House entered the conference room, inhaling the scent of fresh brewed coffee. Why couldn't he get coffee to turn out smelling that good? As he dropped his bag, he overheard Foreman asking Cameron whether she'd closed on the new house yet, and Cameron's affirmative reply, and a request to help her move boxes this weekend. He dropped his file on the table, and, unsurprisingly, a mug of the aforementioned coffee appeared near his right hand as Cameron took her seat. As she sat, his eyes not so subtly slid down the front of her shirt. "Emulating Dr. Cuddy today, Dr. Cameron?"
Cameron blushed, quickly looked down and adjusted her red silk blouse to cover a bit more of her cleavage, pulling her lab coat more tightly around her, as if it would protect her somehow from House's eyes.
House snorted. "Well, don't change it on my account." After all, he certainly wasn't the type to turn down a glance at a nice pair of tits, and Cameron did have particularly nice tits, if a bit small. Her face turned a slightly deeper shade of pink, and she squirmed in her chair. He didn't miss the glare Foreman sent his way, nor Chase's slightly disgusted expression as he picked up the file, avoiding House's gaze.
"Okay, people, back to our patient." House turned toward the white board. "We've got a new symptom." He added "Retinal Detachment" to the list.
Chase sighed. "Okay. So we've got a sunken chest, which may or may not have anything to do with anything, a heart murmur, spontaneous pneumothorax, and radiating leg pain."
Cameron chewed her lip, looking away. "He's taller than his dad. Do we know what his mom's height was?"
Foreman looked at her, curious. "What's height got to do with it?"
House sighed. "Put it together, people. Symptoms. We've got a retinal detachment, collapsed lung, a heart murmur, a sunken chest, and now, probably height."
"I think he might have Marfan's." Cameron blurted.
"Thank you, Doctor Cameron, for finally stating the obvious." House snapped. "Cameron, get an echo, Foreman, find out about mom." He glanced over at Chase. "You. Clinic. Go be me."
Chase dropped the file and sulked his way out of the room, and Foreman followed, scooping up the file on his way. House turned toward his office, and looked back a moment later when he realized Cameron hadn't moved. She was resting her elbow on the table, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Cameron?"
She shook her head. "Sorry. Headache. Going now." She made for the door.
"Cameron!" She turned at his sharp tone. "This is a hospital. Find some ibuprofen."
She smiled, nodded, and ducked out the door.
Hours later, Cameron poked her head into his office. "I have the results of the echo."
House looked up at her expectantly. "And…"
"Abdominal aortic aneurysm." She stepped all the way in and sat down, shoulders slightly slumped.
"Okay. So the kid's got a time bomb in his chest." He gave her a sharp look. "Don't tell me you still have a headache. Didn't you get that ibuprofen?"
"Yes, you got the ibuprofen, or yes, you still have a headache?"
"Fine. Go tell the kid he's got Marfan's, schedule him for surgery on the aorta for first thing tomorrow morning, and go home."
She looked up at him in surprise. "But it's only three o'clock."
He glared back. "You heard me. Scram."
She didn't wait for him to tell her a third time.
Hours later, House limped painfully out the doors of the hospital. Leg aching, his eyes closed tightly for a moment, teeth digging into his lower lip, shoulders taught. All he could think of was the bottle of vicodin he'd left on his kitchen counter this morning. He meant to pocket it on the way out the door, but it had slipped his mind, and despite begging both Cuddy and Wilson, neither would write him a new script. It was dark, almost six o'clock, and that would make it around ten hours since he last had a pill.
He had brought the 'Vette today. Even House wasn't crazy enough to be riding a motorcycle in ice and snow and bone-chilling temperatures. The cold made his leg throb, and someone had used the handicapped space today, forcing him to park at the far end of the lot. It was probably better that way, though. Less of a chance of door dings in his precious Corvette.
He slowly gimped his way through the snow, watching the ground carefully for any hidden patches of ice. The last thing he needed was to land on his ass out here.
As he made his way toward the end of the lot, he caught sight of something bright red on the ground between the cars. Probably some kid dropped his jacket. He shrugged and walked on, turning sharply when he saw the red thing move.
Sighing, he made his way over to the object. As he got closer, he saw bits of black and white, along with the bright red. He shaded his eyes against the glare of the snow, and saw a human form. It's surprising how fast a man with a cane can move with the proper incentive.
Long brown hair fanned out over the snow. He bent down next to the form, gently touching the shoulder. "Cameron?"
She blinked, directing an unfocused gaze his way. Purple bruises marred her cheek and temple.
He grabbed her hand, finding it cold as ice. "Cameron. What happened? How long have you been out here?"
She blinked again and shook her head slightly. "H-House?"
He held up three fingers. "How many fingers?"
Her brow furrowed as she tried to focus. "Dunno. Stop moving."
He waived his keychain light in her eyes, relieved to find her pupils reactive. He reached into his pocket for his cell phone, cursing when he found it empty and belatedly realizing that in his hurry to get home to his vicodin, he'd left it on his desk.
"Wha? Sleepy. Hurts." She responded slowly.
"What hurts? Where?" He snapped.
The sharp tone prompted a response, albeit a not very helpful one of "'vrywhere."
"Cameron, we have to go inside. It's cold and you're hurt." He felt stupid stating the obvious, but maybe it would get her to react.
"Cold." She repeated.
"Yes, I know it's cold. Can you walk?"
She looked at him blankly. "Took shoes."
"Took shoes?" He looked around, seeing no one there. "Who took your shoes?"
"He did." She replied, focusing a little better.
"Who's he?" House grabbed both her shoulders.
"The man who took my shoes." She pressed her hand against the snow, trying to push herself to a sitting position.
"Cameron. You're not making any sense. We need to get you inside. I need you to stand up. Can you do that if I help you?" He was trying to be gentle, but panic undercut his tone, sharpening it. She cringed. "Cameron." He took a breath, trying to calm himself. Panic wouldn't help her. "Allison." He touched her chin, turning her head to look at him, and inwardly, yet again, cursing his leg. "We need to get you inside, right now. I'd carry you, but I can't. You need to help me help you." He stripped off his coat and held out his left hand. "Take my hand. I'm right here. Grab my hand. Hold on."
She slowly extended her hand to him, and he closed his hand tightly around her wrist. He inched back, resting his weight on a car bumper, and braced his cane securely on an iceless patch of asphalt. "Okay. Just hold on to me, and we'll stand up, okay?" Slowly, he helped her to her feet, wrapping the coat around her shoulders and an arm securely around her waist.
As they took a tentative step forward, his eyes landed on the spot where she had been lying. The snow beneath had been stained a deep crimson.
Step by step, they slowly made their way back to the hospital entrance and around the corner to emergency. Even though the ER was a few more steps, he knew they were more equipped to help her quickly. House, supporting both his own weight and a good part of Cameron's, took slow, measured steps, carefully bracing his cane so it wouldn't slip. Mentally, he cataloged her injuries. Head injury. Possible fractured cheekbone. Blood loss, probably from places he didn't want to think about right now. Frostbitten fingers. Probably frostbitten toes. He knew that walking on frostbitten feet wasn't a good idea, but neither was leaving her out in the cold longer while he went to get help. He just couldn't bring himself to walk away from her and leave her lying in the snow, even if it was to bring her help. He felt her leaning on him, and again cursed his leg, wishing he could just pick her up and carry her to safety. He tried not to look at the trail of bloody footprints she left behind them.
When they entered the warmth of the ER, the nurse behind the counter took one look at Cameron's bruises, bloody stockings, and the trail of blood left behind and quickly grabbed a wheelchair, passing her to the waiting medical assistant. House followed closely behind and the security guard tried to stop him at the door with a sharp "Sir, you can't go in there."
If looks could kill, the guy would be six feet under. "I'm Doctor House. Head of diagnostics at this hospital. If I want to go back there, I will, and I'd suggest you move. Now."
The guard stepped aside, eyes wide. "They took her to exam 6."
When House entered the exam room, he found that Cameron had been hooked up to a heart monitor and pulse ox. His coat was draped over a chair. He and glared at the nurse. "Get me four buckets of warm water. One hundred degrees."
"But Doctor," the nurse protested "Given the bleeding, we need to do a rape kit. We've got to check her fingernails for evidence."
"She's a doctor. What the hell is more important? The evidence or saving her fingers?" House snapped, looming over the nurse in his most intimidating posture.
"Fingers. I'll get the water." She hurried out the door.
He turned to the other nurse. "Get a rape kit and bring it back here. Then, get me an IV, a bag of warm saline, and morphine." He looked back to Cameron and began removing the torn nylons, noting that the bleeding had slowed considerably.
He whirled back around. "Morphine. Do you have any idea how incredibly painful it is to rewarm frostbitten tissue? She'll be screaming. She doesn't need to be awake for it, and she doesn't need to feel it."
The nurse dashed out the door and returned a moment later, handing him the rape kit and leaving again quickly.
He opened the box and removed an envelope and a scraper. He quickly scraped under each fingernail, noting the blood under her nails. Probably not hers.
As he finished, the second nurse returned with the requested IV and morphine. She efficiently set up the IV as he sealed and signed the envelope, dropping it back into the kit.
He suddenly found his hand gripped in ice cold fingers. "House? My head feels fuzzy."
He moved over to her shoulder, not releasing her hand. "We need to warm up your fingers and toes. It'll hurt, so there's morphine in your IV. That's why your head feels funny." He brushed her hair out of her eyes. "Close your eyes. You said you felt tired. Go to sleep, and this will all be over when you wake up. Okay?"
She nodded slowly. "Mmkay."
The first nurse returned, pushing a cart with four basins of water, slightly steaming. House stuck his hand in one, checking the temperature, then pulling his hand out and drying it on his pants.
He took her hand and gently set it in the basin, holding her wrist firmly as she tried weakly to pull her arm back. He felt her muscles relax as the morphine completely took over. Quickly, he placed her other hand and her feet into the remaining basins.
The door opened and a doctor about Chase's age stepped in. "Hello, I'm Doctor Casey-" His eyes widened as he recognized the tall man with the cane. "Um… Doctor House, it looks like you have everything under control. Can I assist with anything?"
"You can call a GYN." He looked over at Cameron. "Preferably female. And page Doctor Cuddy to my cell."
Suddenly, a monitor began to shriek. "Pressure's dropping!" Casey yanked up her shirt, and he and House both quickly saw the tight, hard abdomen. "Internal bleeding. Ruptured spleen, probably."
House nodded. "She needs an OR. Now." The doctor nodded and dashed out the door. House turned to the two nurses, his voice reflecting the urgency of the situation. "You, get me two bags of A positive blood. Move!" He motioned to the second nurse. "And you, page Doctor Cuddy, and call for the gyn consult." He paused for a moment. "And send someone to get my cell phone from my desk."
House examined her abdomen, his hand tightening on his cane, knuckles white, as he saw five small round bruises on each hip. Finger marks. He took a shaky breath, acknowledging his desire to kill the person responsible for her pain, provided the cops, or better yet, Foreman, didn't find him first.
The nurses left, and one quickly returned with the blood, which was rapidly hung. He let out a breath in relief as her blood pressure began to rise.
Doctor Casey entered, slightly breathless. "OR 4. Surgeon is Doctor Hill."
House grunted an approval. "He's competent. Usually."
The bags of blood and saline were transferred to poles attached to the gurney, and she was quickly wheeled out of the room. House looked to the nurse. "I want her hands and feet back in warm water as soon as she's settled in the OR."
The nurse nodded and left. House followed her out the door, and turned when the desk nurse called his name. She held out a set of scrubs. "We thought you might want to change your clothes." He looked down at himself and saw that the left side of his shirt and jeans were smeared and spotted with blood. He could go back to his office and change, but that was the other side of the hospital.
Wordlessly, he took the scrubs and limped off to the closest locker room. Inside, he peeled off the cold, bloody clothes and noted that the blood had soaked through to his skin. He stripped off his boxers and stepped into a warm shower, watching the blood turn from red to pale pink as it mixed with the water and slipped down the drain. Confident he was as clean as he was going to get, he turned off the water and snatched a towel from the cabinet. He quickly toweled the moisture off and got into the scrubs, pleased to note that they were warm and soft, instead of the thin, itchy kind that often was found in hospitals.
He looked at his socks and noted the blood splatter marring the white fabric, and bent down, wiped the drops off of his shoes, and put the shoes on sans socks, tossing the bloody clothes into one of the giant Ziplocs kept around for that purpose.
When he left the locker room, the nurse was waiting for him outside. She held out her hand for the bag and handed him his cell phone. "I'll send this up to your office. Coffee?" He nodded, and found a steaming cup in his hand a moment later. "They've just started the surgery on your friend." He nodded again, and turned away to head down the hall.
Nurses' voices followed after him.
"Was that Doctor House?"
"Yeah. He was like a mama bear in there, growling and barking orders. Who's the girl?"
"Doctor Cameron. One of his fellows… or cubs, I guess you could say."
"How'd he know her blood type?"
Normally, House would've turned around and snapped, snarked, or otherwise terrorized people daring to speak of him that way. But, for now, there were more important things to attend to.
His cell phone rang in the elevator. "House." He answered sharply. "Cuddy... Look, something's happened… Just get down here." He hung up and headed to the observation room above the OR.
When he arrived, he looked down and saw that the surgeon had completed the incision and was exploring to locate the rupture. He was pleased to note that the nurse had followed his instructions, and Cameron's hands and feet were once again immersed in warm water.
Through the glass, he could hear the faint, regular beep of the heart monitor and let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and closed his eyes, resting his weight on the cane and his forehead on the glass, the cup of coffee forgotten on the table behind him.
House wasn't sure how long he had been standing there. "House?" Cuddy's concerned voice entered the room a half second before she did.
"What?" He didn't move.
"I read the file. How's she doing?" Cuddy moved to stand next to him, gazing down into the OR.
"Breathing. Heart beating. Vitals now within acceptable parameters." He straightened up and turned toward her, noting the worry evident on her face.
"How are you doing?"
"Aren't you asking the wrong person?" He leaned back in surprise. "I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be fine?"
"Because, from what I heard, you found your colleague, your friend, lying bleeding in a snow bank and watched her come close to coding in the ER." Cuddy crossed her arms and eyed him suspiciously.
He turned away from her, his forearm on the glass, unable to meet her gaze, and furious with himself for it. He clenched his hands into fists, hoping she wouldn't notice their slight tremor.
"Why did you page me?" She took a step closer as she spoke.
He shrugged. "Worker's comp?"
"Since when do you follow procedure?" She replied, glancing down into the OR.
House's eyes followed hers. "Looks like he's found the bleed."
"So what happened?"
He continued to avoid meeting her eyes. "You read the file."
"Yes. The file that told me her medical condition. It didn't tell me what happened to her, how, and why she was out there for so long in the first place." Cuddy snapped.
House whirled to look at her, eyes burning with fury. Cuddy's eyes widened, and she took a few steps back, breath catching in her throat. He stepped forward, narrowing the distance between them, his eyes locked with hers. His voice was a low growl. "She was out there because I sent her out there."
"What?!" Confusion flashed across Cuddy's face.
"You heard me." He turned back to the window. "Get out."
"House, this wasn't -" She started.
He didn't look at her. "Get. Out. Now." He was relieved when he heard her heels tapping toward the door.
He watched as the surgeon corrected the bleed, and was relieved to note that it was relatively minor. The issue hadn't been a major bleed out, just a minor one that was left untreated far too long.
He watched the doctor close the wound, noting that the stitches were very neat. The scar wouldn't be any worse than necessary. The man moved away, and a woman stepped into his place. He realized this must be the GYN he'd had the nurse send for. Absently, House noted that he wouldn't have even known she was female, except she was wearing purple glasses. A surgical nurse began to adjust the drape, and another began to gently move Cameron's legs apart. A table was brought up containing speculums, small items he couldn't see from this distance, and the rape kit box he'd opened earlier.
The doctor adjusted the camera and monitor while the nurse adjusted Cameron's position on the table. The surgical drape concealed her face from the doctor, but House could see her clearly, and watched while the nurse shifted Cameron over slightly, causing her long hair to tumble over the edge of the table. He glanced back at the monitor and got his first good look at the extent of her injuries. Her thighs were caked with blood, both dried and fresh, and there was a white, flaky substance streaked across her skin. Semen.
House felt his stomach turn and his fist clenched in frustration. He was a doctor, damn it. He'd seen injuries like this before. This wasn't new, wasn't different. There was no reason for him to react like this. The rolling in his stomach wouldn't settle, and he looked away from the monitor and back to her face, and saw the difference. This time, it was personal. This time it was Cameron. He felt his gut churn a final time, turned away and emptied the contents of his stomach into the trashcan.
When the retching finally stopped after what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few minutes in reality, he sat weakly on the bench, resisting the urge to look back down into the OR. What was happening in there was deeply personal, and he knew she probably wouldn't want him watching, and he would respect that. Enough violation had taken place today.
His hands were shaking again, and he clinically assessed that the adrenaline rush from the situation was beginning to wear off. He rested his hands on the handle of his cane in front of him, fatigue slamming into him like a runaway train. His leg was aching again, the familiar throbbing comforting in a strange way, providing him with something to focus on besides what was happening in the room below. His forehead slowly lowered to rest on his hands as he took a shaky breath, listening to the faint beeping of the heart monitor downstairs.
Thank you all for the kudos, and especially the comments! I'm so happy that you're enjoying the story!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Morning found House collapsed in a chair by her bedside. When she'd been wheeled out of surgery and into recovery, he'd breathed a sigh of relief. When she was settled in the ICU after a thankfully negative CT scan, he'd found himself sitting next to her and watching her vitals cautiously for any sign of trouble. Although they wouldn't know yet if there would be any permanent damage from the frostbite, when he clasped her hand in his own, he was glad to find her warm and her fingers pink. Sometime during the night, he'd fallen into a fitful sleep.
He jumped awake as Wilson entered. "Wilson."
"Cuddy told me. How is she?" Out of habit, Wilson picked up her chart and opened it.
"She's a hell of a lot better than she was yesterday. She's lucky she didn't lose her spleen." He tilted his head at the chart. "What's it say?" He really wasn't sure if he wanted the answer to that, especially not after his reaction to her injuries last night.
Wilson looked up in confusion. "You haven't read it?"
House looked down and shook his head. It was annoying enough to have trouble looking Cuddy in the eye. Wilson was worse. Guilt was not a feeling he was used to. A lack of eye contact made intimidating glares difficult.
"So what happened?" Wilson began to scan the chart, and looked up when House didn't answer immediately.
"She had a headache. I sent her home. Three hours later, I'm walking to my car, and find her in the snow in the parking lot." House said, as emotionless as if he were rattling off a grocery list. He watched Wilson skim the chart.
"Will she be okay?" Wilson asked, snapping the chart shut and looking slightly green. House guessed by his reaction to whatever was in the file that he was already aware of her physical condition and was therefore asking about her emotional state.
House shrugged. "Who the hell knows. I gave her morphine during the frostbite treatment, and anesthesia might’ve given midazolam, so she may not remember anything. Or everything." From what he'd seen outside and in the OR, he had no idea whether it would be better to remember or forget.
"According to her chart, she did get the midazolam. She was awake when you found her?"
"As awake as someone half frozen with a moderate concussion can be. She wasn't making much sense." He looked down. "Kept talking about somebody taking her shoes."
Wilson looked up sharply. "Shoes?"
House nodded. "She was out there barefoot."
"Have you been reading the papers?"
Wilson turned away and looked out through the glass into the hallway. "There's been some psycho who's been going around rap-" He tripped over the word. "assaulting women. Steals their shoes as some kind of trophy. I think the last two ended up dead."
House's grip on Cameron's hand tightened, his breath catching in his throat as he realized for the first time how bad this really could have been. "I sent her out there."
"Huh?" Wilson looked up at him blankly.
"I sent her out there. She had a headache. Wanted to stay at work, but looked miserable. I made her leave. She didn't want to leave." His eyes closed tightly and he focused on the faint beeping of the heart monitor, a steady reminder that, as bad as this was, it could've been worse. "If I hadn't sent her away, this wouldn't have happened."
Wilson looked at him incredulously. "How in the world is this your fault? You saved her life. She'd be dead if you hadn't found her."
"She'd be perfectly fine if I hadn't sent her out there to begin with."
Wilson shook his head. "You couldn't have known." He pulled a pill bottle out of his coat pocket and placed two familiar white pills on the tray to House's right. "Figured you haven't been home. Probably need those."
House looked over at the pills in surprise. "Just give me the bottle."
Wilson shook his head. "I'm keeping it for now."
"Wilson, give me the damn bottle." House growled, holding out his hand impatiently.
Wilson pocketed the bottle. "I'll be back around lunchtime to check on her. Call me if anything changes. I'll let the guys know what's going on."
House made a last, halfhearted grab for Wilson's pocket and sighed in frustration as Wilson stepped out of reach. "Fine. But they don't need to know details."
Wilson nodded and motioned to the file, holding it out. "Keep them away from that. It isn't a pleasant read. If you can contain your curiosity, keep yourself away too."
"I know enough." House accepted the file and tossed it onto the table. “Anything else she wants me to know she can tell me herself.”
"I'm sure the guys will be down here in a few minutes." After he finished speaking, he left, poking his head back in a moment later. "Page me if anything changes, or if you need anything."
Acknowledging the offer with a curt nod, he turned back to Cameron, her small hand still held tightly in his larger one, his thumb gently brushing over the back of her hand.
Moments, or maybe hours later, Chase and Foreman rushed into the room, spouting one question after another.
"How is she?"
"You found her?"
"Is that her file?"
"Is she okay?"
House held up a hand in a rather feeble attempt to shut them up. "You know, if you actually want a question answered, it generally requires shutting up at some point."
Their mouths snapped closed, and he wasn't sure if it was a real desire for answers or surprise at the lack of venom contained in his response. He felt drained, like every drop of energy he had somehow dripped off him and soaked into the floor.
"She's stable now. Obviously still unconscious. She was outside. I brought her in to the ER with frostbite and bleeding. Her pressure dropped. She had a small rupture in her spleen. The bleeding had been slowed by the cold, and got worse quickly when she warmed up. The surgeon repaired her spleen. She's also got two cracked ribs and a nasty concussion. There probably won't be any damage from the frostbite, but we won't be sure for a few days." He saw Chase open his mouth and preemptively answered his next question. "I don't know how much she'll remember. She got morphine and mizazolam."
Foreman nodded in approval. "Good. I had frostbite when I was a kid. My mother shoved my feet into a warm bath. It's the most painful thing I remember."
House nodded. Foreman reached across the bed towards the chart, eyes widening when House's vice-like grip closed around his wrist. "Leave it." He growled, pleased to see Foreman back off. If she wanted them to see her chart, she could give it to them herself, later, when she woke up. Her privacy had been invaded enough. Too much.
"Doctor House?" House raised an eyebrow at Chase's uncharacteristically formal address.
"I don't know if you know, but Cameron just bought a house a few miles from here." Chase stumbled over his words, but somehow managed to get them all out in an order that made sense. "She's supposed to be out of her apartment by Sunday. She's got everything boxed up; we were supposed to help her move it all tomorrow."
Foreman picked up where Chase left off. "We were wondering, do you think she'd mind if we took care of it for her?" He glanced over at the monitors. "She's obviously not leaving here today. Don't want her worrying about overstaying her lease and all that."
House looked at him curiously. "What are you asking me for?" Did they think he somehow had an 'in' to the inner workings of Cameron's brain? After the last two days, he'd be lucky if she ever spoke to him again.
"You probably know her as well as anybody around here." Foreman shrugged.
"As long as you stay out of anything personal, I don't think she'll mind. It'll be one less thing for her to worry about." He thought about it for a moment. "But go ask Cuddy. She gets the whole 'female' thing."
Chase nodded. "Will do. Provided Cuddy okays it, we'll be at her place at 9 am."
"Don't you two have something you should be doing? Like, perhaps, work?" House watched them look at each other, and then at Cameron. "I will page you if anything changes."
They left, hesitantly glancing back at Cameron and the monitors on their way out the door.
House looked down and realized that he had yet to release Cameron's hand. He was surprised and oddly disturbed to discover that he didn't want to.
Time seemed to blur by. He had no idea how long he had been sitting there. It was time to buy a new fucking watch. Not that he'd have really been paying attention to it if he had one. The heart monitor was a better way to mark the time. One beep. One more beat. One more breath. One more second, minute, hour, day she was lying here.
Wilson had thrown him out yesterday. Something about showering, shaving, and food. Spare clothes had been acquired from his office, and he did admit, but only to himself, of course, that he did feel slightly more human after a shower. Well, as human as he ever felt. Shaving wasn't something he bothered with regularly, so he dismissed that recommendation, and when he returned to the ICU, Wilson was gone and there was food. Hospital food, but it was food. He ate a few bites and left the rest for the attendant to pick up whenever.
Wilson had left the vicodin bottle. Apparently he had concluded that House was unlikely to head home and retrieve his other bottle, or do something stupid with the nearly full new bottle. House cringed a bit at that thought. If he'd had the guts to off himself, he'd have done it five years ago. Five years ago, he'd genuinely thought he had nothing to look forward to. Today, well, there were a few bright spots. Very few, but enough. Harassing Cuddy, ribbing Wilson about his marital disasters, getting Chase to do his clinic hours, teasing Cameron about 'girly Gs".
Cameron. The reason he was sitting here. Actually, he really had no clue why he was sitting here. It wasn't as if she'd know. She was unconscious. He just somehow felt compelled to keep an eye out for her, since he'd failed so miserably at that same task two days before. He could at least keep her chart away from prying eyes, make sure she stayed warm and well hydrated, and irritate the nurses. Plus, Cuddy seemed to be leaving him alone. He should've been in the clinic today. Or was that yesterday? Didn't really matter. Hanging out here with Cameron was getting him out of clinic hours. That was as good a reason as any.
As he finished that thought, Chase and Foreman trampled noisily into the room. The sound was as jarring as fingernails on a chalkboard. "At least that noise isn't going to wake Sleeping Beauty here. She's sedated, not napping."
Foreman at least had the sense to look properly chastised. Chase, on the other hand, was completely oblivious as usual and plowed right into whatever it was that he wanted. "Infant down in ICU. Looked normal at birth, but the skin blisters at any contact."
House sighed. "Epidermolysis Bullosa."
Chase looked surprised. "That's it? No white board, no discussion? Just a diagnosis?"
"Yes. Are you done?" House snapped, wondering what it would take to get them out of the ICU and off to somewhere where they would be less irritating. Or at least off irritating someone else.
Foreman looked up uncertainly. "If they wake her… let her know we got all her stuff moved. Cuddy took care of her clothes and Wilson, Chase and I dealt with the rest. Even got the damn piano moved."
House looked up in surprise. "Cameron has a piano? What kind of piano?"
Chase appeared as if he had no clue what House was asking. "The wooden long flat kind with the black and white keys?"
"You mean a grand piano?"
"I guess. It said 'Steinbeck' or something."
Foreman raised an eyebrow at Chase. "Isn't Steinbeck the guy that wrote those books they made me read in high school?"
House sighed. "Steinbeck is the author. Steinway is the piano maker." He paused, realizing what he'd just said. "How did Cameron manage to afford a fifty-thousand dollar piano? I know I don't pay her that well."
Foreman looked at him as if wondering which rock he'd been living under for the last year. "She got it when her grandmother died a few months back. Same way she got the money for the down payment on her new place… Wait a sec. That thing's worth fifty grand?"
"I didn't know that her -" House stopped himself quickly. "What the hell were you idiots doing moving a Steinway?!" As Chase and Foreman looked at each other blankly, House grabbed his cell phone and hit a speed dial number.
"Larry? Greg. I've got a friend with a Steinway. Two morons here decided to move the thing across town. Can you check it out? Make sure they didn't do too much damage?... Oh… tune it while you're at it?... yeah. Just bill me." He hung up after acquiring Cameron's new address from Foreman and passing it along.
"Chase, go tell that moron pediatrician in the NICU that her patient has EB. Then, clinic. Keep Cuddy off my ass." He turned to Foreman. "You, get back to Cameron's house and let Larry in to take care of that Steinway. He'll be there in twenty."
As he settled back into his chair, his thoughts drifted to music. Steinway. His own piano was decent. Good, even. But a Steinway was every pianist's dream. He could almost feel that perfectly balanced weight of the keys under his hands, the way the action sprung back perfectly every time… He paused when he realized he'd been playing air-piano on the railing of Cameron's bed. Shaking himself back to reality, he filed away the thought that he'd have to find a way to convince Cameron to let him near that piano.
He picked up Cameron's hand again, turning it over gently and examining the fingertips. He pressed gently on the nail, checking her capillary refill, noting that the pink tone returned to her nails quickly, as it should be. Good circulation to her fingers. If she actually could play that piano, she'd appreciate proper function in her hands all the more.
He glanced at the medication levels remaining in her IV, noting to himself that the sedatives should be wearing off in a few hours. He scrolled absentmindedly through his phone, looking fruitlessly for a distraction to pass the time.
He awoke later with a start, realizing he must have dosed off again. Sleeping in an uncomfortable ICU chair for two nights in a row is likely to do that to a person, though. Especially someone with chronic pain issues anyway, he reasoned to himself.
He felt a light pressure on his hand and looked up. Her eyes were open, and she was blinking as her eyes adjusted to the light level in the room. "House?" she rasped, her throat dry from almost three days of non-use.
He nodded. "Right here.
She tried to swallow and coughed slightly, wincing in pain as her eyes darted around the room. "Water?"
He glanced around and quickly located a pitcher and plastic cup on the table, pouring her a glass. He handed it to her, and, although her fingers closed securely around the cup, her hand and arm shook as she tried to lift it to her lips, spilling it slightly.
Instinctively, he reached out to help her, but something in him made him snatch his hand back a split second before he touched her. Stumbling over his words, he clumsily managed "Do you want me to help? Is that okay?"
She nodded, looking at him curiously. Permission granted, he reached forward, taking the glass from her hand, while he slid his other arm under her neck and lifted her slightly as he guided the cup to her lips. After a few swallows, he pulled the cup away. "Not too fast. Don't want you to choke. You can have more in a minute."
She glanced around, taking in her surroundings. "ICU. How bad?"
"You've got two fractured ribs. That's why coughing and breathing hurt. You've got a fractured cheekbone and a moderate concussion, which is why your head hurts. You had some internal bleeding. Dr. Hill was able to repair a small rupture in your spleen, which is why you've got stitches in your abdomen, and why it probably hurts too. Do your hands and feet hurt?" He waited for her nod. "You had some minor frostbite. I think we've taken care of that, and we don't think there will be any permanent damage."
He looked at her cautiously. How the hell was he supposed to handle this one? Figures. The one time Cuddy would actually be useful, she wasn't anywhere nearby. "You don't remember?"
She started to shake her head, but then her eyes widened, although it appeared her vision was still slightly out of focus due to the meds. "Was going home. Remember man. Pain. Lots of snow. Blood. Mine? You. You were talking to me? Kept moving your fingers. Counting. Shoes."
He saw her eyes travel over to where he'd set her water glass. "More water?" She nodded. "Would you like help?"
Her confusion flashed across her face. "Why're you askin’ again?"
House took note that her words were still slightly slurred. "I just want to make sure."
She nodded. "Water, please?"
He slid his hand under her neck again and brought the water cup to her lips, allowing her a few more swallows. "That's enough. You don't want to drink too much and upset your stomach. Vomiting with fractured ribs is, well, not something you want to be doing."
She tried to lift her hand towards him, and the frustration showed in her eyes as her arm fell back to the blanket. "Why?"
Instantly realizing what she was asking, he explained "You'd lost a lot of blood outside, and more with the internal bleeding. We gave you two bags, but it'll still take some time to get your strength back. The medications are probably contributing to the lack of energy as well."
She nodded and he could see that she understood. She looked relieved at the simple explanation for such a scary symptom. "I'm sleepy."
"You do realize you've been sleeping for three days?"
"Three days?" she repeated.
"Apparently your concussion was worse than we'd thought. Echolalia isn't usually a symptom." The remark prompted a weak smile. "If you're tired, close your eyes. You'll need to rest frequently to recover."
"M’kay" Her voice was barely a whisper as her eyes slipped closed.
He waited until her breathing was slow and even, eased over and brushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes, collected his cane and headed for the door, glancing back to check on her one last time. When she remembered everything, he was certain he was the last person she'd want to see at her bedside.
Thank you for reading! There will be another update soon! Please let me know what you think!
So sorry for the length of time between updates! The coronavirus turned our lives upside down. I hope all of you are well, and thank you for reading!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Three days later, Foreman slams into House’s office with all the force of a hurricane.
“Doctor Foreman, if you have something to say, spit it out. Otherwise, go away.” House calmly looked up from his latest case file.
“She’s been asking for you.”
House sighed. “I’m well aware of that.” He knew. Wilson had told him. So had Cuddy and Chase.
Foreman rested his hands on the desk and loomed over House. “So go see her.”
House shrugged. “I don’t want to.” Don’t want to walk into the lioness’s den was closer to the truth. Although Cameron could hardly qualify as a lioness, the only thing waiting for him in her den would be darkness and sharp teeth. If he went in there, he’d either be screamed at for sending her outside in the first place, or thanked profusely for finding her in that sickly sweet way that Cameron had about her. Compared to Cameron, cotton candy could be bitter. He didn’t think he could take her screaming, and he sure as hell didn’t deserve her thanks.
“I don’t care if you don’t want to. Cameron wants to see you, and I’m here about what she wants. I don’t give a damn what you want.” Foreman spat out. House had always known that Foreman could be intimidating. That was part of the reason House had hired him, after all. However, this was the first time House had experienced Foreman’s intimidation ability firsthand, and grudgingly acknowledged that the man was very good at it.
House shrugged. Even though Foreman’s intimidation tactics were working, that didn’t mean he had to let Foreman know this.
“If you don’t get your ass down there to see her in the next hour, I will throw you over my shoulder and carry you down there. I have no clue why she needs to see you, but if she needs it, I’m going to make sure she gets it.” Foreman crossed his arms, glaring at House.
“Fine.” House sighed. Judging by the look Foreman was shooting him, he actually intended to follow through on his threat. “I’ll go see her.”
Foreman nodded and left quickly.
Shaking his head, House picked up his cane. Seeing Cameron could not possibly do either of them any good. However, being fireman carried through the hospital by one of his subordinates would probably be worse. At least, he figured that whatever the hell Cameron was planning on doing to him wouldn’t be nearly so public.
He was wrong.
By the time he got to Cameron’s room, he’d been hearing the screams all the way down the hall. He burst into the room, demanding “What the hell is going on here?”
Two nurses, one armed with a needle, the other with a handful of four-point restraints, froze as they bent over Cameron, who was shaking in a fetal position in the corner. “She’s freaking out. She was hysterical. We couldn’t get her vitals.”
House fixed his best death-glare at the man with the needle, glancing at his name badge. “Burton, I was unaware that ‘freaking out’ was proper medical terminology.” He motioned towards the door. “Get away from her.”
“Doctor, she’s dangerous…” His female counterpart protested.
“She’s not dangerous. She’s fucking scared out of her mind. Can’t you people see that?” House growled as he approached Cameron. The nurses backed off to the far side of the room.
House painfully bent down on one knee, bracing his right arm on his cane. “Cameron?” She was still shaking in the corner, the thin hospital gown offering little protection. “Cameron? It’s Doctor House. Can you hear me? Allison?”
A shake, a whimper, and then a green eye peeked out at him from behind her hands. “Allison.” He tried again, reaching his hand out to gently touch her face. “Allison, it’s House. Do you know where you are?” A shiver was her only response. “You’re still in the hospital. You’re safe here. Nothing’s going to happen to you here. I promise.” His hand made gentle contact with her cheek, tilting her head up to look at him. “Look at me. I promise. Nothing will hurt you. I won’t let it.”
Blue eyes met tearful green, and he watched as she began to focus slightly. “House?”
He shifted his hand, the back of his fingers gently touching her cheek, grounding her. “Right here.”
She took a deep breath, really seeing him for the first time, and began to cry, leaning towards his hand that was gently resting on her cheek. He brushed his hand over her face, realizing that these tears were different. They weren’t tears of fear or hysteria. They were tears of relief. Deep, racking, cleansing sobs. He looked up towards the ceiling, searching for some kind of answer. Physical pain was something he knew how to fix, but he freely admitted to himself that he had absolutely no clue what to do with this kind of emotional anguish.
He felt her tears run down over his palm, dripping on his jeans. He braced his shoulder on the wall and extended his right leg straight, dropping to sit by her on the floor. He reached an arm around her shoulder slowly, asking softly “Is this okay?”
She nodded, burying her face in his neck as he wrapped his other arm around her and pulled her close. Never in his life had he felt so utterly helpless, clueless about what he should do, how he should handle this. Crying women were not something House had vast experience with. Actually, House didn’t have any experience at all, and it wasn’t like there was a book in the medical library titled “How to deal with hysterical females” so research was right out.
Gradually, her sobs quieted, probably more out of exhaustion than anything else. “Cameron? Is it okay if one of the nurses helps you back to bed?”
She shook her head violently, hands fisting in his t-shirt. “Okay then. I’m going to stand up, and then I’m going to help you up. Okay?” A slight nod of assent. He motioned with his eyes to the two nurses still looking in the doorway, holding out an arm. After sitting that way for so long, there was no way he was getting up on his own. Burton, the male nurse, helped him to his feet and then rapidly retreated to the relative safety of the doorway.
House stretched out his hand to Cameron. “Up?” She tentatively reached out to him with her fingers, and he was reminded of a time five days ago when she had made precisely the same motion, reaching for him cautiously.
His hand grasped hers, and he gently helped her to her feet, supporting her as best he could as he guided her back to her bed. She dropped to the mattress weakly, and he noticed small traces of blood soaking through her gown. “Cameron, I need to check your stitches. You might have torn a few.” She didn’t reply, and he tipped her chin up so he could meet her eyes. “Is that okay?” She nodded faintly, her eyes sliding closed.
He gently covered her with the sheet, and then moved the sheet and gown so he saw the stitches and no more. She had torn three. Retrieving anesthetic and a suture kit, he talked to her constantly as he worked, letting her know exactly what he was doing before he did it, not wanting to startle her. He expertly fixed the stitches and covered her back up with the blankets. “All done.” The back of his hand gently brushed her cheek, causing her to open her eyes. “Okay?”
She nodded, still slightly shaking, although he wasn’t sure whether it was from cold, exhaustion, or adrenaline. Cold he could fix, and he grabbed another blanket from the foot of the bed, covering her with it. She nodded her thanks, and he brushed her cheek with his hand once more. “Get some sleep, okay?”
She nodded. “Sleep.” Her eyes slid shut.
As he turned toward the door, House felt all his earlier anger welling up inside him. He stormed towards the door and cornered the two nurses by their station. “What the hell was going on there? What did you do to her?”
“No idea. I’d just picked up her wrist to adjust the blood ox, and she woke up and just went crazy.” Burton indicated the bruise rapidly appearing on his cheek.
“You walked into the room of a rape victim, stood over her while you grabbed her wrist, and you wonder why she, as you so delicately put it ‘freaked out’ when you woke her up out of a dead sleep?”
The nurse looked down and stammered something unintelligible. “Well, I didn’t think -“
“That’s right. You didn’t think! And because you didn’t think, she tore her stitches, and you almost shot her up with whatever the hell was in that syringe while your friend here tried to tie her up!” House exploded. “What the hell was in that?”
“Just droperidol.” The nurse stammered.
“Just droperidol?” House could swear that he literally saw red creeping in around the edges of his vision. “Just droperidol? Are you aware of the side effects? The potential heart complications?”
“We just use it when patients freak out like that!” Burton protested weakly.
House spun around to confront the head nurse, who had just wandered through the doors into the blast zone. “I never want those two in Doctor Cameron’s room again. And if she gets upset, you do not restrain her. You call myself, Doctor Cuddy, or Doctor Foreman, in that order. Am I perfectly clear?”
The head nurse simply nodded. “Yes, Doctor House. I’ll see to it.”
House nodded in return. “See that you do.” He stormed out, noting that the hospital’s automatic doors made dramatic exits far more difficult.
Over the next few days Cameron was moved out of ICU into a regular room, and House found himself paged no less than three times to help her through panic attacks. Two had been caused by nurses startling her at a bad moment, and the last had been caused by Chase. The moron. Apparently, he’d come in after hours and opened the door loudly, startling her from sleep. Her room light was off, so all she’d seen was a dark silhouette of a man standing in her doorway. That had been the worst of her panic; it had taken almost an hour for her pulse rate and blood pressure to return to somewhere close to normal. Probably longer for Chase’s heart rate to return to normal; Foreman had cornered him and let him have it before House had the chance.
Chase, of course, had been feeling extraordinarily guilty and had been skulking about the conference room until House had yet again ordered him to the clinic. It was either that or strangle the annoying Aussie. Shortly thereafter, an arrangement of pink roses had appeared in Cameron’s room. Probably a somewhat pathetic “I’m sorry for being an inconsiderate ass and scaring the shit out of you” gesture from the wombat. It joined several other bright floral arrangements and balloons from her colleagues.
House hadn’t brought her anything. Not that he didn’t want to, but despite prior floral evidence to the contrary, it wasn’t really his style. However, he knew that girls liked stuff like that, especially girls stuck in the hospital on the wrong side of the doctor-patient relationship. He had bought her flowers before; it had made her smile, even though he felt stupid and awkward. As he brooded over the topic, he realized that he was actually okay with feeling stupid if it would take that scared, hurt look away from her eyes for a little while. He just couldn’t find the right thing. How do you find a gift that says something like “I’m sorry I kicked you out of work so you walked through an icy parking lot and got raped and almost killed by some psycho”? It wasn’t exactly something Hallmark would come up with.
He climbed into the ‘vette and headed towards home, lost in thought and not even realizing he hadn’t turned on the radio as usual. He turned off the turnpike, realizing he was hungry and had nothing resembling food in the house, unless you counted scotch, which, after all was one of the five major food groups. He considered the scotch for a moment until his stomach gave a gurgle, reminding him that he had skipped lunch. Lunch had been spent avoiding Cuddy, and therefore, clinic duty.
Finding himself only a few blocks away from his favorite fish and chips place, he quickly located a parking spot, knowing there would be a very slim chance of finding a space in front of the take-away only fried food joint. Getting out of the car, he could smell the fried cod and malt vinegar even blocks away. He slowly made his way down the street and soon found himself in front of a pile of fried fish wrapped in the traditional newsprint.
Making short work of the fish, he began the trek back to his car. The walk seemed much longer from this end, now that there wasn’t piles of fishy goodness at the end of the stroll. He’d used to enjoy walks in the snow, but walking really wasn’t his thing anymore. Hadn’t been for about five years.
As he meandered back, he glanced in the windows of the passing shops, coffee houses and restaurants. He watched mothers drag their children to the after-holiday sales and teenagers conforming in their nonconformity sipping lattes. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something being placed in a shop window and turned for a better look. He hadn’t thought of that…
Tucking his purchase under his arm, he headed back to his car, all the while reconsidering whether he should have bought the item. He turned on the ignition and sighed. If he didn’t go bring it to her now, he’d bring it home and talk himself out of giving it to her. If she was sleeping when he got there and he was quiet, he could leave it there and she wouldn’t even know it was from him.
He pointed the car back towards the hospital.
Pulling into the parking lot, he climbed out of the car, making sure his purchase was tucked securely under the jacket folded across his arm. After all, he couldn’t be seen walking through the hospital with…that.
Stepping into the back entrance, he checked to make sure the coast was clear and the item still hidden. Quickly stepping into the elevator, he pressed the button for Cameron’s floor. It should be nearly deserted by this hour. Cuddy had transferred her out of the ICU, and any other patient probably would have been sent home by now, but Cuddy wanted to make sure that Cameron was looked after. He wasn’t entirely sure whether it was because of potential liability since the attack happened on hospital grounds, or because it was Cameron. Probably the latter.
He approached her door and peeked through the glass, shielding his eyes from the glare and saw her curled up in bed facing away from him. He checked the monitors quickly and noted that heart rate and blood pressure were within the normal range for someone asleep, so he quietly opened the door and slipped inside.
Quickly removing his offering from under his jacket and placing it on the bedside table, he left the room as quietly as he came in. She would see it when she woke.
House had been jumpy all morning. He’d been avoiding Cameron’s room. Well, he usually avoided Cameron’s room when there wasn’t a crisis, but this morning more so than usual. He’d been avoiding anyone who normally went into Cameron’s room. He’d even walked to the other end of the hospital to take the elevator instead of using the one near diagnostics, just so he wouldn’t have to walk past her room to go hide with coma patient. Cuddy had been looking for him, so his office was no longer a safe place. Something about clinic duty. She’d sounded pissed when she didn’t find him in his office, and he wasn’t about to announce that he’d ducked under the desk to avoid her.
He flipped the television to General Hospital and pulled out his gameboy, propping his feet up on the edge of the table. He thought back to the previous evening. He assumed he’d found the gift by now. Did she like it? She probably thought it was stupid. At least he’d brought her something, right? It was more than he’d done for his own mother last time she was in the hospital. Admittedly, that was just gallbladder surgery. And it wasn’t as if it was his fault his mother had been in the hospital…
He realized he’d just missed the better part of his soap, and his game had timed out twice over. Curiosity getting the better of him, he hit the off switch and pocketed the gameboy, making his way to Cameron’s room, a large amount of trepidation slowing his steps. He told himself that he didn’t even have to go in. He could see the gift from the window. He should be able to tell if she had picked it up. If she liked it, she’d have picked it up, right?
He heard Chase’s voice float down the hallway. The wombat was apologizing to her again for setting off her panic attack a few days ago. Typical Cameron. She was being too nice. Forgiving him. Telling him not to worry about it, that she was fine, that she would be fine, and he shouldn’t give it another thought.
“Hey! Where’d you get that?” uh oh.
“Someone left it here last night. There wasn’t a card.” She sounded curious. Not scared. Good. He hadn’t thought until later that it might frighten her to have someone leave anonymous presents in her room.
“My cousin wanted me to get her one of those for her birthday. Those things are about a hundred bucks! Add in shipping it to Australia, and it was a bit painful.”
House cringed. He wanted to make her smile. He didn’t want her to know what the damn thing cost.
“You must really like your cousin.” Cameron laughed.
“She’s a good kid.” A pause. “And you have no idea who left it for you?”
“I have a few guesses. I’m sure the security cameras could confirm, though.”
Cameras. He hadn’t thought of that. He made a mental note to go bribe the security guard for the tape. It wouldn’t be the first time. There had been that time that he and Stacy had … he slammed the door on that train of thought quickly. There was nothing but pain and anger down that road now.
House froze. She couldn’t think it was from him, right? He didn’t do stuff like that.
“Well, House, maybe.”
Uh oh. How the hell did she figure it out?
“House? You think house would buy you a --“
“I think he’s the only one around who would leave something without signing his name. Pretty much everyone else who might bring me something has, and they’ve left a card.”
“Good point.” Chase acknowledged.
Ugh. He should’ve thought of that. Next time, sign a name. Preferably Wilson’s. Wilson would be confused, but he’d go with it. Better she think it was from Wilson than that House had gotten her something that might be, in some people’s opinions, maybe slightly mushy. Only slightly.
“It’s really sweet, isn’t it?” Cameron asked, and House cringed. He didn’t really care if Cameron thought he’d done something sweet. Cameron was a girl. She thought everything remotely nice is ‘sweet’. Chase, on the other hand… He really did not want Chase thinking that he was sweet. He really did not want Chase thinking he was sweet on Cameron. There were enough rumors around the hospital about the date that wasn’t. Cameron did not need rumors now. Especially rumors that weren’t true. He did not like Cameron. Well, not that way. She was okay, for a girl; she even liked monster trucks, and yeah, she was hot, but he still didn’t like her that way!
He heard Chase and Cameron saying their goodbyes, and backed away from the door, waiting. Chase left the room a moment later and stopped short when he saw House’s glare. “Not a word about that…thing. To anyone. Especially Cameron.”
Chase nodded quickly. “If she finds out for sure, it won’t be from me.”
“Cuddy wants me in the clinic. Seeing as how Marfan boy is stable, go put in a few hours.” He was amused to note that Chase seemed relieved to escape the encounter with only clinic duty.
After retrieving the security video and disposing of it, House worked late that evening. Well, working wasn’t exactly the right term for it. House stayed late in his office playing gameboy. That was more accurate.
He waited until the clock ticked eleven, stood and made his way upstairs, as had become his habit since… well, since all this started. He had convinced himself that he was making sure the nurses were doing their job. When there isn’t enough supervision, people get sloppy. He had noticed that people tend to be sloppy a lot less when he was breathing down their necks. And it had the added benefit of making them nervous.
He stopped in front of Cameron’s door, glancing inside. She was asleep in the dark, curled up on her side, facing the door. He was pleased to note that it appeared as though his gift had brought her some comfort; that had been his intention. She looked so peaceful; it took him a moment to tear his eyes away from her, because even though she was sound asleep, held tightly in her arms was the Vermont Teddy Bear he’d left for her yesterday.
She’d only had one panic attack this week. It was an improvement, down from four last week, and it had been easier to talk her down. He was a bit concerned that she seemed to be reacting more to his voice rather than his words. He didn’t want her to rely on him psychologically; it probably wasn’t healthy, and once she went home, he wouldn’t be around her much outside of work.
Cuddy had arranged for her to see someone in psych. Actually, two someones. Dr. Westein seemed to be working out well, but the first guy had given Cameron anti-anxiety meds that she didn’t want, and accused her of not wanting to feel better when she didn’t take them. Apparently, she’d exploded at the shrink, and had told him where to go and how to get there. Even though that didn’t sound like Allison, he realized that she probably had quite a bit of anger built up, and he was proud. Not only had she actually stood up for herself, she’d even borrowed some of House’s insults to do it. Something about the guy having his head so far up his ass he could see his own uvula. He made a note to himself to stay off of Cameron’s bad side for the foreseeable future.
He was hiding in his office, hoping to keep Cuddy and clinic duty at bay for the hour left in the workday, when Foreman strode in. “You are going tonight, right?”
House looked at him blankly. “Going where?”
“To Cameron’s. The party.” He’d almost forgotten. Cuddy had run out of excuses to keep Cameron in the hospital, as everything had healed except her fractures, and the stitches for the spleen surgery were being taken out today. Chase, Foreman, Wilson and Cuddy had arranged a “welcome home” party for Cameron that night. Wilson said she’d been pleased that her friends had taken the time to move all her stuff for her, although she’d been a bit worried about the Steinway until he had told her that House had taken care of it.
“No.” The last thing House wanted was to be stuck in a house with a girl who should hate him, koala, a car thief, a guy who used way too much hair gel, and Cuddy. Too many co-workers after hours. He’d far prefer going home to his scotch and his piano. Wait a second… piano? As much as he loathed playing for an audience consisting of more than himself, this was a Steinway. Exceptions could be made for Steinways. If he played softly, everyone would probably ignore him. “Maybe.”
Foreman put on his best glower. “She’s hoping you’ll come.”
“Cameron hopes for a lot of things. She hopes the world will be filled with cute fluffy bunnies and disaster will stop lurking around every corner.” House snarked.
“No.” Came the voice from the doorway. Both men turned to see Cameron leaning against the door frame. “I know better than that.” She looked very pale in her black sweater and jeans, and the still fading bruise on her cheek stood out starkly against her skin.
“Aren’t you still supposed to be upstairs?” House snapped, more than a little disturbed that she’d heard his remark. He’d forgotten for a moment that now she knew very well that the world wasn’t a kind place. He hoped that knowledge wouldn’t change her too much. Cameron wouldn’t be Cameron without that unsinkable optimism.
“No. They let me out.” She looked over at Foreman. “I was hoping for a ride home? I’m still on a few too many opiates to be comfortable driving.”
Foreman shrugged. “Sure. I’ve just got to finish up my charting.”
Before he quite knew what was going to come out of his mouth, House blurted “I can take you now.” For a moment, he was a bit surprised at himself for the offer, but then realized it was perfect. He could get his hands on the Steinway for a bit; although he didn’t like an audience, as doped up on pain meds as Cameron was, she hardly qualified as an audience, and then he could put in a very brief appearance at the party before calling it an early night.
Cameron seemed surprised at the offer, but hesitantly spoke “Um, okay.”
House nodded and grabbed his keys and draped his coat over his arm. “You okay to walk all the way to the lot?”
She nodded. “I’ve got a broken cheekbone and ribs. No broken legs last I checked.”
She walked slowly, obviously her ribs were still causing her pain. He guessed she wasn’t taking nearly enough of whatever was in the pharmacy bag in her left hand. “Where’s your jacket?”
“At home, I guess. The one I was wearing…” He vaguely remembered one of the nurses cutting it off her after her pressure dropped in the ER. They had to get to her veins quickly.
Wordlessly, he handed her his wool coat. The same coat he’d draped over her shoulders that night. There had been bloodstains on the lining, but the cleaners had done a good job. She opened her mouth to protest and shut it when he raised a finger to silence her. “Just take the damn coat.”
Apparently she realized that this was an argument she was not going to win, so she slipped the coat over her shoulders, slipping her hands and the pharmacy bag into the pockets. The coat was knee length on him, so it was almost to Cameron’s ankles.
It was lightly snowing, and he’d taken the ‘vette. Nobody had stolen his parking spot today, so he wasn’t too far away from the entrance. They got to the front door, and she froze.
He turned and gave her a curious look, and she looked down, ears turning pink. “I’m sorry. I just haven’t been out there since - I’m being silly.”
“Sounds like a perfectly normal reaction to the location of a traumatic experience.” House observed. “Car’s right over there. I can pull it up to the door.”
She shook her head. “The car is thirty feet from the door. Silly to move it to get twenty feet closer. And I have to go out there sometime, right?”
House made a mental note to tell Cuddy to move Cameron’s parking pass to the other lot.
He grasped her elbow firmly as they stepped outside, and she looked down curiously. He answered her question before she asked it. “It’s icy. You’re high on whatever it is that they shot you up with -“
“Dilaudid, I think.” She supplied.
“Dilaudid. You’ve got four broken bones already. Wouldn’t want you to slip and add a wrist or coccyx to your collection.” They arrived at his car, and he escorted her to the passenger side, opening the door. After all, he didn’t want her to twist the wrong way and aggravate her ribs. She seemed surprised at the gesture, but let it go.
In the car, Cameron snuggled down into his coat, closing her eyes as they left the driveway. Lucky he already knew where she lived now; she wasn’t in any state to be giving directions. He was also disturbed to find himself slightly jealous of his own coat. Shaking off the strange feeling, he started the engine and the heater, and flipped on the radio for the traffic report.
He pulled into her driveway and glanced over, and as he expected, he found her asleep. “Cameron?” No reaction. “Cameron!”
He shook her shoulder slightly and she stirred and yawned like a sleepy kitten. “Hmm?”
Her eyes widened. “I’m so sorry!”
“Stop apologizing and wake up enough to walk to your front door.”
“Are you coming in?”
He shrugged. “If you want me to. It’ll save me the drive back here in two and a half hours.”
“You’re coming to the party?” Surprised. So she didn’t expect him to actually turn up.
“Foreman has demanded my presence under threat of I don’t know what. You interrupted before he’d finished.”
He noticed she seemed a little disappointed that he was only making an appearance due to threat of Foreman-wrath. “Sure. Come on in. I’m guessing the guys figured out how to hook up the television.”
He followed her indoors. Her new home was spacious. Vaulted ceilings, tile floors. Probably had great acoustics. He noted the new alarm panel by the door and wondered if it had come with the place or if Foreman had anything to do with it.
She slipped the coat off and hung it on a hook by the door. “Make yourself comfortable. I’m going to grab a quick shower and a change of clothes. I smell like a hospital.” She smelled just fine to House, but he knew better than to mention that. Normally, teasing Cameron was fun. Now, he wasn’t sure how she would react. Her emotions were all over the place, and he figured they probably would be for a while.
She ducked upstairs, leaving him to explore her new home. The den seemed fairly normal. Sofa, television, stereo. Nice stereo. He wandered into the living room, where he saw it. It was beautiful. Mahogany, fleur-de-lis pattern carved into the legs. He opened the key cover. Real ivories, very slightly yellowed with age. Not the plastic wanna-be ivory that pianos were made with now, but real, honest to god actual ivory. He’d seen ivory keyed pianos in museums, but had never actually played one. He guessed this piano was about a hundred years old, if not older.
He raised the lid and examined the inside. Whoever had been caring for this piano had done a meticulous job, and he knew it hadn’t been Larry. The bill he’d gotten was only for tuning and getting the dust out of the case. The inside of this piano gleamed. He propped the lid on the shortest prop stick. It wasn’t right to play a grand with the lid closed, but the longer prop stick would allow too much sound for the room.
Unable to resist any longer, he pulled out the bench and played a simple scale, noting with pleasure the sharp action of the keys and smooth texture of the ivory. It was very different than plastic. It had a more intimate feel, somehow, more alive.
Unable to stop himself, Chopin flowed from his fingers, followed by Beethoven and Mozart. He finished with a smooth little Tom Waits blues number and finally let his hands fall from the keyboard and jumped slightly when he heard soft applause behind him.
Cameron was sitting on the couch, listening. “That was beautiful. I heard the music upstairs and thought it was the television. I’d guessed that you played, since Wilson said you’d sent your piano guy here, but that - my grandmother played like that. I don’t think it’s been played since she died. I’m glad someone else is able to do justice to the instrument.”
He had no idea how to respond to that. He was phenomenally flattered that she felt his playing did justice to this beautiful creation, and found himself pleased that she’d stopped to listen, although he didn’t know what to make of the feeling. “Thanks.” He replied, unable to think of anything else, and pushed the feeling to the back of his mind. He hadn’t had anyone listen since Stacy, who never bothered to remark on it. She had simply treated it like any of House’s other hobbies and wouldn’t have complimented him on his playing anymore than she’d have complimented him for beating Resident Evil Four.
“They’re going to be here in about ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes?” He’d been playing for over two hours? How long had she been listening?
She nodded. “I came downstairs and sat down to listen, and I guess we both lost track of time.”
He stood, leaning on his cane and trying to cover his surprise that she’d been listening for over an hour. The doorbell rang, saving him from needing to reply. She stood and headed towards the foyer.
“Cameron.” She turned back to him. “The keys are yellowing. Leave the key cover open. Light will bleach the ivories back to white.”
“Thank you.” She smiled, and turned to answer the door.
The party had gone better than House had hoped. He spent most of his time talking to Wilson while surreptitiously observing Cameron on the other side of the room. At one point she had commented that she felt like she should give everyone a tour of her new home, but that would be silly, since they had all seen it before she had. House pointed out that he hadn’t, and Cameron had laughingly given him permission to poke around.
Permission granted, House wandered upstairs, relieved to get away from the crowd for a few moments. He flipped on the hall light, noticing the small bookshelf in the hallway was covered with picture frames. One in particular caught his eye. An antiqued silver frame, Cameron in a pretty white dress and a young man next to her in a suit and tie. She held a bouquet of lilies and was smiling up at the man. He picked up the frame to examine the photo closely. Her wedding day. She looked happy, but sad at the same time. She was smiling, but it wasn’t that carefree, sparkling smile he was used to. It was a small smile that didn’t reach her eyes. He didn’t know it was possible to look that young and that old at the same time. Absently, he wondered if she knew that lilies were sometimes said to represent death.
He picked up another photo. Obviously Cameron and her mother. Cameron looked to be about five, wearing a white dress and a daisy crown, held securely in her mother’s arms and holding a rather beat up teddy bear by the leg. He felt better about his gift, knowing she liked bears as a child. He’d had one too. His mother had given it to him and he’d taken it everywhere. A shadow came over his face as he remembered his father throwing the bear away, telling him that men didn’t play with stuffed bears. Pushing the memory to the back of his mind, he continued to wander around upstairs.
The second bathroom seemed ordinary enough, so he moved on to the room nearby, a spare bedroom that had been turned into an office. Cameron’s iMac sat on a mahogany desk that he’d guessed had also been her grandmother’s, and a futon sat against the back wall. He rolled his eyes when he discovered that her grey computer mouse sported whiskers, ears and pink tail. That was way worse than making girly “G”s.
The next room was also a spare bedroom, this one filled with boxes. He guessed these were the personal items the guys had been told to stay out of. Glancing at a few labels, he smirked. “Lingerie. Who the hell labels a moving box ‘lingerie’?” He didn’t pause to contemplate that this apparently meant that Cameron had enough lingerie to fill an entire moving box. “Diaries.” He was temped for about a half-second to take the lid off of that one and snoop, but realized that he’d either end up reading about her dead husband or about her perceptions of her job, as it didn’t appear she had much of a social life here. All her friends were work friends.
He dismissed the diaries and poked his head through the double doors at the end of the hall. Obviously the master bedroom. His eyes widened as he took in the sight of her bedroom. Girly “G”s and sickeningly cute computer mouse aside, Cameron’s bedroom didn’t have a trace of pastels or floral prints. The furniture was more mahogany, sturdy and elegant, but not something he’d describe as feminine. Not masculine either, though. More classic. The centerpiece to the room was a four-poster bed. The bedspread and window curtains were a deep burgundy velvet, and he noticed that the pillowcases, and therefore probably the sheets, were either silk or satin. Some kind of soft looking shiny fabric. King sized bed. Candles on the dresser. Allison Cameron either really liked sex or really liked her creature comforts. Maybe both. This wasn’t the kind of room he’d have pictured for her, but now that he thought about it, he didn’t have a problem picturing her in the room.
Once again, he consciously redirected his chain of thought. Cameron had always been smart and beautiful and kind and well, Cameron. That was why he had hired her. Brains and beauty, or at least, a beauty willing to use her brain, was a rarity in House’s experience. He had no idea why he was having these thoughts about her now. Now, of all times. She’d just been through a severe trauma. This was not the time for him to be perving over one of his minions.
Maybe it was the trauma, though. He’d spent more time with her on a personal level over the last two weeks than he had in the last year. Of course, most of that time had been averting panic attacks. It wasn’t like they’d had actual conversation. He’d just talked to her, held her, and helped bring her back to reality. But here, alone in her room, he admitted to himself that it had felt good to hold her. Not good in a sexual way; that had been the last thing on his mind when she was crying, but just nice. Human contact, soft curves, nice smell. Just nice. It had been a very long time since he’d held a woman like that.
He poked his head into the master bathroom, taking note of the Jacuzzi bathtub. He wondered for a moment how Cameron could afford all this, but remembered that Foreman had said she’d gotten some money from her grandmother’s estate.
He checked the clock and noticed the late hour. Wandering back downstairs, he said his goodbyes, took his coat from the hook, and headed home, tossing the coat on the front seat.
The first thing he noticed when he walked in his door was how cold it was. He checked the thermostat, and realized that it was set appropriately, and realized that the heat had gone out. No heat in the middle of a snowstorm. Okay, it wasn’t actually a snowstorm, more of a small dusting of snow, but still. It was damned cold. An hour later, he managed to locate his portable heater in the back of the kitchen cabinet, behind the soup pot. He didn’t even remember he owned a soup pot.
He moved his coat off the couch, reaching for the outlet on the wall when he heard the sound of crumpling paper. Paper? He ran his hand down the cream colored wool and pulled a white paper bag out of the pocket. Shit. He realized that he had Cameron’s meds. Opening the bag, he discovered vicodin and flexeril. Given the broken bones and muscle pain that sometimes came with broken ribs, she was going to need these. He sighed, grabbed his coat and keys, and headed back to her place, noticing that the storm had gotten heavier. They’d have a few more inches by morning.
Turning onto her street, he noticed that all the streetlights were out. No porchlights or lights in windows either. Apparently, the storm had interfered with the power.
He pulled into Cameron’s driveway, noticing that all the other cars were gone. That was good. He didn’t want his colleagues to know that he’d just driven forty-five minutes in a snowstorm to bring Cameron her forgotten painkillers. He felt a bit stupid himself, but he knew what pain was, and he knew how bad it could get when medication wasn’t available. She wouldn’t go without medicine she might need if he could help it.
He knocked sharply on the door with his cane and waited a few moments, then knocked again. A soft voice came through the door. “Who’s there?”
“Cameron, it’s House.”
The door swung open. “Sorry. I couldn’t see it was you. The lights are out.”
He held out the bag with her medicine. “You left these in my coat pocket.”
She took them gratefully. “Thank you. I’d been looking for these.” He nodded and started to turn to go. “House?” He turned back. “I was going to make a cup of tea. Would you like one? It’s cold outside.” She seemed nervous. Too nervous to just be asking about tea. He observed her and realized that this was her first night in a new home, after a traumatic attack, and the power was out. Of course she didn’t want to be alone.
“Tea sounds good.” He could sit with her for a while if that was what she wanted.
She stood back so he could enter and headed toward the kitchen. A brief search of her cupboards assisted with House’s keychain flashlight resulted in locating the teakettle. Cameron rinsed the kettle and filled it with water, turning the gas stove on with a click.
The light from the burner flame illuminated the room, giving her skin a soft, golden glow. She had changed her clothes and was now wearing a snug tank top and flannel pajama pants. Noticing her pajamas caused him to remember the candles he’d seen in her bedroom. “Why are you here in the dark? I saw your candles upstairs.”
She shrugged. “Candles, but I couldn’t find matches or a lighter in the dark. They’re probably still in boxes somewhere.”
After a brief search of her pantry, House located a box of spaghetti, hoping it was the right kind. Setting it on the counter, he ignored her confused look and told her “Stay here where there’s light. I’ll go upstairs and grab a few candles.”
He headed upstairs, stumbling once on the steps he couldn’t see, and grabbed four candles off her dresser. Once downstairs, he set the candles on the countertop and grabbed a spaghetti noodle. He carefully slid the noodle under the kettle and into the flame, and when the pulled it out, a small flame burned merrily at the tip. He lit the candles and ran water over the burning spaghetti.
Cameron looked at him in appreciation. “I didn’t know you could do that with spaghetti.”
“Only sometimes. Some brands burn while others will just smolder. You had the right kind.”
She poured the tea and handed him a cup, placing the candles on a ceramic tray. “Let's sit in the living room.”
She set the tray on the coffee table with a few stone coasters underneath, and handed him a coaster for his tea. They sat in silence for a few minutes until House finally spoke. “How are you doing, Allison?”
She looked up and he guessed she was surprised at his use of her first name. “Okay, I guess. As well as can be expected. Some days are better than others, but I guess you know that.”
He nodded, knowing she was referring to her panic attacks. “If you need anything, you know you can call me. Or Wilson. Or Foreman.”
She smiled and raised an eyebrow. “But not Chase?”
“I wouldn’t trust the wombat with anything important. Confidentiality isn’t his strong suit.” House stated, slightly bitter about the time Chase had snitched on him to Vogler.
“No. It isn’t.” Cameron agreed.
They lapsed into silence again, and he held the teacup in his hands, letting it warm his fingers before he finished the tea and set the cup down. He saw her eyes slide over to the empty cup. “More tea?”
He shook his head. “It was good, but no, thank you.” He picked up his cup and motioned to hers. “More?” She shook her head; hers wasn’t finished. He took his cup into the kitchen and rinsed it in the sink. He had no qualms about letting dirty dishes sit in his sink, but for some reason didn’t feel comfortable leaving his dishes for Cameron to wash later. At least not in her home. She washed his coffee cup at work all the time.
He headed back into the living room, not sure whether he should sit down or head home. The snow hissed as it struck the glass of the window.
“House?” She clasped her cup in both hands and looked up at him. “There is one thing you could do for me.”
“What’s that?” He raised an eyebrow, curious.
“Play the piano for me? Just for a little while.”
She was inviting him to play that beautiful instrument again. It was late and he was tired, but it was a Steinway, and she had asked. He nodded and sat down on the bench, sliding it over towards the high end of the keyboard so he was sitting on one side. He motioned to her to sit next to him to watch, and she took a last swallow of tea along with one of her vicodin, and set the cup down, standing and moving toward the piano. However, to his surprise, she didn’t sit on the bench. She grabbed a pillow from the back of the couch and tossed it on the floor, settling herself down in front of the bass keys to his left. “This way I’m not in your way, but I can still watch.”
“What would you like to hear?”
“Anything, really. Just not Beethoven’s fifth.”
He nodded at the mention of the dark-sounding symphony. “That’s best with an orchestra anyway.”
He’d run through most of his memorized classical repertoire earlier so he began to play more of the blues tunes he’d picked up. There was something about Tom Waits’ music that was just so right for instrumental piano. He started with “A Sight for Sore Eyes”. It was a lesser known piece, but the tune was delicate and beautiful. He thought she would like it. His hunch was confirmed when she smiled and said softly “That’s pretty.”
His only response was a nod, and he slowly allowed himself to lose himself in the music. He wasn’t sure how long he had been playing when he felt a warm weight on his left thigh. He looked down and saw that Allison had rested her head softly against his leg. It was the good leg, and he realized he didn’t mind, so he continued to play, fingering melodies with his right hand while his left came to rest gently on her head, fingers tangling in her curls.
After a few more songs, he realized she’d fallen asleep. It was no wonder; it was late, she’d had a long day, and she had taken painkillers she wasn’t used to. “Allison? Wake up.” He touched her shoulder and she looked at him, sleep blurring her eyes. “You’re going to get a sore neck if you fall asleep like that.”
She nodded and stood slowly. “A few more songs?”
“If you go lay on the couch. You’re not used to vicodin, so you’re going to fall asleep again.” He didn’t mind playing a bit longer. There was something almost magical about this piano, something that let him reach out and touch a place with his music that had eluded him before.
She ducked into the den and returned dragging the giant beanbag chair he’d noticed there earlier. One of those seven foot long microfiber bags. She dropped it just inside the room and he noticed with a smile that the bear he’d bought her was sitting on the beanbag. She noticed his look and shrugged. “The couch isn’t very comfortable for lying on.”
She settled into the beanbag and he turned back to the piano, his eyes moving over to check on her occasionally. The bear somehow migrated from the end of the beanbag into Allison’s arms as she closed her eyes. He played soft, simple tunes designed to lull her to sleep. Somewhere between “All Through the Night” and “Brahms’ Lullaby” he realized she’d drifted off again. He stood and took her teacup into the kitchen, turning off all the lightswitches as he went. He didn’t want the power to come back on during the night and wake her with the lights.
He took the folded blanket off the back of the den sofa and draped it over her. He guessed her heater was gas, since it wasn’t too chilly, but just in case. He gathered up his coat and opened the front door, immediately realizing he wasn’t going anywhere for at least a few hours. The snow was falling fast, and the wind was starting to howl. The ‘vette was sporty and handled well, but it wasn’t made for these kinds of storms.
He settled down on her living room couch, using his coat as a blanket. She was right; it wasn’t that comfortable, but he’d manage.
He closed his eyes, and wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep when he was awoken by a whimper and a whispered “No!” Awake and upright in a split second, the light of the remaining pillar candle showed Allison moving slightly on the beanbag, eyes still closed. “Don’t hurt me.”
Realizing she was dreaming, he walked over and sat on the edge of the beanbag. “Allison, you’re dreaming.” He touched her cheek and felt her hand come up and clamp like a vise around his right wrist.
“Don’t.” She murmured, still asleep.
He brushed her hair out of her face with his other hand. “Allison, it’s House. You’re dreaming. You're safe at home. Nobody is going to hurt you. I told you before. I won’t let them.”
He tucked her hair behind her ear and stroked her back, trying to soothe her. The vicodin was probably making it hard for her to wake up. She quieted after a moment, her breathing settling back into a more normal rate, the movement of her eyes behind her eyelids slowing. She was no longer dreaming, but she still had a strong grip on his wrist. He tried to gently loosen her fingers with his other hand, but it wasn’t working. Finally, he gave up, turned and blew out the candle, and settled down next to her on his left side, his right arm draped over her waist, the sweet vanilla scent of her shampoo filling his nose as he closed his eyes.
He awoke two hours later to the sound of silence. The snow had stopped hissing on the window, and he couldn’t hear the wind. He belatedly realized she’d let go of his wrist. He slid quietly off the beanbag, careful not to disturb her. He pulled his keys from his pocket and turned the mini-flashlight on. Slipping his coat on, he adjusted the blanket to cover her, and, noticing the bear that had tumbled off the beanbag onto the floor during her nightmare, he picked it up and tucked it into her arms under the blanket.
Finding a real-estate agent’s advertisement notepad in the kitchen, he jotted down a quick note and left it on the fridge.
Thanks for the tea.
He slipped out the door, making sure it was locked behind him, slid into the ‘vette and drove himself home. Once inside, he turned on the space heater, took off his clothes and fell into bed. As he closed his eyes, he felt strangely empty inside. He pulled the other pillow over, draped his arm across it and rested his knee on it to take the pressure off of his thigh. As he drifted off, he somehow knew that his dreams would be influenced by memories of vanilla.
Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think! I love reviews! Not betaed, so any mistakes are mine alone.
He awoke with a jolt to the shrill sound of his telephone. Rolling over, he picked up the handset and growled "What?"
"House? It's Cameron. I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
"Yeah. What time is it anyway?" He flopped back into the pillows.
"Ah. Cuddy's going to be pissed." He really should've left fifteen minutes ago.
"When is Cuddy not pissed at you?"
"Good point." His sleep-fogged brain finally dredged up the fact that Cameron calling him at home at nine-thirty in the morning was not a usual event. "Everything okay?"
"Fine. I was wondering, if you have time, if you could give me a ride to work?" She seemed hesitant, as if expecting him to say no.
"Cameron, you aren't due back at work for another two weeks. Broken ribs ring a bell?" What the hell was she thinking, wanting to go back to work the day after being released?
"I know. I need a ride to work. I'm not going to work. I have an appointment with Dr. Westein, and I don't have my car, and even if I did, I'm still taking the vicodin, so I shouldn't drive it anyway."
He'd forgotten that she was seeing one of the hospital shrinks. "Yeah. You, driving on painkillers. We'd better tell the little old ladies to stay off the sidewalk. What time is your appointment?"
"Not until one, but I'll bring a book or get some charting done or something while I'm waiting. Something non-strenuous."
"You do my charting, and you've got a ride." It was a win-win situation. Cameron got her ride. House probably got a few charts finished, and a perfectly good excuse to shut Cuddy up when she complained about him not showing up until almost eleven. Shutting Cuddy up was well worth the detour, especially if it meant shutting Cuddy up about the clinic duty he was supposed to be doing this morning.
"Deal. See you in about forty-five minutes?"
"Sounds good." He hung up, rolled over to reach his vicodin, swallowed one and dragged himself out of bed and into the shower.
Once clean and dressed, he grabbed his wallet, keys, cane and coat and headed out the door. The sharp chill in the air prompted him to don his coat, and he looked around as a familiar scent washed over him. Curious, he bent his head down to sniff the collar, and felt the memory of holding her last night push to the front of his thoughts. The soft vanilla scent hung in the wool of the coat, and, breathing it in, he closed his eyes for a moment before he realized what he was doing.
Standing up straight, he shook off his reverie and continued to his car, making a mental note to drop the coat off at the cleaners. Vanilla shampoo was a distraction he could not afford. In frustration, he swung his cane at a nearby trashcan, knocking the empty can to the sidewalk with a crash. She had been there for a year now. Why did it have to be right now, right at the wrong time, for him to notice her hair, her smile, her damn shampoo?
She was unattainable right now. That had to be it. When she wanted a date him with him, he didn't want it. Now, when intimate contact was probably the last thing she'd want, now she was fascinating. Now, she was forbidden fruit.
Deciding that he'd successfully psychoanalyzed himself, he smugly classified the feelings as plain lust and temporary infatuation and pushed them deep into the neat box in his head that he reserved for emotions he did not want to deal with. After all, lust and infatuation fade, so why should he bother confronting the feelings when nothing could ever come of them anyway?
Brushing his prior uncharacteristic self-reflection out of his mind, he shed his coat, tossed it onto the passenger seat and headed off to collect Cameron for her appointment. It appeared as if she had been watching for him, because she opened her door just as he stopped the car. He tossed the coat into the back seat as she opened the car door, still looking half-asleep, and he reached out a hand to help her in. After all, the 'vette was a low car, and she was obviously still drugged up, at least slightly. Besides, he thought he'd seen ice on that side of the driveway also, and he didn't want to have to get out and walk all the way around the car to pick her ass up off the concrete. Even though it was a particularly nice ass, he'd prefer to spare himself the walk. She let him grasp her wrist to steady her footing as she climbed in, settling back against the seat.
She yawned as he backed the car out of the driveway, and he looked over, slightly concerned. "Sleep well?" Maybe he shouldn't have left her alone last night. What if she'd had another nightmare or woken up in the dark with no lights?
She nodded. "I fell asleep on the beanbag chair in the living room. I don't remember much after making tea, though."
"You're on vicodin and flexeril. They'll both knock you out and make it difficult to think. Fatigue is a common side effect." He knew he was telling her what she already knew, but wasn't quite sure what else to say.
"Strange dreams, though. Were you really playing the piano last night, or was I dreaming?" She looked worried, as if he was going to berate her for dreaming about him.
"No. You asked me to play after we finished the tea." He pointed his eyes at the road and left them there.
"Oh. Thank you."
He didn't reply. He was still disturbed that he'd played just because she'd asked. There were things that he didn't want to acknowledge, and that was at the top of the list.
They turned into the hospital lot, and he was relieved to find his parking space unoccupied. Taking her by the elbow, he walked inside, angered to see her look down as some of the lobby staff openly stared. Apparently the incident, as he'd started to think of it, had gotten around.
He directed his most malevolent stare at the offenders. "Is there a problem, people?"
He quickly saw the heads bend back down, trying to look as if their paperwork was the most fascinating thing ever.
They stepped into the elevator and Allison leaned against the wall. "They were all staring at me."
"They were just doing what everyone else will." She looked down, studying the carpet.
"Eventually, something else interesting will happen and they'll be gossiping about that."
She wrapped her arms around herself, as if trying to protect herself from a cold that her wool sweater couldn't keep out. "It was like they were looking through me. That they could see it. All they saw was it. They couldn't see me."
"It?" House asked curiously, not quite sure what she was talking about.
"The filth he left behind. I can still feel it. It's as if all the soap in the world wouldn't help." She shivered, still not meeting his eyes.
The elevator indicator showed that they were almost to their floor. He smacked the stop button, and she looked up in surprise as the elevator lurched and stopped. He stood for a moment, facing the door. For the first time in this ordeal, he found himself angry with her. Not just angry, furious. He felt his fists clench. How could she allow a man who had to be the scum of the earth, combined with some incredibly stupid lobby assistants, make her doubt her self worth? Didn't she know better?
He took a deep breath, trying to tamp down the fury. His anger wouldn't help her now, and he knew it. Seeing him angry would exacerbate the problem, add to her feelings of guilt, and probably cause her to pull away. He didn't want to frighten her; it would be counterproductive to her healing. As far as he knew, the only people she was speaking to about the situation were himself and her shrink, and he wasn't about to say something stupid that would make her doubt his support.
Turning back to her, he took her chin in his hand and directed her eyes to meet his. He wanted her to see his honesty when he spoke, and hoped he was doing a decent job of hiding his anger. "You know this wasn't your fault."
"I went out there. I wasn't paying attention. I didn't even see him until he grabbed me, and I didn't even think to scream." She tried to look away, but he wouldn't let her.
It wasn't your fault, Allison. You should've been safe in the parking lot. It was daylight; you were at work. You weren't feeling well."
She shrugged. "Maybe if I'd seen him -" She looked back down at her shoes.
"Allison, the only fault here is his. You did nothing to deserve it, and even if you'd seen him, you may not have been able to prevent it. Second guessing yourself isn't going to help, because you did nothing wrong."
She sighed. "It's just so damn hard to believe that, even though intellectually, I know you're right."
"There you have it. Not your fault, and your brain knows it. Stop trying to analyze yourself. You're talking yourself out of believing the truth. Stop going over the what-ifs, and eventually, the rest of you will believe what your brain is telling you." He tipped her chin up with his index finger. "You believe me, right? You have to, because I'm always right, aren't I?"
"Not always." His remark had evoked the intended small smile.
"But you know I'm right about this." A statement, not a question. He didn't want to leave her any room to question this. She nodded reluctantly. He focused on her with one of his most intensive stares. "You know I'm right." She wasn't going to get away with a nod. She needed to acknowledge it.
"Yes." She whispered softly.
"Yes what?" He knew he was pressing her. He hoped it was the right thing to do.
"It wasn't my fault." The same soft whisper.
"What?" He pushed a little harder.
"It wasn't my fault!" Louder this time, more confident.
He let go of her chin. "Good. Don't forget that."
He watched her take a shaky breath, and he closed his hand over her arm in support, careful to stay to her side, to avoid backing her into a corner. "I don't like feeling like this, House. I don't want to be a victim."
"You're not." She looked up at him in surprise. He continued, "You're a survivor."
That hadn't really come out right at all; although the words carried his intent, he hadn't meant to be so harsh. He saw her nod slightly, and figured that was probably the best response he was going to get. "Ready to go?"
She nodded, still looking a bit uncertain.
He brushed his thumb over her arm lightly. "Good." He turned and released the elevator stop, and the doors opened to their floor a moment later.
She took a tentative step out and he was about to remove his hand from her arm, but she paused and appeared to draw strength from the contact, so he left it there as he guided her to the couch in his office.
He seated her on the couch and grabbed a pile of files and a pen, setting them on the end table at the edge of the couch. "Here's the charting, but only if you get bored. You should probably rest instead." She nodded. As an afterthought, he removed his gameboy from his coat pocket and wordlessly placed it on top of the charts, hanging the coat from the hook behind the door.
"I've got clinic duty. Need to keep Cuddy off my ass, you know, but if you need anything, page me." He gave her his best pleading look. "Please, page me." She smirked and he added, "I'll make sure that someone is here to walk you to your appointment."
She looked like she was about to protest that she didn't need a babysitter or escort, but she didn't, and instead reached over and picked up one of his charts.
He gave her a last look and left the room, heading down to the clinic. Maybe he could get lucky and avoid Cuddy en route.
House sat in an empty clinic room, hiding from Cuddy and thinking. He had walked Allison to and from her shrink appointment. Another reason to skip out on clinic duty, of course, and an opportunity to glare at anyone idiotic enough to stare at her. Dr. Westein's office was on the far end of the hospital, and by the end of the walk, he'd been ready to smash in a nose or two with the cane. The first two or three stares, Allison had stared back. The next few, she had looked away, until she had just stopped looking up entirely. She had been leaning towards him, as if the pressure of the stares was pushing on her, and his left hand on her elbow became an arm around her shoulders.
He had left her at Dr. Westein's door, and promised he'd be back in an hour. When he came back, she looked pale and shaken, and her eyes were glassy and eyelashes damp, but her shoulders were back and she carried her head just a bit higher. She didn't ask where they were going as he steered her a little further down the hall to the elevators. He hit the button for the basement morgue, and they walked through the deserted concrete corridor back to the elevator that stopped near diagnostics.
The only person they met in their hallway was Wilson, who flew by with a file folder and a quick wave. She hadn't said a word the entire walk back, and he hadn't asked questions. Her therapy sessions were private, and if she wanted to tell him, he figured she would sooner or later.
Back in the office, she sank down onto the couch and pulled her legs up, resting her head on her arm. He had told her he would be back by five to take her home, and left with a slight wave acknowledging her soft "thank you."
And now, he sat in the empty clinic room hoping Cuddy wouldn't find him. Here, he was in the clinic, and therefore technically doing clinic hours, but not actually seeing patients. He needed to think. If Cuddy came along, he'd have to retreat to the roof. It was cold on the roof, which meant nobody else would be out there. However, it also meant he would be cold too, and that was bad. Cold made his leg stiff.
He propped his feet up on the exam table and put his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Healing the body was something he knew how to do, but Allison's wounds weren't physical, and he had no idea how to help heal the mind. The psychology of rape was way out of his knowledge base. Was he saying the right things? Doing the right things? Was it okay to touch her? He did know that victims often didn't want to be touched, but Allison seemed to find comfort in it. Was that doing more harm or good? He had no idea whether his actions were helping her or hurting her.
But there was someone who would know. Perhaps he could pump her for information.
He bolted up out of his chair and was slightly out of breath by the time he'd made it to his destination. As he opened the door, the dark-haired woman behind the desk looked up in surprise. "Doctor House. What can I do for you?"
"Dr. Westein. I have some questions. About Alli - er, Cameron." He stammered, suddenly questioning whether or not this was a good idea.
"You know I can't tell you anything specific about our sessions."
"I don't need to know what she's told you. I need to know what I'm supposed to do."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know whether what I'm doing is what I'm supposed to be doing, whether it's helping or not."
Dr. Westein nodded and stood. "I see where this is going. My next appointment isn't for two hours, so I've got some time. Let's step into the back and we can talk."
"You're not going to make me lay on a couch and tell you all my secrets, are you?"
The doctor chuckled. "I see your reputation is well deserved. No, I won't make you tell me anything. I thought we could sit at the conference table and I could give you some information."
House followed her and soon found himself seated at her table with a glass of water and a pile of pamphlets in front of him. Dr. Westein sat next to him and opened one, handing it to him.
"This one explains the typical stages the victim goes through. I'll go over them with you, and then you can ask any questions, and then we'll move on to the friends and family perspective. It's just important you know what to expect." Dr. Westein took a sip of her own water and continued.
"The first stage is called the crisis stage. Here, the victim experiences a lot of shock, panic, fear, and sometimes denial. Fear is the biggest issue in this stage. Usually fear of being alone, of the rapist coming back, or fear of places that look similar to the location of the attack. There's also quite a bit of anger, and sometimes guilt or shame because they're either consciously or subconsciously believing the myths that place blame on victims."
"Allison was doing the guilt thing today."
Dr. Westein held up her hand. "Don't talk to me about Allison. I don't have her permission to talk to you, so today will have to just be general discussion."
He nodded his understanding. "Okay. So we've got panic, fear and guilt. Check."
"Also, in the first stage, some victims don't want any physical contact, while others find it reassuring. You just need to read the victim and follow their lead here."
One question down. Only about a billion left.
"The second stage is denial, which is exactly what it sounds like. Usually, the victim will stop talking about the rape and go out of their way to act like everything is normal. Here, they tend to either think that everyone else is tired of hearing about it, or they try to shut out their pain by ignoring it."
That told him a little about what to expect later on. Acting better doesn't mean actually better. Good to know.
"Next is what we call the suffering stage, which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. Here, victims tend to experience fear, nightmares, sometimes changes in eating and sleeping, and sometimes changes in sexual patterns. You're looking at more mood swings, anger, guilt, and maybe even flashbacks. The most important thing to realize here is that the victim's sense of security and control has been completely devastated, and sometimes they will turn to destructive behavior."
Okay. It looked like he'd be dealing with guilty, panicked Allison, then Allison pretending nothing had happened, and then back to guilt and panic with mood swings and anger thrown in. He could handle this, right?
"We call the fourth stage 'resolution', although it really isn't a stage, per se. You'll probably see bits of this stage all along the process, depending on how quickly the victim is able to confront their feelings and integrate the rape as a very real part of their life, albeit a very painful event. This stage is really where feelings get resolved, although steps back into earlier stages aren't unusual."
House took a gulp of his water, wishing in the back of his mind that it was scotch. "So, crisis, denial, suffering and resolution."
The doctor nodded and handed him the pamphlet. "Take this with you; there's a lot more information here that you can look over later."
She grabbed a new pamphlet. Purple this time. "This one explains about the reactions of family and friends. You'll probably see some of this in yourself, and some of it in the victim's friends and colleagues as well."
Okay. Red pamphlet is Allison's reaction. Purple pamphlet is his reaction and everyone else's. Red and purple. Simple enough.
"Denial is usually a pretty common reaction, although it depends on the situation. It's more common when the victim appears uninjured."
He motioned for her to move on. Nobody was denying what had happened. She saw his impatience and switched to the next topic.
"Fear is also fairly common, especially if the person has been in a situation that places them in a position of responsibility over the victim. This is especially common with fathers, brothers, and sometimes supervisors of victims."
Supervisor. Okay. This he should pay attention to.
"Sometimes if a person is experiencing fear, they will be extremely cautious with the victim, sometimes overprotective. The concern is usually very reassuring to the victim in the days and weeks right after the rape, but caution must be exercised so as not to take control away from the victim. The victim needs to make her own judgment calls about when she needs protection and when she doesn't, and those calls must be heeded."
So, he should protect her when she wants protection, and stop when she doesn't. This is sounding a lot easier than it probably is.
"Probably the most common reaction among friends and family is anger."
Anger. Check. He definitely had that.
"Sometimes, a person may want revenge on the rapist. Vigilante justice usually causes more problems than it solves, because now the focus needs to be on the victim, not the rapist. Anger at the victim is also common, especially if the victim has put herself in danger somehow, or is reacting in a way that is counterproductive."
He recalled the scene in the elevator this morning and inwardly cringed, slightly annoyed to find himself detailed so clearly in some shrink pamphlet.
"Friends and family of the survivor also commonly experience guilt."
"The most important thing someone can do is to recognize that they are not to blame, and that it's the attacker's fault and nobody else's."
He was getting an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. This was the chat he'd had with Allison this morning, and he was finding that he didn't particularly like being on the receiving end.
"People in this situation need to recognize that instead of wasting time blaming themselves for something they had absolutely no control over, that concentrating on the positive things that can be done now is far more important."
Concentrate on the positive. Gotcha.
She pulled a green pamphlet out of the pile. "This one has the information in it that you were looking for."
Alright. Red is Allison. Purple was himself and everyone else. Green was the important one.
"First off, the victim needs to be reassured that the rape hasn't changed how their friends and family think of them, that they're still loved, and that everyone knows it wasn't their fault."
Reassurance. He could be reassuring. This was doable.
"It's common for people to want to step in and take care of the victim, but it needs to be remembered that rape makes victims feel out of control. The victim needs to make her own decisions about their life. It's okay to ask if they want help, and how, and it's okay to help if asked."
Ask, don't decide. Help when asked. He could do that. Maybe. He'd have to work on the deciding part.
"The victim needs to know that there is someone willing to listen to them without putting any pressure on them to talk. They need to understand that talking promotes healing, and that someone is there whenever they are ready."
Availability to talk. Allison knew that, right? He'd have to make sure.
"The most important thing here is to be sensitive the needs of the victim. The victim might want to be held and comforted, or they might not want to be touched."
Allison was definitely the wanting to be held type, if the calming effect it had on her was any indication. His own reaction to holding her, however, was sending his mind off in directions that ought to be marked 'here there be dragons.'
"Friends and family need to keep in mind that the victim is not afraid that they will be hurt by someone close to them, however, sometimes contact can bring up the feelings of fear and violation stemming from the rape. The victim needs to know that she can speak up about what is comfortable and what isn't."
She knew that, right? Maybe he should tell her anyway, or maybe that would embarrass her. Since he couldn't get any advice out of the shrink that was specifically about Allison, he'd have to play that one by ear.
He walked out of Dr. Rita Westein's office with a bag of pamphlets and information, feeling better and far more confused at the same time. He'd been polite and thanked the doctor, but balked when she suggested he could come back and see her on Friday if he needed to. A shrink was good for Allison. Shrinks were not for Gregory House.
It was almost five o'clock, so he headed back to his office to collect Allison. He stopped short when he saw her, fast asleep on the couch, with his coat tucked half under her head and the other half as a blanket, legs pulled up under the coat and shoes kicked off next to the couch. He wasn't sure whether to be relieved that she was comfortable and resting or miffed that she had stolen his coat.
He saw that she'd finished three of his charts, but there were still quite a few left. He picked up the stack and headed to his desk. He could finish the charting while Allison finished her nap. Otherwise, Allison would feel guilty and insist on finishing it herself.
An hour later, he'd gone through several more charts. It was getting late and he was getting hungry, so he walked over to the couch and sat down on the end, pondering the best way to wake up Allison. Startling her would be bad. He looked down and saw the edge of her foot peeking out from under the coat, and, although he knew it was an evil thing to do, ran his finger along the sole of her foot, tickling lightly.
She stirred, and he yanked his hand away before she could figure out what he'd been doing. "Allison?"
She blinked a few times and yawned lightly. "House? What time is it?"
"Around six. Ready to head home?"
She nodded and looked down, blushing when she realized she still had his coat. "I'm sorry. I should've asked." She looked away as she handed it back to him.
"It's okay." And to his surprise, it actually was.
He escorted her out to his car, and was pleased to see her take a breath, square her shoulders, and walk into the parking lot without a pause, the snow swirling lightly around them as they made their way to the car.
Once on the highway, Allison turned to him "House?"
He glanced at her and saw her look away nervously. "Hmm?"
"Can I ask a favor?"
"Didn't I tell you yesterday that you could?"
"I don't want to take up too much of your time. You've probably got plans this evening."
He shook his head. "Hooker's not 'til tomorrow night."
The comment got the expected smile. "Do you mind if we stop by the grocery store? There's not much food left in the house."
"I've got time. Which one?"
She directed him to a large store a few blocks from her house. Inside, he followed around patiently while she did her shopping, sighing mentally as he saw what she was putting in her cart. What did she need diet food for? She'd always been thin, a bit too skinny, and she'd lost weight during her stay in the hospital. Besides, diet food always tasted so… diet. To House, food was something that should be enjoyed, rather than merely consumed. Allison didn't seem to realize this. House was going to have to remedy this flaw.
She pretended not to notice when he switched her organic peanut butter for Skippy and her whole grain cereal for Froot Loops. By the time he swapped her non-fat lemon sorbet for a pint of Cherry Garcia, she turned around, hands on her hips, pretending to be angry. "You really are about five years old, aren't you?"
He shot her his best innocent look, and, although she tried very hard not to laugh, she chuckled, rolling her eyes. His master plan of amuse and distract appeared to be working.
After that, he kept a running commentary about what went into her cart, complete with gagging noises at the jar of dill pickles. She picked up fresh fruit and veggies, along with a basket of mushrooms, ignoring his comment of "You realize that's a fungus, right?"
After checkout, he helped her load the groceries into the trunk, and even carried a few bags into the house for her.
"You all set here?" He asked.
"Yeah." She paused for a moment. "Um, I was going to make pasta for dinner. Would you like to stay?"
He froze. Another evening alone with Allison. This could be a very bad idea. She wasn't just a colleague anymore, obviously. He didn't spend hours late at night holding a colleague because she had a nightmare. She certainly wasn't a friend. He couldn't steal her sandwiches or call her at three a.m. out of boredom like he could Wilson. She wasn't a lover, obviously. What was she, then? She didn't fit into any of the neat little boxes he used to classify people. What the hell was he supposed to do?
"House?" He suddenly realized he'd been standing there staring at her. "It's okay. Forget I asked."
She started to close the door, and he blocked it with his cane. "Food? Sure. I don't think I have any of that at home. Unless scotch counts as food." He decided he could stay for a bit, if she wanted company. After all, he had told her to ask for whatever she needed. And, of course, there was the offer of food that he didn't have to cook or call for delivery.
He trailed inside after her and settled in the kitchen. He watched as Allison chopped vegetables and put pasta on the stove, and after he once again reminded her that mushrooms were fungi, he was shooed from the kitchen. He amused himself by going through Allison's video collection. As she brought in steaming bowls of pasta, something caught his eye.
"You have Jeeves and Wooster!"
She nodded. "I've never seen those. They were my grandmother's."
House immediately popped the discs into the DVD changer.
She had brought in glasses of chianti for them, and he raised an eyebrow. "Painkillers and alcohol, Dr. Cameron?"
"I've only taken one pain pill today, and that was hours ago."
House eyed her suspiciously. "Then you're not taking them often enough. They're there so you're not in pain."
"I'm not." He watched as she caved under his suspicious glare. "Well, not a lot. I just took some ibuprofen. The vicodin makes me feel high."
"Not everyone would find that a negative."
"It makes me feel out of control."
His mind flashed back to his conversation with Dr. Westein. Feeling in control would be important to her. "As long as the pain is manageable. Otherwise, you'll have trouble getting comfortable and sleeping, and that will delay the healing. You know the ribs should start feeling much better in a few days. It's been almost three weeks."
"Believe me, I'm looking forward to it. It would be nice to be able to laugh without wincing."
He nodded and hit the play button on the remote control. The wine was good. The pasta was better. The sauce had come from a jar, but Allison had doctored it with fresh veggies and some kind of meat. House was a competent cook, but cooking for one was usually more trouble than it was worth, and he certainly wasn't going to cook for Wilson. That would be way too weird.
At the end of episode one, the empty pasta bowls had been placed on the end tables. By the end of episode two, House had his feet on the coffee table, after looking over at Allison cautiously, making sure he wasn't going to be yelled at for it. Halfway through the next one, Allison had tucked her feet under her, yawning and covering herself with her blanket, but insisting that yes, she was awake, and wanted to see the next episode. By the beginning of disc two, her head was resting on his shoulder as she napped.
House found himself yawning halfway through the second disc, but realized he couldn't get up without waking Allison. She'd been having so much trouble with nightmares that he didn't want to disrupt what little peaceful sleep she could get. He leaned his head back, again inhaling that subtle vanilla. She was soft and warm against him, and it was a pleasant feeling, but his arm was falling asleep.
Gently, he lowered her to rest her head in his lap, and she curled her knees, snuggling closer to him in her sleep. He reached down and grabbed the corner of her blanket, pulling it over his legs while keeping her covered to her chin. Tentatively, his hand moved to brush her hair back, and he found that even now, with her hair tangled and her cheekbone still puffy and mottled green and yellow, she was beautiful. His hand tangled in her hair as he pulled it away from her face, the back of his knuckles tracing her jawline.
Her hair was soft and she smelled nice, and he couldn't help but notice how soft her skin was where her arm brushed his. Settling back into the couch, he tried to relax and just enjoy the contact, but he found himself unable to quiet his thoughts. This wasn't like him. He had never let Stacy sleep with her head in his lap, and they'd been having sex. He wasn't one to touch a woman like this unless it was going to lead to sex, and there was definitely no sex on the agenda. Gregory House was not the snuggling kind, but he hadn't known it could feel like this. This feeling of contentment was utterly alien.
He couldn't remember what Stacy's shampoo had smelled like, but he felt that he'd never forget Allison's vanilla. No, not Allison. Cameron. When did he start thinking of her as Allison? She was his employee, his colleague. That's all.
But if that was all, then why was she asleep with her head in his lap, and, more importantly, why was he letting her stay there?
He wasn't sure if it was the morning sun streaming through the window or the throbbing pain in his right thigh that woke him, but he realized he was awake and somewhere unfamiliar. As sleep left his mind, he remembered. He'd fallen asleep on Allison's couch. With Allison. He looked down to find her still sleeping peacefully, using his left thigh as a pillow, the blanket still wrapped around both of them.
He fumbled in his pocket for his vicodin, and belatedly realized he'd left it in his coat, which was draped over the far end of the couch. He didn't want to move. Moving meant disturbing Allison. She was comfortable; he didn't want to wake her. She'd been having so much trouble sleeping. He reached for the coat, remaining as still as possible, and managed to snag it with the tip of a finger. He tugged it across the back of the couch towards him until he could reach into the pocket for his pills. He dry swallowed one and set the bottle on the side table, leaning his head back, closing his eyes and waiting for relief.
"House?" Allison opened her eyes and started to sit up, but the weight of his arm resting across her shoulder made her hesitate. "What time is it?"
"A little past sunrise, I think." Since she could easily get up if she wanted to, he didn't move his arm. She was warm and soft and, aside from the pain in his leg, he was comfortable, and he didn't understand why, but he didn't want her to move. The thought was disturbing, but he was awake enough to realize that he was not awake enough for any kind of deep self-reflection at this point. "Go back to sleep."
"But you can't be comfortable like this." She protested despite the obvious fog of sleep still in her mind.
"I'm fine, you're fine, it's a little past five a.m., and we're both tired. Sleep."
He felt the vicodin begin to take effect and again rested his head back on the couch as he felt her snuggle down into the blanket, her head back on his thigh. His hand gently stroked up and down her arm, listening as her breathing evened out into sleep, and his eyes closed as he followed her.
He woke with a start to the ringing of the phone. Allison jumped, looked confused for a moment, and snatched the telephone off the side table. "Hello?" Her face paled as she listened to the caller on the other end of the line. "Yes, I see. But you know I don't remember… I'll be there… Goodbye."
He watched as she slowly replaced the phone in the cradle and turned back to him, leaning against the cushions, eyes downcast. "They caught him."
He let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "They're sure?"
"Officer Sullivan said they found him a few days ago. He waited to get the DNA results back before they called me. He wanted to be sure." Although her words were directed at him, her eyes remained on the floor.
"So there was a match?"
She nodded. "They want me to go try to pick him out of a lineup. But I don't remember! I told them I didn't remember!" The morning sun turned her tears into drops of liquid gold as they slid down her cheeks. She turned a tearful face to him. "How do you not remember the face of the person who raped you?"
He felt an icy cold go down his spine. This was the first time he'd heard anyone say that word aloud, other than Dr. Westein, who was so clinical and professional that it really didn't count. Everyone had been saying things like 'the incident' or 'the assault', rather than calling it what it was. A rape. He'd used the word himself a few times, but this was the first time he'd heard it from the mouth of another person about Allison, and it was Allison herself who'd said it. Rape. Hearing the word, hearing it from her, made it more real somehow.
"You know morphine causes memory loss." He couldn't meet her eyes. He'd given her the morphine, knowing that it would relieve her pain, but also knowing that it might make her memory of the events fuzzier. He'd thought that would be a good thing at the time, that maybe making the events seem more distant would make things easier for her. It seemed he'd only made them harder.
As if she knew his thoughts, her hands gripped his arms. "So do concussions."
"So there's no way to know what caused the memory loss." She pointed out, and he had to concede that she was right.
"They want you to look at a line-up?"
She nodded. "Four o'clock today."
"I'll pick you up at three."
"House, you don't have to - I mean, I haven't been taking the vicodin. I can drive myself." She protested weakly.
"Afterwards, you won't be in any state to drive yourself home. Nobody would." His tone left no room for argument.
She nodded. "I just don't like you seeing me -" her voice trailed off.
"Seeing you what?" he pushed.
"Weak!" she spat out angrily. "Look at me, all shaking and crying! It's been three weeks! It happened. I've accepted that it happened! I shouldn't be still crying about it! I'm stronger than this, damn it!"
"Nobody's stronger than that!" He found himself almost yelling at her. "Something terrible happened to you! You can't just stand up and walk away. It doesn't work like that!"
"I know that! Dr. Westein keeps telling me that 'healing is a process.'" She parroted. "I don't want a damned process! I just want to feel like me again!"
"You will." He grasped her shoulders. "It just takes time."
He left Allison's house shortly afterwards, both of them a bit uncomfortable and uncertain of how to act when waking up with each other after a strictly platonic night of comfort and cuddling. After talking with her about her memory, he'd begun to feel the walls closing in on him, and just wanted to get out. He had no idea what to do. One minute, he wanted to hold her and swear that nothing bad would ever happen to her again because he wouldn't let it, and the next minute, he wanted to shove her away and get as far away as he possibly could from her and the confusion she seemed to bring with her. It felt as though he couldn't quite catch his breath, couldn't slow his thoughts down enough to make any sense of them, to put them back into the ordered boxes he was used to.
Although he had clothes in the trunk of the 'vette and Allison certainly would have let him shower there if he'd asked, he went home to shower and change, and grabbed a coffee and donut on the way to work. After all, she would not be in to make coffee today. Her next shrink appointment wasn't for another few days, and she was still on leave.
In three short weeks, his entire world had been sent spinning off-kilter. He was used to being in control, and everything that had happened to Allison, everything that was happening, was so far beyond his control that he wanted to turn around and run as far away as he could. But he couldn't let himself run. He'd promised her he'd be there for whatever she needed. Somehow, he just couldn't bring himself to break that promise.
The hands of the clock dragged. He didn't know if time was moving so slowly because Cuddy had finally corralled him into doing some of his clinic hours himself, or because he was nervous about the afternoon. He'd never been to a line-up before. Not that he was going this time. They probably wouldn't let him in with her, but he'd be right outside. Cuddy had no problem with allowing him to leave early, after he told her where he was going. She was still bending over backwards to do anything for Allison. He knew that while part of it was concern for potential lawsuits, not that Allison would sue anybody, but as administrator, it was Cuddy's job to worry, the other part was concern for Allison, a desire to make things as easy for her as possible, and some misplaced guilt herself that such a thing could happen on the grounds of her hospital.
He left the hospital at two, although Allison's house was only a few minutes away. He wasn't sure if she was going to need calming or convincing to get her out the door, so he wanted to allow time for the unexpected.
He rang the bell, and she answered quickly, dressed comfortably in jeans and a tank top with her feet bare. "House! You're early!"
"I figured I could talk you into making coffee. Chase and Foreman have no idea what to do with a coffee machine."
"You could always make it yourself." Allison smiled.
"But that would mean making it myself." House protested. After all, coffee-making was one of the reasons he had underlings.
"Alright. I think I've got some fresh beans."
She turned, and he noticed something white peeking out from behind the strap of her tank. He reached out and snagged the strap. "What's that?"
She pulled away. "Nothing."
"It looks like a bandage. Bandages aren't nothing."
"It isn't anything you need to worry about."
"It's obviously something that requires a bandage. Bandages need to be changed eventually, and you can't reach that one."
He didn't say anything. He just folded his arms and glared, knowing she'd cave. He waited. Five, four, three, two…
"Fine. You want to look, go ahead."
She turned around and slid the tank straps off her shoulders, allowing him to pull the back of the shirt low enough to reveal the entire bandage. Whoever had applied the dressing had done an excellent job.
As he peeled back the tape, he wasn't sure what he was going to find. A scrape, a stab, a burn? What he found was the last thing he'd ever expected to find on Allison.
He found the most exquisitely beautiful tattoo he'd ever seen in his life. A phoenix rising from ashes and flames curled gracefully over her shoulder blade. The bird was fierce, delicate and graceful all at the same time. The art held all the feminine grace that was Allison, with a backbone of pure, fire tempered steel.
A tattoo didn't seem like something he would associate with Allison. Remembering what Dr. Westein had said about potentially self-destructive and out of character behavior, he started to worry, but his eyes danced over the flames and ashes, finally understanding why she chose a phoenix. "You said you wanted yourself back. This was your way of taking it."
She took a breath in and let it out slowly. "I guess so. When I was getting dressed this morning, I saw the scars. The surgical scar, other small scars that weren't there before. Permanent, ugly marks that I didn't put there and don't want. Every time I look in the mirror, I'm going to see those and remember what he did to me!" She tipped her chin to indicate her shoulder "This mark was my choice."
She looked better, stronger. He had to admit that. It looked like what she'd done had been good for her. There was that little glimmer of defiance back in her eyes. He knew that she still had a long road ahead of her, and he hoped she knew that too, because even though the tattoo represented her repossession of herself, she was far from recovered.
He resisted the urge to touch the design, knowing that it was basically an open wound, however beautiful. He rested his hand on the curve of her shoulder instead. "Does it hurt?"
"Now? Not really. Feels a bit like a sunburn."
"And when you got it?"
"It hurt, but in a good way." Normally, he'd throw out a sadomasochistic innuendo, but this situation wasn't normal. He held his tongue. Regardless, she seemed to see what he was thinking. "House, I'm not a masochist. That's not what I meant. I wasn't tripping on endorphins, well, not much." She conceded. "It's really hard to explain. It was a 'good' hurt. Emotionally, I guess it was similar to lifting weights at the gym, pushing yourself through that extra set. It hurts, but afterwards, you're so happy and proud that you survived it."
He raised an eyebrow. "You are aware that you're describing a textbook definition of 'tripping on endorphins'?."
She didn't argue, but instead glanced at the bandage in his hand. "I need a new bandage now. That one isn't sterile anymore."
He nodded and snagged a bandage from her first aid kit, gently replacing the one he'd removed. House normally wasn’t a fan of tattoos, but this one- this one was so Allison. Not Allison of three weeks ago, but Allison today. Not the naïve medical fellow, nor the victim, but the survivor. She'd taken back her body, and she'd done it her way. And it was beautiful.
They drank their coffee and although Allison was quiet when he mentioned that it was time to leave, she went without protest.
At the police station, they were directed to a waiting room. Allison sat down on the couch, staring at the floor. She twisted her fingers nervously, picking at her nails, her face expressionless, staring downward as if counting the specks in the floor linoleum was the most crucial mission ever.
House helped himself to a cup of horribly bitter coffee and, noticing the teabags, brought Allison a cup of tea. She accepted it gratefully, wrapping her cold hands around the warm cup, sniffing it delicately. "Chamomile?"
He nodded. "Natural sedative. Reduces anxiety."
She eyed the tea dubiously. "I don't think it'll help much."
House shrugged. At least holding the tea gave her something to do with her hands. She was going to claw her cuticles bloody without some kind of distraction.
He sat next to her, not quite sure what to do with himself. He tossed his cane back and forth from one hand to the other until Allison had apparently had it and snatched the cane away. He schooled his face into a hurt look, lip quivering. "You'd take a cane from a cripple?"
She rolled her eyes and handed it back. He was relieved to have gotten some kind of expression out of her beyond the blank stare she had been wearing. She finished her tea in one long gulp and set the cup down on the table.
"Miss Cameron?" The uniformed officer looked around the corner. "We're ready for you."
Allison stood slowly, and House rose along with her. The officer frowned. "Sir, you need to stay here."
"Like hell I am." House growled, doing his best to be as intimidating as humanly possible.
To his supreme aggravation, the officer was apparently immune to his best glower. "I'm sorry, sir. Only witnesses are allowed in the line-up room."
He glanced quickly at her name badge. "Officer Milligan, is it?"
She nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Allison's been through hell. She is not doing this alone."
Milligan stepped back. "You can walk with her, but you can't go in. We can't risk anything at all going wrong with this. We're doing everything by the book. My supervisor isn't going to let this guy walk on a technicality."
He looked at Allison, seeking some kind of answer, a reassurance that she would be okay alone. He found it. That spark that he'd seen earlier, the little glimmer of phoenix fire in her eyes. His hand found her elbow. "To the door, then."
They reached the door of the line-up room, and he turned to Officer Milligan. "A moment, please." Even though Allison looked fine, that didn't mean she was. He was going to make sure she was okay with this. She had had her control brutally ripped away from her. He was going to make sure she knew she had it back.
He leaned his cane against the wall, resting both hands on her shoulders intently. "Are you okay with this?"
She nodded. "I have to do this."
"You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. This is your decision. They can't make you go in there if you don't want to." He held her gaze, trying without actually saying the words to let her know that he wouldn't be disappointed in her if she chose to leave.
"I want to do this. I don't think I remember, but when I see him, I might. I need to help. I need to make sure that this doesn't happen to anyone else."
"That's not your job." He looked at Officer Milligan. "That's their job."
"I know." Allison replied. "I just want to make sure I do everything I can."
"If you're sure?" He asked again.
"I'll be right outside."
She stepped forward and hugged him. "I know. Thank you for that." She kissed him lightly on the cheek and turned away from him toward the officer. "I'm ready." Officer Milligan opened the door and walked inside with Allison, closing the door behind them.