By R.J. Anderson 2006
The afternoon sunlight streamed through the glass doors of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, burnishing the lobby tiles to gold. Leaning heavily on his cane, Gregory House limped across the floor with a clinic folder in his free hand, his rumpled brown jacket and black t-shirt a dark blot against the brilliance. The rigid set of his jaw and the speed with which he was loping made most people instinctively move out of his path, but his colleague and best friend James Wilson was undaunted. He kept pace with House all the way to the elevators, doggedly pursuing a conversation he had started some minutes before:
"Look, it's been how long since you dated anyone? Stacy's out of the picture, looks like for good --"
"Definitely for good," said House, jabbing the elevator's UP button with the end of his cane. "Although I'm told some people have a hard time believing that. Or so the anvils you've dropped on my head seem to subtly imply."
Wilson's mouth twisted ruefully. "Yes, well, I actually meant 'for good' in the 'permanent' sense."
House shrugged. "Sure, that too." Tucking the folder under his arm, he fished his bottle of Vicodin out of his pocket and thumbed it open, then popped one into his mouth and said around it, "So what's your point, Yenta?"
From anyone else that would have been a dismissal. From House, it was practically an invitation. Encouraged, Wilson went on: "All I'm saying is, it might be time to try again."
"Timing doesn't matter if there's nobody I want to date. Tell you what, how about you try again? You're a lot less picky than I am."
"Are you saying you don't know any women that interest you? Not one?"
"Nope." The elevator doors hissed open, and House limped forward.
Wilson followed him. "What about Cameron?" he asked as the doors closed.
"Cameron's a child."
"Oh, right, I forgot I was talking to the poster boy for emotional maturity."
"And I forgot I was talking to the expert on relationships."
"Nice," said Wilson, his thick brows lifting in acknowledgement of the hit. "The point is, Cameron's been here what, three and a half years now? She's seen you at your worst -- well, some of your worst, anyway -- and she still hasn't given up on you. Don't you think that proves something?"
"She hasn't given up because it's her job and she needs the money. So you're saying I should pay her to go out with me? Oh, wait, that's a different job."
"You think the job means that much to her? She's smart, she's experienced, she could easily find something else. It wasn't that long ago she had an offer from Yule at Jefferson and the only reason she didn't take it is because you begged her."
A fleeting look of irritation crossed House's face. "I didn't beg her. I don't beg."
"No, you just rejected every possible candidate to replace her, and then you went to her apartment and asked her to come back. You even agreed to take her out on a date. For you, that's begging."
House rolled his eyes. "Whatever. That was two years ago. You said yourself she's changed."
"Not that much. She's still attractive, and available. Make that very available."
"Well hey, if you think Cameron's so special, why don't you date her?"
"Haven't we been here before?"
"I like the scenery," said House, and stepped off the elevator.
"So what's the problem?" House persisted as the two men made their way down the hall toward their respective offices. "Unlike your last three wives, she's not going to complain about your choice of career."
"We're too alike."
"Oh, come off it."
"I'm serious. Think about it."
"I am thinking about it. It's still moronic. Cameron still can't bring herself to tell her patients they're dying, and you do it twice a day. With finesse."
"I've had more practice. That's not the point."
"You keep using that word 'point'. I do not think it means what you think it means."
"Well, of course there are some differences. Big ones, even--"
"I can think of at least two." House paused, considering. "Don't know I'd call them big, exactly, but..."
"Oh, forget it." Wilson shoved open his office door and stalked in. "Go do something you're not supposed to be doing. That'll make you feel better."
"What makes you think I need to feel any better?" House raised his voice as the door began to swing closed. "I'm on top of the world."
Wilson didn't bother to answer.
* * *
"Heads up, my children," said House, tossing the folder onto the conference table. "Found this one in the clinic just now -- nice of Cuddy to finally make my day worthwhile."
Foreman, who was closest, scooped the file toward him and flipped it open. "35-year-old African-American female presents with severely swollen, itchy left arm... allergic reaction?"
"Oh gosh, why didn't I think of that?" said House sardonically.
"She's been on antihistamines," said Cameron, walking around to look over Foreman's shoulder. "And tried several other allergy medications over the past month. No improvement, no change."
"No evidence of trauma?" asked Chase with eyes still fixed on his crossword, then winced as a dry-erase marker bounced off the top of his head.
"What's a five-letter word meaning useless Aussie slacker? No, there isn't. No puncture wounds, no bruising, no recent accidents or other injuries."
"That she'll admit to," said Cameron.
House gave her a quizzical look, but she didn't seem to notice. "True," he said at last. "However, just for the novelty, let's assume she's telling the truth." He uncapped another marker. "Oh, did I mention she's a church secretary? Not exactly high on the list of risky workplaces."
"Medications?" said Chase.
"Just the allergy pills," answered Cameron before House could reply, then added with a hint of apology, "That we know of."
House raised his eyebrows at her, and this time she met his gaze. A look of confusion crossed her face, and she made a little, scrubbing gesture at the side of her nose as Foreman spoke up again: "Any neurovascular deficit?"
"Nope," said House. "Lymph nodes aren't swollen, either. Her arm just looks like a big fat sausage. Fun, huh?"
Chase dropped his crossword, reached over and grabbed the file. "Hey!" said Foreman, but the younger man ignored him, frowning down at the page.
"Blood work shows some mild eosinophilia," he said at last.
"Which would normally be from asthma or hay fever," said Cameron. "But then there's no symptoms, and her chest is clear. Vasculitis?"
House turned his back on the three of them and loped toward the coffee machine. Before he could get there, however, Cameron intercepted him. "It's broken," she said. "Still," and handed him a styrofoam cup.
House eased off the lid, and steam threaded into the air. It was the right color, too -- Cameron knew how he liked it. He took a sip, rolled the scalding liquid into the back of his throat, and said, "Ah."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Cameron drifting back to her place at the table. Once more she'd brought him coffee, without thanks or even acknowledgment -- much the same way she answered his mail, organized his case files, and handled several other administrative chores that he couldn't be bothered to do himself. Three years ago he'd been curious to know how long it would take for her to give up, especially once he made it plain that he wasn't going to repay her in the emotional currency she craved; but apparently the answer to that question was the same as the answer to the question of when Wilson would stop paying for House's lunch: never.
Now Foreman and Chase were arguing over the possibility of an axillary vein thrombosis, while Cameron ignored them both and leafed through the case file, a slight frown between her brows. House could predict the outcome right now: Foreman would bluster and insist on some wrong-headed diagnosis, Chase would throw out a half-baked idea and wait for House to shoot it down so he could play yes-man, and Cameron would --
House stopped, his eyes narrowing over the rim of his coffee cup. Just when had he stopped being certain of what Cameron would do?
"We give her heparin," insisted Foreman. "We do an ultrasound, and--"
"There's no case history here," Cameron broke in. She looked up at House, a faint accusation in her eyes.
"Oh, don't look at me like that. In fact she practically talked my leg off about her diet and exercise habits, but trust me, none of it was relevant to the case."
Cameron nodded, and was silent again for a moment. Then she said, "I'd like to take a serum sample, run some more blood work. And ask her if she's ever lived out of the country."
Abruptly House turned around, opened a drawer, and began to rummage through the jumbled contents. Finding an otoscope, he limped over to the table, bent and peered into Cameron's ear.
She flinched back from him. "What are you doing?"
"Looking for evidence of alien life," replied House.
Cameron looked blank, as did Foreman and Chase. House switched off the otoscope and stuck it in his pocket. "Well," he said, "either the invasion of the pert little body-snatchers has begun, or one of you has finally decided to learn something."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Foreman. "We all came here to learn."
"No, you didn't," replied House. "You came here to prove to me what fine doctors you are." He set his coffee down on the table and dropped into a chair, wincing at the ache in his leg. "Chase thinks he can prove it by sucking up to me no matter how much crap I dish out. Cameron thinks she can prove it by becoming best friends with every patient we treat, and you think you can prove it by continually questioning my judgment. But the only thing that proves is that he's spineless, she's unprofessional, and you're an idiot." He sipped the coffee again, untroubled by Foreman's glare.
"So... what did I do right all of a sudden?" asked Cameron.
"Aside from the refreshing skepticism about the patient's trauma and medication history, you've obviously got a diagnosis but don't want to waste my time yammering about it until there's evidence to back it up. That way you can stick to your guns and look smart doing it, instead of being indecisive or making an ass of yourself. Sounds good to me."
Cameron blinked and glanced around the room, clearly unsure of how to process anything that sounded so much like praise. Foreman looked mutinous.
"Foreman, do the ultrasound," House said to their silence. "And give her the heparin. Even if you're wrong, it isn't going to kill her. Chase, go bat those pretty blue eyes at the patient, and while you're at it, get her travel history. Her full travel history."
"It was Cameron's idea," protested Chase.
"And now it's your job. Go do it."
Chase's eyes flickered to the wall clock, and his mouth flattened, but he went. After a fractional hesitation, Foreman picked up his clipboard and followed, deliberately avoiding House's gaze. Cameron remained at the table, looking down at the client file: House waited for her to say something, but she remained silent. At last he said, with more sharpness than he'd intended, "Aren't you going to ask me why I sent Chase instead of you?"
She looked up at him in mild surprise. "Because she's got something tragic in her background, and he's less likely to be distracted by it? Because she's a church secretary, and he went to seminary? Because she's the most irritating non-stop talker you've met in a long time and it amuses you to think of him trying to get a word in edgewise? One of those should cover it -- or, knowing you, probably all three."
House was grudgingly impressed, though he wasn't about to show it. "It's five o'clock. Haven't you got somewhere better to be?"
"Probably," she agreed, and closed the file. A few seconds ticked by while neither of them moved, and then she asked suddenly, "Did you mean what you said? About me being the only one..."
"Nah, not really. Just wanted to keep Chase and Foreman on their toes."
The corners of her mouth turned down, but she nodded, as though it were what she had been expecting. Without further comment, she rose and headed for the door.
"Hey," said House.
She paused and turned back to look at him. "Yes?"
"Explain this," he went on, leaning hard on his cane and pushing himself back up to his feet. "A few months ago you hated the idea that patients always lie. Now --" he limped a couple of steps closer, his eyes narrowed -- "you're using it as an operating principle."
"Well, you were right. More often than not, it's true. I've seen enough to know that now."
"Nice rationale, but it doesn't fit. You'd seen plenty of examples last year, too. So what changed?"
She gave a little shrug. "I realized that just because everybody lies doesn't mean that everybody is a bad person. Sometimes people lie to protect other people. Sometimes they lie because they're confused. Sometimes they lie because the truth is too terrible for them to bear."
"So that means I can be skeptical without having to be cynical."
A mirthless smile quirked at his mouth. "Oh, yeah. That ugly cynicism stuff, we can't have that. I mean, next thing you know you'll be popping Vicodin and walking with a cane."
Cameron smiled back at him. "There are worse things," she said, and left.
House watched her go, then made a derisive noise and turned back to his coffee. At least the naivety hadn't changed.
* * *
Continued in Part Two
Comments and criticisms welcomed, as always.