, for allowing this fic to give her a small break from her finals. =)
Disclaimer: Characters belong to David Shore and Bad Hat Harry Productions.
Feedback: Highlander II
He's here again. The good-tipper with the mussed hair. He's been here every Friday and Saturday night for the last month. No - six weeks. He sits in the same chair and drinks the same drink and waits for me to finish my dance. 'Waits for me to give him a private dance. Happily, I oblige. I mentioned he was a good tipper, right?
The first night he was here, he tipped me $200.00 and asked if I would meet him in the back. I told him first-timers don't get privileges like that. Even when they tip that well. His next question was wanting to know what second-timers get.
Usually a client has to be a pretty regular customer at the club before he's granted access to the rooms in the back, but this guy managed to charm his way into access on his second visit. So, when he asked me again, I slipped him a note with a number on it.
Stripping is not the job I would have ordinarily chosen to pay my way through med school, but it was the job with the hours I could work that paid decent enough wages. Though this customer? I think he changed my thoughts on my job. Not enough to have me considering a career change, but enough to see this job as an interesting life experience.
That first night meeting him in the back rooms, he didn't actually know it was me; he was going completely on faith. I kind of liked him - yes, even after two visits, he had this presence and he knew what he wanted - so I gave him the number to the room adjacent to mine. He was only the fifth person I'd even given that number to and the first one to get it before having been a regular customer for at least a month. I'm particular about my clients.
I have no problem giving oral sex, even the anonymous kind. I do have a problem with guys coming to the club thinking they have a right to something because they slapped a dollar to my ass.
Not him. He was different. He never acted entitled; he just knew what he wanted and did what he had to do to get it. Kind of admirable, if you think about it.
I think he was nervous that first night. Maybe he thought it wouldn't be the person he thought it was on the other side. Maybe it was his first time sticking his dick in a hole in a wall. Either way, he was there, condom in place, waiting and I obliged him eagerly. I wanted him to forget his nerves and the rest of the world for a few minutes. I must have done exactly that, since he slipped me an extra $50.00 and told me not to tell my boss about it.
He kept coming back, every week on Friday and Saturday nights. The routine, when he came, was the same: I'd dance, I'd dance for him, then we'd meet in the back through the wall. The only variation was whether or not he'd slip me an extra tip or not.
Dangerously, I found myself starting to expect his visits. To look forward to them. He was one of the few clients who didn't try to make me feel like I was a bad person for doing what I did. He always left me feeling like my job was just as important as any other; that I'd fulfilled a need. Not just for him, but for anyone else who'd been there when I was working. There weren't a lot of people who made me feel that way. It was a nice change. Even if it was stupid of me to start expecting him to be at the club every week. He was late one Friday and I thought he was going to miss my new dance.
Yes, I stupidly let myself get too invested. I couldn't help it. He gave me the self-esteem boost I needed to keep going with both med school and my job.
Like I said - he's here again. He's watching me. He's not interested in Mary over there swinging her tits at every pair of ogling eyes.
I have no idea why he's so fascinated with me. I've never thought myself all that interesting. He's the most unusual customer - in a good way - that we've ever had at this club. He's not grabby or inappropriately affectionate. He watches, gets his private dance and his private blow job, then he leaves.
And he doesn't seem to have any interest in any of the other girls. Lanie told me that when I wasn't here last Friday - I had a mid-term that I'd been up all night the night before studying for - he didn't stay long. He tipped the girls who were here, but he didn't want anything special. I don't know whether to find that flattering or creepy.
His fingers are cool against my hip from the ice-sweat on the glass, but the rest of him is warm. I dance for him, like always; he tips me, then I slink off behind the stage to change. I still give him the slip of paper - though he knows which door - only because I don't want the bouncers to give him a hard time.
He's there when I slip in, I can hear him panting on the other side of the wall. It's kind of hot. I know I shouldn't go there in my head, but it does thrill me a little. I give a light rap on the plaster and kneel beside the wall to wait.
"Stand up," he says. "Turn around."
My brain takes a full fifteen seconds to process that. "Um, why?" it asks for me. My brain and I are a little confused, because he never speaks until the end when he passes me the extra 'sneaky' tip.
"Just do it," he says with a grunted sigh and pokes the condom through the hole, giving it an irritated shake.
I stand up, blinking in disbelief. "Just hold on a minute..." I try not to stammer.
Another heavy sigh from his side. "Need more tonight," he rumbles. He sounds like he's on edge, like something's not right.
I shake my head. I know he can't see me, it doesn't matter. "I - I can't. We're not..." I lean down toward the hole. "We're not allowed to do more," I tell him.
"Who's gonna know?" he persists.
"Everyone," I answer.
"Well, I am that good," he says, rather full of himself in a way that I can't tell if he's being an ass or being cocky.
"And the walls are that thin," I add. For this guy? I probably would do it, but because the walls are so thin, my boss would hear and I'd get fired. I can't afford to get fired.
He grunts again. "Then I guess you'll have to be vewy, vewy quiet."
"I could get fired. I need this job."
He left. I heard the door on his side close a moment after I said that. The last client who walked out got angry that I wouldn't let him pee on me. That's just something I don't do. He'll have to go somewhere else for that. But, yeah, my best client just left without getting... hell, guess I'm down again. Shit.
He didn't show up on Saturday night and my tips suffered because of it. I just couldn't get into the dancing. Now I'm afraid he won't come back at all.
Lanie told me not to worry about it. That it happens all the time. Girls get their fairy tale hopes up, only to have them crushed in the harsh light of day. Or the cold light of florescents.
I'm not expecting anything aside from good, steady tips. I need something to go in my savings account. Most of my tips go toward food or books, but those tips from him were stuffed into an account, with the few additional dollars from what wasn't used on necessities. It's still not a lot, but it's padding my savings enough to keep me from panicking.
I don't like panicking.
I also don't like being unemployed. I couldn't break the rules. Not even for the best tips in three years. If I was thinking about marrying the guy, maybe, but not just for a tip.
"Do you want a job?" he asks me as I leave the club. I see him leaning against my car with his arms folded over his chest, hands tucked into his armpits. It's cold out tonight.
I give him a look and think about ignoring him. Ultimately, I answer with: "I have a job."
"And as jobs go, it's not a bad one," he retorts. "If you want to make a living as a stripper giving head in the back room."
Now I feel like a cheap whore around him. "Thanks. I'll be going now." I push my way past him and fumble my keys into my hand. They hit the ground at my feet when I shiver from the cold. I don't want to bend over to pick them up, but I do want to go home.
"You don't want to be a stripper. You've got - aspirations. You want to do something bigger." He hasn't moved closer, just turned to face me.
I keep my eyes on him while I stoop to get my keys. He looks like he thinks I'm insane for thinking he might try to do something. He has a cane for crying out loud. "No, I don't want to be a stripper," I tell him and retrieve my keys.
"Answer the question. Do you want a job?"
"Working for you?" I ask. I snort. "Not hardly."
He looks like he was expecting that answer. Everyone else would be put off by it. "You don't even know what I do," he says, slightly amused.
"You go to strip clubs and stuff dollar bills down women's underwear." I've got the car unlocked. I'm ready to go home now.
"One of many things." He drops the tip of the cane to the gravel underneath his feet and turns to walk away. "Look me up when you change your mind."
What? I'm sure I actually said that out loud, but he doesn't turn around, doesn't stop walking. What the hell did he mean by that?
That was a long time ago. I'd all but forgotten about that conversation in the parking lot until a friend sent me a photograph when I got back to Chicago. 'For old time's sake' she'd printed on the back. Thanks, Lanie.
Tapping the photo against my fingertips, my mind wanders back over various memories of the last several years. It finds and settles on one in particular. The memory coincides appropriately with the obnoxious phone call I get at eleven-thirty that night.
"You bastard," I answer as though I was expecting the call at exactly that moment.
He's silent for a bit longer than he would be if he hadn't been startled. "Wow. I call for a consult and that's how you greet me?"
I grunt away from the phone. "You knew who I was when you got my C.V." Which has nothing to do with his question. "You didn't hire me because I was pretty and smart. You hired me to try to get what I wouldn't give you that night at the club." I should really be a lot more angry about this and maybe I am, but - why is he calling me?
"No," no pause this time. "I hired you because you went outside the norm. You are pretty and you are smart and one of those could've gotten you an easy life. You chose to go against that. It made you interesting. And that's why I hired you."
That story doesn't get any less insulting five years later and over the phone. "So, you don't want to sleep with me?"
"What kind of question is that? We're supposed to be talking medicine here. I've got a life to save."
"So go ask your team. That's what they're for."
He snorts directly into the phone. "They're idiots."
I roll my eyes and shake my head. "You say that about everyone."
"Thus proving my point. Look, I need to know what could cause joint pain, skin lesions and..."
"I'm not helping you, House. You have four fellows, a best friend and a Dean of Medicine. Go bother them."
"You used to be a lot more fun," he says... and is that pouting I hear?
I sigh heavily. "I'm still a lot of fun. You just never bothered to find out for yourself how much."
"Stupid me," he says. "C'mon. DDx with me."
I frown. I pull the phone away from my ear and scowl at it as though he can see me through the wireless device. "That was either the worst pick-up line in history or you are seriously desperate for a diagnosis."
"Pick whichever one will let you help me out on this."
He's either really desperate or really fucking with me. I'm just not sure which at this point. "No, House. You had your chance to keep me on your team, now it's gone."
"Open the door."
I stare in disbelief at the phone again. "What?" Am I losing it or did he...
"Cameron, open the door," he says, softer this time.
Now I know he's dicking with me. At the door I peek through the peephole and see nothing but blackness. Under ordinary circumstances, opening the door without knowing who's on the other side could be a really bad thing, but tonight, I'll take my chances.
I release the deadbolt and unlock the door, leaving the chain hooked - I'm not that far gone. I slide the door open slowly and peer into the hallway.
My heart thunders in my chest so hard I can feel it behind my ears. What is he doing here? When he turns around, phone still pressed to his ear, I'm certain it's a hallucination and I consider calling Wilson to see if he can set me up with a good shrink.
"I can hear your heart beating through the phone," he says. If he's listening that closely, he'll hear it skip a beat.
Autopilot kicks in in my brain and I unlatch the chain and open the door for him to come into my apartment. "Um -" is my grand greeting and welcome wagon speech.
He steps inside and folds his phone closed. 'Slides it into a pocket with one hand, while the other ruffles at his hair almost nervously. "Still need that DDx," he says.
I blink, once, hard, to clear my head. "That's why you're here? A differential?"
He nods. "I told you. Patient dying. We doctors tend to think that's a bad thing."
"If your patient was really dying, you wouldn't come out here to ask me about the symptoms," I counter.
"You don't know that."
I tip my head and glare at him. It's not a look that always works, but this time, I'm right.
He folds. "Fine. I didn't come here for a differential. I came here to tell you you're an idiot."
"Not the best way to start a conversation."
He frowns. "I'm not starting. We're already in a conversation. I'm continuing."
With one hell of a segue. "Fine." I cross my arms over my chest. "Why am I an idiot?" This time.
"Because you left."
I glare at him. "Upholding my principles makes me an idiot?
His face sours. "You're not being principled," he snarls. "You're running away."
"And you're not here because you think I'm a coward," I tell him, straight-up.
He's smiling at me. Smiling. Why is he smiling? He knows something. "I taught you well," he says.
I sigh and toss my phone to a nearby table. "What do you want?" I ask
Most people, normal people, would be annoyed by that question and turn around and leave. Not House. He'd rather dig in and see what else he can do. It's just his way and I think it's something I got used to when I was working with him. The bizarre things you find yourself accustomed to out of habit.
He doesn't leave. He doesn't even scoff. He looks at me head-on and says, "I want you to admit that you were wrong to leave."
I shake my head. "No." I leave that lingering in the air for a while. "I wasn't wrong to leave and nothing you say is going to convince me otherwise."
I need to be more careful in my phrasing. He doesn't say anything. Instead, he draws me in for a smokin' hot kiss. His hands curled around my back, his chapped lips brushing against my less chapped ones, his strong tongue pushing between my teeth to get me to let him in, let him control the kiss.
Forgive me, I give in and let him have it. The man knows a thing or two about kissing.
I'm not exactly sure why he's kissing me. Shock value, he wants something, I'm unconscious and dreaming... oh God, he feels good. I don't want to let him go when he pulls, slowly, out of the kiss. He's stepped out of range and I brush the back of my hand across my astonished mouth. Wow. What were we arguing about before that?
"You were wrong," he insists. And damn him, I almost cave. Almost.
I shake my head and fold my arms across my chest. "No. I wasn't. I did what I needed to do." A brief pause to pull myself together and for dramatic effect. "For me."
For a moment, I think he's going to turn and leave, but he doesn't. One of those annoying, smart-ass grins he's famous for slips over his face. It's that look he gets when he wants to be smug without actually looking smug, but it still looks smug to anyone who's known him longer than a month. "Good," he says, as though he's the one who put the idea in my head to begin with. He's not. I decided to leave and I decided why.
Needless to say, I'm confused. I think he's picked up on that, because the next thing he says is:
"You learned something from me."
"Oh? And what was that?"
"Look out for you."
I snort. "Oh. I thought you were going to tell me 'running away from my problems'."
His forehead wrinkles the way it does when he's almost angry. "I don't run from anything."
Semantics. I actually roll my eyes at him. "No. You push anyone who gives a crap away."
He almost doesn't react to that. There's a pause before he admits: "Hurts less that way."
God, he's so broken. I don't know if I could fix it, but I'd like the chance to try. Even if he's not interested in an actual relationship. A solid friendship would work just as well. Almost better in some cases. "No, it doesn't," I tell him regarding his last statement. "It usually hurts more. All the 'what ifs' and second guessing, wondering if you could've done just one thing differently that would've made all the difference." I lean a hip against the back of my second-hand couch. "Even if you don't dwell on it, it's always there. In your head. Waiting to jump out of the dark alley and mug you when you least expect it."
"That is the worst metaphor..." his deflection gets lost as he looks to the floor. There was no heart in it. He knows I'm right. He huffs a little growl and limps toward the door. "I'm gonna go. 'See myself out."
"House," I call to him and wait for him to turn around. "Don't go." I'm not sure I actually said that out loud.
I shrug. Tears sting my eyes because I'm not entirely sure what to tell him. 'What reason will convince him to stay. "Because it's cold out there and the hotels here are seriously overpriced," I manage.
I can't tell him that I'm lonely and scared and not ready to break all ties with Princeton-Plainsboro just yet. That's it's been a rough six weeks out here alone. Too many memories from too many places crashing into each other in my head. I need something - someone - familiar. Just for a little while.
Just until I can tell him what I really need to say.
He pushes his chin over his left shoulder. "This mean I get what I wanted eight years ago?"
I can't believe it takes me a solid minute to figure out what the hell he's talking about. My brain did something like this: Wha-?... Oh.... oh that... Oh. No. He. Didn't.
I screw my head back on straight and glare. "You can't afford it anymore," I tell him. He'll tell me to name my price, but the truth is - he really can't afford it anymore. Not yet.