Episode Interlude for 4x10, Everybody Lies
Disclaimer: House characters are property of David Shore, et. al
As House manipulates his three new employees into buying him gifts, two former employees consider the holiday spirit and their new lives.
A/N: Hi all! New to writing for "House," and this will probably be one of the few that I write before university starts back up in a month. I always tend to write longer pieces, but I hope it's worth it! Please let me know what you think. Thanks!
She hears the scrape of his key in the lock first, and turns as he opens the door. "Hey! By the tree!" she calls out. She looks up at the gigantic tree, elaborately decorated with ornaments her mother had sent out years ago and lights purchased at Target. Robert had even added a delicate gold and porcelain angel to the top, explaining that his mother had left it to him. "I did a little more decorating this afternoon."
He walks into the living room, slightly stooped with exhaustion from his day, and stops to take in the lights strung over the couch, the decals on the window, the candy canes in a jar on the coffee table. There's even holly perched on top of the TV, and, he notices, she's added more tinsel to the tree. He can even hear carols jingling from his iHome.
"A little more decorating?" he laughs, tossing his messenger bag on the chair and getting a good look at her as well. She's wearing black leggings and an enormous hunter-green sweater, and has put on thick eggshell-colored socks to keep her feet warm. Her blonde hair is piled loosely on her head, and she looks positively elfin. He leans over and kisses her cheek, and she grabs his neck with two hands to kiss him more deeply, before he heads into the kitchen. "What exactly are you doing now, anyways?"
"There's cocoa on the stove," she calls after him, staring at her spread of wrapping paraphernalia. "And I'm wrapping the presents for under the tree. The tree looked a … little bare." She looks at the half-dozen presents already under the tree—her two for Robert, one for each parent, one for each sibling so far. A larger pile, divided into three subcategories, still waits to her left.
She doesn't know why she's going all out this Christmas, but it's part of the new Allison Cameron, the one who isn't scared to care really deeply and try new things. When she lived alone, there was no reason to decorate. Now, practically living with Robert, whom she already knows doesn't care for the holidays, she feels compelled to put forth extra effort, to make the holidays extra-cheery, to see if that makes her mellow and (lately) melancholy boyfriend slightly more excited. And somehow, in her enthusiasm, she's gotten swept up in the holiday cheer of it all.
"This is what you do on your one day off in the past 10?" Robert asks, coming back with two cups of cocoa, one (hers) topped with marshmallow, and both complete with a candy cane to use as a stirrer. "I think the Target Christmas section just exploded."
"Yeah," she smiles, looking at her handiwork. "It was fun. And listen—I know it's technically your place—" she suddenly feels worried, and hopes she hasn't overstepped a boundary. She really did just get carried away.
He shakes his head as he hands her her mug of cocoa, and says, "Come off it. It hasn't looked this festive since I moved in."
She grins and takes a sip, her insides warm before the chocolate touches her lips. "Thanks. … I really don't know what came over me, last year I had a tree on a table." It's not that she's even into the holiday, exactly, but she wants something—even if it's her credit-card bill—to remember that this is the first Christmas of attempting a normal relationship. She knows, deep down, that she's trying to translate the spirit of the holiday into actual change for her, actual growth so she feels less like the selfish bitch she's decided she became working for House, too concerned with rules and regulations and winning to do what's right and good. Pushing these thoughts away, she kisses him, savoring the peppermint taste.
"What do you have here?" he nods toward the two stacks of presents.
"Those—under the tree—are for my parents, Amanda, Dave, you so far. That is obviously the unwrapped pile. One is for Amanda's family and Dave's kids, one is for friends in the area—" this pile, he notes, is mostly generic things like DVDs and CDs "and that pile is for people from work."
"People from work?" he sifts through the pile, a mix of gift cards and real presents. "Who's this for?" He holds up a set of plastic-wrapped placemats with a colorful cat print.
She laughs. "That's for Kelly, in the E.D.'s secret Santa. She likes cats. Really likes cats."
"Allison, nobody is that into cats," he looks vaguely horrified.
"Yes they are. You remember that patient we had, the one where we—" her voice trails off, but he remembers and nods. "That's what Kelly's like. Her clipboard has cat stickers on it. She wears scrubs with cats on them. She really, really likes cats. That one," she points to a coffee cup overflowing with golfballs and tees "could be for Woods, for your secret Santa, if you want. I saw it and thought it would be funny, because I know he likes to golf and his last name's Woods. I can take it back, if you want to get him something else."
"You took care of my secret Santa? You're incredible." They're slumped against each other, not uncomfortably, on the floor. He's sitting with both legs forming a right angle to his right and all his weight leaning on his left hand. She lays over his lap, resting her head against his stomach and putting some of her weight on her right elbow. He starts playing with her hair, and between the holiday cheer and the good mood they're both in, she feels completely at peace. He kisses her forehead and she smiles up at him. "Who are the rest of the gifts for? From work?"
"Those two scarves are for Maud and Emma, my two favorite trauma nurses. The bath salts are for Cuddy. The three Starbucks cards are for Taub, Thirteen, and Kutner. I thought they needed something to mark the end of that nightmare, even though they don't even know what they're getting into. Zen and the Art of the Motorcycle is for Foreman." He snickers, and she elbows him gently in the hip. "Yeah, I know, slightly passive-aggressive, but he's hard to buy for. The Rear Window poster is for Wilson—you know how, in his office, he has old movie posters? I figure he must like Rear Window."
"Seems more like a House movie, actually," Robert points out, and she's glad to hear that his voice isn't tinged with bitterness or annoyance. For some reason, since he discovered their return and after Chase helped Amber, House has shown an immense amount of respect toward Chase. He doesn't mention it to her often, but she notices things, the small ways that House has marked Chase as an equal. Allison knows about the rigged pool, for instance, but doesn't say anything. She knows—they both realize, but Chase especially needed to know it—that House's firing of Chase was his way of saying that he cared, that Chase was good and that Chase was ready, and he knew Chase would be the one least likely to leave on his own. Chase had had a hard time accepting that at first, had tried avoiding House, and House had remained a contentious figure in their relationship. This mention of him, Allison hopes, could finally mean that they can admit they both care for House (as a friend) without acrimony.
"No, that's for House," she points to a book, and he leans forward and pulls it toward him.
"The Hound of the Baskervilles?" he reads aloud. The book is old, cracked, faded; a black emblem of the detective with his pipe barely visible on the washed-out seagreen background. "Allison, this is second edition!"
"Relax, it wasn't that expensive," she says quickly. "Look, there's tons of water damage on the back. There's that little vintage bookstore down on Nassau Street, you know, I stopped in there because it was next to the coffee shop and smelled good. I saw this on a table and it kinda reminded me of House … the detective thing, the drug habit, you know."
He searched the inside page. "Look, there's a note," he lays the book flat on his lap and points. "To Dave, May you draw inspiration and courage from this …" he trailed off. "Can't read anymore," he mumbled. "Sappy though."
"I thought he'd like it." She says quietly. "I thought … it could be from both of us?"
He's quiet for a second. "You don't think he'll interpret it as us wanting our jobs back?"
"I don't care how he interprets it," she says, her voice practically childish in its sincerity. "I'm not going to worry about whether he'll analyze it. He's become sort of a friend—as much as he can—and you buy friends gifts." She waits a beat, but he says nothing, only sips his cocoa. "And that one is for Cuddy from you—I don't care about joint gifts for people like Foreman and Wilson but I think it'd be weird to send our boss a joint gift." She pointed to an assortment of coffees. "I figured she always needs coffee." He nods, and she can feel it undulate through his body, but he doesn't say anything.
"These are really thoughtful," he says.
"Thanks," a smile grows across her face. "Do you want to help wrap?" She sits up so her legs form a triangle over his thighs, and links her fingers over her shins. She's very close to his face, and smiles brightly, suggestively, effectively telling him that he's going to help wrap.
"Mmm … later," he smiles, setting down his mug and putting a hand on her waist.
"There'll be a present for you at the end," she flirts.
"What if I'm impatient?" he whispers huskily, nuzzling her nose before kissing her neck.
"Nope," she says, but lets him continue to try and persuade her. "Consider this the gift-wrapping version of Advent. You gotta wait." Still, she moves one of her hands under his shirt, massaging his hip bone, before ducking under him and catching his lips with hers.
They make out for a few minutes, but as his hand snakes up her rib cage she pulls back. "No way. Presents for other people first. 'Tis the season of giving. "
"Sure, pull the good-Catholic-schoolgirl routine out on me now," he grumbles, but uses his arm to scoop a swath of presents toward him, like a gambler collecting poker chips. She smiles as he picks up Foreman's book, then kisses his cheek.
"That was just a thank-you," she laughs at his hopeful look. She lifts her legs over his and scoots around the pile so she's facing him, sitting Indian-style, and starts to wrap the hideous cat placemats. "How was your day? What surgeries did you have?"
He laughs. "Did a bone-marrow aspiration on one of House's patients. Didn't work. Her bone was harder than the drill, it actually started smoking. They're still there trying to figure out why the hell that happened. I think her entire body's calcified."
She's so shocked by this twist that her fingers slip clumsily, causing the tape to land crookedly. "Crap," she mutters.
"Her entire body calcified?"
"She probably won't make it till Christmas!"
"Looks like," he shrugs and shakes his head. "House also, apparently, manipulated every single member of his team into giving him a gift." He doesn't like talking about House's new team, exactly, but Allison loves hospital gossip, and always wants to know what was going on whenever she has a day off.
Allison raises an eyebrow. "He let them arrange a diagnostics secret Santa, and put his name in five times," he repeats what Foreman had told him. "They figured it out, but Kutner still bought a gift. The others'll cave soon."
She laughs. "If they're dumb enough to fall for that, they deserve to lose 20 bucks."
"Yeah, you know you're probably never going to get a present from House," he says, shaking his head. She decides not to bring up the one she got from him the first year of their fellowship—a tiny, antique silver stethoscope. Some things are better left unsaid.
"If I was more sentimental, I'd say the fellowship and meeting you was a gift." That's more forward than she ever is, and she decides it's the holiday actually changing her. She quickly switches the subject. "What happened to the spirit of the holidays, Mr. I-was-almost-a-priest?" she laughs. "Have I mentioned lately, by the way, how glad I am you're not?"
"Maybe not verbally, but yes, I do understand your gratitude," he throws back. He puts his palm on top of the book and slides it toward him. Feeling generous, he asks, "Do you want to write something in it? I mean, probably not on it, because it's old, but paper-clip a message inside? That's what you're supposed to do when you give a book, right?"
She smiles. "Yeah, that's perfect." She runs into the kitchen, finds a notecard in a cabinet. It's a pale green, which is a weird color, but she figures that it will work.
Once seated, again, though, she has no idea what to write. She doesn't want it to be completely devoid of meaning but she doesn't want maudlin, sentimental, or long. "What should we say?" she starts to chew the corner of her lip, something Robert's noticed is a nervous habit.
"Dear House, Meet Holmes?" Robert suggests.
"Dear House, You're in good company?" she tries. Neither feels right. "Isn't there a catchphrase or something?"
"Elementary, my dear Watson?" Robert suggests, recalling bad TV movies from his childhood.
"Dear House, Writing anything profound here would be an elementary mistake?"
He laughs. "I like it," he carefully scrawls it onto the card, and Allison thinks House might find some significance in the fact that Robert wrote it out. "What was the name of his group of kids called? The Baker Street Gang, or something?"
So she looks it up on Wikipedia, and he finishes the note off with, Merry Christmas, Chase and Cameron, Former Baker Street Irregulars. He even wraps it, and she notices the preciseness of his cutting, taping, folding. "Where'd you learn to wrap presents like that?" she asks, because it took a job at the Marshall Field's counter in eleventh grade to teach her gift-wrapping.
"My mum," he sits back on his haunches and admires his handiwork. "She was into Christmas, for a while…" his voice trails off, but she eagerly catalogues this detail. Chase is immensely private, even with her, respecting his privacy till he's ready is one of her concessions of control that allows them to work. She's learned most of what she knows about his past through intuition and deduction, putting his randomly scattered clues together, and by occasionally paging the Bible that he still keeps on his nightstand. "Anyways, she always wanted perfectly wrapped presents underneath the tree. And a big tree. She was British but grew up in Germany and she missed the cold, the snow, so she decided a traditionally Christmassy house was the way to remedy that."
"And your dad was Czech?" she remembers his visit, the way even the air in the room tasted sour that day.
"Yeah. They met in Germany; her dad was a British diplomat and he was a Czech doctor who'd moved to East Berlin. At first their only common language was German. They got married, fled the state, her parents helped…lots of Cold War intrigue. They then went to Australia."
"Do you speak German?" she asks, knowing that it's on the border of prying.
He nods. "Yeah, it was what we spoke around the house when I was really young. Later it switched to English, when my father got more comfortable with that. Picked up some Czech as well." He places the bow on top of the gift. "When do you want to hand these out?"
She sits back on her heels, arms wrapped around her legs. "Tomorrow? The Christmas party?"
"Afterward the party, I'm going to Mass," he reminds her, sliding the book under the tree.
"Right," she says. He hasn't invited her but she doesn't want to go unless he says something, so she keeps quiet. "We could always leave it on House's desk."
"True," he says, and they go on wrapping the presents in silence, the pretty pile under the tree slowly overtaking the haphazardly stacked objects yet to be wrapped.
"Come on," he says when they're finally done wrapping all the presents. "I think I owe you dinner for a year after you bought all that. What're you up for?"
And as they grab coats and debate Indian versus Thai, she reaches up unexpectedly to kiss him on the cheek. "Merry Christmas," she whispers. "I love you," they've used the phrase before, but only rarely. Now feels like an appropriate time again.
His breath catches, he squeezes her hand, says, "I love you, too."
On Christmas Eve, they meet at the party in the lobby, both exhausted from their days. Allison feels odd, being so freshly scrubbed in the hospital, her hair pretty, her clothes clean and crisp. They kiss Wilson's cheek, share punch, remind their new departmental colleagues of each other's names ("Dan, this is Allison, she works in the E.D." "Kelly, have you met Robert? He's a surgeon."), and three or four of his fellow surgeons smirk at the introductions; they've walked in on the couple cuddling, or arguing, or have seen Chase step out of surgeries to talk to Allison. They all think he's whipped.
Eventually House's team makes it downstairs, done with their first case. Kutner looks overwhelmed (she often wonders how he got through med school), Thirteen (stupid nickname) just looks relieved. Taub comments on the décor's overt Christianity, and she wonders how many Jewish jokes House makes each day.
"Congratulations on your first case as a team," Allison says, trying for warmth.
"Thanks," Thirteen says. "Thanks for your help, Dr. Chase."
"Just doing my job," he demurs.
Foreman sees them and heads over, and she waves as he approaches. Although they ended their fellowships with a very no-hard-feelings vibe, there's been a definite coolness since his return. Chase has had a couple of civil conversations with him, but even when they were fellows they were okay being civil but not being friends, while she could never be completely professional. Still, their relationship has definitely changed. She realizes that it's because he's the bitter one, projecting his bitterness onto her. She's confused some days, and misses her old job some days, but she is moving on and making a whole life, as is Chase, whereas Foreman continues to struggle round the hamster wheel. By the end of their fellowship, she knows, she was the most functional person, and Chase was definitely the best doctor and diagnostician, and she wonders what that makes (made) Foreman. She's still not sure, but whatever he is, he's the one most unable to move on, and it wears him down, making him a meaner, lonelier version of his fellowship-self.
Still, he comes over, and she hugs him awkwardly. The six of them, House's chosen few, make small talk for a while, discussing Christmas plans. Allison feels a little smug that she and Robert are the only ones with something to look forward to: They're both working afternoon-to-evening shifts tomorrow before heading up to New York City for three days. She eventually remembers the gifts, and pulls them hurriedly out of her satchel, saying, "Just something small, from Chase and me." They're still careful to call each other Chase and Cameron at work; it makes them sound more professional, less in-your-face. Only House's gift remains now.
She saw him walk through, briefly, but he didn't stop by. And that's okay, she'll just leave the gift in his office. She saw Robert raise a glass in his direction, and then smile softly as he turned back to their conversation. It feels like a good end to the tumultuous year.
Soon, Robert is turning, saying that he has to get going or he'll miss Mass, and she kisses him on the cheek and says she'll see him at home. He notes her use of 'home' to describe his apartment, which he's going to ask her to move into soon, making it their apartment and truly home, and smiles but doesn't say anything. He says goodnight to people, grabs his coat, kisses her under the mistletoe again, and disappears into the snow. Kutner, Thirteen, Foreman, and Taub have all peeled away as well.
She grabs her coat, hat, gloves, scarf, satchel; she heads toward the elevators and pushes the fourth-floor button. The hallway is quiet and dark—she hasn't seen it this empty since the last night she spent in the hospital, a good seven months ago. The door to Diagnostics is unlocked; House wouldn't care if anyone stole anything. The only light comes from the parking lot. She pulls the book out, places it squarely on his desk. It's got a big red crushed-velvet bow on top as well as a green sticker with To House written in gold marker, in her handwriting. There's no way he can miss it. She fluffs the bow absentmindedly, then whispers, "Happy New Year," before taking one last, quick look around and leaving. She sees the tree and stockings in the conference room, and wonders what Chase bought her. He's been extremely secretive, no matter how hard she tries to flirt it out of him.
She savors the quiet of the elevator and lobby, notes that it's nearly midnight. Cuddy and the human-resources staff are trying frantically to clean everything before going home. She walks outside, and is surprised because it's still snowing. She stands in the snow for a second, looking up in wonder at the fact that it's going to be a very white Christmas.
And suddenly a cacophony of church bells go off, some playing Silent Night, some Joy to the World, and a few songs that she doesn't know the names of, but the melodies sound familiar. She lingers under the lamplight, feeling very blessed. "Merry Christmas," she whispers, and the words disappear into the quiet of the night.