Summary: It hadn't been until he started his neuro residency that he began to appreciate the similarities between protein folding and paper folding.
Fandom: House, MD
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Takes place between "Joy to the World" and "Painless." Spoiler for "Big Baby."
Title, Author and URL of original story: By The Numbers by Bell (usomitai)
Notes: A huge, huge thank you to my beta zulu! Significant dialogue from original story.
Foreman sat chatting with Thirteen--Remy--in a booth in a back corner of the campus pub while they finished their coffee. They'd sneaked away to meet for lunch, Foreman from his clinical trial, Remy from running a third set of coag and auto-immune panels on House's latest patient. In some ways it felt like they'd known each other for years, even though they'd only been together since Christmas; clandestine at that, if only to avoid pinging House's insane radar.
Remy set her coffee mug down and withdrew a paper napkin from the holder. Foreman watched her fold the napkin once, twice, making smaller and smaller squares until the layers of paper were too thick to bend any further. She then unfolded the napkin, turned it, and began folding it into triangles.
"Do you know origami?" Foreman asked.
She looked up, her brows furrowing as if caught off-guard. "Origami? As in, the Japanese art of making birds and flowers from folded sheets of paper?"
"No, the other origami. What other kind do you think is there?"
Remy shook her head. "I only ever learned how to fold paper airplanes." Her lips curved upwards in an amused grin. "Why are you asking?"
Foreman shrugged. "Your napkin." She looked down at it as he added, "Just used to be my mom's hobby, is all. She showed me how to do it when I was a kid."
"Really? You?" She looked up at him and chuckled.
Foreman glared at her. "What's so funny?"
"I never pegged you as someone into anything artistic like that. Actually, I think it's kind of cute."
He leaned back in his chair, folded his arms over his chest. "Cute?"
"Well--yeah. Eric Foreman, sitting on his mom's lap and folding these tiny paper cranes with his chubby little fingers." Remy propped her chin with her hand. "Oh, come on, stop pouting. I bet you loved making them."
Foreman looked down at the glass-topped table. He felt a goofy smile form at the memory of his mother sitting in the kitchen with small stacks of colored paper by her elbow, her slim, capable hands flipping the paper back and forth so quickly it seemed like a blur. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."
"Then I suppose you also know about the legend of the thousand paper cranes."
Foreman raised his eyebrows. "Should I know it?"
Remy sat back, took another napkin and began to shred it absently. "Well, since it's based on origami, I thought you would. Anyway, the legend says, if you fold one thousand paper cranes, then you will be granted one wish by a real crane in return. The wish is usually for long life, or to get better if you're sick or injured."
He shook his head. "Never heard of it. How'd you hear about that?"
"High school history class. A little girl in Japan was in Nagasaki when the bomb hit. She developed leukemia ten years later. She tried to fold one thousand cranes but only finished about 640 before she died. So the legend became a world peace symbol, too."
She reached out across the table and grasped his hand in her long, tapered fingers. "Maybe you could show me how to fold a crane sometime," she added, her eyes bright and teasing.
He stroked her wrist, and was about to reply when her pager chirped. She pulled it out and frowned. "Damn, it's House. Gotta run." She rose and scooped up her coat.
"We're meeting Chase and Cameron for drinks tonight."
"I know." She leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I'll be there, assuming our patient doesn't tank between now and then. 'Bye." She pivoted on her heel and headed towards the door.
Foreman watched her leave, thinking idly how she was like origami in motion: lithe and sleek and graceful, gliding with purpose as she waded through the crowd of students by the bar. He then shook his head at himself. House would laugh his ass out of Princeton for thinking that kind of romantic claptrap.
Though it still didn't make it any less true.
He finished his coffee and signaled the waiter to bring him the check. He had to get going too, back to finish patient exams for the drug trial, catch up on crunching data if House couldn't find an excuse to ride his ass. He'd see Remy later at the pub.
"Sorry I'm late," Foreman said to Chase and Cameron as he slid into his side of the booth. He unwrapped the scarf around his neck. "Had a patient to resuscitate," he added above the surrounding din of the pub.
"No worries," Chase replied, and nodded towards the glass of Pale Ale on the table. "Already ordered for you."
"Thirteen couldn't make it tonight?" Cameron asked.
"Still with the patient. Probably be at the his bedside all night." Foreman raised his glass to Chase and drank. "Thanks."
When he set his glass down, he noted both Cameron and Chase watching him across the table. "What?" he asked, spreading his hands.
Chase shrugged, a half-grin on his face, but his eyes looked serious. Cameron stayed silent, her brows knit together in concern. Foreman watched her pick up a paper napkin and twist it in her hands. It was an unconscious echo of Remy's napkin-folding at lunch; in this case, though, it felt entirely different--entirely wrong.
"Got something to tell me?" he said, just barely able to suppress his wariness.
"I’m starting to think House is a master-mind matchmaker, not a diagnostician," Chase speculated. He leaned into the corner of the booth, his arm around Cameron's shoulders. "Four out of six of us hooked up--"
"Or you could say four out of more than eighty," Foreman said, still watching Cameron worry the napkin. He felt the tension wind tighter in his shoulders.
"Awww, they don't count." Chase grinned. "They didn't get to be real House-alums, just wannabes."
Cameron set the destroyed napkin down. "Whatever the numbers," Cameron interrupted, "I’m still worried about yours, Foreman." She picked up a second napkin and began pulling it out of shape too.
"Oh, no." Foreman put up a stopping hand; he was not liking where this conversation was heading. "I only told you because I thought it'd be better if you knew before House, and not because I want your advice. No offense."
"And what if we chose to accept that offense?" Chase asked lightly.
"Robert," Cameron admonished, giving him a sharp look before she turned back to Foreman. "But I’m serious, Foreman," she said. "There’s a lot of things to consider about your 'Thirteen.' You’re her superior--"
"She didn’t say 'coworker' because she seduced me," Chase said, winking. "It'd be hypocritical if she used it as ammunition." Seeing Cameron’s exasperation, he kissed her temple. "Sorry, I’ll behave now."
"You better," she said.
"And Foreman, even leaving aside that you're kind of her boss, not to mention the doctor leading her clinical trial… and the ethical issues aside, does she know that your mother has Alzheimer's?"
"That's none of your business," Foreman said.
"That means she doesn't," Cameron noted.
Chase nodded in agreement. "I bet he hasn't made the connection himself, yet."
"A 'we’re so happy for you,' would’ve been enough," Foreman said, and drank a good portion of the beer left in his glass.
"And a 'we hope you have a long, bright future ahead of you'?" Chase asked. "Oh, wait, that’s not possible, she has a debilitating disease. You'll barely have time to get bored with her!"
Foreman pressed his lips together in a grim line.
"We’re just worried for you," Cameron tried to explain. "It’s just-- I’m not sure if dating her is a good idea, for you. I know-- I don't think she'd give you stability, and the things I've heard about her--"
"First of all, it's my decision," Foreman cut her off. "And she's done nothing you haven't." Foreman eyed Chase, his gaze hard. "You're both graduates of the House School of Love, hooking up with bad ideas that end up not being so bad." Foreman looked at Cameron and saw her biting her lips, but she didn’t make a comeback.
Meanwhile, Chase raised his own glass of beer. "To making dysfunctional relationships work out! I bet House will have a field day with this."
Chase tossed the contents back in one swallow. Foreman scowled at him as Cameron sighed and shook her head. Chase set the now-empty glass down and grinned widely at the two of them. "What? It's inevitable, you know that."
"Do I have to worry that you'll rat us out, too?"
Chase stared at Foreman, the smirk wiped off his face. "We're not on House's payroll, if that's what you're asking."
"Of course we won't say anything," Cameron said, trying to sound soothing. "That's your decision. But Foreman, I think you need to think a little more about this. You're our friend, we care about you."
"Really. Friends who mock my choice of girlfriend care about me. Nice."
"It's just that we don't want you to get hurt, or end up hurting Thirteen--"
Foreman froze. "Do you actually think I'd do that?" he said through a growing tightness in his jaw.
"She needs to know about your mom. It's only fair. To her." Cameron reached out through the pile of crumpled napkins to take Foreman's hand, but he pulled it back.
"Yeah. Well, thanks for your advice. I'm sure you'll understand if I don't take it." He rose from his seat, pulled out his wallet and withdrew a twenty. "I gotta go," he said shortly, and tossed the bill on the table.
"Foreman--" Chase called, but Foreman was already halfway to the door, and didn't look back.
Foreman was still fuming when he unlocked the door to his apartment. Hell, had been since he had stalked out of the pub. He should have punched Chase in the face for mocking Remy like that. His mom's illness had nothing to do with his feelings for Remy whatsoever. Why did that even matter? Some fucking friends, as if they weren't equally as screwed up themselves, passing judgment on shit they knew nothing about.
He opened the door, removed his coat and scarf, and headed to the living room. It wasn't empty though: Remy sat curled up on his sofa, engrossed in one of the back issues of The Journal of Neurology from the stack on his coffee table.
He cleared his throat; she looked up with an open and radiant smile. "Hey, Eric."
He cocked a curious eyebrow at her. "I thought House had you three babysitting the patient tonight."
Remy unfolded herself to stand up. Like origami in motion, he thought, remembering her move through the lunchtime crowd earlier that day. Facing him, she tilted one shoulder forward in a light shrug. "Patient's stable so we decided all of us didn't have to stay. We drew straws. Taub lost." She held out her hands.
He strode over to her; she smiled and pulled him close, kissed his cheek. Foreman stiffened, Chase's comments echoing. You'll barely have time to get bored with her. Remy drew back, puzzled. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," Foreman said, smoothing his palms down her arms. He shied away from her questioning look. "Just--thinking about something someone said earlier tonight."
Her brow furrowed. "What was it?"
"It's not important," Foreman replied; he turned back to meet her gaze. "Sometimes people are just assholes." His mouth twitched, not quite reaching a smile. He brushed his thumb along her cheekbone, trying to marvel at the smoothness of her skin like fine paper.
Her clear eyes darkened. "No, Eric, what was it?"
Remy liked Chase and Cameron; she didn't need to know what they thought, not right now, hopefully not ever. "It's House," he said, deflecting. "Just--thinking about House."
He knew from the frown crossing her face that she wasn't buying it. "House is a jerk, that's a given. Stop evading. I want you to tell me."
He hated it when she was insistent. "Look, I just can't talk about it. It's--confidential."
"I don't believe you." She pulled away completely and backed towards the front hall.
"Remy--" Foreman spread his hands.
She pointed her finger at him. "No. If we're going to be together, you have to talk to me. You have to let me in."
"And you have to trust me." He reached out. She hung back just out of his reach, her face folding closed. "Please."
She glowered at him, arms crossed over her chest. Foreman stepped forward until he was just inches away. She didn't resist when he pulled her close and pressed his mouth to hers, but she refused to respond, either, until he dragged his lips along her throat, just beneath her jaw. She slowly opened up, her anger unfolding to need; and Foreman let himself fold into her when she pressed her palm against him.
It was past midnight, and Foreman was still awake. Remy lay facing away from him in sleep, her limbs curled around herself like petals, or wings. He could hear her light, even breaths as he stared through the darkness.
He let his mind drift, from Remy beside him, to paper napkins in the pub, to his mom at her kitchen table guiding his clumsy six-year-old fingers, flipping the paper back and forth through the sequence of folds until he held an uneven, slightly crushed bird in his pudgy hands. His mother had kept each piece he made, clustered and protected by the surrounding flock of flawless creations on her windowsills.
He'd made only a few pieces before he lost interest. It hadn't been until he started his neuro residency some twenty years later that he began to appreciate the similarities between protein folding and paper folding: how elegant three-dimensional forms arose from precise sequences of steps, and how those forms fell apart with even one step out of order.
Alzheimer's, Huntington's; different diseases with different causes. He knew exactly how each worked in terms of cells, organs, and systems. Alzheimer's, the mis-folding of tau and amyloid protein that caused neurofibrillary tangles and plaques in the brain; Huntington's, too many trinucleotide repeats in the huntingtin gene that resulted in giant inclusions of mis-folded mutant protein inside the neurons, stopping their function. It didn't matter though, how or where they affected the brain. Cortical or sub-cortical, temporal lobe or striatum, they both resulted in loss of neurons, loss of physical and mental function--finally loss of self, like origami gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Foreman stared at the ceiling. The last time he'd been home to visit, Mom had been in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She was still able to get around, but he could see how impaired her executive memory had become: for half an hour, he'd watched her try to make a paper crane. Unable to remember the sequence beyond the first five folds, she'd flipped and folded the sheet until the paper became too weak to crease without ripping. She'd looked up at him then, resignation deep in the lines around her eyes. "I just can't remember how to do this anymore," she'd said, staring past him to the small bird on the sill he'd made, twenty years previous. "I guess it's time to take up another hobby."
His mom hadn't asked for Alzheimer's. Remy hadn't asked for Huntington's, either. She was a bright young doctor with a brilliant future ahead of her, about to be cut short. She deserved to be in the drug trial he was running. Especially when her baseline neurological exam showed her nerves degenerating faster than expected--her remaining time to overt symptoms was cut in half. The trial was her only option.
And now that he loved Remy Hadley, Foreman couldn't bear the thought of her slowly unfolding in body and mind. Unfolding--
Just like his mom.
Shit. Foreman squeezed his eyes shut. Shit.
Remy sighed and shifted to face him, relaxed and unaware in her repose. He clenched his jaw so hard it ached. He liked Remy for Remy, not because of some unconscious association with his mom's fate. Her Huntington's had nothing to do with his mother's Alzheimer's, end of story. Or so he'd always believed. God damn Chase and Cameron for forcing him to see it otherwise.
Carefully Foreman extricated himself from her embrace to get out of bed. In no way was he going to fold a thousand paper cranes and hope his wish was granted. Legend wasn't fact, and he did not believe in legend; he grabbed his robe, slipped it on, and padded out to the living room to tackle the stack of journals on his coffee table. There would be some new research in those journals, something to add to the current trial or consider for the future. He was still reading when Remy came to join him in the living room, just as the sun was rising.
Two weeks later, switching Remy's placebo for drug, he heard the flurry of cranes taking flight.