House of Cards
Chapter Four - Coercion
Disclaimer: Still not mine. Drat.
Note: This is the last chapter of House of Cards. The sequel, Spin, should be out shortly. I hope to see you there!
He had flowers. Not roses, certainly, or Gerber daisies, or anything she recognized; in fact, they weren't even pretty. It was still absurd. She let him in wordlessly.
They stood there together, bizarre reflections of one another, two cripples leaning on their canes. House, holding the flowers out defensively, spoke first, his voice quiet and demanding and more sincere than she'd ever heard it. "Come back to work."
Cameron wished she could be anywhere but where she was. That House were there for any reason except the one that he was. There were three job offers sitting on her kitchen table and three unwritten letters. She wasn't even sure which one she was accepting.
She took the flowers and limped, half-supporting herself on her cane, to the kitchen.
"Didn't anybody teach you how to use that thing?"
Tossing a glower over her shoulder, she cut the stems and rummaged around for something vase-like. "Thank you."
House was still standing, awkward, in the entranceway, eyes unfathomable when he met her gaze. "Don't make me beg."
They both knew he already was.
She gestured towards the living room and perched on the arm of the couch. House debated for a minute before opting for what was obviously the least comfortable chair in the room.
Cameron took a deep breath and let the words come tumbling out. "I can't."
She glanced at him quickly, knowing immediately that if she looked at him again, she would go back, and everything would revert to the way it had always been, and it would kill her. She probably wouldn't even regret it properly.
The least she could do was make him understand. "I can't go to work with you every day and watch you let yourself be miserable. You pretend to be a worse person than you really are- that you do things because you have to, and not because they're right. All you ever do is push people away. How can I work with someone who won't trust anyone?" Someone who won't believe in me?
House was silent for a long time. Then he raised his head, jaw set. "What can I do to change your mind?"
Did he know what he was doing to her every time he looked at her like that? It seemed a little cruel, even for him. She answered him without thinking about it. "Prove that you trust me."
He blinked. "Okay... How?"
And this was probably the last opportunity she would ever get to straighten everything out, to give them a chance. So she opened her mouth and let herself be extremely blunt. "Take me out. On a date." She said the words staccato, to make sure he got the point.
"One date is not going to kill you. You might even enjoy yourself."
"Can't enjoy yourself?" Cameron tried not to let the sinking feeling in her stomach show on her face. "Or won't? I don't know, you seemed to enjoy the monster trucks."
"You know what I mean."
She crossed her arms, not ready to give up. "I don't think I do. I think you want me to give in and come back to work and be your mindless lapdog because you feel threatened by the fact that I might mean something to you." He didn't even bother denying it. "I'm not going to crush you."
And that, her name, her first name, on his lips, for the first time, definitely shouldn't have sounded so intimate, shouldn't have sent a wave of heat scorching down her body. It was a good thing she was sitting down.
"Please don't do this to me." She could have sworn she heard his voice break and realized-
He was terrified. The air was thick with tension.
Don't cave, don't cave, don't cave. If she didn't push now there would be no second chances. "My offer is on the table. Take it or leave it." She was quite proud of her 'there's the door' tone of voice. Of course, if House interpreted it that way, it was going to backfire on her. Her stomach hurt - goddamn you, Foreman- and her hands were shaking.
He took a deep breath and nodded, then stood and headed towards the door. Slightly less steadily, she followed him. He didn't quite turn around to speak. "I'll see you tomorrow morning. Eight a. m. sharp."
Allison watched the door close behind him and wondered what, exactly, she had just got herself into.
If anyone was surprised to see her back at work, they didn't say anything, although there was a running joke circulating about her cane. Life at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital went on pretty much the same as it always had: Allison, Wilson and Foreman scrambling to find a case House would accept, followed by several days of intense, nail-biting tests, treatments and differential diagnoses.
House still hadn't said anything about their agreement by Thursday night at five, which made her a little nervous. She wasn't sure she had the gall to bring it up again, or if it would even be worth it if she had to pull teeth to get him to own up to his side of the deal.
But he caught up with her in the parking lot before she left (which was strange, she thought, because he parked in the garage, what with his tenure and his leg and everything), a wary but superior smirk firmly in place. "Quarter to seven tomorrow," he said casually. "I'll pick you up. Wear something nice."
Fighting back the instinctual blush was just barely possible; warding off the sudden curiosity wasn't. "How nice?" Cameron knew better than to simply ask where they were going.
"On a scale of bum to opera singer? I'd say eight." A mischievous gleam sparkled in his eyes. "And wear your dancing shoes."
Then, with an impossibly quick tap-step, he was gone again.
Eight, she thought to herself, half dazed. God, I hope that dress still fits.
Cameron wasn't sure if Friday was passing in a blur, or trickling by like the morphine drip she occasionally craved. House spent the morning in the clinic handing out Kleenex and Motrin.
She spent the morning impossibly distracted, running off on occasional consults with Foreman or Wilson, jumping at the slightest noises. She hoped her skittishness wore off before six forty-five came around.
When she almost had a heart attack in the lab (she hadn't heard Foreman come in), he crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "What is wrong with you today? It's like you're afraid of your own shadow."
Oh, great. This was the last thing she needed. "I didn't sleep well last night." Not a lie. She'd barely slept a wink. It wasn't the cause, it was a common symptom of her apprehension, but Foreman didn't need to know that.
Clearly he was still unconvinced. He took a seat across from her and folded his arms. "I don't buy it. Why'd you come back?"
Now she was going to have to lie. "House offered me my job back." Practically begged me to take my job back. Not that I'm going to analyze that. She pushed the thought out of her mind. "It was easier than relocating."
"That's a good cover, but if you were only worried about the hassle of relocating, you wouldn't have quit. But you did. And I bet it wasn't just the kid either. So what changed between then and now?"
This could be trouble. She'd always known she was a lousy liar. She started spinning the test- Wilson's patient, complete blood count after first round of chemotherapy. "What, I can't change my mind?"
Foreman raised his eyebrows. "In a matter of days? Try again."
Argh. She crossed her arms. "I don't have to justify my actions to you!"
"Ah. So it is House."
Uh oh. "Right, because he wasn't just as abrasive before I quit."
"You're right. He's been in a much better mood this week."
She'd been hoping he hadn't noticed. "House's mood has nothing to do with me coming back to work." Another half-lie. Another common cause.
And then, abruptly, he dropped the subject. "Maybe you're right. I did overhear him say something to Wilson about having a date tonight."
Please let me die. Cameron knew she looked like a deer in the headlights. "That would explain a lot."
"I also thought I heard Wilson mention a certain immunology specialist."
"Are you and House going on a date?" Foreman looked like his birthday had come early.
Well, he was going to have a field day in any case. She might as well come clean. She sighed. "He showed up at my apartment Sunday night and asked me to come back to work. I said no."
Evidently Foreman liked juicy gossip as much as the next doctor. "And?"
"I told him I'd only come back if he could prove he could trust people."
"And he decided to do this by taking you on a date?"
Cameron winced. "Actually, that part was my idea."
He shook his head. "I don't get it. Are you some kind of glutton for punishment? You already spend five days a week with a guy who could corrupt a saint. Now you're giving him your weekends?"
"I am not a saint," Cameron pointed out, getting irritated. "And I'm sure as hell not trying to martyr myself! Believe it or not, I actually see something in him that other people don't. And I like it." She softened. "But it's dying. He's doing his best to drive it off. If he does--" A shrug. "That's his choice. It's a very sad choice, but it's not my place to save him." As if he'd let her, anyway.
The blood sample stopped spinning and a report from earlier finished printing. She grabbed the readout and limped for the door. "Complete blood count for Wilson, since you apparently have nothing better to do."
Ten paces from the lab, she stopped and leaned against the wall. This was definitely harder than she'd thought.
Limping around got tiresome very quickly when one wasn't used to it, and that was how Cameron found herself in the outer office with Foreman and Wilson reviewing case files, ninety-eight percent of which had no chance of getting through House's rigorous screening process.
She had just tossed folder number nine into the 'reject' pile when Wilson passed another one across the table. "This could be it."
She nodded mutely, accepting it and scanning down the list of symptoms. Mid-40s, male, normal weight. Recurring kidney stones, abdominal pain (duh, she thought to herself), spiking temperatures, low white count. And memory loss. And temporary paralysis. And every time he had those kidney stones surgically removed, the symptoms disappeared for a few months.
"Where'd you find this guy? He's going to test positive for everything under the sun!"
"Nope," Foreman said, looking up from his own copy and turning the page over for her. "Nothing."
Cameron closed the file with a sigh. So much for that date tonight. "Well, get him in here. House is going to want to see him for sure."
"I can't wait to hear about this."
She jumped, wondering how long he'd been standing there for, and reviewed the guy's symptoms as House flipped through the list of failed diagnoses and clean tests. "Admit him," he said at last, shockingly without argument, tossing the file back on the table. "He's my new guinea pig. Maybe we can get one of those neat little wheels."
"Those are for hamsters," Cameron said at the same time as Wilson cut in, "We can't."
House raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"
Wilson shifted and Cameron noted an uneasiness in his posture. He wasn't looking directly at House. Something was up. "Wife brought the file in," he said. "Husband's on a business trip in Atlantic City."
House narrowed his gaze, Wilson looked down and Foreman caught Cameron's eye. "Right!" she said, reaching for her cane, "Well, I'm going to go find the wife and tell her to get her husband over here, I'll see you later."
Foreman got up next. "I'll come with you!"
They left Wilson to deal with whatever it was he'd done and made their way as quickly as possible to the waiting room.
A tall, slender woman with long dark hair stood up, eyeing the two of them critically before making her way over. Before Cameron could say anything, she raised a skeptical eyebrow and eyed the cane. "Is that a fashion statement, or just a department requirement?"
Something funny was definitely going on here. Cameron was already regretting that they'd accepted the patient. She thought about being nice, but the painkillers twisted her tone. "Let me guess. You know Dr. House."
Foreman said, "Uh oh."
Cameron squeezed her eyes shut, mentally preparing for a week of hell. "Wilson is in so much trouble."
"Don't remind me," he grumbled, coming up behind them. "I should probably make myself scarce for awhile. How are you, Stacy?"
Stacy. Stacy, Stacy, Stacy. Cameron wracked her brains, trying to come up with a story or a comment or an uncomfortable moment to put to the name. Finally- I lived with someone once.
Oh, shit. Wilson, you idiot. You've ruined everything. House was about as well-balanced as a castle made from playing cards and this was an eight on the Richter scale.
"I've been better," Stacy Wardell admitted, launching into some disturbing small talk with Wilson.
Cameron got Foreman's attention with a nod of her head. "Race you to the elevator," she whispered.
Gregory House was not a happy man. Cameron and Foreman had practically fought for who could be out the door first- Cameron, despite her handicap, had won- and he'd been left there with Wilson, who had the guiltiest, most uncomfortable expression House had seen him wear since his confession that he would not be attending the oncology seminar.
He chose his words carefully. "Stacy's fiancé," he guessed, and was rewarded with a defeated sigh.
"Husband. Three years."
Ouch. It stung, but not as much as it could have. "And you were going to tell me about this when?"
"Well, I figured you'd want me to wait until the ducklings left the room."
Oh. Cameron and her somewhat sickening crush. His stomach twisted. He didn't want to bring her into that- didn't want her to understand what had happened to him or what he'd gone through, because that would make it about a hundred times harder to pretend he didn't care about her when he couldn't…. God, it was awful when Wilson was right. "Fine. Great. It would have been nice if you had said something beforehand. I like to be prepared."
"You would have said no."
He didn't even notice Wilson leaving the room. Stacy. Stacy was here, married, happy by Wilson's account. Moved on. Normal life. No bizarre dependencies, no lack of emotional attachment. Well-adjusted.
Oddly, he wasn't jealous of The Husband. He knew Stacy had learned a lesson about when to abandon someone, and he knew that ninety-nine per cent of the population were not people who lent themselves to being abandoned when they most needed someone. The Husband had Stacy now and that was okay. House was pretty sure he was too bitter to ever want her back.
That didn't mean he wanted to see her.
He glanced at the clock- quarter to five. Close enough for his purposes. He grabbed his cane and headed for the door, hoping to avoid any confrontations.
No such luck.
Fuck me. House took a deep breath, steeling himself, and turned around slowly.
Six years hadn't changed her. She had the same dark eyes and hair, the same slender grace, the same careless beauty. For the first time in six years, he realized he wasn't okay.
"Stacy. I'd be lying if I said I was happy to see you."
She had always had an extraordinary capacity to ignore his barbs. "I wanted to say thank you."
House didn't slow down on his way to the elevator. "I'm not doing it for you." Cameron's starry eyes looked up at his motives. You do it because it's right. Suggesting that he had a conscience after all. And that she knew about it and was going to use it against him. Fucking wonderful.
"I know." She paused. "Wilson said you were doing better."
Wilson was a dirty traitor and House was angry with himself instead of him, because really Wilson had done the right thing, too, and House was only angry with himself for caring. "This may come as a shock to you, but I have no desire to talk about Wilson." He stopped walking and turned to face her. "Why didn't you just come to me yourself?"
"I had this bizarre idea that you didn't want to see me."
Ooh, well if she was going to get snide with him- "And yet here you are. Listen, I know it may be hard for you to understand this, but it is five o'clock on Friday and I-" House blinked curiously, realizing the absurdity of what he was going to say. "I have someplace to be."
Stacy rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you do. I bet Vivaldi is just sitting in your apartment waiting for you." She softened marginally, and that made him even more anxious to leave. He continued into the elevator, hoping she wouldn't follow him.
No such luck.
"Why don't we have dinner. We can catch up; you can tell me about the work you do in diagnostics…"
"Even I lose patients, Stacy." A none-too-subtle reminder that she was supposed to be here to get her husband healed, not to reconnect with her ex-lover. A reminder for him, as well.
"Dinner?" she asked again, any warmth gone from her voice.
House took three strides from the elevator before allowing himself to turn around again. She would have to make this difficult for him. Yes, he still had feelings for her. No, he did not want any revival of the relationship they had had. Ironically, he was saved from having to make a decision. He couldn't very well back out of a deal. "Can't do it. Got a hot date."
"Oh, please. Wilson would have said something if you were seeing somebody."
That irked him. "What, you think Wilson's more loyal to you than me? I find that highly unlikely. He doesn't sleep on your couch when he's divorcing." He took out a Vicodin- just one, as he was going to be driving- and swallowed it dry. "I was telling Cuddy the other day I needed two days of crazy sex with someone half her age. I play my cards right tonight, they could be the next two days." He had absolutely no intention of sleeping with Cameron, or of taking her out again, for that matter, but he was in the habit of saying outrageous things for pure shock factor. Especially to ex-girlfriends.
Another eye-roll. Ooh, she was getting annoyed. He grinned inwardly. "What is she, a hooker?"
House fished in his pocket for the keys to the 'Vette. Stacy would always think the worst of him. She hadn't, once. "Nope," he said, sliding in and starting the 327 small block. "Doctor."