Fandom: House MD
Challenge/Prompt: 100moods, 030. Drained
Summary: There are no books on what to do when your co-workers try to kill you and how you’re supposed to function afterwards.
Author’s Notes: Yes, the title does come from the border between North and South Korea (at least in the 50s). Blame my Korean war history unit. Season two Cameron/Foreman!angst because it’s just so fun to do, with hints of the-space-between-seasons that I can’t seem to leave alone (maybe I would if House season 3 actually became available in the UK!) And it’s a bit snapshot-y because, you know, yay.
It’s like sunburn and the space afterwards when you peel. Peel, peel, peel and you look strange and unattractive and it’s impossible to hide where you got hurt and maybe you’ll never properly heal again.
The needle prick hasn’t scarred. But she can feel it there, chafing. Under her pants and it was all right when she could pity him, when he couldn’t co-ordinate (and fuck, she felt guilty, which was crazy, because nothing about it was her fault) and he was so happy that he was actually on the point of insanity.
Now he is fine. And treats her like he always did. And it isn’t fair.
There are all sorts of books in the self-help section of the bookstore and she brushes her fingers over the spines, pulls her coat a little tighter as though the air conditioning is making her cold, not the sudden memories.
There are books on how to be assertive, how to love yourself, how to tell that he’s not that into you, how to feel the fear and do it anyway, how to give up smoking, drinking, how to survive your break-up, how to get over yourself, your boyfriend, your dead, dead parents.
There are no books on what to do when your co-workers try to kill you and how you’re supposed to function afterwards.
They don’t meet each other’s eyes in the diagnostics department. They didn’t all that much to begin with, but now there are too many unspoken thoughts and feelings and guilt and resentment and one of them should snap and quit but Chase sold everything to stay and Foreman refuses to back down and she’s not going to be the first to fall, she did that already, and no one was really all that grateful.
I sacrificed myself for you, she thinks, making herself a mug of hot coffee and turning around, I quit so that you could keep your jobs and you still all treat me like I’m some kind of joke that’s fallen completely flat.
She sits down at the table. Chase and Foreman are fighting over the crossword, they don’t acknowledge her, and the morning sunlight is bright on the glass. She curls her fingers into her palm, nails digging in slightly, and wonders exactly when she forgot how to be compassionate.
“How long are you going to keep ignoring me?” Foreman asks, disinterested, when she’s stuck in an elevator with him and there are no routes of escape short of finding a chainsaw and hoping there’s not too much of a drop.
“I’m not ignoring you,” she responds, not looking at him.
“Great.” Foreman’s tone is amused, brittle. “Now we’re in kindergarten. Glad we established that.”
He’s mocking her on some irritatingly deep level and if she could she’d slap him across the face. But unlike Chase, unlike House some days, she’s so very good at seeing repercussions, and isn’t in the mood to deal with these ones.
So she doesn’t slap him, she just counts the seconds and doesn’t breathe until the doors open again.
She sits in the conference room and gets on with the unenviable task of opening House’s mail and binning all the requests for consults because it’s not like there’s any point in asking him to help regular old sick people. Sometimes she thinks she’s gone wrong somewhere, winding up in the dead end here, but it isn’t productive, and she hasn’t updated her CV since the Vogler crisis. There are new things she could add to it, and she will, when she eventually gets out of here. There’s no way of knowing when that will be; but it won’t be soon.
There’s silence from the office next door, because House is somewhere with Wilson and Chase is in the clinic and Foreman might be picking up his emails but she hasn’t turned her head in the last half hour, so he might have gone somewhere by now. He might not have, it’s true, but she’s too afraid to shift and look. Things are too fragile for that.
And it’s funny that everyone thinks it’s House she’s in love with.
“Do you remember when we wanted this?” she asks Chase over a morning coffee.
Chase considers it for too long, mouth twisting as though the answer really matters, and somehow they’ve all lost track of each other. They’re not the people they were to begin with, but no one’s noticed this because they didn’t know each other well enough in the first place to be able to notice the changes now. It’s easier to live life as a stereotype than attempt to upset the delicate balance.
“No,” Chase says eventually, with a hint of a pretty, boyish smile. “Do you?”
She doesn’t remember the job interview and it’s plausible that House never bothered to give her one. Maybe she just woke up one day and came here and couldn’t work out how to leave again.
“No,” she says.
Chase laughs and she clenches her fingers on the edge of the table because she was meant to be getting more assertive.
The day before House crashes through the whiteboard and stains the carpet dark red, Foreman says:
“You can’t keep this up forever.”
She sighs. It’s late and her hair is tumbling out of her barrette to curl dejectedly around her shoulders.
“I’m not doing this to hurt you,” she tells him, “I’m not even trying to punish you. I just don’t see the point in trying to make a connection with a man who just takes and takes and takes.”
“Grow up,” Foreman snaps, something other than anger in his eyes (but God knows what it is), “We are adults. It can’t all be sharing and smiling and hoping for the best. You have got to get those rose-coloured glasses off your eyes because it is not funny any more.”
“You expected me to save your life even though you have so little respect for me that you plagiarised my work and then tried to kill me!” she snarls. She knows she keeps repeating it and it must be getting old now but none of it is fair (and he hasn’t apologised yet).
“Fine,” Foreman says. “If that’s the way you feel then I won’t try any more.”
Back when they were naïve and House still seemed like a caricature under glass (until they realised he actually was like that and damn if that didn’t break her heart), they played at being colleagues and went for after work drinks. They bitched about House, argued over medical journals, and shared inappropriate stories about previous internships. Impersonal, but it was an attempt at a connection so that their working environment would be bearable.
Then ambition got in the way and Chase screwed them all over and Foreman lost interest in friendship and she wasn’t going to try and make it work on her own. The diagnostics department are all at each other’s throats and nothing’s going to fix it.
(Not even this: House bleeding eyes shut twitching on a gurney like he’ll never get back up again.)
Over a badly made martini shaken in a thermos and poured out into a red mug with a chip on the handle, Foreman asks:
“Is this his get-out-of-jail-free card?”
Chase adds a handful of ice cubes and liberal amounts of liquor to the thermos, screws the lid on, and shakes it.
“I don’t think people should be forgiven just because they nearly died,” she says; she’s been sucking a slice of lemon and now her lips sting.
There’s no sound but the sloshing of Chase’s martini as he tries to make something drinkable.
“Fuck you, Cameron,” Foreman mumbles, tone exhausted.
Chase pours his drink into a mug, spilling a third of it on the table in the process. It’s five in the afternoon; this is unprofessional to a fault and none of them care.
“It’s so nice to be the neutral party for once,” Chase says conversationally, dropping a slice of lemon into his mug.
“You’re wallowing,” Wilson tells her on a Thursday morning. She briefly wonders why she even bothered getting out of bed. “You’re wallowing to a degree that even House would be impressed by.”
She has never liked Wilson. He’s a liar and a serial monogamist and treats women like toys with a stream of emotional abuse and thinks it redeems him that he sometimes feels bad afterwards. It doesn’t.
“So you think I should just let it go?” she asks incredulously. “Is that your advice? When someone betrays you, just pretend it didn’t happen?”
“Sometimes you have to,” he tells her, and she remembers that he knows first-hand all the different types of being stabbed in the back.
“I took advantage of you when you were high,” Chase says brightly. He’s holding a blister pack of ibuprofen; it’s too hot this afternoon and they’ve all got migraines. “And you forgave me easily enough then.”
“Did Foreman put you up to this?” she asks wearily, getting him a glass of water.
“No.” Chase takes the water from her without thanks, pops two white pills through the foil. “But you forgave me for that, why can’t you forgive him for this?”
She is sorely tempted to help herself to some painkillers too, but manages to restrain herself. They’ve really only got the patience for one addict in the department at a time.
“That was partially my fault,” she tells Chase. “I couldn’t take it all out on you.”
“It was your own fault this time,” Chase says, “You shouldn’t have left your article lying around.”
“He stabbed me with a tainted needle!” she points out exasperatedly. “We had no cure. We had no proof I wasn’t going to die.”
Chase lets out a long sigh, pops another ibuprofen, and leaves her to it. Giving her up as a lost cause.
They kill people. Not many people, really, but they’re not good enough and with House in rehab or physiotherapy or whatever, his team of helpless fellows are failing. Cuddy stops giving them serious cases, Wilson gives them pitying looks, they spend most days in the clinic or sitting around in the office not talking to each other.
Not much new there, but at least they had House to take control when their own personal bitch-fights got out of hand. Now there’s nothing but the awkward silence and Chase tapping the eraser on the end of his pencil against the glass table. Over and over and over until Foreman turns to her.
“Want to put our differences aside and murder him?” he asks.
She shrugs. “Ok.”
Chase looks between the two of them, does something that’s a curious mixture of a laugh and a grimace, and puts the pencil aside.
“Ok, so we can’t fix this because you’re so angry with me it’s made any common sense you might once have had go away, but we need to function better or else one of us will have to quit,” Foreman tells her at three in the morning when she hands him a mug of black coffee. He’s trying to sound reasonable, but he looks half dead on his feet and she knows how that feels too.
“I’m not quitting,” she says steadily. “I’ve quit for you before.”
“You quit for House,” Foreman replies.
He actually has her there but she has grown up a little in the last two years.
“I’m not angry,” she tells him, apropos of nothing. “I’m not angry, I’m hurt.”
It’s three a.m and she needs to sleep and they don’t even have a patient so it’s crazily ambiguous as to why they’re both still here. Chase left hours ago, and House isn’t back for a week.
“I really thought-” she begins, hearing her voice ripping at the edges. “I know you said we weren’t friends, but I thought-”
“Jesus,” Foreman murmurs.
They’re accumulating shades of grey faster than they know how to deal with which is irritating because she was quite happy with this being the one clear-cut thing in her life. Not anymore though.
His hands on her waist and they’ve skipped straight past a reasonable conversation to the bit afterwards. The bit they’ve been waiting on for months on end (since she realised House was a lost cause but that there were plenty of other, far more accessible, bastards in diagnostics).
Her back against the cold glass and this isn’t fuelled by anger either. She hates it when the lines blur so much that they’re incomprehensible.
“Are you ever going to say ‘sorry’?” she asks him, his mouth against her neck.
“No,” Foreman tells her.
She almost laughs. So they’ll go back to pretending it never happened, in order to paper over the cracks.
As if she thought it could end any other way.