A/N: This started as a sort of personal prompt – find the craziest crossover for House I could think of and knew well enough to write about. If you're not familiar with the other series, you may not get as much out of it, but I hope it will be fun anyway –and there is an OFC in there for all you shippers (and for me!)
Chapter 1 (The Wind in the Firs Says One Thing)
On to the next patient. Bang through the door.
He stopped short.
"You're new here," the patient said.
Please, not a chatty one. Not with what she carried in her arms.
"I bet you say that to every man under fifty," he told her. The woman was dumpy, either fifty-five or much older, with a smell about her of the backwoods. Undergrowth and shadows. He had not encountered her before, which was saying a lot in this hole-in-the-road microtown he had run to.
"If you want me to examine you, you're going to have to put that down. Actually I've been in your lovely town for about five months now." He watched her cross the room and gently deposit the stump of log she cradled onto the diaper-changing pad. "Months that are getting longer by the second."
Her problem, she told him, was that she had begun to sleep too well. It worried her.
He studied the sun through the window. Why, why did he get the crazies? "If we weren't in the middle of nowhere, I could score you some meth that would ensure you never sleep again."
She leaned in, conspiratorial. "I've been informed" - she indicated her log – "that the whole town has been sleeping too well lately. It's a sign of bad things to come."
These things they said, always almost making sense. Yes, it was a sleepy town. A deranged town, from what he had seen since settling into its life. An oracle lady with a divining log (in lieu of a divining rod, he assumed) was all it had been missing. He wondered for the fiftieth time why he'd left Princeton, and then he remembered.
She was watching him, with the same glassy intent she had displayed since the moment he walked in. He caned his way to the side table and jotted down a prescription for an anti-depressant.
"Yours has grown up." She was looking at his cane. The chill of her gaze walked fingers across his skin. There is sun outside, he thought, look at it. Don't start thinking that what they say makes any sense. "Almost all grown up." Just write the scrip and get her out. She had risen to retrieve her own piece of wood from the diaper pad and cradled it close. "Mine never will, you know."
Back out into the main hall of the hospital, the comfort of fluorescent lights, nurses busy behind their desk. The weird ones had never bothered him before, not like this, his skin itching to get away from the woman behind him in the clinic room. It was the town, he told himself, hunched at the edge of its vast forest, alive-asleep.
Amalie Parker, the resident pediatrician, studied a file at the counter next to him. He could smell her scent, honey or sage. She had her hair up in its usual loose bun, its red gleam like glowing embers. Yes, that was definitely warmth creeping back into him. Knowing the pediatrician would overhear (a schoolboy tactic he hated himself for resorting to) he asked the nurse behind the desk, loudly, if she'd noticed anything unusual in the behavior of the patient she'd just assigned him. She said she hadn't.
"Log handbags just the norm around here? I do admit, her case has me stumped."
Dr. Parker caught on while the nurses were still frowning at him. "You've met our log lady," she surmised, turning.
"Oh I knew she had a title." He tried not to grin at her - the nurses were still watching – but gorgeous was gorgeous, you could fight the adrenaline surge when a woman as porcelain-beautiful as Amalie Parker smiled at you or just let your tongue loll out like a dog's, because it didn't matter. His schoolboy hormones would do what they wanted.
"Margaret's harmless," she told him. She leaned away from him across the counter to return the file and her blouse slid against her shoulder to reveal a bit of white bra. He stared down at it. Like a slap of intimacy, that sliver of white strap peeking out. A piece of her privacy (and she was very private, he knew), revealed to him. His reaction was so strong and instant he had to clutch his cane to keep his hand from reaching up and touching it. No longer just warm; he was hot for her. It shouldn't have turned him on like that, it was a bra, for christ-sake, and he was a doctor, but of course it wasn't the bra, it was the thought of what the bra held, that truly amazing set of knockers, if he could be forgiven for being crude (and he knew he could). Her hand came up to adjust the blouse and she turned. Either she knew why he glanced away quickly or she didn't.
"Tell me log lady owns a lumberyard and that's just her way of advertising," he said.
"No, she's just a harmless – and childless – woman with a log for a baby." For a moment the pediatrician looked sad.
Childless herself, he knew. Amalie Parker, at thirty-eight still very single, unless the entire town was not in on something. And very private.
The nurse was handing him a new file. "I'm – uh – taking a break," he told her. Dr. Parker's hands beside his on the counter grew slow. "Half an hour." He walked off.
Which was of course never long enough. He stopped by his office, giving her time, and when he was sure no one was watching him, slipped down the deserted hall to the south wing. The janitor-closet door was already open a wedge.
She had her blouse off, ready for him. Intense, efficient Dr. Amalie Parker. Porcelain skin incongruous now against the background of mops and shelves of cleaner. He crossed to her and she whispered, teasing, in his ear. "You have half an hour, Dr. House." He took his time working the bra straps off her shoulders, lifting the heavy breasts from their cups, perfect aureoles, moving his hands down to the tiny waist, flat tummy, while she groaned, then her skirt was on the floor. She never let her hair down for him, swearing the nurses would notice it had been put up differently, but strands fell from the bun now, red snakes against her shoulders. Her lips were on his, yes, her scent was sage today, and some flower with no name, the flower of a woman's sweet sweat when she was in heat. His erection pressing against her panties was painful but oh first things first. He kneeled, awkward among the brooms and mops joined now by his cane, and she leaned back against the cluttered shelves to thrust her hips toward him. Peeling those little lace things down: this was kneeling in a church, the only religion he could ever go for. She cried out when she came, making it a whimper so no on would hear (so private), then they were taking up the position that was the only one they'd found to work because of his leg – a clumsy half-lean against the plastic-lined trash barrel, hardly enough support for his thrusts when they got going and oh they were urgent today, his lips everywhere they could bend to and still keep his cock in her – shoulders, hair, the topmost swell of her breasts. He moaned her name (not Emily as he'd misunderstood from the nurses' talk back at the beginning and which she had swiftly corrected, just a French-Canadian mommy with unusual spelling habits). Amalie. It drove her wild, she'd told him once, (the one time during their sessions that she had talked of how she felt; the syllables when spoken by his mouth, she'd said, were like a French kiss). She clutched him. He thought he would explode. His leg was on fire as his weight shifted to it, but it didn't matter, only his thrusts, the slap of them against her skin – and then they slipped. She was thrown against him. Brooms clattered to the floor, grotesquely loud. They froze, adrenaline shock turning their veins to ice. Waiting to see if someone would fling the door open on them. He had one hand out on a shelf edge, holding both their weights, his arm trembling, but it was in the tip of his cock now, his whole being, a swollen roiling tide made stronger by the thrill that they might be discovered (which he wouldn't have cared about, always her choice to keep it in the dark) and then he couldn't hold back, jabbing it deep into her, crying out, while more objects fell around them and they stumbled from one hold to another. He came and came, thinking it would never end. Not wanting it to. Finally it was over. He felt himself go fuzzy inside her, felt her shuddering breaths against his chest. They stood at a crazy angle against the shelf wall, half the items in the place on the floor around them, and it struck him as it always did when they had finished one of their sessions, the insanity of it, that twinge of sadness in knowing that she was too ashamed of him to go public with it.
He put his mouth to her ear. "If I start acting like I've got a broom up my ass, it's because I do."
She pulled away to look at him, laughing softly, but with that wide-eyed gaze of astonishment she always had afterward, as though she never expected to get pleasure out of it.
"Dr Gregory House." She played with the hairs on his chest, past the two buttons she'd managed to get open before they'd gone at it. "On intimate terms with the inside of a janitor's closet. If the world only knew."
"It's more like the closet is on intimate terms with the inside of me." He stood erect roughly and they began to collect their clothes. It really was insane. Two months of scurried closet sex, humping like rats in a corner, because she wanted it kept that way. He retrieved his cane, tried to restack some of the brooms and mops and gave up.
"Look, Amalie." She turned. She was buckling her bra in the back, breasts pushed out toward him. She waited. "I'd like you to come over to my place for dinner this week." The words felt like mush in his mouth. She was already closing up, face tensed, tossing her blouse on with one swing and buttoning it.
"Why?" she asked, not looking. "You're getting good at doing it standing up."
"Oh I don't know." He should have known she wouldn't accept. "How about: it's time to come out of the closet." Behind the hardness in her green eyes there was the faintest touch of panic. He'd never pushed the issue before. "Come on, Am. You must be getting tired of doing it on trash. Okay, that came out wrong." More than wrong; her lips were pressed in a hard line. Maybe she liked trash. "Honestly?" He made his voice as unjoking as he could and she stopped buttoning her shirt to look at him. "I'm starting to associate the smell of your clit with that of a dirty mop. And I don't want that."
She stared at him for a long time, then approached and placed her hands on his chest. He could have reached up and loosened her hair, longed to see it fall around her. Maybe that was the sole reason he wanted her over, to see her let that hair down for him for once.
"I'll let you do it to me somewhere else," she said, "if you'll tell me what you're running from." She'd asked it before, half-joking. He'd always refused to talk about his former life, just following her lead. "Why did you leave a good job in New Jersey to come all the way out here to nowhere, Greg?"
"Okay, confession time. I killed someone."
She was already turning away in disgust, her joker in the closet just not serious enough for her. He caught her hand and wouldn't let it go. "Friday," he insisted, and to his utter surprise she was nodding. "But Thursday," she murmured. "I – can't Friday."
He was cheering inside, almost speechless. "I'm – uh – over at –"
"I know where you live, Greg."
"I'll make my special lasagna," he promised. "Famous with every biowaste disposal company in Princeton."
She smiled. Look at the sun. "I'll make sure I stop by the diner to fill up beforehand. About seven?" He nodded.
And when she left, checking the hall first for watchers as she always did, she glanced back at him, a lost despairing look, as though she'd done something she'd sworn to herself she never would.
The insane town he had run to became, at night, a closet of its own: windswept, huge with quiet, all its streets like natural features in a deserted landscape, promontories against the wild sea of trees at its edge. A closet with dimensions reaching up into the dark. He left his apartment over the Haywards' garage to pick up some beer, too stubborn to take the car in case someone saw him, having jettisoned his old life so thoroughly that most of those around him did not know the degree of his pain, only that he was addicted. No longer the flaunter. So it was hoof it, or rather cane it, only a block over to Lubovsky's Wines, and it gave him time to steep himself in the dark town. Lubovsky looked like a lumberjack or a bear, but he knew his stuff. Tell him you needed a wine by tomorrow for a special woman and you would have a bottle in your hands, a varietal you'd never heard of. "You take this South African," the slow Canadian accent would say. "She's a beauty." Yes she is. He paid and back out on the street felt the bite of winter coming. Odd half-dead town, born of the need for wood, for trees, killing them for a living. There was no reason for him to be there; driving across the country, fleeing Princeton as fast as he could once the decision had been made, he had had no notion of stopping anywhere ever again, had simply kept on driving west until he could go no further without being in another country or falling off into the ocean, which in this case had turned out to be Puget Sound. Seattle too big for him, he had turned back, into the Washington woods, where the towns were like dents in the forest, until the first hospital he walked into said they would hire him if his credentials turned out all right. Which they had, the internet sufficing - once he asked them not to call Princeton directly – to prove his worth as a renowned doctor, all articles on his skills, techniques he had developed etcetera, but of course nothing about the way he acted, no jerk-org under which his name might have been listed. Meaning he had the chance to start over, be a different person, which he blew the first week when a patient's husband questioned his wife's radical treatment and they had a shouting match that extended from his new office all the way out the hospital door and garnered the stunned silence of the entire ground floor, including the hospital pediatrician Dr. Amalie Parker. No, there was a reason he didn't want them calling Princeton. Aside from his having mailed a letter of resignation somewhere in Montana, no one at home could know where he was, though he imagined Wilson trying frantically to find out; he would hear a knock on the door of the tiny garage apartment he had rented from the clinic GP Dr. Hayward and answer it expecting the oncologist's hang-dog face only to find Hayward's teenage daughter Donna sent by her parents to ask if he would like to join them for dinner.
Walking kept him sane. Pushing past the pain, he might halt, as he did now, and feel the wind always present in the tops of firs at the end of the park suddenly – inexplicably – go still, he was the only thing alive in the town, in the state perhaps, and that was good, then the stoplight at the main intersection would change from green to red, stopping no one on streets always empty by ten, the only life in sight a blue Mustang pulling away around the corner, its owner's face a blur of ugly, his hair long gray strands, the car peeling away screeech and then he was alone again. The breeze starting back up as though, having been held back, it had to be furious now. Yes, the traffic lamp twisting there in the wind told him where he was. Stopped, in the middle of life.
You couldn't be lost if you were nowhere to start with.
He didn't even know where he stood with Amalie Parker. Gorgeous, red-headed Dr. Parker, whom he had seen around the hospital the first few months, a nodding acquaintance from when she worked the main clinic the same times he did, until the day she stepped into his office and asked for help in diagnosing a case, a nine-year old boy with dystonia – DYT1 as it turned out. He'd done little other than to establish that fact and recommend deep-brain stimulation, and when the father, a logger bozo with less smarts than a chainsaw, rejected the treatment because it would mean implanting a chip in his kid's head and weren't no government gonna control his boy, he simply pulled one of his usual gags to convince dad it was okay, something that would have gone unremarked in Princeton, and yet Dr. Parker had been deeply impressed. She had stopped by his office in the evening to thank him. A mirage in a white coat and china-doll skin, coalescing in his door. "That was amazing – I wanted to thank you."
"No need. It was fun." And he had almost blown it, waiting until she was turning away, almost out the door, that little smile still on her lips, before saying: "Do you – uh – like coffee?" She turned back, almost startled. "I mean I do. I thought we might like it together after work." Groan. "I mean, like coffee. Together. Down at the inn." He felt about fifteen. "If you like." And her lips had parted slightly, incredulous at probably the clumsiest date invitation she had ever heard.
"Sounds fine. When are you off?"
Couldn't have been her accepting. "Well, some say I'm off all the time. My rocker, the deep end. The metaphors vary." He realized he was babbling. "My personal favourite is that I'm missing a few strings on my guitar."
Her smile had become a deep-throated chuckle.
"I put the 'fun' in dysfunctional."
"How about I meet you here at six, Dr. House."
"That would be good."
And coffee had turned into dinner three nights later. She insisted he pick her up near the park, though he knew she lived in one of the trendier apartments downtown. He had already sounded out old Will Hayward on her, who assured him – if that was the right word – that Amalie Parker had been out at least once with every available man in town since her arrival six years before, and, discounting those men who liked to lie about their conquests, had slept with each of them exactly once ("Always right there in the car apparently – nowhere else") before dropping them. Not good prospects. Dinner was amazingly relaxed; he'd lost the knack of conversation since his infarction, or so he thought, but every subject led to another. Simple. He loved her deep-throated laugh. He talked a little about his past, noting that she did not, then it was on to a bar until the waitress came to say they were closing, and they drove around until they found themselves gazing up through his quickly fogging windshield at the brute force of the natural wonder that dominated the town's image, the huge rushing Snoqualmie Falls. Yellow floodlights from the Great Northern Hotel behind it cast the rising mist in an eerie glow.
"First Woman and First Man were created here by Moon the Transformer."
"It's a legend of the Snoqualmie tribe," she told him. "The falls was a traditional burial site. The mists carried their prayers to their creator. A connection between heaven and earth."
"If there's any connection to heaven in this town, I haven't found it." Other than your angel face. "You seem to know a lot. You get around." It came out wrong and she grew silent.
"I don't know what someone's told you, Greg," she finally said. "I don't - get asked out that often."
"Because men are in awe of you." A beautiful woman had told him that once, that men always assumed they had no chance with her and didn't even try. From her look she knew it was true. "Ah, I'm right."
"Now and then one screws up his courage and asks. You're the first in months to go for it." Her look turned teasing. "Even if your sentences had too many 'likes' in them."
He couldn't take his eyes off her. "Do these men who 'screw up' their courage and ask you out also get up the chutzpah to make a pass at you?"
Almost a whisper. "Some do, some don't."
And he had looked at her for a long time, then moved toward her, hesitant, - not recalling the last time he'd been hesitant about anything – and kissed her.
Lips so hot he felt burned, kissing him back, wanting, and yet – cold. As if it were all impersonal, let's try this, oh very nice, but nothing more. Holding back some part of herself.
Sex had become only a notion since he'd left Princeton. He knew he could have had some easily if he'd wanted, every town had its hookers, there was supposedly a place up north on the border, but the idea of whores had begun to turn him off. It had been his choice to live like a monk since settling in. And like a monk, too long deprived, his body now responded. He wanted her to know that, wanted to wrap her around him right there – what had Hayward said, that she liked it in the car? – but there was that hesitancy in him again, something in the classy cold veneer she erected around herself. He'd never been a grabber anyway, but he wanted her to know, so he found her hand blindly, as they kissed with eyes closed, and placed it on his hardening cock.
She let it rest there a moment, then lifted it away, gentle, and pulled back from him. "It's too early," she murmured.
"It's two a.m."
"You know what I mean. Fist date and all that."
"Mmmh, technically our second." But he offered to drive her home, really home, saying that he refused to drop her off at the deserted park where she'd left her car, arguing that it was dangerous, until she told him he could watch her get in and drive off. Cold, and private.
After the date she didn't speak to him for a week.
He'd done something wrong, he decided, or hadn't done enough. She was a troller anyway, if the stories were true, just tossing out her trot line and if she didn't like whatever bit, it got thrown back in. He told himself it didn't matter. If he was stupid enough to have started falling in love with a beautiful woman he got what he deserved. Yet there was that knot, knocking at the pit of his stomach when they passed in the hall, her smile and "Hi" warm enough but with that fake-preoccupied flurry that made it clear she didn't want to talk to him, and he would turn back, hesitating, searching for something to say just that second too long, while she disappeared through a door, his lack of confidence shocking him so much he hardly recognized himself in the mirror in the mornings, until the day he stood just behind her at the front desk while she explained to a father whose daughter had fallen out of a tree that the girl's concussion meant she should stick to her bed the next few days.
The guy's wife had wandered off toward the door with their kid. The dad's face, he saw over Dr. Parker's shoulder – a rough workingman face, blond buzzcut, broad shoulders – had changed to a leer the moment his wife left, his voice gradually – oddly – becoming a mixture of insinuation and threat.
"Stick to her bed?" he was saying now, smiling at the pediatrician. "That the only advice you can give, doctor?" He emphasized doctor as though it were a joke. "You know a lot about sticking to beds, huh?"
Shock flooded through him. He felt like punching the guy, big or not. Maybe the stories Hayward had told were public domain, but it didn't give the logfucker the right to practically call her a slut to her face. And amazingly she wasn't defending herself, just fumbling at the stethoscope around her neck, not meeting the guy's eyes. Classy, confident Amalie Parker, shrinking before his eyes.
"You work at the sawmill, don't you?" There went his mouth. Amalie turned, startled to find him there. Asshole looked confused, then nodded. (At least his powers of observation weren't failing him, his guess about the dusty smell had been right). "You'd be a good participant for a study I'm conducting." At the narrowed look: "For a small compensation, of course."
The confusion turned to a gleam. "What would I got to do?"
"Nothing hard. Eat, walk, talk. All the daily things."
"Why? What you studying?"
"We're testing the functionality of people who have sawdust for brains." Beside him he felt her head lift, the breath leave her. "For instance, how long it takes for someone like you to realize you've been insulted. One...two…three –"
"You goddamn –" But the guy's wife was suddenly at his side, and whatever goddamn thing he was he would never know, because they turned to leave. He waited for the guy's angry look back, yes, there it came, and then he turned to face Amalie, only to find she was halfway down the hall, having left without a word. So he could do nothing right, apparently. She had called an hour later and asked him to meet her in one of the operating rooms on the second floor, to come alone, and he'd ridden up in the elevator, his heart feeling dragged down to the basement, expecting to be chewed out now and told to stay out of her business, so that it was a surprise – surprise too small a word for it – to find her waiting for him across the empty room stark naked.
Big jutting breasts, a schoolboy's dream, tapering waist above a bush one shade darker than the hair on her head. Auburn, they called it. Eyes so wide and intent.
"Close the door." He obeyed. Unable to move closer for a moment, confusing her. "And tell me you're not gay."
Then he had recovered from the shock – admirably, he thought. "The kiss should have told you that." She kept her eyes on him as he hooked his cane over the metal head of a gurney and drew it in front of the door, then hobbled to her. "Actually, I'd rather show you I'm not."
He'd had lots of sex in hospital rooms in his day, but not for years; the sight of her naked body where naked bodies always were, as he perched her on the edge of the operating bed, yet so much more alive, her cry when he entered her that was joy instead of pain, left him breathless with the beauty of it, the contrast: pulsing warm skin against the chrome surroundings, against the cabled contraptions, silent now, built to tell whether a patient was alive when all he needed to know he was alive was this this wondrous sweaty thing they did the slap of their skin her moans the rush of their laughter – together - when they saw his leg couldn't take it, when with a teasing look she pulled him to a chair (another surprise, every whore and chance bar encounter since the infarction always over-accommodating, taking it easy on him as they might have with a crippled geriatric) so that he ended up sitting with her straddling him, bouncing. That was when he had first said her name that way, he thought, with that gasp of pleasure in it, and had felt her swell around him, coming for the second time, clutching him as though she might slip from reality. And putting their clothes on later, he had encountered the look he would grow accustomed to, her fleeting surprise – alarm almost - at having enjoyed it.
She had switched them to the closet a week later and it had stayed that way.
Across the park the wind in the firs roared. A storm coming. The traffic light changed to green. He clutched his paper bag with its bottle of South African beauty. His leg ached. Stupid not to have taken the car, stubborn and pompous, but things were picking up. There were possibilities. In two days she was coming to his apartment for dinner.
Next patient. Bang through the door.
Laura Palmer helped out at the hospital as a candy-striper, he knew. He'd spoken to her before, if only to eye the books she trundled on her library cart, gory-looking crime novels every one, and comment on how well-suited they were to helping patients sleep. She stood now at the window, the dark thundery day making her look tired, though she nodded and smiled when he entered. One of the saner people he'd met in the town and only seventeen. Saner than most of the adults. The patient with her, a frowsy woman swinging her legs from the examining table, was introduced as her mother. A hard face, with hard stupid eyes. Eyes that had seen a lot and taken in nothing. Hair permed too often until it was so wiry you could fence cows in with it. She was smoking, couldn't even stop for a doctor's visit apparently, so he popped a Vicodin just to show he could, then held a urine cup under the stub of cigarette and said, "Out." She stabbed it out furiously. "Problem? Come on, I haven't got all day."
The woman glared, but Laura smiled. "I told you he was like that, Mom."
"There's nothing wrong with me," the mother began, in an irritating nasal tone.
"I'm making her come in," her daughter interrupted. "Mom."
"I'm just tired all the time. I sleep fine, like a log –" He winced. "But I'm sleepy all morning."
"I couldn't wake her up yesterday." Laura's eyes were asking him for something, imploring. She was worried. Curvaceous eyes, in a mellow curved face. School homecoming queen, he thought Amalie might have told him. The only thing you should worry about, he wanted to tell Laura Palmer, is getting out of this place before you get older and turn into your mom. He thought she probably knew that.
"I had to shake her, and put a cold washcloth on her face before she would even open her eyes," Laura was saying. "That's not normal, is it?"
He checked Sarah Palmer's file. Nothing. "What sleeping pills do you take?" he asked her.
"I don't take sleeping pills." He saw Laura frown too.
"Okay, we'll call them what you want, mommy. Pillow candy, a little night music. I want to know the brand and the milligrams." Mother and daughter were both shaking their heads. "Look, sedatives stay in a woman's system longer. You're taking too much at night, too late, and it's still having an effect the next morning."
Sarah Palmer shrugged. "That's just wrong." The W word; he'd never handled that one well.
"Then someone is slipping you a mickey without you knowing." Too loud, but the woman scraped at his sarcasm bone like nails on sheet-iron. "Someone who likes you better asleep than awake. Maybe daddy needs to sneak downstairs now and then for a midnight snack without getting bitched at."
His usual up-yours fare, but he saw Laura Palmer's face change behind her mother.
The teenager looked as though she'd been shot. Gray around the lips, staring into space. A thousand years older.
He spun the stool away, spooked. Not wanting to think. He made a note in the file for a tox screen, told Sarah Palmer a nurse would be by to take blood and urine, and left as fast as his cane would take him. Only one glance back at Laura, those pretty eyes catching his, saying something different now. Please don't.
Amalie stood at the main desk. He waited until he saw the Palmers being led off to a lab, then asked her what she knew of Laura.
"Aside from candy-striping, Meals on Wheels, tutoring the Horne boy – a nasty job even for a professional, but they say she calms him –"
"I get it, just an all-round good girl –"
" – she takes cocaine in her spare time and probably sells it. Just living the American Dream. Add to that, oh, some rumoured odd tastes in men…" She was watching his reaction.
"Wow." It did surprise him. "So it's not happy-sitcom land."
Daddy was a corporate lawyer, she told him, the kind that had engendered the original shark comparisons, mom a stay-at-home. If sitcom, it was a rich-family, pampered-child sitcom. No particular reason for Laura Palmer to have turned out well. "Still the best person I know. In the original sense. A truly good person."
He shrugged. "Some people use good deeds to mask the fact that they're kaput on the inside. Numbs the brokenness, I guess." And then there was his kind, he wanted to add, just letting it all hang out like a hernia, the opposite of the Laura Palmers of the world, he supposed, bad deeds to unmask the brokenness, but when he looked up Amalie was staring at him as though he'd called her a dirty name, then she turned away and fumbled with the file on the counter. "I've – uh – got to get back," she said. "I've got a patient." The reaction was so strong – and so odd – he wanted to put his hand on her arm, turn her back to him and tell her it would be all right, though he had no idea what 'it' might be, just a sense of that sadness, the past she never talked about. A nurse was approaching from the other direction and he was forced to turn the impulse into a comment instead, before the nurse came into hearing – "See you tonight" – trying to make it a statement rather than a question, and Amalie nodded and left.
He thought of sad pasts all the rest of the day, and of the one item of dress – a leather armband, wide enough to cover her left wrist – which Amalie Parker had never once taken off during their lovemaking, even when every other scrap of clothing fell, how sad it was that they had to hide from one another.
Let your hair down for me tonight, Amalie, he thought.
Wine on the table. Lasagna in the oven. She was ten minutes late. "Welcome to the Taj Mahal," he greeted her.
She wore a baby-blue blouse with a high collar and a plunging neckline so deep he wanted to plunge right after it. "Surprised you can stand up in here," she said, smiling. It was a tiny place, but separate from the Hayward's house and thus as private as he needed. Spartan. He'd brought almost nothing with him from Princeton. She studied the guitars on the wall. "Will you play for me later?"
Yes, but not the guitars, he thought. "I had a piano back in Jersey, but I couldn't get it in the trunk."
She was surprised he'd cooked, having expected take-out after his disparaging remarks about his kitchen talents. "I take you at your word," she informed him. "Not sure why."
They talked about nothing over dinner, about other doctors at the hospital, the townspeople. She laughed at the vision he'd had, or rather his description of it, a sort of cosmic revelation about cholesterol that had come to him upon seeing a perfect counter line-up of the town's fattest enjoying the cherry pie down at the diner. He talked about his addiction.
"Sixty milligrams is a lot, but it's not exorbitant." She looked puzzled. "From what I've seen, you seem to take more."
"Ah, someone's been watching." The thought warmed him. She'd taken her shoes off and was running one foot up and down his calf below the table. Maybe it was time for a little honesty. "Actually I – palm a lot of the pills people see me take during the day. Just pass up the mouth, back into the pocket." The pretend swallowing.
She was staring, open-mouthed. "You are kidding." Nope. "But why?"
He wasn't sure, he told her. He needed to see the consternation on patients' faces when he pretended to pop two giant pills while treating them. He tried to explain the way he had been in Princeton, that it had to do with how much he had changed since leaving.
"I was the resident shock jock. Say anything, do anything, as long as it got people thinking. Always provocative. I'm so different here, but there's still that need to provoke. It gets channelled into little things like that."
The wine had emptied quickly and he'd cursed himself for not buying more, but she'd happily accepted his offer of a beer and drank it from the bottle. Talking to her felt good, they had little opportunity for that amid mops and buckets, and seeing her there at last, where he had imagined her many an evening the last two months, was a kick and at the same time as natural as breathing. She fit in, still her classy self against the shabby surroundings, yet unwound, the knot in her loosened, smiling at him over her beer. It felt…right. As nothing in the last five years had.
"You can't be that different here, Greg. Chasing a relative all the way out on the street to argue your point is fairly provocative."
No, she really couldn't imagine it. He scrolled through stories he might tell her. Spitting on a doctor. Faking cancer. "Let's just say my reactions since coming here are milder." A shadow flitted across his mind. "It's as if I've gone to sleep."
"That's not a milder reaction." Her foot had found his crotch, stroking it to erection. "Nothing gone to sleep there."
It left him breathless with joy. "Ah, now it comes down to who will get up and walk over to who."
She walked over to him and straddled him on the chair. It hurt his leg but he wouldn't have let her stop for the world. She unbuttoned his shirt, slowly, then hers, revealing a flimsy bra thing so lacy she might as well have had nothing on at all and which was taken care of in a thrice. So many places on her he wanted to touch and kiss all at the same time, he didn't have enough hands, not enough mouths, there and there, then his hands were in her hair. She helped him find the pins to loose the bun, and there it was, cascading around her shoulders and against his face as he nuzzled in to it. She was his, he could do what he wanted with her, and he was damned if they were going to do it on a chair.
"There's a reason we're here and not in a closet," he murmured. She looked at him. "I have a bed and I know how to use it."
Bed being the wrong word for the narrow wood frame and lumpy mattress behind the separating panel that constituted his bedroom, but she didn't seem to mind. They stood beside it for a moment once their clothes were off (all but one item, he thought), and he suddenly wanted to see her stretched out there, to study her body in the full light without having to push aside mops to do so. To celebrate coming out of the closet. "Lie down," he said. It came out rough with desire, and she looked odd, almost frightened at the commanding tone, then did as he said. Yes, stunning, there on the worn floral-print sheets Mrs. Hayward had given him, injecting him with such desire he thought he would burst, yet there was that look she still wore – as he bent to stroke the backs of his fingers up and down her – so taken aback he had to ask, "What?"
She placed a hand on his chest. "Please –" A choked whisper - what could be so hard to get out? "Please…don't ever order me around, Greg."
"No." It was a shock. As though he could be that way. Which she had to know. She had set the pace for them from the beginning and he had let her. He wanted more now, that was all.
Then they were lost. The thought of what she had said made him gentle at first, but then the rush took him, there was never any holding it back, she swam in it too. A different brain took over. They might have been wrestlers, pummelling with their bodies to get inside each other. He turned her, explored every orifice. She put her mouth over him as though she needed his cock to breathe and caressed it with her lips and teeth, her hair falling in a red curtain around her face.
He felt it was hours later when they were finished, though he wasn't going to look at a clock. They lay beside each other for a long time, until their hearts slowed, then she broke the spell, simply and casually, by running a finger down his chest and saying, "I need to be getting home."
He felt sick. She was sitting up. "You could sleep here tonight," he told her. The look she gave him was already closed; in a moment she would be putting her hair back up in that stupid bun. "You think someone's going to see you leaving in the morning, is that it?" Anger choked him. "You don't think the Haywards have noticed your car parked out front already?"
"I parked around the corner, Greg." He couldn't look at her. "I'm going to shower."
He lay listening to the shower run, preparing himself for what he was going to do.
When the sound of the water ceased, he limped into the bathroom, noting with satisfaction the leather bracelet lying on the edge of the sink. She stepped out from behind the shower curtain, surprised to see him there, then alarmed as she realized his intentions. They were both shouting at once, but he had her arm – in a grip that would probably leave bruises though he hadn't wanted that – and bent it to expose her left wrist.
"No – no!"
The scar was less than ten years old, he guessed. Vertical, not ragged, the smooth line of a doctor's steady hand that had used probably a small-blade scalpel to lay open the radial artery. It would have bled fast. Had she pulled back, frightened by that slide into the dark, and called 911, or had someone found her? She jerked her hand from his. She was crying.
"What is it? What is it, Am? Why did you want to kill yourself?"
"You have no right, dammit – "
"You're beautiful, you're smart." What could make a woman like you hate life that much? "Did the guy mean that much to you?"
"It wasn't that. Leave me alone."
She couldn't mean it the way it sounded. She was drying herself off, furious swipes of the towel, then she put the bracelet back on. She turned, half-calm again.
"You think you have some kind of right to me because I strip for you in a closet?"
"No." He could barely get it out.
"Because you don't. What about you, Mr. I-Killed-Someone? Always just joking. You've never revealed one honest thing about your past. Why should I?"
"But I did kill someone."
"Oh right." She grew still, understanding that he meant it.
"I – made a mistake and a patient died. A ten-year old boy…" He found himself leaning against the door for support, his eyes closed, seeing it again. He could feel her breathe.
"Every doctor runs that risk," he heard her murmur.
"Not me. It was something I shouldn't have missed – wouldn't have missed. If I'd just –" He opened his eyes to find her staring. "If I'd just gone to see the patient."
"You had a patient you never looked at?" Ah, she was beginning to understand.
"I'd always made my fellows do the dirty work." Scouts reporting back from the war front. "But my entire department had self-destructed. That was my fault too. I'd driven my fellows away, and I was trying to go it alone. This kid was brought in with stomach pains, vomiting. All I did was look at the file, diagnose a perforated bowel, and then I told the surgeon to go in and fix it." It was like vomiting up poison himself, he thought, talking about it. Five months.
"And that wasn't it?"
"Oh, the colon was perforated all right. Plumber guy patched it up. The only problem was –" he took a breath – "the kid had vascular-type Ehlers-Danlos. Never diagnosed."
Oh she was smart. Her eyes narrowed. "Which meant he shouldn't have been operated on."
"When you've got a rare genetic disorder that makes your internal walls as thin as cheap toilet paper, you don't want your usual ham-fisted surgeon playing squash in there." Amalie was nodding. "Not knowing the kid had a connective-tissue disorder meant he'd put the usual strain and pressure on the organs while operating. The next day the entire anterior of the sigmoid wall opened up. The patient went septic. Clotting, free air, a hematoma on the liver. Pleural effusion. The kid's toilet was flushing straight into his body rather than down the drain. And I still didn't get it." He looked at her. It was hard. She was hugging the towel to herself, shivering. "Because I was depending on nurses – nurses for chrissake – to tell me what the kid looked like. Stupid notes from the admitting. They all said things like 'pale' and 'jaundiced'. Not one used the word 'translucent'. Not once. 'Thin-skinned' might have even done it. When I finally caught on, it was too late." He could feel it again, that moment in the night when he had woken from a dream of being attacked by a crocodile and stumbled to the phone, yelling at the nurse to go check whether the kid had clawed toes, only to be told that the patient had died an hour earlier. "His abdomen dehiscenced while mommy and daddy watched. Mount St. Helens, only with blood instead of lava." She perched on the tub and he found himself beside her on the floor, her hands in his. "I – couldn't anymore. I waited for the autopsy report a day later, which confirmed EDS IV, clawed toes and all, and then I threw some things in the car and drove. Never even went back to the hospital. For all I know they're beating the jungle for me now with a malpractice suit between their teeth." His fingers traced the celtic design on the leather armband at her wrist. He felt emptied. "Your turn," he whispered. She drew her hand away. "I showed you mine, Amalie, now show me yours."
"Please don't make me." She was crying again, just a little tear trickling down one cheek. "I…can't. Please."
He sighed. "Okay." Giving in could be a kind of love, he supposed. Maybe Stacy had told him that once. "But you're sleeping here tonight, Am. That's an order."
She nodded, almost managing a smile, and followed him to the bed. Yes, he felt empty, emptied of the stone that had pressed at the bottom of his heart for so many months. As they cuddled close, near the edge of sleep, his mouth in her hair, he thought he heard her murmur, "You're a good doctor, Greg."
"Don't breathe a word of this to anyone."
He awoke in the sun-lanced room, thinking she had spoken, her sleeping form lying soft beside him. The voice had come from outside, through the window they had cracked in the night for air, and he slipped from beneath the covers, checked the time on the alarm-clock, six a.m., and peered out the window. Will Hayward was getting in his car, having thrown the warning sentence at his wife in her wheelchair on the doorstep. The doctor glanced up and saw his tenant staring down through the window. Hayward's face looked so haggard with shock, the despair of someone who has seen the end of the world, that he found himself mouthing, "What?" The doctor understood and motioned for him to meet him at his door.
He threw his clothes on, gently so as not to wake Amalie, and met the doctor halfway, who told him that the murdered body of Laura Palmer had been found that morning, wrapped in plastic and washed up on the shore of the Snoqualmie River.
Then he sat in his office, watching huddles of mourners converge in the hallway as the day passed, group hugs consisting of whisperers with the latest news (Laura's high-school boyfriend was being questioned – "No, not Bobby!") and heads shaken in disbelief. Groups he wouldn't - couldn't - join because he had hardly known her. He thought of pretty eyes. Amalie had been very affected, crying softly in his apartment and then saying she was going home. It was small-town solidarity, he supposed, something he was about as close to understanding as quantum physics. Solidarity – and fear. The worried frowns, none of the nurses able to get anything done. It might as well have been written across their foreheads. One of us. Another rumor - the FBI was sending an agent to take over the case, there had been a similar murder far down the coast – brought relief, he saw, minds pulling back from the thought that the evil was in their midst; why, it had nothing to do with them after all. A flurry toward noon, shouts from the ER where an ambulance had arrived: another girl had wandered dazed out of the woods, with the same marks of abuse (no one used the word torture, he noticed, though it reverberated behind their sentences) and had collapsed into a coma before saying anything. Ronette would surely provide the answer when she woke up. They would know soon.
He tried to concentrate on his paperwork. RBCs and BPs. He found he had been staring at the same bloodwork report in his hand for minutes, at the two words Chloral hydrate in the toxicology column. The traditional mickey, soluble in everything from cough syrup to cocoa. A significant find on a tox screen. Not something you took yourself to get a little sleep, but rather what someone slipped you when they wanted you knocked out. When they preferred you asleep rather than awake. The name at the top of the report read Sarah Palmer. Laura had gone gray around the lips.
They were sending an FBI agent.
He folded the tox screen and put it in his jacket pocket, then stared for a long time at the low fleeting clouds beyond the window.
End of Chapter 1
A/N: Thank you to everyone for reading. Feedback is always appreciated, so please r&r with any thoughts you have.
Though not much has come up yet, the next few chapters will have a lot of spoilers for Twin Peaks, so just in case you always planned to watch the series and never have (and hate being spoilered like I do), you should probably watch it before reading the next installments here. Chap 2 may take longer, but I hope mid-April…