NOTES: So I'm going to try this again. In retrospect, I think I might have done better writing this fic next summer instead of last, knowing what had to happen between the seasons. But now that I do, I've decided that this plot still fits, albeit with a slightly different vision. Hopefully some people are still interested.
Chapter Eleven: Assimilation
"I can go," Cameron volunteers, looking nervously through the glass doors at the two men in space suits standing stiffly in front of Cuddy's desk. They don't seem to be listening, but the door has continued to deteriorate, more glass breaking off and tinkling to the floor every time it's opened. For all she knows, they can hear every word she's saying.
The new team of experts has spent the past hour berating every staff member in sight for failing to observe proper quarantine protocol before demanding that they be given a tour of the hospital's facilities in order to better assess how the operation ought to be taken over. Nobody's bothered to mention that there isn't a protocol for this specific situation, Cameron thinks sourly. Or acknowledge the fact that they've shown up late enough to doom everyone present. The muffling of the suits and their air supplies make the sharp rebukes sound incongruous and almost comical coming from official mouths. Cameron isn't sure why she's so eager to be the one taking the men on their demanded tour, but she's always needed to prove herself when people have questioned the things she's loyal to.
"No," says Chase immediately, then leans closer to her in order to lower his voice. "We'll get Foreman to do it."
Cameron frowns and gives him a questioning look. She can practically feel a new anxiety radiating off of Chase, though she can't quite place what it's stemming from. "Foreman's asleep. And I've spent more time in the labs than he ever has. There is no reason why I can't show our—guests—the facilities."
"We need sleep too," says Chase evasively, and strides off in the direction of the converted clinic lounge, forcing Cameron to follow if she wants to continue the conversation. And she's too curious not to.
"That's not what this is about," she insists, doing a few steps of a stumbling run to put herself even with his shoulder again. Chase just keeps walking, and suddenly the frustration she's been fighting to keep in check this whole time seems to have broken loose from her gut and settled itself in her chest, forcing the words from her. It's one more thing he isn't telling her, one more ambiguity, and she's sick of it all. "What do you think I'm going to do?"
Chase comes to an abrupt stop outside the lounge door, and Cameron nearly runs into him as he spins to face her. His face is composed into its usual mask of quiet and unnamed tension, but his eyes are ablaze with some emotion he either won't or can't put into words. And suddenly it all falls into place.
"Oh," murmurs Cameron, almost involuntarily. The frustration quickly sours into anger, and she has to fight to keep her voice low. There is no reason to wake the staff members who are lucky enough to actually be asleep in the lounge. "You think I want to rat you out."
"I don't think either of us should be spending any more time around them than we have to right now," Chase mumbles, obviously not having wanted her to figure it out. He turns away and moves toward the door without any further justification.
In the mood to fight, Cameron opens her mouth to answer him with any number of choice retorts running through her mind, but then he has the door open and the words die on her lips. It's already too late. And he's right to be suspicious, she thinks guiltily as she follows him inside. She's given him no reason to think otherwise.
The lights are off inside the converted lounge, and Cameron is surprised to see that the clock on the wall reads after midnight. She isn't even certain what day it is anymore. Cots have been set up in very close rows around the room, little aisles left to squeeze through. There are no sheets on the beds, but instead large roles of the paper used to cover examining tables. It's not exactly quarantine standard, but it's the best anyone's been able to do for the moment. Most of the cots are occupied, and Cameron realizes for the first time just how many staff members are inside the quarantine. It ought to be comforting, but somehow as she looks around at the unfamiliar sleeping faces, the isolation that comes from working for House is even more intense than usual.
Chase comes to a stop in the far corner of the room, and Cameron realizes that the man asleep on the cot is Foreman. It's taken her a moment to recognize him, not because of the darkness, but because of the forced and strange intimacy of sharing this tiny lounge with so many of her colleagues. Chase stands awkwardly still, like he doesn't know what to do now that he's reached his mark. Sighing, Cameron steps in front of him and lightly shakes Foreman's shoulder, shooting Chase a disapproving look.
"What?" grunts Foreman, sitting up a little to glare at both of them. "Someone had better be dying."
"The CDC is here," Chase whispers, flinching when several people on nearby cots shift. "Cuddy needs you to go and show them around the facilities. They're in her office."
Foreman frowns, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "And why couldn't one of you do that?"
"Because you've already had your chance to sleep," Chase says simply, and stares Foreman down until he finally leaves in a huff.
"You're going to sleep now?" Cameron asks as quietly as she can manage. Chase is already changing the paper on the cot Foreman has just vacated.
"Yes," says Chase. He cocks his head at the empty cot beside the one he's currently changing. "You are too."
Cameron sighs and lies down facing the wall, suppressing the urge to argue with him. He's right about everything, she thinks, and that's exactly why it all hurts so much. But there are sleeping people all around, enjoying a few hours' respite from the shadows of dread reaching their way in from corners all around. This isn't the time or place to talk, and she isn't sure Chase would agree even if it were.
When ten minutes have passed and she still can't sleep, Cameron gives up and stares at the light coming in through the slit where the blinds end, painting a single square of yellow on the wall. Absently she raises a hand, curling her thumb and forefinger to make a dark crescent on the wall. It's supposed to be a mouth, she thinks; that was the way it always worked with her brother when they were children. But her sleep-deprived brain keeps trying to turn it into a microscope image, the kind of nightmare slide you never want to see outside the pages of a textbook. She draws her bottom lip between her teeth subconsciously, and watches in sick fascination as she twists her fingers into the telltale shepherd's crook of Ebola silhouetted on the wall.
"Shadow puppets?" whispers Chase from behind her, making her jump. "Really?" He's leaning over the side, and the cots are pushed close enough together that they might as well be sharing the same mattress.
"I was a kid once," Cameron snaps, trying to shake off the discomfort of the whole situation. She can't decide whether she'd rather start a fight or roll over until their sides really are touching.
"I know," says Chase. "You just don't act like it much. At least, not around me."
He sounds oddly disappointed, and Cameron feels a fresh swell of the frustration that seems to accompany any and all conversations with him lately. "Sometimes I think I don't know you at all," she says, just to be inflammatory.
But Chase doesn't seem properly cowed by that remark. "You don't," he says simply, and settles himself back on the cot.
Cameron sighs and lets her head drop heavily back to her own thin pillow, the shadow monsters on the wall forgotten for the moment. Frustrated with him or not, she can't help dreading the likelihood that the CDC will take Chase's authority away in the morning.
Slumping back impatiently in his chair, House uses an unsharpened pencil to jab the speakerphone button on and off, turning the young man's words to gibberish. It's the fifth time he's attempted to call the CDC, and the fifth time he's heard their automatic refusal to give out any kind of information regarding the autopsy. He thinks that the staccato of broken sentences sounds like the kind of thing some simpering teen pseudo-poet might read at a slam, and wonders idly whether there's any way to record this conversation. The annoyance value of it could come in great handy later on.
"I'm—sir—understand—in—diffi—position—hospital—is—national health—respect—and—of—deceased—under—orders—his —confidential," the kid finishes.
"I'm a doctor," House insists. "An infectious disease specialist, in fact. I don't want to plaster the name of every living relative across the front page of the Sunday paper, I just want to know how and where he got sick before every other person in this hospital liquefies as well. You can see where we might have a common interest here."
The sound of shuffling comes through the phone, and House momentarily stops pressing the button. This isn't the automatic response, and it's the first time he's seen a chance at breaking the pattern all night.
"I'm sorry sir," the kid finally replies, obviously sounding uneasy. "It it was up to me, you'd have those records already, but my boss—"
House sits up in the chair, suddenly interested. The first part was scripted, but this obviously isn't, and there's something not quite right in the kid's voice. He isn't the same as the others. "You don't usually answer the phones, do you?" House guesses. "Otherwise you'd know that your superiors don't like it when you question their authority in front of random strangers."
More shuffling. "I just transferred," comes the admission finally, then quickly, as if in justification, "but I used to work in the labs. Containment level four."
He sounds proud, and House works through the scenario quickly in his mind. There's no way someone who sounds that proud of his job just switches to menial desk labor, he thinks. And he's afraid of something, but he isn't in trouble with his superiors yet, or he wouldn't have been given this assignment at all.
"Where was the tear?" House asks, deciding to go all-in and guess.
"What?" The sound of something heavy being dropped comes through the phone, and then several seconds of scrabbling noises, and House knows that he's guessed correctly. This is a golden opportunity, and he isn't about to lose any chance at exploiting it.
"Your suit," he says carefully. "There was a tear in your space suit. You got scared and didn't report it, then asked for a transfer because you knew they'd find out if you stayed."
"My inner glove was intact!" the kid squeaks. "I wasn't exposed to anything." There's another uncomfortable pause, and then he seems to think better of what he's been saying. "I shouldn't have told you that. Stop asking me things!"
House smiles slowly, knowing he's just clinched the deal. And it's not like there's anyone around to see. "Don't worry," he says, putting on his best faux-nice voice. "I won't tell anyone." He takes a breath for effect. "If you send me his name and contact information. You worked in level four containment; you must know someone with clearance."
House watches the clock on the wall as nearly a full minute passes in silence. Finally he decides that he must have pushed too far, made the young man hang up. But he's just started to reach for the receiver when the line crackles back to life, an anxious whisper making House draw back his hand.
"Fine. Check your email in a while." The click of the line going dead is distinct this time.
House sits in silence as twenty minutes pass, impatiently checking for new mail. Finally, the computer chimes. Nearly slamming the laptop closed, House pushes back from his desk and propels himself down the hall as fast as he can. Wilson has retreated to his office, allegedly reviewing the files of his patients who are trapped inside the hospital, figuring out what medications they'll need to make it through the next two and a half weeks. Coming to a stop outside the door, House slams his cane against it a couple of times before pushing it open. Wilson sits bolt upright and blinks rapidly, obviously having fallen asleep at his desk.
"Need you," says House bluntly.
"What?" asks Wilson, still bleary-eyed and apparently trying to decide whether this is still a dream.
"I got Ebola Dude's name. And his wife's contact information." House gestures toward the hallway with his cane when Wilson continues to gape speechlessly. "I need you to come be nice on the phone. Time to find out how Monkey Man got sick."
Feedback is love! (Please let me know if anyone's still reading.)