Notes: This was written for housefest over at LJ. I know I'm way behind on updates for Exposure. I promise, soon! My life has been insane lately, but I have a whole day of riding in the car tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll make great progress. Hopefully tomorrow night or Thursday morning.
The Game of Chance
She's been working at Princeton Plainsboro for less than a week when it happens. It's Friday, and all she can think about is the fact that she'll finally have some free time to unpack, so she won't have to live out of boxes anymore. She knows that House is testing her. Chase took her to lunch on her first day, and told her about all her predecessors. She'll have lasted a week after today, she thinks with a smile, and that will be longer than any of the others.
She makes it through most of the inordinately long day answering mail and organizing discharge notes, because House won't let her work on the actual case. She doesn't think he's a misogynist, so she assumes that this is yet another hazing tactic. It's ten to nine, and she's getting her things together in anticipation of leaving when Chase stumbles in, looking paler than usual, wet hair dripping onto his yellow striped shirt, making spots of dark gold. He sits at the table and buries his face in his hands for a moment, sighing loudly. Cameron gets to her feet and pours him a cup of coffee from the pot, setting it down in front of him and smiling a little when he finally looks up at her.
"Thanks," says Chase.
In the other room, House takes off his headphones and grabs his cane, his interest in them finally renewed. Cameron tenses as he opens the door, wondering whether she should have fought to work on the case, instead of readily accepting his restrictions. House gives Chase and appraising glance, then shakes his head.
"Judging by your sad puppy eyes, the patient is dead. Judging by your shower-fresh scent, it was messy."
Chase grimaces and nods. "Multiple organ failure."
House quirks an eyebrow. "Interesting. Though I'm more interested in why that required you to freshen up. Obviously, your diagnosis was wrong."
Cameron stares at Chase's coffee cup across the table, not wanting to make eye contact with either of them. House has intentionally shut her out of this case, and now she wonders whether she ought to just pack up and leave, but that doesn't feel right either. She doesn't know Chase well enough to consider him a friend, and isn't even sure she likes him, but he is a colleague, and this is supposed to be a team, and she wouldn't want to be left alone to get grilled right after losing a patient.
"It was textbook sexual abuse!" Chase protests, running a hand through his wet hair.
"Thank you for reminding me, I'd forgotten that the textbook included 'multiple organ failure' and 'sudden death.' Been a while since med school. But maybe this case is more interesting than I thought." House walks over to the whiteboard that's been sitting abandoned in a corner all week, and starts searching for a marker. A list of symptoms is already written on the board, but there are smudge marks in places, and pieces of letters missing, like it's been a long time since anyone noticed. When House tries to erase the board, the outlines of the letters stay in place, too long over-dried.
Failing to find a marker, House shakes his head. "All right, forget that. On what did you base your diagnosis?"
"Technically it was your diagnosis, since you're signing off on everything," Chase counters. He picks up his coffee cup and takes a sip. "Patient presented with fever, bruising on the upper arms and thighs, and vaginal tearing."
"I figured the fever was due to infection. I started her on IV antibiotics, and admitted her to be kept overnight for observation. She was moved to ICU this evening when her fever spiked to 105. I upped the antibiotics, and got her cooled down. Multiple organ failure and death occurred within the next hour." He delivers all of this to the surface of his coffee, and Cameron can't quite tell whether he's upset or just plain tired.
"Are you sure they were bruises?" asks House.
Chase looks taken aback. "They looked like bruises."
"But you're not certain."
"Are you saying that bruises lie?"
"Possibly." House taps his cane on the glass table, and Cameron jumps, looking up at him. "We need another look. Cameron, go do another full body exam."
"The body's been moved to the morgue," Chase says before she can get up. "And you're diagnosing a dead girl."
"No, you are. I am going home. Cameron, go to the morgue and examine the body." House gives her a look. "You do know where the morgue is?"
Cameron nods and gets to her feet, a knot of dread growing in her stomach at the prospect of being among so many dead bodies. She'd known there would be days like this when she'd chosen to enroll in medical school despite everything, and she'd thought she'd healed adequately to remain professional in such a situation. But that doesn't make it any easier to think about.
Cameron grabs a notepad and turns hesitantly back to House. "You want me to look at the bruises?"
"No, I want you to tell me if they are bruises. And if there's anything else."
She nods, and walks out of the office without saying goodbye. She knows House will have left for the weekend by the time she gets back, but she fully intends to be at work on Monday morning, no matter how unpleasant a task he's left her with now. She's halfway to the elevator before she realizes her name is being called, and she turns so fast she almost bumps into a nurse walking down the hall behind her. Chase is running after her, looking harried and out of breath. She stops and waits for him to catch up.
"What?" she asks, when he's slowed down a bit.
"I'm coming with you."
"I can find my way to the morgue," says Cameron, then realizes how rude that sounds. "But thanks. You should go home and get some rest. You look terrible."
Chase shrugs. "It's my case, and I want to know what I did wrong." He pauses. "Besides, it's a bad one. She was only ten."
The elevator comes with a little ding, and Chase steps on without waiting for an answer.
The girl is little, pale, and blonde. Cameron thinks of a professor in medical school who told her to only think of bodies as bodies, and never as people. She's never been able to do that, though inwardly she knows it would be easier. But this girl is still a human being in her mind, and it feels almost disrespectful to examine her now.
Ugly purple discoloration covers her limbs, which are almost too bony, even for a growing ten-year-old. Chase grimaces again as Cameron presses a gloved finger to the darkened skin, looking for a change. There isn't any. She completes her exam without finding any further symptoms that would contradict Chase's diagnosis, and by the time she's finished, she feels chilled to the bone.
Cameron bites her lip, and tries not to think about the other bodies in the room. She feels the sudden need to look at each one, to know how they died. She wonders whether they had anyone at their side, and if it would have made a difference. The air raises goosebumps on her arms, and she feels like she's being pulled in a thousand directions at once.
"Nothing," she says. "At least, nothing that we can tell from here."
"I should've asked House to begin with," Chase mutters. "Not that it would've made a difference."
"Why is he interested now?" asks Cameron, closing the refrigerated drawer which houses the body, and stripping off her gloves. "She's already dead."
"House likes cases that don't make sense. If she'd lived, he wouldn't give a crap. Now he cares because she shouldn't have died." Chase sits at the autopsy table, scribbling notes in the file.
"Why did you have to shower?" She suddenly remembers that he never answered House, and now that she's seen the girl's body, she has to agree it's strange.
Chase looks up sharply, then shakes his head. "She was already dead. Not like there was any hurry to tell House."
The door opens before Cameron can say anything else, and the morgue attendant sticks his head in. He looks barely old enough to be out of college.
"Closing up for the night," he says.
"We'll just be a moment," says Chase.
The kid nods. "All right, I'm just going to lock up. Make sure the door closes on your way out." He slams it behind him as he leaves, his keys grinding in the lock. Cameron gets up, and goes to look out the window in the door.
"We're done," says Chase, closing the file and coming up behind her.
She presses down on the handle, a sharp pain going through her wrist from the shock when it doesn't budge. She tries pulling up on the handle, but that doesn't help either. A wave of panic goes through her, and she turns to Chase, like the needy little girl she wants never to have to be.
"We have a problem," she says, trying to keep her voice calm.
"Let me try." Chase hands her the file as he steps past her. He jostles the handle up and down, then throws his entire weight into pulling. Nothing. "Looks like we do," he says finally.
"House will come looking for us," says Cameron, though she's well aware of how ridiculous that sounds.
"No he won't," says Chase. "He's already long gone. Besides, if he knew we were down here, he'd probably come just to watch us through the window and laugh."
Cameron shivers and shoves her hands deep into the pockets of her lab coat.
"We're just gonna have to make the best of it." Chase sighs, and leans back against the locked door.
An hour passes and Cameron finds herself pacing a circle around the room, the nervous energy tingling up and down her spine growing with each circuit. The fact that Chase has spent the entire time fiddling with the various tools on the cart beside the autopsy table, and looking at reflections of things in the metal drawers, only serves to channel her anxiety into annoyance.
"Would you stop that?" Chase leans against a wall and slides down to sit on the floor. He looks ghostly pale under the fluorescent lights, and Cameron shudders at the unbidden image of him lying lifeless on the autopsy table. "You're making me dizzy."
Cameron comes to an abrupt halt and runs into the cart, the metallic instruments on it rattling loudly. She jumps again and bites her lip to keep from crying out, telling herself that she's being ridiculous. They're locked inside the well-lit, well-ventilated, very professional morgue. It isn't like she's trapped in the trophy room of a serial killer, mutilated bodies staring at her from every direction. She half expects Chase to laugh, but, to his credit, he doesn't.
"Sorry," she says.
Chase shrugs. "Claustrophobic?"
"I just want to get home." It isn't the whole truth, but it is the truth, and her desire to be respected in this new job for once outweighs Cameron's elaborate system of morals. "I have unpacking to do."
Chase raises an eyebrow. "Well I hate to say this, but you're not gonna get there by walking in circles. Besides, you've got the whole weekend to unpack." He looks impossibly relaxed, almost a bit amused by the whole situation. He's sitting with his hands on his knees, watching her beneath long messy bangs which have dried across his eyes, looking like she's here simply to provide entertainment for him.
"Provided we don't get a case. And I want to get it done as soon as possible." Cameron looks at the cart of instruments she's upset, and realizes that they weren't very well organized to begin with, thanks to him. Somehow the disorder adds to her irritation.
"I could come over and help." Chase looks at her hopefully for a moment, then shrugs when she says nothing, visibly disappointed. "Besides, there's no way we're getting a case over the weekend. House wouldn't hear of it."
"Not even if there's a patient who needs help?" Cameron picks up one of the instrument trays and dumps it out, then begins meticulously sorting the contents. She doesn't know why she's bothering, but she needs something to do with her hands so they won't betray her nervousness.
Chase snorts. "House doesn't give a damn about patients. All he cares about is puzzles. And not on weekends."
"That's ridiculous." Cameron slams a scalpel onto a tray with more force than she'd intended. She's heard that House is difficult, of course, but she'd assumed the stories were exaggerated. A doctor with no consideration at all for patients is beyond her comprehension.
"What, you haven't noticed?" Chase shifts his back against the wall, tossing hair out of his eyes. He looks like a college boy, and Cameron finds herself further angered by this fact. "You've been here a week. Have you seen him do anything besides sit in his office listening to his iPod or playing video games?"
"Then what about you?" Cameron drops the last of the instruments onto the tray, no longer interested in organization.
"What?" His eyes widen, making him look almost comically surprised.
"It doesn't bother you that your boss doesn't do his job? That people are probably dying because this hospital is understaffed as it is?" Cameron takes a step closer to him, clearing the edge of the autopsy table. "You're no better than he is."
"I do my job," says Chase, sounding more confused than defensive. "I like my job. It's none of my business what House does or doesn't do."
"So you'd rather let a patient die than stand up to him." Cameron looks pointedly at the side of the room where the little girl's body is being kept.
Chase grimaces and looks at the floor. "I didn't say that."
Cameron stalks to the far side of the room and sits with her back against the opposite wall.
"Don't call me that." They've sat in silence for over an hour, Cameron notes, glancing at the clock on the wall. She can't see Chase past the table, and she wonders with a little stab of guilt how badly she's upset him. Regardless of his laziness, he doesn't deserve to have the death of his patient thrown in his face. Particularly not with her body sitting five feet away.
"Okay…" She can practically hear his confused shrug in the word.
"What?" Cameron asks, popping the t with barely tempered annoyance.
"Huh?" There's a shuffling noise as he gets to his feet, and a moment later his head appears above the far side of the table.
Cameron looks up at him and rolls her eyes. "What were you going to ask me?"
"Oh, I thought…maybe you'd fallen asleep." Chase shakes his hair out of his eyes again, looking flustered. Cameron has the sudden urge to take the surgical scissors from the table and cut it off.
"Here?" she asks incredulously. She can't imagine falling asleep here, even under the influence of sedatives.
"It's after midnight," says Chase, nonplussed. He comes around the table and offers her a hand.
She isn't sure what the point of standing up is—it's not like there's any place for them to go. But she feels bad for overreacting, and apologies really aren't her thing if she can avoid them. This feels enough like a silent truce that she can't refuse it. Grudgingly, she takes his hand and lets him pull her to her feet.
"Where are we going?"
"Over there." Chase gestures with his head at the wall opposite the door.
"And why are we going over there?" asks Cameron, pulling her hand away from his.
"Because if we're over there and someone happens to walk by, they'll see us." The wall that he's indicated is lined with refrigerated storage drawers, and Cameron feels the discomfort bubbling back up in her stomach as Chase walks over and sits down.
"Nobody's going to be walking by," she says irritably, but she forces herself to sit beside him anyway, not wanting to have to explain herself. She has a feeling that Chase is the type who will want to know why she isn't doing what he's suggested, particularly since it makes sense.
"You don't know that." Chase gives her a winning smile. He's taken off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt so she can see his white undershirt beneath. Cameron wonders suddenly whether he's been too nice to her this week, and whether he's the type to exploit the situation and try to get into her pants. The very thought of sex while in the morgue makes her nauseous.
"You don't even care that we're stuck here, do you?" she snaps, reverting to anger once again. It's far easier to be annoyed at Chase's ease with the whole situation than to admit her own discomfort.
"Far more exciting than my typical Friday night." He looks at her sheepishly. "But it's not the first time it's happened."
"What, you've been locked in the morgue here before? Something you forgot to tell me when we had our lovely discussion of job perks?" If this is a regular occurrence, she just might be forced to fold after all.
"Not here," Chase says quickly. "Back at university, a couple of guys got me drunk and locked me in the lab with the cadavers. Thought it was hilarious."
"That's awful!" Cameron is surprised by the stab of righteous anger on his behalf. Or maybe on behalf of the cadavers. She's getting too tired to keep track of her emotions very well.
"It was. I nearly got expelled." Chase looks at the floor again. "My father had to bail me out."
"He believed you?"
"No, he just didn't want his brilliant reputation tarnished. My whole family's doctors."
"Did you choose your career, or were you forced?" Cameron looks sideways at him, finding him still regarding the tile.
"A bit of both." He looks up at her for a moment, then away again. "I'm glad I ended up where I did."
"In the morgue?" She knows he doesn't mean it literally, but nerves and exhaustion are making her punchy.
"Maybe." Chase laughs, and Cameron contemplates being annoyed. He's trying to charm her, though he's not particularly good at it, and she can't decide how she feels about that.
"I'm going to sleep," says Cameron, so she won't have to talk to him anymore.
It's nearly two am, and she knows that Chase knows that she's not even close to falling asleep, but so far he hasn't questioned her intentions. She wants to lie down, but doesn't trust the floor, and she's starting to get a headache from the lights. Chase is sprawled on his back, head uncomfortably close to her hip, with his shirt wadded up as a pillow.
"Why did you choose intensive care?" Cameron asks at last, because somehow, in the absence of sleep, the only thing she can think is how incompetent he's making her feel. She knows her unease with death and the terminally ill will forever be her handicap, but she never expected to be so brutally assaulted with it this early in her career.
Chase rolls onto his side and props himself up on one elbow so he can see her face. "It was the one thing nobody else in my family could handle."
"Too much stress? I know the burnout rate is enormous."
"They save lives with logic and reasoning. I do it by speed and instinct." There's something in his eyes when he says that, something she hasn't seen before.
"But you'll always lose more patients than they will. Doesn't that bother you?"
"Sometimes." He sits up the rest of the way, and leans against the wall barely two inches from her shoulder. "I just have to remember that they're done suffering when they die. Sometimes that's better than if I'd kept them alive. Provided I've done everything I can." His voice gets quieter toward the end, and Cameron knows he's thinking about the little girl again.
She's heard these words before, too many times, and the stab of sadness associated with them takes Cameron by surprise. She'd thought she was beyond this, ready to work, to live the rest of her life. It keeps taking her by surprise in moments, all through medical school, through her residency. Sometimes she wonders whether the moments will ever truly be absent from her life. And if she wants them to be.
"What about you?" asks Chase, startling her out of her thoughts.
"How did you pick immunology?"
Cameron shrugs, feeling for the millionth time the indifference with which she regards her specialty. "It fit. I wanted to be an oncologist for the longest time, but then…things happened. Immunology was the next best thing. Most autoimmune diseases are manageable." She doesn't tell him the specifics. Those are reserved until he's earned her trust, and perhaps even then.
Chase nods. "I always thought it would be nice to be in pediatrics. Be able to cure most patients."
"I don't know. Parents can get scary." Cameron presses two fingers to the bridge of her nose, trying to stop her eyes from hurting. "It's late."
"Are you actually going to try to sleep now?" Chase asks with a smile.
"It would be easier if I didn't have to touch the floor." She's aware that she sounds like a prissy teenage girl, but it's late, and she's beyond exhausted.
"Here." Chase gets up, takes off his lab coat, and spreads it on the floor for her. "That'll at least keep most of you from touching it."
Charm, again, and she wonders what he wants. But she isn't above accepting a favor, and Cameron gives him a small smile as she stretches out. A long moment passes before he speaks again, and she's half asleep.
"Cameron? Can I call you that?"
"Yes." She has a feeling she's going to regret telling him he can't use her first name, but she isn't about to back down on it now.
"When we get out of here, are you going to quit?"
The question takes her by surprise. She hasn't really made a decision, but the thought has crossed her mind. "I don't know. Why?"
"I want you to stay."
She can hear Chase shifting positions on the floor before he answers her. "I want to see someone stand up to House. I think you can."
Cameron doesn't know how she's managed to fall asleep, but somehow she has, because the tapping on the glass window practically makes her heart stop. She sits bolt upright to find House leering through the little viewing slot at them, his cane in one hand. Chase is already on his feet, going to catch the door as their boss pushes it open.
"Please, no hugs," House insists as Cameron joins Chase on the other side. "How did you two manage this? Very impressive."
"Do we have a case, or did you just come to laugh at us?" asks Chase.
"I came to the rescue of my two valued employees!" says House, feigning offense. "And for the entertainment value, of course."
"Good," says Chase. "Then I'm going home."
"Make sure you say goodbye to Cameron first," says House. "It's probably the last you'll see of her."
They both turn to her, and Cameron feels a sudden tug of stubbornness. She hasn't even thought about her decision, but suddenly it's already made for her.
"I have unpacking to do," she says firmly. "I'll see you both on Monday."