Hello all. Originally this was going to be a later chapter of Cohabitation, but I've decided to release it as a brief one-shot instead. Subject matter may be disturbing to some, so please be forewarned.
As a little aside, a few people have asked how I'm doing, health-wise, so I thought I'd add an update here. My medication seems to be starting to take effect. I did cut my hair very short to make myself feel better about losing so much of it, but it's chin-length and supercurly and everyone else likes it better this way! All in all, I'm trying to keep my stress levels low (ha... good luck in my high stress profession!) eat well and get enough rest. Hopefully remission is in my near future! Thanks all for asking.
He heard her on the third step down. It always squeaked. He had plenty of time to drop the sweater, close the lid, pick up his jacket and go meet her at the bottom of the stairs. For a moment in time, that was exactly what he planned to do. The sweater told a story. He didn't need to hear it from her mouth. He could put it away and mull it over like he usually did. Wait until he knew he'd have the upper hand. Approach from a position of power and then get the whole sordid tale out of her.
But it wasn't a sordid tale. It was her life, and he was rummaging through it.
"House, what're you doing down here? Faking injury at the bottom of the stairs isn't going to get you out of shopping for a new washing machine. The thing's been on its last legs since I moved in here, and I'm not going back to using a laundromat like I did in college."
Cameron walked from the light that spilled down the stairs, to the light of the bare bulb that hung in the center of the basement. Stark white light, and House's tones of grey and a pale yellow sweater that looked like it should belong to a doll. For a second she froze. She could turn and go right back up the stairs. Forgot that she'd seen him standing there. Forget that those pale blue eyes, black in the dim light, were pinning her like a butterfly to a card. Searching her for her last remaining secrets. Secrets she'd always planned on telling him. Someday.
She took another step forward, thin shoulders rising and falling, a shrug and a sigh.
"You were right."
House dropped his hand and the sweater with it, fine yarn brushing against wide-wale corduroy. He never backed away from the truth, but this time he wanted to. He wanted to go back to breakfast, eating eggs and stealing bacon off of her plate while she laughed and slapped at his hand.
"Allison…" and there it was. Her name. Even now he only used it when it meant something.
"A long time ago, you guessed it." Her eyes were still focused on the sweater instead of his face. "Your first instincts are usually right."
"Actually, my first instincts are usually wrong, and then two seizures, a heart attack and a biopsy later, I come up with the solution," House said, breaking the mood and then wishing he hadn't. Joking shouldn't be allowed now. His hands clenched, one against wood and one against wool. "I guessed and I proved myself wrong," he said tightly.
"Medical records don't show everything."
"We don't have to talk about this." He was giving her an out. That was a lie. He was giving himself an out. Whatever she was going to say was going to be messy and emotional and he still didn't know how to deal with her when she was like that.
"It's not going to go away, even if we don't talk."
She stepped closer and reached down for his hand, collecting the sweater without touching his skin. With gentle fingers she folded and smoothed, tracing the pattern of a cable. She'd always wondered how complicated things were knit. She hadn't gotten a chance to ask her grandmother before she'd died. The tag was still attached and it hung loosely from the neck, slightly bent and yellowed with age. Twenty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents. A ridiculous amount for a sweater that would only fit for a few months, but she had slid her card across the counter and paid for it without thinking and had then kept it in her bedside drawer, looking at it every day for four weeks.
"You know," she said, almost conversationally, "he was healthy. Right up until the last month."
House closed the trunk with a muffled thud and eased himself down onto the lid. He watched as Cameron leaned against the wall and slowly lowered herself to the floor, sliding down, rough cement scratching her back through her cotton blouse. She still wasn't looking at him, and House was getting more and more uncomfortable.
"He'd gone through radiation and chemo before the wedding. I told him the military look worked for him." She gave a one-shoulder shrug, face relaxing as she remembered. "A Christmas wedding. It was sappy and tacky, but I thought it was perfect back then. I think my dress weighed more than I did." She looked up at him then, and blinked tearless eyes. "By that summer, the cancer was back… eating away at his brain." She used harsh words. Words that House didn't like hearing from her.
Cameron paused, tongue nervously touching dry lips, and surely this was where he was supposed to say something, but he didn't and then she started talking again. She was usually guarded about her past, even with him, while everyone thought she was the emotional one. A geisha hiding dark shadows beneath pretty paint. He was frozen in place as the façade crumpled and fell with each word from her mouth. She spoke of the funeral and flowers, of comforting in-laws, parents and friends, and of not being able to keep track of the days until eight weeks were gone and she was walking numbly into the drugstore to buy a pregnancy test. It was a store in a neighboring town of course, couldn't risk having everyone know she was now not only the young widow but the young pregnant widow.
"When I took the test… I cried. I couldn't even feel anything. I was so tired and confused and I could hardly remember what happy was supposed to feel like."
House stared at her. Should he be moving to her side? Wrapping an arm around her shoulders? The dust, unsettled after months of solitude, was circling in the air, hanging in the light, dancing back to the floor. Watching it was easier than watching her.
"I was sad that he'd never know, and afraid of what everyone else would think. They'd all assume I'd done it on purpose… like some morbid way of keeping him with me." The fine lines on her forehead deepened and she rubbed her thumb over a tiny button. "I didn't. I wouldn't have." She shook her head, trying to free herself from all the old imagined accusations. "After all of his treatments…" her voice was dry grass in the heat of August, "we'd never even considered that he'd be able to have kids."
She was fading into the past and House cleared his throat to bring her back.
"I didn't tell anyone. I didn't want them talking about me. I just wanted to keep it to myself for a while. I was tired of sharing everything with everybody else. The baby was mine. Mine and Matthew's. No one else needed to know."
"And you didn't go to a doctor either." He regretted his words the moment they left his mouth. Cameron looked stricken with guilt and her knuckles turned white.
"I was supposed to head back to college in a few weeks. My senior year before heading off to med school." She let her head fall back against the hard wall and stared up at the pink insulation poking through thick wood supports. "I made an appointment with my doctor there and took over the counter supplements. I started feeling happy about it. Really happy… and I hadn't felt happy in a long time. I bought books and magazines… and this sweater. Matthew and I had been living in the apartment above his parents' garage and I was still there while I waited to head back to Harvard. I started thinking about where I'd put a crib the next summer, and whether I should move in with my parents instead." Her head rolled forward slowly and House wanted to look away but he didn't. He made himself meet her watery gaze and held it steadily. "I would have been a really good mother, you know? Even on my own… it was something I'd wanted for a long time, but I hadn't expected it, and then, there I was with something to look forward to again."
"Allison…" This was not good. Fuck, they were in a moldy smelling basement talking about her dead husband and her dead baby, and he still didn't fucking know what to do.
Cameron just shook her head. Stopping now would be pointless. Better to just spit it all out in one go, ripping the band-aide off her heart, off her womb.
"I lost the baby three days before leaving for Boston." She coughed a little, but it was just a cover to hide the fact that her throat was closing, and her eyes were stinging from the effort to control herself. "I woke up in the middle of the night, with horrible cramps and I knew what was happening. I knew I couldn't do anything to stop it."
She was holding herself so tightly and House's fist tightened around his cane and he wished that it was her hand, or her hair, or her whole body, squeezed within his hand, held close and safe
"I went and sat in the bathtub. I couldn't… I just couldn't flush it away like it was nothing. The bleeding started slow, but in a few hours it was all over, and it was just me again, sitting in a bathtub stained with blood and holding this tiny bit of tissue that should have been my baby. Right then, I wished I'd never taken that damn test. It could have just come and gone, and I would have just thought it was some really heavy period, but it wasn't, and I knew it wasn't, and I was all alone." She was sniffling with every fourth word, and her tears had finally pushed past her dark lashes. "It didn't look anything like a baby, and it was dead… dead, dead, dead… but I held it in my hand like I was afraid I'd break it. It was nothing, but it was everything. It was a hundred dreams I'd finally let myself believe in. And it was dead."
"You still didn't tell anyone." God, she'd needed medical attention at the very least, and she'd had no one but herself. House finally stood up and limped across the room. Cameron looked up at him as he approached and he swallowed hard while every muscle in his face moved his expression from anger to confusion, to sympathy. That last was one he rarely used.
"I'd had enough sympathy to last a lifetime," she said, "I couldn't take any more." But suddenly she did want more. She wanted his strong, wiry arms around her, and his gruff voice in her ear, and his warm breath ruffling her hair. A choked off sob started in her chest and had just made it to her throat when House landed on the floor beside her and pulled her roughly into his embrace.
"I couldn't take it… I just couldn't take anything… I couldn't… I was just one person… Why did I have to take so much?" Her sobs were more like screams, ripped out of her chest and given their first breath of air after over ten years of stifling confinement. "And I was so mad… so fucking mad at him! Why'd he have to die? Why couldn't he have lived just a while longer? Just a few weeks? A month? Maybe then the baby would have been all right! It was the stress… I know it was… that's why I lost it… that's why! It was me… it was my fault… what was wrong with me? Why couldn't I have that one thing?" Her strangled words devolved into nothing more than animalistic sounds of grief and House wondered if she'd ever cried before or if she ever would again.
Outside, the clouds moved and a shaft of sunlight came through the tiny window at the end of the basement. House held her while that beam of light moved from one side of the room to the other, changing the shadow-patterns as time and life moved on. The cold cement floor infiltrated his thigh, but he didn't reach for his pills. He knew, right then, that his pain couldn't touch hers and she'd gone years without relief. He could go a few hours.