Chapter 5: The Diagnosis
Mallory's apartment was small, but cozy looking. It turned up absolutely nothing interesting as far as environmental causes for the loss of her sense of smell. All of her cosmetics were either labelled "for sensitive skin" or "hypoallergenic". There was no mold growing anywhere, and she basically had no cleaning products. "I just use vinegar, baking soda, and dish soap for the most part," she'd explained. "Because of the skin thing." Apart from a few dirty dishes stacked by the sink and quite a few books lying here and there, the apartment was spotless.
House straightened up from his perusal of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. "You described your place as being 'kinda messy' – what makes you say that?"
Mallory blushed. "Well, the books and dishes. I'm kind of a perfectionist."
"Mmm-hmm." House was now inspecting the contents of the fridge, where everything was neatly arranged and labelled with a date. "I can see that. So, what are you gonna have for dinner tonight?"
Mallory was a bit taken aback at the question, but she supposed it wasn't so strange considering lunch and the events leading up to it. "Umm, I don't know. But I'll definitely eat something. Don't worry about that." House was staring at her fixedly, as if assessing the truth of her answer, and Mallory laughed a bit nervously. "What are you gonna have?"
House shrugged. "Was thinking about pizza."
"Pizza's always a good idea."
House glanced out the kitchen window and took in the immaculate green lawn and perfectly sculpted hedges. "We could order in." He said it casually, without looking at her.
We could order in? Did he just want to make sure she ate again, or was it something more? Mallory smiled. "Okay. As long as there's no mushrooms."
Pizza and monster trucks was a no-fail combination, House thought. And Mallory actually seemed to be enjoying it too. House had to admit he'd spent almost as much of the time watching her as he had watching the truck rally. She didn't ask any stupid questions like "why were they smashing such expensive vehicles", or "why anyone actually enjoyed watching this sort of thing", unlike some other women he could name. She even said "Awesome!" after one particularly fiery crash that had the fire crew rushing out.
"You know, most girls don't go in for this sort of thing," House said, refilling his glass during a commercial break. He popped some ice cubes out of the tray, ignoring the one that hit the kitchen floor.
"I used to watch it with my dad when I was growing up," Mallory said. She grabbed her empty glass and headed for the fridge. "I was an only child, and so–"
House had warned her a moment too late, and could only watch as Mallory slipped on his errant ice cube. He reached out reflexively, but she went down, smashing the glass beneath her hand.
"Sorry, my bad," House said. "My ice cube. I was getting around to picking it up." He reached out a hand to help her up. "You okay?"
Mallory tentatively lifted her left hand off of the broken cup and winced. "Ow..." Shards of glass were stuck in her palm and fingers, including a particularly large piece embedded in the base of her thumb. Blood was welling up from several of the smaller lacerations, and oozing around the large chunk of glass. She took House's proffered hand with her own uninjured one and stood up, shaking bits of glass from her jeans. "Ow," she repeated.
House guided her over the remains of the broken cup and to the sink. "Really sorry," he said. "Should've picked up the ice cube, but it hurts my leg to bend down."
"No, it's my fault," Mallory said, wincing as she picked bits of glass out of her hand. "Wasn't really watching where I was walking."
House gave her hand an appraising look. "Gonna need some tweezers," he said.
"Bathroom cabinet." She turned on the cold water and let it run over her hand.
Mallory looked up. "You are NOT going to put alcohol on my hand."
"Relax – it's just to disinfect the tweezers."
"Oh. Well, it's in the bathroom cabinet too."
House returned momentarily and Mallory turned off the water. "I think I got all the little pieces out. It's just the big one." She held her good hand out. "Tweezers. Gimme."
House handed them over.
Mallory turned back to the sink. She could tell this one was really going to hurt. House was hovering over her shoulder, watching. She hesitated.
"Well?" he said expectantly.
"Don't watch!" Mallory protested. "Go sweep up the glass or something. The broom's in the front closet."
"You know, I could do that for you," House said, indicating her hand.
"Fine, fine." He raised his hands in a calming gesture. "Have it your way."
House wasn't used to being ordered around, but he went and got the broom anyway, and swept up the glass. When he was finished he went over to the sink where Mallory was still fiddling around. "How goes it?" His tone was casual.
She looked up at him, tears in her eyes. "I can't do this. It hurts too much."
"Okay. Why don't you let me take a look? I am a doctor after all."
She smiled half-heartedly.
"I'll be gentle, I promise."
"Okay." Resignedly Mallory handed over the tweezers.
"We need more light," House said. "Maybe you could sit down at the table." If she was sitting she might be more relaxed, he hoped.
She went and sat while House fetched the piano lamp and plugged it in. "That's better. Okay, let's see it."
Mallory let Dr. House take her hand, but as soon as he touched the edge of the embedded glass with the tweezers she jerked it away and swore.
"Wow. So that's what it takes to hear some language from you."
"Sorry – I'm sorry." Mallory's face was beet red.
"Doesn't bother me."
"It's just that I never swear – I teach grade four kids, for crying out loud!"
"Don't worry about it. Was just kind of amusing. Ready to try again?"
She sighed and put her hand back up on the table. "Yeah."
House gripped her wrist firmly this time and Mallory instinctively tried pulling away, but his grip was tight.
"Wait! Wait! Don't do it yet!"
He hadn't even moved the hand that held the tweezers. "Relax – I just need to hold your hand still, okay?"
Mallory covered her mouth with her right hand and nodded, a few tears escaping those sparkly eyes. "I just know it's gonna hurt so much!"
"Mallory. Relax. Breathe. Just take a few deep breaths."
"Okay." I think that's the first time he's actually called me 'Mallory', she speculated, trying to distract herself from what was coming.
Keeping a firm grip on her wrist, House felt for the edge of the glass again. It was almost entirely buried beneath the skin.
"Aahh!" Mallory gasped and tried pulling away again. "Stop! STOP!"
House lifted the tweezers and let go of her hand. "This needs to be frozen. Otherwise I can't get it out without it hurting a lot. I think the glass must be touching a tendon or possibly the bone at the base of the thumb."
"Um, okay." Mallory got up and wiped her eyes with her good hand. She laughed shakily. "Didn't think I'd be going to the clinic twice today."
"Well, look on the bright side," House said, heading towards the door, "at least it'll be two times when you don't have to wait at all."
"Lucky me." Mallory opened the front closet. "Um, do you mind helping me put my sweater on?"
"Sure." House held the sleeve carefully so that it didn't touch her hand.
"Wait! I just remembered – we can't go out now!"
House gave her a puzzled look. "We can't go out now...why?"
"It's almost eight. They fog for mosquitoes at eight, and everyone's supposed to stay indoors until nine."
House looked at his watch. "I've got 7:53. We'll just hurry and we'll be fine. I'll help you close the windows."
"Oh, don't bother, I like to have them open when it's hot like this. Besides, I'm on the third floor, I don't think anyone's gonna try to climb up and break in."
"Yeah, but don't you close them when they fog?"
"No. Third floor. I don't think it matters."
"Mmm, yeah, it does." House walked into the living room and started closing windows. "The stuff is pretty airborne, and if there's even a slight breeze it goes all over."
"Oh." Convinced, Mallory headed back in and joined the window-closing.
"Didn't they give you an information leaflet or anything?"
"Yeah. I think it's on top of the fridge. I just paid attention to the first part, where it says when not to go outside."
House suddenly turned and looked at her thoughtfully. "How long have you lived here?"
"Eight months now."
"When did they start fogging?"
"About a month ago."
"Hmm. I think we may have just found the cause of your anosmia."
"But that's only been for two weeks–"
"I know." He glanced at his watch as she closed the last window. "Bring that leaflet along. We'd better go."
The clinic was just as busy and crowded in the evening as it had been earlier in the day. As before, House led Mallory straight through the melee and snagged an empty exam room. She read the mosquito fogging leaflet while he washed his hands and found the plastic gloves again.
"It does say that everyone should close their windows. Now I feel stupid."
House came over and glanced at the page. It was entirely filled with small print. "Enough useless information burying the pertinent facts." He skimmed over it. "The stuff is known to cause asthma in some people, headaches, nausea, dizziness...cancer..."
"Cancer? It does NOT say cancer!" Mallory grabbed the paper with her good hand.
"I know. I added that one."
"Thanks. I'll be all worried now."
"Oops," House thought. "Don't be worried. Like I said, it was just idle speculation. Anyway, I'm about ninety percent sure that's what caused you to lose your sense of smell. I think it didn't happen immediately because it was a cumulative effect."
"But that's not listed as a possible side effect of exposure."
"I know. I think this is quite a rare manifestation. It may have something to do with the fact that your body seems to be very sensitive to chemicals and fragrances."
"So, do you think it's..." Mallory couldn't complete the thought.
"Permanent? No. I think if you move somewhere else for a week or so, your sense of smell will start to return as the chemical leaves your system."
"Oh, thank God! I sure hope you're right!"
"Unfortunately, it means you should probably find some other place to live...even if you do start closing your windows, I think you have a hypersensitivity, and it's not a good idea to live anywhere where they fog on a regular basis."
"Yeah...makes sense. I just really hope you're right though."
"One way to find out." House went back to the counter and got out a syringe. "Almost forgot about your hand. Can you sit on the table, please? It's a better height for me."
Mallory laughed nervously. She climbed up, watching House fill the syringe and push the air out of the needle. A tiny bit of liquid spurted out of the end, and she shuddered.
House turned around and caught the expression on her face. "You afraid of needles?"
"Just the usual amount."
He smiled and took her hand. "If you're brave I'll give you a lollipop."
Mallory tried to smile back and squeezed her eyes shut. "Okay."
House injected the freezing, perhaps a bit more carefully than usual.
Mallory opened her eyes and let out her breath with relief. "Wasn't so bad."
"Now I'll have to steal a lollipop from the nurses' station. They usually try to stop me from taking them just because they know I eat them."
Mallory laughed, not sure whether he was joking or not.
House went back to the cupboard and got out some gauze, tweezers, and a brown bottle filled with suspicious-looking liquid.
"Is that alcohol?"
"Nope. It's savlon."
"Savlon. Like alcohol, but it doesn't burn."
"Really? Where was that stuff when my mother was cleaning all of my scraped elbows and knees?"
"Yeah, no kidding." House touched the base of her thumb gently with the tweezers. "That hurt?"
He pressed harder. "That?"
"Great." It was easy as anything to get one side of the tweezers under the chunk of glass and pull it out when Mallory wasn't flinching and jerking away like she had before. House washed out the gash and then swabbed it and the rest of the abrasions with the savlon, which, as he promised, didn't burn at all. He reached for a box of band-aids, but Mallory stopped him with an upraised hand.
"Oh, right." He searched through the drawers dubiously. "Medical tape?"
"Mmm, none of that adhesive stuff. It's the glue."
"So, not steri-strips either."
"Probably not. I get a really itchy rash."
"Okay. Cotton and gauze it is." House put a cotton swab over the gash, wound a strip of gauze around it a few times, and tied a secure knot. "Seems a bit primitive, but it'll have to do."
"Thanks." Mallory wiggled her still-frozen thumb experimentally. She looked up at him suddenly with a calculating expression. "So…if you'd have gotten the glass out at my place, would you have swabbed my hand with alcohol?"
"Yup." He said it with no hesitation.
"Yup?" Mallory gave him a look of wide-eyed disbelief. "You liar! You told me it was just for the tweezers! Unbelievable."
She shook her head disapprovingly, but she really didn't look too mad, House thought. "Well, it's not like I would've necessarily just gone and done it, I might have tried to talk you into it first."
"Right. You couldn't have talked me into it."
"Then I would have just done it anyway."
Mallory glared at him. "Unbelievable," she repeated. Then she smiled in spite of herself. "Hippocrates would agree, I suppose. Doing the best you can with what you have, and all that."
House found himself staring at her again, and hadn't really paid attention to whatever it was she'd said last. "Um, yeah," he replied, hoping the answer fit. "So, do you have somewhere you can stay for awhile until you can find another place?"
"My aunt's not far from here. I think she probably won't mind if I crash there for a few weeks."
"That's good. What about tonight? It's already after nine." He paused. "I have room at my house if you need a place."
Mallory blushed. "Thanks, um, I really appreciate the thought, but I think I'll just call my aunt."
"Alright – oh, I promised you a lollipop, didn't I?" He was stalling, and he knew it.
Mallory hopped down from the table and laughed. "You really don't have to do that." On impulse, she stood on her tip-toes and kissed House on the cheek. "Thanks so much for figuring out why I lost my sense of smell, and for taking care of my hand."
House smiled. "Well, I could still be wrong about your sense of smell – though I doubt it – and I pretty much caused the injury to your hand."
Mallory shook her head. "Not really, but I forgive you anyways."
House took her hand on the pretense of checking the makeshift bandage again. He could tell she was attracted to him, but she hadn't wanted to come home with him. Maybe he needed to start slower. "So...if you have no plans for dinner tomorrow, I know this great Italian place," he said. "Smooth," he thought sarcastically. Somehow she was making him feel as awkward as a high school boy.
"Um, sure, sounds great." She smiled her dazzling smile.
House let his eyes linger on her face for a moment. "Alright. It's a date."
Mallory left the clinic with a smile on her face and the words "It's a date" ringing in her ears. All in all, she decided, it had actually been a good day.
A/N: Now complete. All reviews welcome.