“Sorry,” Cameron whispers, out of habit or maybe embarrassment. It feels like intruding on a private moment. Dr Zambrano snaps to attention though, dark eyes searching Cameron’s face in confusion.
“Dr. Cameron. Acting Head of the ER,” Cameron explains with a nod towards the resting patient. “You stole her from me this afternoon?”
“Right,” Dr Zambrano says, nodding in recognition. “Didn’t you read the new trauma protocol? We had it issued hospital-wide before I started on Monday.”
“You’re new,” Cameron says, as though that explains everything. “And my days of keeping up on correspondence are way behind me, unfortunately.”
“There was a briefing, yesterday,” Dr Zambrano persists. “I led it myself. Trauma is a new facility in this hospital, and it’s gonna save a hell of a lot of lives.”
“So does the ER,” Cameron points out. “And we’re already used to being raided by arrogant surgeons, and diagnosticians, and really anyone who thinks we’re just some kind of lost and found department for bored MDs.”
“I don’t want your hammered thumbs and scraped knees,” Zambrano fires back, standing now, and she’s imposing, despite her slight stature. “We take the most critical patients and throw the works at them. It means we’ll be doing a lot of business together, Dr Cameron.”
“Then you can ask first,” Cameron says, crossing her arms over her chest and standing firm. “Plus, County is still a Level One Trauma Center, so you’re not gonna get everything the city has to offer. Not even if you ask nicely.”
“Trauma doesn’t have time for being ‘nice’,” Zambrano says with a shrug, and still Cameron can’t find it in her to dislike the woman. “As you would know, if you hadn’t skipped the briefing.”
“My baby was sick,” Cameron says easily, no longer overwhelmed by what those words mean. “I took a personal day.”
“Sorry,” Zambrano says, stretching out her back. “God, how did it get so late?”
“I should go,” Cameron says. “Have a nice evening, Dr Zambrano. I’m sure we’ll we talking about this again.”
“Eva,” Zambrano corrects. “My name? It’s Eva. Man, I need to get out of here. And find somewhere to eat in this city besides the crappy pizza pie place next to my apartment.”
“Did you...” Cameron can’t quite believe she’s asking, thought this damn politeness had been stomped out of her by seven years in New Jersey. “I mean, I can wait. Maybe we could grab dinner? I can show you some of the local places that won’t give you food poisoning.”
“You just want to tell me off about stealing your patient some more,” Eva says with a smirk. “But sure, I’m not gonna turn down the chance of decent food. Gimme ten?”
“I’ll meet you at the main entrance,” Cameron says, turning on her heel and marching out of the trauma department.
“Miami?” Cameron splutters. “You moved here from Miami?”
“I needed a change,” Eva says simply, her eyes lighting up as steaming plates of linguini are placed in front of them. “God, that looks insanely good.”
“It’s my favorite Italian,” Cameron admits, though she doesn’t explain that it’s because nobody looks at her strangely for taking a corner table alone, and if she brings Taylor in while they’re out for a walk, the wait staff don’t roll their eyes about negotiating around a buggy. “And you looked like you could use the carbs.”
“I’m suffering a little,” Eva admits. “I didn’t know I’d miss Cuban food until it wasn’t on every corner.”
“Your family are Cuban?” Cameron asks, wondering how they got so far from discussing work. She hasn’t had an honest conversation like this in too long.
“I am, too,” Eva says, and there’s a lift to her chin that might just be defiance. “I came over when I was six.”
“But Miami is home?” Cameron asks.
“Yeah,” Eva sighs. “Or it was, anyway. What about you?”
“I’ve been back nearly two years,” Cameron admits. “I was at Princeton-Plainsboro for a few years. Diagnostics Fellow, but the ER got me in the end.”
Eva has that look most doctors get when they hear ‘Princeton’ and ‘diagnostics’ but thankfully she thinks better of asking.
“And the kid?” Eva persists. “That can’t be easy. Unless there’s a stay-at-home daddy in the equation?”
“Nope,” Cameron says, right as Todd walks into the restaurant, pushing Taylor in his stroller. “But there is a really great nanny.”
“Oh!” Eva squeals as the stroller comes to a halt next to her. She’s fussing over Taylor while Cameron thanks Todd and sorts out the rest of the week; she can’t afford anymore confusion like yesterday, not when Taylor is still nursing a tummy bug.
“Am I keeping you out too late?” Eva asks when Cameron leans over to greet her son with a kiss. “If you need to get the little guy home...”
“It’s okay,” Cameron says. “Taylor likes it here. And I live like three blocks from here.”
“And daddy is...?” Eva persists, a glint in her eye like she just can’t let go of that one loose thread.
“Back in Princeton,” Cameron admits, saying it out loud for the first time. How does she even begin to explain that with one ex-husband’s sperm still on ice, she managed to get knocked up by the other one? Yeah, there really isn’t a way to explain that without sounding insane, Cameron realizes, and she stabs her next spiral of pasta that little bit harder in frustration.
“Cool,” Eva says, pouting and blowing out her cheeks for Taylor’s amusement. He giggles loudly, which hopefully means he’s finally on the mend. “I didn’t mean to pry,” she adds, looking pretty damn sincere about it. “I’m just used to everyone spilling their life story at me, you know?”
“Well,” Cameron says, smiling at her son. “Another glass of wine, and you can start spilling yours. Sound fair?”
Eva laughs, and waves the waiter over.
“You have a lovely home,” Cameron lies, taking in the graying wallpaper and frayed carpet. Last week after some excellent Chinese food, Eva casually mentioned not having unpacked yet. This first free Saturday for both of them has been appointed D-Day for boxes.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Eva says, pulling a box from the sofa so that Cameron can put the baby seat down. Taylor’s still sleeping, and their voices are hushed as a result. “But I bought it, so I can really turn it into something, you know? It needs color pretty badly.”
“Something warm,” Cameron says, though her own apartment is anything but. She hired a decorator while on maternity leave and hasn’t changed much since, apart from the toys in Taylor’s room. “The winters here are gonna kick your ass.”
“Don’t they start in, like, August?” Eva asks, crossing over to the open-plan kitchen and pulling a pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator. “I’m already buying anything I see with ‘thermal’ on the tag.”
“Good plan,” Cameron says, shrugging off her jacket. “Now where do we start with this unpacking? Put my compulsive side to good use while you can.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Eva says, passing a glass across the counter. “What do you suggest, Allison?”
For the first time in too long, someone insists on using her first name, and Cameron still has to think for a split-second before remembering that’s her.
“Let’s finish the kitchen,” she says, nodding towards the boxes that litter the counters and the floor. “And we’ll take it from there.”
“You’re a pretty great friend, you know that?” Eva says, as though it’s easy for her. Cameron can’t help feeling that it’s not, but maybe she’s just projecting.
“I have my moments,” she deflects. “Now let’s find some pots so you can cook me dinner later.”
The call comes when it’s still dark out, because Chase thought she’d want to know right away.
Cameron puts the phone down for just a second, before flicking to Recent Calls and hitting the most dialled of all the numbers. Eva answers on the third ring, the sounds of the hospital muted but present in the background.
“Oh,” Cameron breathes. “You’re on nights, I forgot.”
“I’m just getting off,” Eva says. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Cameron says. “You get home and get some sleep. I’ll speak to you later.”
“Al, what’s wrong?” Eva persists, and there’s a mumbled instruction to someone else in the background.
“I’m fine,” Cameron says, but the tears are falling now and she’s starting to sound snotty as she chokes back a sob. “I’ll see you later.”
She shouldn’t be surprised when there’s a knock at the door forty minutes later. Eva, wet hair peeking out from under a baseball cap, dressed in tight jeans and a sweater she borrowed from Cameron last week, is holding out Starbucks cups like a peace offering, when nobody’s done anything wrong.
“Who was he?” Eva asks a little later as she pulls the blueberry muffins out of the bag onto Cameron’s spotless kitchen counter. They talk in low voices and only switch on one lamp, because Taylor’s still asleep. “It wasn’t...your ex?”
“Not my ex-husband, no,” Cameron admits. “He’s the one who called. My old boss, he was kind of a mentor and... shit, this sounds like a mess even before I start to explain it.”
“You had feelings for him?” Eva presses, sliding the soy latte along the counter to Cameron with a patient smile. Eva has to be dead on her feet, she started her shift halfway through Cameron’s yesterday.
“Something like that. I was... young,” Cameron hedges.
“You’re still young,” Eva reminds her. “It just doesn’t feel that way right now.”
“The weirdest thing is that I was dreaming about him. I don’t even think about House much anymore, never mind dream about him. But I did, and then I wake up to Chase’s call and...”
“You call everyone by their surname?” Eva picks up on the detail. Cameron’s been so careful to drop that habit since starting at Mercy, but it always creeps back in when she dredges up the past.
“It’s one of those things,” Cameron says with a shrug.
“And what about your ex? You finally going to introduce him to Taylor?” Eva presses, because it’s one topic she’s never been able to let drop, this idea that anyone could have a child and not insist on being in their life.
“I mentioned it, but he changed the subject,” Cameron admits, and Chase’s selfish streak shouldn’t surprise her by now, but somehow it still does. “He had a lot of issues with his own father and I just don’t think he ever wants to be one.”
“That’s crap,” Eva sighs, draining her own coffee cup. “Man, I’m tired.”
“I’m sorry,” Cameron says, snapping into action at last. “I can call you a cab, or you can crash in my room. I only changed the sheets last night anyway, so--”
“I’m not worried about how pretty your bed is, Al,” Eva insists. “But I don’t think I can make it all the way back downstairs, honestly.”
“Rough night?” Cameron asks, leading the way along the hall. She peeks in to confirm Taylor is still asleep, and he is, clinging to his pillow in a way that always makes her heart hurt, just a little.
“Speedboat accident on the Lake,” Eva says, and there’s a shudder running through her words. “Not as bad as ‘gators, but wasn’t my idea of a fun night.” She yawns, her whole body tensing as she approaches the bed. Much like in the locker room, she has no particular modesty, stripping off in the few steps between doorway and the bed. Cameron’s sweater falls on the floor on top of Eva’s jeans, and in just her underwear she rolls right under the sheets.
Cameron picks her phone up from the nightstand, smiling at her sleepy friend who’s already burrowed into the piles of cotton. Even in May it’s a little cooler than she would like, and Cameron looks out at the rapidly brightening sky. Not even six yet, but she forgot to close the curtains before falling into bed last night.
“You got a shift?” Eva murmurs.
“Nope,” Cameron says, tugging at the deep purple drapes. She changed them last month, at Eva’s insistence. Too much beige, too many pale gray silks, apparently. Taylor loves the colorful things creeping into the apartment bit by bit, and now he seems much happier to play in places other than his own room. “But no nanny today, just me and T.”
“It’s early,” Eva says. “And you’ve been up since, what, 4?”
“Yeah,” Cameron sighs, thinking maybe she can get an hour or so on the couch before the little man wakes up and starts yelling for Mommy.
“Then get in here,” Eva grumbles. “I need the extra warmth.”
It’s ridiculous, Cameron knows. She’s not twelve, this isn’t some top-to-toe sleepover arrangement. She is also very, painfully aware that two weeks ago, over really great rum cocktails, Eva confessed a few things about an ex-girlfriend and that’s had Cameron kind of on edge ever since. Not that she’s judging, of course. Nope, not Cameron. No matter how often House (oh God, how can he be dead?) would accuse her of being prudish, of being uptight.
Cameron weighs up her options a second longer, and Eva hits the mattress in encouragement. Deciding that an extra hour of sleep is too good to pass up, Cameron slips back into bed, but stays right on the edge, practically hugging the nightstand.
“‘Night,” Eva says, sounding really groggy now.
“Thank you,” Cameron whispers, but she isn’t sure what for.
Taylor wakes her, sometime around lunch. Cameron’s not a nervous new mother anymore, she knows that a minute or so of tears isn’t any real heartbreak: it’s just that kids don’t come with snooze buttons.
She peels the covers back with no small amount of guilt, she hasn’t slept this late since maternity leave. It’s only when Cameron actually tries to move that she registers the surprisingly strong arm draped over her waist, and there’s a sudden, obvious warm breath on the back of her neck.
It hits her in a rush then: Chase’s accent telling her the sad news, Eva showing up, getting into bed together (just as friends, just as friends) and Cameron gasps a little at the wave of feeling. Squeezing her eyes closed for a moment, she wriggles out of Eva’s loose grip and makes her way next door to the nursery.
They’re done with very late breakfast and Taylor is practicing his walking in enthusiastic laps from couch to fireplace when a sleep-rumpled Eva comes stumbling through, wrapped in Cameron’s robe. It’s tied tightly enough, but the deep V at the front suggests at some point Eva ditched her bra. Cameron simply tries not to stare and puts Taylor in his playpen so she can head over to the kitchen and offer up some fresh coffee.
She comes back to the living room to find Taylor already rescued, bouncing in Eva’s lap for their favorite game which involves a Spanish song Cameron can’t follow and lots of tickling that makes the kid squeal.
After a little while, Cameron trades the coffee for her son, and she’s finding it pretty damn hard to look Eva in the eye.
“How are you?” Eva asks, groaning happily as the black coffee hits the spot. “You’re the only person who makes it strong enough.”
“I try,” Cameron says, smiling at Taylor. “And I’ll be okay. I want to fly out for the funeral, when they pick a day, so I’ll have to make arrangements with Todd.”
“I can pick up the slack,” Eva offers, and the offer is so genuine that Cameron almost wants to cry again. “Or if you want a shoulder to cry on for the flight, I can move some things around.”
“Thanks,” Cameron says. “But I think I should definitely go alone. Old demons, you know how it is.”
“I do. Everyone knows about House, by reputation. I can’t imagine what it would be like if... well, let’s just say we all have one boss like that.”
“There’s a story you owe me sometime,” Cameron says, and suddenly it’s not a problem to look at Eva, and enjoy the smile radiating back at her. It makes House and Princeton and everything else seem a hell of a lot more bearable, and right now that’s all she’s prepared to ask for.
“I’ll leave Todd your number just in case, though,” Cameron decides. It’s not like he’s ever let her down before.
Somewhere, in the confusion of coming back early because Todd fell off his damn scooter, and Eva meeting her at the airport with a giggling Taylor in her arms, homemade sign and all, Cameron forgets to even feel bad.
Chase is still a little pissed that she rushed off after the service, but he can’t really expect another fling for old times’ sake when the last slip led to a child he won’t acknowledge, beyond an uncashed check at Christmas.
No, Cameron can feel the difference at last. Getting off the plane into that slightly sticky Chicago heat feels like coming home, and the sensation of feeling welcome at the arrivals gate is almost enough to knock her on her ass. She doesn’t question that Eva drives them home and stays to order pizza. Nor does Cameron ask why Eva lingers even after Taylor is down for the night and the second bottle of Merlot is one little refill away from empty.
“I think you might be the best friend I’ve ever had,” Cameron says, as they sit cross-legged on the sofa, a baby blanket and the unused TV remote between them. “Is that weird?”
“Well, you do pretty well,” Eva counters. “But I’m not sure you can beat Susie in the fourth grade. She gave me her Barbie doll.”
“Taylor’s like a really cool doll, and I let you play with him?” Cameron ventures, and they both dissolve into giggles.
“He’s so great,” Eva says a moment later. “I wasn’t sure I wanted kids, but T makes me think it’s a pretty good idea, you know?”
“I do,” Cameron agrees. “He’s been talking me into it for about eighteen months, now.”
“I would have come with you,” Eva says, and it’s the most natural thing in the world when she lays a comforting hand on Cameron’s thigh. “It makes me crazy, Al, to think of you suffering alone. I don’t know why, but it really does.”
“I missed you,” Cameron admits. “I realized we’ve seen each other pretty much every day this month. Is that weird? I mean, that’s more than people who are actually in my department. More than anyone other than the little man, in fact.”
“Al, if I ask you something, can you promise not to freak out?” Eva asks, her dark eyes so serious that Cameron’s heart actually stutters over its next beat.
“Of course,” Cameron says, trying to remind herself how to breathe. It’s not supposed to be this difficult.
“I was going to wait for tequila and dancing and give myself something to blame this on,” Eva explains, leaning in much closer. She looks tanned and gorgeous in her simple white dress, the kind of effortless chic that Cameron wastes an hour on every morning. “But I keep thinking, lately, that maybe there’s... ah hell, no. Forget I said anything.”
But Cameron can’t let it end there, she just can’t. With the boldness it took to kiss House and stand up to Cuddy and a hundred other battles she’s fought and won, she lifts her hand to take hold of Eva’s chin.
“There’s something... more?” Cameron tries, sounding like a bashful schoolgirl and hating herself for it. “Because God knows that is not something I ever considered, but now...”
Eva watches her as the words die out, calculating as surely as she does a patient’s odds of survival. Cameron’s become adept, over the years, at recognizing someone about to take a massive risk.
She’s fumbling for comforting words when Eva kisses her. It’s tender and warm and over far too soon, but Cameron finds the non-specific tension in her neck finally melting away. She’s still holding Eva’s chin between finger and thumb, so Cameron releases her grip long enough to caress Eva’s cheek instead.
“Seriously?” Eva teases, deflating some of the tension. “Not even in college?”
“In college I was trying to get into med school,” Cameron points out. “And as soon as I discovered how to have fun, I suddenly had a husband.”
“So you’ve got some making up for lost time to do,” Eva points out, sinking her fingers into Cameron’s loosely knotted hair, pulling it free and letting it cascade down her back. “Don’t worry, I’ll show you the ropes.”
“This doesn’t mean you get to steal any extra patients,” Cameron warns, but she’s smiling as she initiates their next kiss. This one is far less restrained, and Cameron tastes the fading red wine on Eva’s tongue for the first time, leaving her slightly desperate and already wanting more.
“I won’t sleep with you tonight,” Eva says, cupping Cameron’s face in her hands when they finally part. “And I want you to know that might actually be the hardest thing I’ve ever said.”
“You won’t?” Cameron asks, running a fingertip over Eva’s partially-exposed collarbone. “We’ll see about that, Dr Z.”
“I don’t want to rush you,” Eva insists.
“And I’m not waiting around for my coach to turn back into a pumpkin,” Cameron says. “It’s not grief talking, and it’s not the wine. I want this because I want it; because we both do.”
“Really?” Eva looks a little scared for the first time in all the time Cameron’s known her. She gets it, then. She’s finally found the vulnerable part of the all-action trauma superhero, and that’s one hell of a responsibility.
“Really,” Cameron confirms. “Life is too short, don’t you think? Scooters crash and buildings blow up and every day we see the people who won’t get a tomorrow or a third date or enough time to change their mind.”
“That’s pretty,” Eva says. “You must really want to get laid.”
“You have no idea,” Cameron agrees, and they both crack up laughing. But somewhere in the helpless giggling, their hands seek each other out, and they’re silencing the laughter with kisses that start hot and go straight to frantic.
“Can I stay?” Eva asks, although they’re already halfway down the hall towards the bedroom. She’s breathless and her hands are already under Cameron’s blouse.
“I think you kinda have to,” Cameron points out, pressing Eva against the wall and kissing her neck. “Because this feels a lot like a happy ending, doesn’t it?”
“Oh Al,” Eva sighs, steering Cameron back towards the bedroom. “Just you wait.”