Rating: A strong R. Warnings for drug use, asphyxia, uh, general dearth of conventional morality.
Word count: 6,572
Notes: This was written with liminalliz firmly in mind: it's a pairing that she likes and a plot device that she enjoys, and I'd never have thought of attempting the idea if it weren't for her. I'm not sure at all how it will go down in terms of general consumption. It's AU, but not 'they are not doctors, they fight crime/are in a circus/fly planes!' AU, or even 'they are still doctors, but in space!' AU. A few things have changed in their histories, and a few more in their present situation.
It is disgusting how much anatomy found its way into this fic - again - but this is one of the few fandoms that I have where I can do it legitimately. And as I have been told: it's sharper than normal because it's personal. It takes my own medical ethics and stretches them into places that I'm not quite comfortable with.
take to witness all the gods
“Why did you hire me?” she asks him, three hours into the first day. She’s been insulted twice and other people have been insulted at least ten times, and he refuses to take any of the cases that she’s suggested, and now they’re watching some godawful television show on his tiny portable set.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Well,” and she struggles down the sarcasm, “I just think…if you weren’t going to use me…”
“You could quit,” he snaps at her as he flicks the top of his bottle of pills open.
“You could be less rude.”
“I’m in pain,” he snarls, and then, “and you’re very pretty,” and somehow the snarl segues into a monologue that compares her to office art and ornamental furniture and she has no idea how to react, or if she’s insulted, or if he even means a single word of it.
She holds that insistent iceberg gaze and decides that it’s not a lie, but it’s sure as hell not the truth either.
“Why did you hire me?”
“I’m sorry, Dr Cameron? Was that yes, of course I’ll go and ultrasound her skull, right away, in fact?”
She’s learning to hold her ground. “Why just me? Why does your department have only two people in it?”
It isn’t their department, yet. It’s still his department. His poky staffroom with just enough room for his coffee machine and his ridiculous whiteboard, his collection of pens, all of which are permanently on the brink of exhausting their ink and squeak in protest when he forces them into a diagnosis. As soon as she accepts partial ownership of the situation, she will no longer be able to fool herself that she is still considering resigning her fellowship and finding another one that could possibly even qualify as normal.
“Budget restraints,” he says with one of those rare moments of candour. He doesn’t seem to be laughing at anyone, not even her.
“Why me?” she persists.
He grins and looks abruptly, disgustingly self-satisfied. “Because it pissed off the misogynists that call themselves this hospital’s administration.” The sharp, arrogant spite in his voice isn’t feigned, but she decides that it’s like the comment about her looks: it might be true, but it’s not the whole truth; or rather, not the deciding truth.
“How can you stand it?” one of the nurses asks her. “Working for him?”
“Has he always been like this?” she asks in return, and the nurse doesn’t notice that she hasn’t actually come close to answering the question.
“Pretty much.” A quick sweep of her head in the direction of the Dean’s office. “They’ve got no idea how to handle him. All they do is keep chopping him off at the knees. Quick fixes. Cruel ones,” she adds, with an unwilling twist of the mouth. Despite the black market in gossip that fills the halls, not many people will speak to the other side of this particular cold war.
“But he saves lives,” Cameron says.
“But he saves lives,” the nurse agrees. “And he won’t quit. I think he does it to be obtuse.”
“Probably,” she says, and signs the charts, but she’s not so sure.
She asks him once, and only once, if he has any friends.
“Why did you hire me?”
This time she waits until he is chafing with boredom and second-hand idiocy from the clinic, and is rewarded by the way he spins his chair to face her and looks – finally, finally – nonplussed.
“You’re a good person in a bad world. It will break you eventually. Or there’s a very slim chance you will conquer it. Either option ought to be entertaining.” He juggles the pills in his palm and then throws them back.
“Right.” The observation hurts, but she keeps her chin level and her eyes locked with his. “Thank you. Why didn’t you just say so at the start? Why did you have to lie to me about it?”
“Everybody lies.” He leans back in his chair, lifts his cane and prods her with it, leaving a dusty grey smudge on her white coat. “Go and do my clinic hours.”
She does his clinic hours. He bounces balls off the wall and pulls miracles out of his pockets. She reads textbooks and journals in the cafeteria just so she can feel like she’s close to keeping up with him. He steals her lunch.
“Hey,” she protests, looking up from a fiendishly dry article on analgesic nephropathy.
“Carbs,” he says through a mouth full of pasta. “Very bad for you. How’s the reading? Are you any less stupid than you were this morning?”
“You’re pissy today.” She dares a smile. “Nobody you can terrorise?”
“Our patient’s in a coma,” he reminds her. “Terrorising someone’s no fun if you can’t see the terror. And I’m almost out of Vicodin. Sign this.”
Someone on a nearby table is laughing, shaking a pretend cane in the air, contorting their face into a mockery of misanthropy.
She regrets it later, of course, but by then they’ve fallen into a pattern.
She goes on exactly one date with one of the hospital’s radiologists, and House calls her on her cell phone halfway through the main course.
“Get in here,” he says without preamble.
“It’s my night off,” she protests. “I’m actually out…”
“It’s a matter of life and death, Cameron,” he’s saying, so obnoxiously that she doesn’t quite believe him; but when she looks down, her other hand has pulled some cash out of her purse. There is an apologetic smile on her lips and an excuse waiting patiently behind them.
“My boss…” she starts.
Her date sighs. “I understand,” and he genuinely looks like he does, which she feels bad about right up until she finds House.
“Twelve year old.” He shoves the file into her hands, and they’re standing in the hospital’s smallest, worst-lit staffroom, and his shirt is horribly creased and he’s shaking his bottle of Vicodin in a way that means he’s in a lot of pain, but his eyes are sparkling and intent. Infectious. “Twelve year old having heart attacks.”
“What?” She starts paging furiously through the history.
“My oh my, Dr Cameron,” he says, looking her up and down as though he’s only just noticed that she’s wearing killer heels and a plunging blue dress. “I didn’t interrupt anything important, did I?”
The realisation only takes a moment: “No,” she says, and starts to remove her jewellery. “Not really.”
Once a week or so he does something just outrageous enough to warrant a summoning to the Dean’s office; it’s ridiculous, it’s juvenile, watching him bounce his ball and insult people as he stands in the corridor like a little kid waiting for the principal to call him inside. It becomes increasingly easy for her to ignore the pitying glances directed at her and the yells that echo from glass to disinfected plastic to stainless steel to glass. Cameron does her paperwork, past caring about the fact that she’s clearly hovering around waiting for him, and listens to the to-and-fro of disgraceful and bite me and fired and tenure.
Eventually, of course, the word funding is shot out, and it hits him in the back as he stalks out of the room. His shoulders stiffen. Cameron sighs and mentally cuts her domestic budget again.
“Relax, we’ll just stop buying coffee and steal it from the ob-gyn staffroom instead. It’s okay,” he adds, sweeping down the hall as fast as his leg will allow. “They’re all girls. They probably exist on tea. Or maybe fairy dust.”
She’s almost running to keep up. “Why do you keep giving them reasons to punish you?”
“Why should you care?” he snaps; and for the first time she snaps back, loud and angry, grabbing his elbow and jolting them to a halt in the middle of the corridor.
“Because every time they make your life miserable, you make my life miserable, and there’s no point to it. Unless you like being miserable, unless you don’t think you deserve to be happy...”
Her wavering sarcasm trails away as House looks down at his cane, which he is swinging to and fro like a pendulum: tick, tick, tick.
He looks up at her again. “Do you?” he asks quietly; tick. Tick.
Does she? She dimly remembers thinking the best of everything and everyone in the world, and being optimistic in the way only a child can be; she remembers the gnawing child’s guilt after the death of her mother, which matured into a sense that the universe owed her some happiness to balance the loss. She remembers finding that happiness and delighting briefly in her karma, and she remembers standing twice in the same church – once in white and once in black – and measuring the abyss inside herself, carved out by the certainty that the universe cares nothing for balance in doling out death, that she was the common denominator, and now –
“No,” she says, and falls in love with him.
Ever the immunologist, she spends some time missing lab work; the expert flick of the wrist as solutions are removed from ELISA plates, the careful mathematical satisfaction to be found in serial dilutions and counting plaques. But House won’t go near patients and the nurses are excellent but far from omnipotent, so she hands all of her tests off to the pathologists and clocks far more face-to-face hours with patients than she ever has before.
Which is why it’s odd to walk past the oncology ward and see him standing by the bedside of a patient, his hands busy with the IV stand. The patient is one she’s heard about; terminal, lingering, in constant pain. Her monitors proclaim her to be asleep. House is pulling something out of a drawer and he looks so professional, so relaxed, that it takes Cameron almost ten seconds to work out what is actually going on; and then she is so shocked that she can’t move for another ten after that.
“When you think about it,” he says, his eyes intent upon the IV, “giving someone medical training is just teaching them a hundred ways to kill someone. You just have to hope that you’ve judged their morals correctly.” Then he looks up and cocks his chin and gives her a half-smile. “Funny, isn’t it?”
She takes the three steps forward, almost tripping over a wheelchair, and puts her hand over his on the IV. “You can’t.”
“Really?” To her great relief, he releases the tubes and steps away from the bed, but now he is gripping her hand instead; out of his two default settings, sarcastic and loud, he seems to be opting for the latter. “Is she going to have a better life like this? Do you honestly, truly think that the best thing for her is to be lying here taking up space and resources and just suffering?”
“That’s not the point.”
“Isn’t it?” he demands of her. “Why not?”
She wants to say because we don’t kill, but what comes out is “I don’t know,” and she blinks at herself.
“This is happening, Cameron.” He starts to turn back to the bed.
“No.” She grabs his arm, which is wiry and tense. “I’m going to tell someone.”
“Are you?” he asks, and she wants to scream because this fragile bond of theirs is shattering; it felt like it was them against the world, sometimes, and he’s just kicked it all to pieces because there are lines that she won’t cross.
He sighs and reaches out with his cane, hooking the wheelchair and pulling it closer. She feels the muscles move in his arm. “That’s a pity.”
For someone who hardly ever carries out a simple medical procedure, he’s good, he’s very good; she doesn’t see the needle, and only feels it when it slides out.
“What –” she says, two seconds before her legs give way, and hopes that she looks half as betrayed as she feels.
There is a piece of very tight gauze stretched across her brain; well, her mind, unless the mind and the brain are the same thing, and she’s no neurologist but she remembers that being one of those Problem Topics and anyway the thought that she actually has fabric in her cortical regions is ridiculous.
But it’s there.
She can think, and feel, and move, but somehow she knows that large portions of her very self have been tamped down carefully beneath this fabric that divides her consciousness into two. She can’t access them. And yet this doesn’t seem like a problem, it’s just…there. Something to be aware of.
She sits up on the couch.
“Don’t you think,” she says, very slowly, “that this was a slight overreaction?”
“Not really.” He’s inspecting a typed sheet of paper held in one hand, but with the other he throws the ball one more time. It bounces off the ceiling, hits the ground, and then rolls away.
“You are a very good doctor,” she says, “but a very bad criminal mastermind.”
He gasps in a way that she recognises as mocking. “You take that back!”
“I’ll be reported missing. If I don’t show up for work.” There should be anger there, shock, but it’s all been covered over except for a brief pang of awareness that nobody would miss her, if it wasn’t for her job.
He waves the piece of paper in her direction and then reads quickly – “I regret to inform the administration et cetera, family emergency, indefinite unpaid leave –”
“What!” she protests.
“Relax,” he says. “You’ll be staying here. I’ll be going to work and stealing some of the other doctors’ less idiotically incompetent interns and making their lives miserable and bitching about how you just up and left.”
“Sign,” he says, putting a pen into her hand.
This is an easy one. She’s done this before.
Time doesn’t mean anything. More needles – needles, conversations, humming to herself as she tidies up some of the mess in his apartment, and the enjoyable new sense that she has escaped herself, for a while.
She tries this out on him one day and he frowns. “Is it yourself that you’re escaping, or something else? Your environment can be toxic; you know that.”
“You’re doing this the wrong way round,” she tells him. “This isn’t how psychotherapy goes. I thought it was supposed to be, you know, oh, you’re hiding from your parents? No, you’re hiding from yourself. I thought it was like that. Normally.”
“You’re not normal,” he tells her, and after a moment she smiles, delighted. She’s tired today, a little fuzzier than normal. He might have misjudged the dose slightly.
“Well, that’s partly due to me, of course.”
“You have such a god complex,” she slurs, and finds herself hilarious, and closes her eyes and laughs in short exhausted bursts.
“Ha,” he says, and she imagines him looking down at his foot and then kicking his cane and then looking up, the way he does when he doesn’t want to admit that he’s amused. “Don’t we all.”
“You in particular.”
“I’ve saved enough lives, I think I’m justified.”
That evening she is feeling better and he plays the piano, lazy gentle tunes that melt into each other. Waltzes. She knows that he would have to stop playing to dance with her, but somehow this doesn’t seem important – it seems like the music will keep going, and going, and going, tripping up and down her spine forever.
So she holds out a coaxing arm to the curve of his shoulders. “Dance?”
“I’m a cripple,” he says in the sarcastic tone that’s synonymous with: you’re a moron.
“Just an excuse,” she says very clearly, and the music stops. “It is, isn’t it? For everything.”
“Would you prefer a different excuse?” he comes back with, whip-fast. “Maybe if I blamed everything on the beatings I got from Daddy?”
She is still swaying a little to her memory of the beat. “Would it be truer?”
He stands, and she waits for the savage sarcasm to arise again, but he just crosses the rug with the step-hop that he uses in the absence of his cane; and then he is standing very close, looking down at her. She wants to say something clever, feels numbly that if she doesn’t maintain a certain standard of wit and profundity then she won’t be worth his time, and she has to be worth his time, but her mind refuses to produce a suitable comment. The interest is slipping from his face; she slips her palms up to his cheeks, holding it desperately in place, chasing her own safety, and kisses him.
When she pulls away the room has stopped flickering at the edges, and he looks – for the first time in her memory – uncertain. A new thought hums across the surface of the dividing fabric, something about how she has wanted to kiss him for months now and it figures that she has to be drugged to work up the nerve. But then the thought is lost, so she kisses him again, rising onto her toes for the pressure, and feels a pink thrill of something as he kisses back.
She doesn’t think of a single thing to say until she is stretched out on the bed, but when she does, it’s such a good one that she closes her hand over his fingers where they are unbuttoning her shirt. Forcing him to look at her.
“Who are you hiding from?” she whispers.
“I’m not,” he says, but his face has gone distant, and she grins.
“We’ll work on that next week. Good session. That’ll be three hundred dollars.”
His laugh is unwilling, sudden, and she revels in it.
Her shirt is open and his hand is against her stomach and for a moment she forgets to be careful, and her knee bumps his bad leg. He winces and the next moment his hand is over her throat, which makes perfect crystal sense to her. Pain is pain.
“Dr Cameron,” he says oddly, very close, “are you in full possession of your senses?”
She giggles, effervescent, feeling lust and dark jasmine clouds swirling in her stomach. “Yes,” she hisses, and kisses him, flicks her tongue out to catch his taste.
“Liar,” and he presses down; not dangerously so, but a warning pressure.
The fabric slicing her mind in half is shimmering, and she knows that this is an important question. Not all of her morals have been condemned to the covered depths.
The air escapes easily enough: “I consent,” she says, making sure that the words are distinct. “I would have consented even…before.”
He leans down, closer. “Tell me about the symptoms of hypercapnia, Dr Cameron.”
“Hypercapnia,” she says obediently, and keeps talking as the pressure increases. “Often occurs with hypoxia. Flushed skin. Dizziness. Full pulse. Disorientation…” It’s almost impossible to speak now. Some deep part of her wants to strike out in panic.
“Come on,” he growls, with the same old impatient irritation that means she’s not thinking fast enough for his liking. It’s familiar, and therefore safe. The panic subsides and the heat floods in.
“Arrhythmia,” she gasps, and can’t –
It’s better when she stops fighting it, when she lets the clouds spiral up her oesophagus and condense in her mouth and escape through her teeth, heady and violet, spinning, burning. Of course it hurts. The clouds are in front of her eyes so she doesn’t try to see his face, just finds her way by touch. She has sensitive fingers; gentle, caring, beautiful. She would make a good healing saint if she could find anyone to venerate her.
He has stopped tightening his grip, but her fingertips are getting heavier and she pushes her hips sideways and down, wanting, gasping, wondering how badly this will bruise, picturing capillaries bursting beneath the skin of her neck. Knowledge is a good thing but she knows that it doesn’t have to stop you from hurting yourself; not if you’re a little bit convinced you deserve it. A weird clarity of thought. She is transcending herself and the chemicals.
The next kiss is harsh and brings oxygen with it, and his other hand is finally between her legs, and all it takes is a few strokes for the clouds in her fading vision to explode into fire that snakes down, down, back into her chest, consuming her.
After that, he takes her off the drugs; no slow weaning, no patches against her skin, just a sharp cessation. Two days later she kind of wants to die, and for no reason that she can really discern they get into an argument about the Hippocratic Oath.
“I can’t believe there are some medical schools that still use it ceremonially,” he’s saying moodily, sitting on the piano stool and tapping out the occasional note with his cane. She watches him from where she’s curled up in an armchair, sweating and counting her own symptoms and trying to block out the pain in her abdominal region that feels like white-hot hooks. He seems convinced that the worst is over, but she’s nearly bitten his head off every time he’s suggested as much.
“It’s an ethical symbol,” she insists.
“It’s archaic and pointless and it ends like one of those ridiculous chain letters: pass this on to twenty friends or you’ll have bad luck in love and your puppy will get run over and your nose will fall off.”
“Really?” She doesn’t recall that part; there are flames licking the underside of her skull, her hippocampal regions are gone to ashes, ashes, we all fall down and we can’t remember a thing about it afterwards.
He recites in a voice like a scalpel: “If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.”
“What’s so bad about that?” she asks, clinging to her scratchy coherence, determined to hold her own. “Enjoy my life, be respected…”
“Respected by all men? All men?” His voice rises and he thumps his cane against a nearby chair for emphasis. “What about the men who withhold their drugs from desperately poor developing nations because it’s more cost-effective to channel them to the rich? What about the men who, in the name of God, taught thousands of Africans that using condoms causes AIDS? What about the men who get away with sexually abusing their daughters for years, and years, and years? What about the men who think the practice of medicine is a financial game? The ones that call patients clients? The ones who won’t do risky, vital operations because all they care about is protecting their six-figure incomes by maintaining low mortality stats?”
Too many words.
“I can’t –”
“You don’t need their respect. You don’t need anyone’s respect when it comes with these empty qualifiers and trite expectations.”
She doesn’t want to listen any more. She wants to be left alone with the fire in her head and the hooks in her stomach and she wants to die in peace, with dignity, but all she can think is that no deaths are dignified – his words, always his words. She makes complaining noises and writhes into a ball in the chair, clutching her head, but he keeps going and going, his voice ringing in her ears, inexorable and inescapable.
“It’s all meaningless, Cameron; what the world expects of you, what your parents expected of you, what everyone expects of you every day, it’s bullshit.”
“Oh,” she sobs, and feels something inside her crack wide open. Pain and poison running through her like pus from a broken scab, leaving her hollow and exhausted.
She cries harder than she’s ever cried in her life.
She opens her eyes and he is holding her hands.
“No expectations,” he says, so gently. “Not from me.” He is stroking back her drenched hair. Time is these fragmented snapshots of him, her, action, reaction. She inhales deeply and imagines the oxygen inflating her lungs and passing through the epithelia of the alveoli and into the bloodstream, out and away through the arteries, filling her with tingling soporific warmth.
A long, long pause. She can’t read him. She is almost asleep.
“Don’t hold your breath,” he says, but his mouth twitches as he turns away.
She wakes up in a bed and has her mind again; the division is gone, all the depths are back, and everything is wiped clean and beautiful.
She knows without having to say a word that they have left family and formality behind in the old, painful life; that Cameron was purged with the rest of the toxic mess that kept her struggling through the laughable towards the impossible.
“How are you?”
She can feel herself trembling, and she’s either ravenously hungry or she’s going to throw up, but her head is clear and cold and lucid as the winter sun.
“I’m awake,” she says.
“Let’s deconstruct, shall we?”
She sets the two mugs of coffee down on the table; she has no idea what he’s talking about. She’s been back at work for two days, handling questions about her ‘emergency’ by distributing pained looks and gentle reprimands, and House has just wiped the whiteboard clean of their symptom list and filled it instead with familiar archaic words.
I swear by Æsculapius, Hygeia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgement, the following Oath.
“Deconstruct,” he repeats impatiently. “Do you believe in God?”
She used to. Perhaps.
“Excellent,” he says, approving. “Strike one!” and before she can protest the sports metaphor he draws three neat lines through the sentence.
To consider dear to me as my parents him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and if necessary to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art if they so desire without fee or written promise; to impart to my sons and the sons of the master who taught me and the disciples who have enrolled themselves and have agreed to the rules of the profession, but to these alone the precepts and the instruction.
This one takes up most of the whiteboard, and his handwriting becomes small and near-illegible near the right-hand margin. She can feel the smile twitching on her lips.
“I don’t have any sons,” he says before she can speak. “Just to take that weight off your mind. Do you?”
“No.” She lets the smile take over. “I’m enjoying the living in common, I must say, but do I have to share my goods with you?”
“I don’t think your shoes would fit me. But by all means, feel free.” He makes a loose gesture and hops over to pull down a parasitology textbook. “BP?”
“Holding steady, but that fever’s coming back.” She chews on her pen and stares at the whiteboard. “So how do we defy this one?”
“Well, I certainly hope you don’t treat me the way you would treat your father.” His eyes sweep down her face, down her body, and leave her shivering. “Unless you have a whole lot of extra issues that you haven’t told me about.”
“I didn’t think we were doing this any more,” she says, staring at the pills.
“Don’t be stupid,” he says, and bounces them up and down in his palm. “I’m just offering.”
“No need.” She curls his fingers over the Vicodin, closing his hand, knowing that it’s true. “Wait until I really hurt something.”
“Good.” He nods, unreadable, and takes the pills himself. “How about this next one?”
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.
“Do no harm.” She wraps her hands around her cup and looks at him.
“Yes.” He walks away from the table and leans against the wall. Thoughtful. “I think we might keep this one.”
She sighs, flooded with an indefinable relief, and goes to wipe it off the board.
To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death.
“Right,” she says, and takes a deep breath. “Back where we started. I suppose you’re enjoying the irony.”
“Obviously. Come on.”
She is always surprised at the sheer volume of equipment needed to keep a person alive, when all of their own organs fit so neatly inside their skin.
“He could wake up,” House says, watching her closely. “It’s been known to happen. Tomorrow those neurons could start firing again and he could leap up the food chain from vegetable to human being.”
Her eyes follow the line of the EKG with its regular morbid spikes. The respirator switch is warm under her fingers, humming in a mechanical mockery of life. “No,” she says. “This isn’t the kind of world where miracles happen.”
Click, and they leave the room.
“No miracles? God might take offence,” he says as they’re wandering down the corridor. A couple of nurses pass them, running.
She takes his arm and smiles: not quite wicked, not quite a healing saint. “Are you offended?”
Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion.
She looks up ‘pessary’ in the dictionary. “Oh,” she says, and winces. “It sounded like it would be a payment of some kind.”
“No.” He holds out a Vicodin prescription for her to sign. “But that isn’t a bad idea, considering that we no longer do abortions by simply shoving something up there and hoping for the best.”
The next time they are between patients, she drives them to a Family Planning clinic in a shabby neighbourhood, and House gets into a deafening argument with a religious protestor handing out pamphlets in the waiting room. Allison stands near the door with money in her hands and watches him waving his cane and enjoying himself immensely.
“Are you swallowing this nonsense?” he demands of a woman seated nearby, pulling a threadbare cardigan around herself and turning the coloured pamphlet over and over in her hands.
“I’m not sure,” the woman says in a shaken voice. “That’s why I’m here.”
A clinic worker finally intervenes: “I think you should leave, sir,”
“I’m exercising my freedom of speech,” he snaps. “Just like this idiot here.”
The protester glares. “Ad hominem. Very convincing.”
“That wasn’t an ad hominem,” he shoots back. “That would be if I said abortion isn’t wrong because you, an idiot, say it is. What I am saying is that abortion is not wrong, but you think it is, ergo, you’re an idiot.”
His voice has risen even further; she feels like clapping. The protestor seems to shrink back a little, licks his lips, returns to familiar ground: “Abortion is never the best option.”
“And what gives you the right to decide?” House snaps. “Your religion? The Cathars were a Christian sect. They believed that it was a sin to bring a child into the world at all, because it was trapping a soul in unnecessary suffering. They believed that this world was hell. What do you think of that, Dr Cameron?” he shouts across the room.
She swallows. “There are days,” she says coolly, “when that makes perfect sense to me.”
“There. See? And she’s smart; she went to college and everything,” he says, and Allison stands up and walks across to the woman, who has started to cry. Presses the folded money into her hand.
“Here,” she says. “Think about what you’re saving.”
“I’m proud of you,” he says, later, and she has never been happier.
I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.
“I know this one,” she says, frowning. “Stone…it means gallstones, doesn’t it? Not cutting for gallstones?”
“Well.” He uncaps the pen decisively. “We don’t even have to try for this one, do we?”
It’s she who writes the next one on the board.
In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.
“The number of times you’ve had me break into a patient’s house…”
“But that was for their own good.” He accentuates by pounding the tip of the cane against the whiteboard, rolling it backwards by a few inches.
And so it is that she finds herself digging through a woman’s apartment taking swabs to be tested for environmental poisons and stealing jewellery from the bedroom – “Here,” she says afterwards, dropping it onto the desk in front of him. “Does that qualify?”
“Almost. What about these pleasures of love?” He leers at her and she laughs.
“You think I should seduce a girl, don’t you.”
“She doesn’t have to be infectious,” he says in perfectly reasonable tones. “Maybe dying of cancer. That’d suit you, wouldn’t it?”
Their eyes meet in recognition; he doesn’t say anything more, contents himself with just that one fingertip’s worth of pressure on her sensitive spots. And she doesn’t widen her eyes and doesn’t complain. She has never been foolish enough to forget that he is dangerous.
“I do think someone would notice,” she protests, and squirms a little in her seat because even though her past has been for the most part erased, sex was never something she treated lightly.
“Well, the oath actually don’t specify who you seduce.”
“Oh,” she says; feels herself flush. The heat climbs her neck and excites her.
“Lock the doors, Allison,” he says. She knows him, she knows when he is making a request and when he expects to be ignored and when he is giving a command and never imagining that anyone would disobey. She could be almost dead and he could tell her in that voice to stand up and walk, and she would, she would.
So she locks the doors, and turns the plastic rods within her fingers so that the blinds flick shut, and then they are alone in a room with dark red walls and she is gathering her daring in both hands. He doesn’t say a word, and after a moment she lifts one foot and then the other and slips her shoes off, and then she pushes down her knee-high sheer stockings and slips those off too. Winds the ends around her palms and finally manages to look him in the eye.
“Don’t look scared,” he says. “It’s useless if you’re scared.”
The pounding of blood through the ventricles of her heart is very loud in her ears, but she walks forward and slides onto his lap until one knee is between his thighs and one bare leg stretches downwards. Neither of them look at his other thigh.
“You know,” she says, setting the silken elastic around his neck, “this would be a whole lot easier if you just wore a tie to work like everyone else.”
“Easier for you.” He makes an amused sound that she leans forward and swallows, pressing into him, carefully shifting the angle of her knee. Her skirt is around her waist and his fingertips are brushing higher up her thighs with perfect finesse.
“Will you let me do this?” She is hearing through the fog of memory the echoes of consent.
“Will you still respect me in the morning?” he says with wide, hilarious, sullen eyes.
She laughs. She pulls tight, tighter, working his jeans open with her other hand, kissing him again.
“Don’t hold your breath,” she whispers into his mouth, and pulls tighter still.
To her surprise, the final sentence appears on a piece of paper that has been tucked inside a book she is reading. She unfolds it in the messy golden light of the lamp.
All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.
She reads it twice and then refolds it, uses it as a bookmark, sets the book back down on the bedside table. House reaches across her and turns off the lamp.
“Tell me a story,” he says.
Her voice is halting at first, then stronger. They talk on into the night, breaking confidentiality agreements at every turn, and she wonders for the last time at the distance that she has travelled.
“You’re done. You’re complete.” He pulls his fingers through her hair and she almost tells him that she loves him, but doesn’t, and he smiles. “We’re going to get caught,” he says then, like a reward.
“The drugs. And a few other things. I think someone’s getting close.”
Her breath catches. “So what do we do?”
For a few long moments she not at all convinced that he is not just going to give her up to them, throw her down like a bloodied swab and walk over her body. But then he rolls onto his back and she sees his face change into a strange taut triumph. “We run,” he says. “We just run.”
Just run. She is deconstructed, completely and finally; she is broken and she has conquered the world.
“Here we go,” House mutters, sinking down into his seat and glaring at the flight attendant whose earnest gestures are perilously close to his face. “I am so glad they’re serving alcohol on this flight.”
“I haven’t flown since I was sixteen,” she says. “Be quiet – I expect they’ve found new ways to crash the plane since then.”
“No, it’s the same old crap,” he says, loudly enough that the attendant’s face flickers and someone leans around and shushes him.
The flight attendant reaches out and pretends to pull down firmly on the oxygen mask that isn’t attached to anything at all: just loops of plastic tubing wound around her fingers. Allison looks at the skin all roped up tight and at the silly yellow mask and thinks about thin air, stripped of oxygen, tugging at her lungs.
It’s been a long time but she remembers the way the clouds look from above, comforting and vast and covered in apricot light. The view is breathtaking. They are chasing the sunset, champagne in their glasses and a hundred ways to kill someone in their whispered conversation. She laces her fingers through his and gazes upwards at the place from which the oxygen masks could drop.
That night they are in a city that smells like saltwater and new money and he presses his adductor pollicus against her platysma and she arches her back against the pristine hotel sheets and dives deeper than she has before, deeper and darker until she is half-gone and can barely think at all.
Then: “Come back,” he commands, and she does.