Title: The Art of Self-Preservation
Summary: The games people play to pretend to be normal. House and Cameron are two sides of a coin.
Warnings: Um Cameron.
Fandom: House MD
Spoilers: Allusions to "Love Hurts", "Three Stories", "Acceptance".
Disclaimer: Not my characters. Not my universe. No profits. No love.
Notes: Real, actual, honest-to-God House fic. *eyedart* Um, also written before I saw "Humpty Dumpty", so the vague thematic similarities are entirely coincidental.
Email: elizabeth_barr @ yahoo.com.au
The Art of Self-Preservation
House keeps a gun in his bedside drawer. He thinks about it sometimes, not about using it, but having it, and what that means.
Bullet wounds are ugly, messy and unreliable. Also boring, from a medical point of view: metal goes in, causes damage, maybe comes out again. Maybe not. Sometimes unpredictable, but rarely exciting.
Most men, that is, most men who attempt suicide, do so with a gun. Sixty percent, that's a majority. There must be a trick to it, House decided once, because a handful always end up on life support, vegetables. He mentioned this to Wilson once, but he only got an odd look and a change of subject in return.
As deaths go, he'd rather do it all at once, and he doesn't trust his aim.
Drug overdoses, those are out, too. Too feminine, and anyway, Wilson would gloat, in a grief-stricken way. House expects at least a few people to cheer at his funeral, but gloating?
That's just tacky.
This is all hypothetical. But there's a gun in his drawer, unloaded but still potent with cheap phallic metaphors, and there's a patient whose attempted suicide is starting to look interesting. It's on his mind.
"I don't get why someone would want to kill themselves," Chase is saying to Foreman. They haven't heard him enter.
"Personally," he says, "I've always thought suicide was for people who couldn't make their own fun."
Chase doesn't get it. Foreman does, but has to stop to decide if this is a joke, or an object lesson shrouded in callous sarcasm. Cameron doesn't have to ask, which he appreciates; she gives him a reproachful look, which he ignores.
They play the differential diagnosis game. He wins. They scatter to take samples, perform tests and indulge in a bit of medical one-upmanship. A nice, healthy working relationship, just the way he likes it.
Only Cameron has stayed behind. Because she is a nice person, and she worries.
He mistrusts niceness, and he didn't hire her to worry, but he puts his Gameboy down and says, "If this is about the test results-"
"It's not. It's about Michael."
He leans back. "I don't care if he's house-trained, vaccinated and trained to walk on his hind legs. You can't keep him."
"You should see him."
"To tell him that he's a useful and valuable member of society? Not counting the fact that his organs are decaying inside him, which kind of makes that whole suicidal problem redundant anyway."
Cameron's disapproval almost conceals her genuine distress. Caring, he thinks, right. Nice.
"Send Wilson to do it. He'll be all affable and fraternal. I hear that's very big these days."
Cameron purses her lips and walks away.
Caring, emotional, nice doctors are bad doctors. Cameron is all of those things, and obsessive besides, but these are the games you play to pretend to be normal. She hates giving bad news, but she would never let a patient die because she couldn't make the tough decisions.
On the other hand, she'd cut your leg off and then tell you it was all for the best. And you could never let yourself believe otherwise, because it would be like kicking a puppy.
The patient dies two days later. His parents are in California; they said they were too busy to fly across the country to reward his cheap attention-seeking behaviour.
"Arseholes," says Chase, who is presumably an expert on parental failings. Foreman says nothing.
Cameron gets to her feet and stumbles out. They don't follow. House doesn't hire people because they're nice.
He finds her an hour later, in the little garden where patients go to smoke. It's been raining. She's sitting on the bench, staring at a wet pile of cigarette butts.
"My husband," she says, predictably. She can't continue.
"Sometimes. I saved him, once."
"And I'll bet he was just overwhelmed with gratitude."
He waits for her to deliver a moral, but she stays silent. They sit, Cameron watching the wet grass dry as if it holds the key to her future success and happiness; House revising the most likely causes of encephalitis. He's missing General Hospital, but he's such a great guy that he'll hold his tongue until Cameron's crisis has passed.
That Greg House. He's just so gosh-darn nice.
"Sometimes," she says, "I think we just do this job to make ourselves feel better."
"How's that working out for you?"
"Could be better." She offers him a weak smile. "You?"
"Could be worse." He crushes an old butt with his cane. "Of course, I'm a hopeless optimist."
Her response might be a laugh, or it might be a sob. She walks away without another word, leaving him staring at muddy cigarette ashes and wondering what she'll do when she finds herself with no one to need.
He keeps a gun in his drawer to remind himself never to let himself need it. The drawer is locked, the gun is unloaded; he can't even remember why he bought it in the first place. Bad day at the office, maybe. Maybe not.
The key thing, he thinks, is never to need it.
He makes his own fun.