Disclaimer: House, MD and the characters that populate the show do not belong to me. They are property of Fox Studios and the multiple production companies who work together to pull off each episode. This story is in no way condoned by any of the copyright holders.

Dysgeusia
By Smitty

dys·geu·si·a (ds-gyz-, -zh, -j-) n.

An impairment or dysfunction of the sense of taste.


Allison Cameron is gaining weight. She first noticed, two weeks before she quit her job, that some of her closer-fitting trousers were getting tight. She increases her mileage by five percent and adds another degree of incline when she uses the treadmill, but she makes sure to wear the pants with a little extra room.

"You should eat something," Allison's mother whispers to her after the funeral. "You're very pale."

I'm pale because my husband is dead, Allison wants to scream. I'm pale because I've cried every little piece of me out into my pillow. I'm pale because I didn't do enough. I'm pale because I'm relieved he's not in pain anymore and --

"I'm going to be sick," she says, pushing past her mother and rushing up the short flight of stairs to her mother-in-law's guest bathroom. She pushes the door behind her, but doesn't hear it close before she drops to her knees and loses both bites of her breakfast.

"Oh, sweetie." Her mom is there, pulling Allison's head onto her shoulder. Allison can't cry anymore, but she clings to her mother's sweater and gasps for breath.

When she's finally able to loosen her fingers from her mother's sleeve, her mom wets a cloth and dabs at Allison's face. "I grabbed a couple of crackers," she says, picking up a napkin from the vanity. "Eat them, they'll settle your stomach."

Allison takes one dutifully and bites off a corner. It crumbles like so much dust in her mouth.

"Come in, Allison, we have to talk."

Allison Cameron looks from her mother to her grandfather to her grandmother and then glances back at her roommate Indira, leaning against the closed door behind her.

"What's going on?" she asks, dread creeping into her stomach. "Mom? Nana? What's wrong?"

"Oh, Allison." Pop-Pop's voice breaks over her name and she realizes, in a flash of fear, that he sounds old.

"Indira called us," her mother says.

"I was worried, Allison," her roommate says from the door.

"You called them?" Allison asks, turning to look at Indira. "What for?"

Her Nana, the single strongest person she knows, wraps her frail old woman hands around Allison's upper arms and squeezes. "Come here, honey." She steers Allison over to the full-length mirror Indira put up on the back wall the day they'd moved in and Allison averts her eyes automatically. She hasn't taken a good look in the mirror since the day of Ben's funeral. She couldn't look herself in the eyes then, and she doesn't want to now. "Look at yourself, Allison," Nana demands in her gentlest voice of steel.

"Don't make me," Allison whispers, squeezing her eyes shut.

"Allison. Do as your grandmother says." Pop-Pop is using the voice he always had used when she'd been bad and so she listens.

"Look what you've done to yourself," her mother says. "Look at how thin you're getting."

Allison finally peeks through her eyelids and lets herself look at her reflection. First her feet in their running shoes, then her legs in baggy jeans, two shirts -- she's always cold lately -- and up to the evident cut of her collarbone.

She'd carried her baby fat to high school where sports finally melted away those last few pounds and a late growth spurt had turned a brainy bookworm into…a beautiful brainy bookworm. She bites her lip and touches her collarbone. The movement brings her attention to her hands, which look gaunt and bony, the knuckles too large for the skin stretched over them.

She looks up at her face before it even occurs to her not to. The mouth of the girl in the mirror falls open, pale against graying skin. The eyes, blue like Allison's, are shadowed by dark circles. Her cheeks, which she'd always complained were reminiscent of a chipmunk's, are drawn flat against her cheekbones, pale in the fluorescent overhead. She washes her hair every morning and pulls it back wet, into the same ponytail. Strands are breaking around the elastic.

Her mother and Indira are talking to her and she can't make out their words, as if they're speaking underwater.

"I…I didn't mean to," she says, their voices still background murmur. She smoothes her jeans over her hips and feels her hipbones against her palms. "I'm not. I wasn't trying." She turns to face her mother, her face crumpling. "I wasn't paying attention," she says. "I wasn't trying to lose weight." She casts a pleading look to Indira. Surely she knows Allison holds none of the psychological indications of anorexia. "I got busy. And nothing…nothing tastes good. And I forget. I'll pay attention from now on. I promise. There's nothing wrong with me."

"Allison."

"We're going out," her grandfather announces. "All of us."

Allison has work to do, anatomy to memorize, study group tonight, a practical to prepare for. She opens her mouth to protest and closes it again. She has to go along with this. Her head is spinning with her newfound awareness of her own weakness. She's been consumed with her studies, obsessed with work, filling her mind and her time with the accumulation of medical knowledge to keep from thinking about Ben. His name doesn't make her reel anymore but a cold burn starts in her lower intestine and spreads to her extremities.

"Come on," Indira says quietly. "I'll call Chin and tell him we'll be late to study group."

"Ok." Allison nods. "Thanks." She lets her grandfather settle her coat around her shoulders and her mother and grandmother lead her out.

Under the watchful eyes of her family and roommate, she eats a large salad, a piece of grilled fish, and some rice. She tastes nothing but the difference in temperature and texture and she only chokes on the rice once, when she's chewed it too many times. She even lets her grandfather buy her a slice of cheesecake because it's cool and creamy in her throat.

She feels uncomfortably full when her family drops her off but she follows Indira to study group anyway. She knows she has to keep an eye on herself. She can't be too weak or too sick to finish medical school. She can't let herself be pulled away for involuntary treatment. She's made a promise to herself and she intends to keep it.

"You want some?" Foreman asks, offering her the packet of ham.

"No," she replies, glancing around Rebecca Adler's kitchen. She had yogurt with wheat germ and berries for breakfast and a salad for lunch.

"You gonna go hungry until she dies?" Foreman demands, twisting open the mustard.

"No," Cameron says, wondering if she has enough broccoli for dinner or if she needs to stop by the store. Nothing tastes good anyway, so what she does eat is nutritional and usually fresh.

Allison Cameron eats to stay alive and she intends to live for as long as possible.

She doesn't have time to tell House that she doesn't eat sugar before he flags down the cotton candy vendor and pays for two cones.

"It's a proven fact," he says in that oddly high, excited lilt, "that Gravedigger is 200% more fun with cotton candy."

She smiles and picks at the pink stuff, believing him because she always does.

"Are you going to finish that?" he asks half an hour later as they leave the fairgrounds. He's smiling and she thinks that maybe she can see the little boy he was years ago.

She shakes her head and can't help but laugh when he tears a huge bite from it.

Her heart skips a beat as he throws his head back and his Adam's apple bobs as he swallows. She takes the cone back, suddenly curious to taste it the way he did.

He's left the heat of his mouth on the cotton candy and it's the best thing she's had in years. For the first time since Ben died, she looks forward to a second bite.

"I'm running downstairs for a sandwich," Foreman says sometime long after normal lunch hours have passed. "Either of you want anything?"

"Get me a salad," Chase says, digging his wallet out of his back pocket and pulling out a handful of crumpled bills. "Something with chicken."

"I'll have whatever you're having," Cameron says absently, reaching into the pocket of her lab coat for the twenty she keeps handy. She casts it in Foreman's direction, making notes on the titers with her other hand. She senses the sudden silence and looks up to see Chase and Foreman both staring at her. "What?"

"What if I want something, you know...fattening?"

Chase covers up a laugh with a cough and Cameron tries not to smile. She knows Foreman is playing with her so she gives him her best reproachful gaze in return.

"I can't believe you're actually eating," Chase says, slightly muffled by medical history. "Real food, to boot." Chase isn't teasing, not entirely, and Cameron rolls her eyes.

"I'm starving," she says, pushing away from the table.

"What if I want an egg salad sandwich?" Foreman asks. "Dripping with mayonnaise. On Wonder Bread."

"Then I'd say you're no gourmet. And that you'd better not come back empty-handed in a misguided effort to protect my delicate constitution."

Foreman and Chase look at each other and shrug. Foreman goes downstairs and Chase stops hiding in the case file and begins to actually read it.

House is with Foreman when he returns almost an hour later, hands full of food.

"Got you a Reuben," Foreman says, setting the plastic-wrapped plate in front of her and one at his own seat.

"Cold," House says, taking his own sandwich into his office. Cameron turns her head long enough to watch him turn on the television and then looks back at her sandwich.

It is cold and the pile of pickles is double the standard size. Cameron can guess why. The bread is rye, the corned beef tangy with dressing and sauerkraut. The flavors blend and sprawl across her tongue.

"So how is it?" Foreman asks, poking at his own sandwich.

"Good. Do I get any change?" she asks, her mouth full. He pushes bills and coins across the table and she sweeps them into her pocket without counting. She trusts Foreman, but most of all, she can't concentrate on anything but the blend of bread, meat, and cabbage in her mouth. (1)

On impulse, she turns off the highway and follows the narrow roads and wooden signs to the orchard and the small country store in front of it.

The leaves are turning and the fruit is vividly colored and plump -- round and smooth. She piles apples, raspberries, squash, and broccoli into a basket and adds homemade salsa and jelly. Fruit leather and peach nectar because she seems to be developing a sweet tooth. Sweet potato chips because her stomach demands a snack. Blueberry scone mix because one day she'll surely have a breakfast guest. Some day, anyway, and that's the first time the idea appeals.

She eats the chips, heady with cinnamon, as she drives home, half blinded by the last hours of the summer sun.

What does a girl do after quitting her job? Cameron wonders at the end of House's front walk. She feels shaky and strangely light. She's quit. She's free. She's going to wake up tomorrow and run and shower and…do nothing.

And she absolutely, positively, is never going to see House. Ever. Again.

He thinks she's a quitter, thinks she's abandoned him. He wouldn't even take her hand.

She feels sick and hungry, her stomach alive and demanding comfort. Satisfaction and retribution. She isn't sure what she expected -- or wanted -- when she drove to House's brownstone, but whatever it is, she knows she doesn't have it. She doesn't feel safe or relieved or even sad. She's angry and she's in pain.

She finds the ice cream aisle of her neighborhood grocery with no trouble and immediately locates the pint with the highest chocolate content.

At home in front of the television, her tears salt the rich, dark chocolate that coats her tongue and lingers at her molars.

The waiter arrives shortly after House dumps her world on its ass.

"The. Um. Ravioli. Please." Over the thunks of her own pulse, she hears House order puttanesca and she can't think well enough to be proud of his straight face.

He gives her a guilty look as he hands over the protection of his menu and excuses himself to the men's room.

She's still trying to remember how to breathe.

She's not sure whether she's humiliated or angry or just deeply saddened, and if so, for him or for herself. She wonders if there's truth in his statements and if claiming he's wrong equates to admitting that he is as fallible as anyone else. She wonders where the line between need and want blurs and who has the right to make that determination.

Then he's back in his seat across from her, fiddling with his napkin again.

"Bet you wish you'd asked about the movies, now," he says, taking an overlarge sip from his water glass.

"But then I wouldn't have gotten my free psychoanalysis from Dr. Phil," she returns, feeling no joy in the zing. In fact, she feels very little of anything. "I hated Jerry Maguire."

He opens his mouth and she doesn't bother bracing for what's coming.

"I didn't like Schindler's List."

"I'm not sure you're allowed to hate Schindler's List," she says but she doesn't really care, and neither does he. He never did.

Their stilted conversation about movies they hate lasts them just barely until the food arrives. Cameron watches House tuck into his puttanesca like it's going to save his life by filling his mouth and uses her fork to separate an acceptable-sized piece of ravioli from the rest.

It falls apart in her mouth like so much dust and she can't help but think how familiar it all feels.

Fin

1. House likes his Reubens cold and without pickles, per 'The Socratic Method'.

2. I got the idea for this when Chase said to Cameron in 'Heavy', "You weight 90 pounds because it's healthy?" The stricken look on her face (before I realized that was her default expression) made me think that either Foreman wasn't the only formerly heavy kid in the room, or she had been one of those scrawny kids forced to eat 6 meals a day. Then 'Love Hurts' aired and gave me an ending, even though I didn't go either of the two expected routes.

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