Trigeminal Nerve

by A_Nonny_Mouse

David shifted in his seat and wondered if it would be rude to leave. These conferences were always a load of fun, one of the great perks of working for Solori Biotech -- but the individual lectures were a crapshoot. And this one is crap, he thought, leaning back against the curved plastic of the chair as the tiny woman at the front of the room stood on her tiptoes and muttered into the lectern. He'd been counting on it, unfortunately; Illa Stern might be one of the great minds of biochemistry, and a huge influence on his sector -- but it had turned out she could use a public speaking class, or ten.

No, he knew it would be rude to leave. That gave way to another question: would anyone catch him slipping out? Unfortunately, he'd picked a seat in the middle of a row close to the front, and looking around showed him a mostly empty room, a few rows packed with bored listeners. Everyone else probably knows that Illa's great behind the microscope and no good behind the microphone, he concluded. And everyone here would notice if he left. Worse, Dr. Stern would notice.

Most of the other attendees looked like students, which explained why they'd come. He had finished his Ph.D a year and a half ago, and Solori had snapped him up like a heron plucks a fish from the water. David found it amusing; no longer beholden to any professor, he was left with the obligation of public image. He hoped eventually to work for Illa Stern, no matter how lacking her social skills, and that kept him from the childish shenanigan of leaving for the bathroom and 'forgetting' to come back.

He tuned out Dr. Stern's monotone words, then, and let his attention rove around the room. He saw a lot of twentysomethings, a category he was departing later this year: they looked more patient than he was, probably because they had to write the lecture up for someone. A tiny tingling sensation began up at the back of his nose. He rubbed at it irritably.

I'd rather be, he thought, skiing, swimming, eating, helping a friend move, undergoing torture with a cattle prod . . . It was a figure of speech in his mind, but he thought about it and shivered momentarily. He knew a few people in the kink scene. . . . Taking a test, waiting for a train . . . He added up the list while his eyes flitted around the room, looking for something more interesting to focus on. They were slightly watery, and he blinked. . . . Talking to . . . oh. Talking to her. Yeah, definitely.

In the row in front of him, a few chairs down, a young woman was sitting in a posture he recognized from long years of experience: the I'm-secretly-reading-a-book-in-my-lap pose. David liked the look of her. She had straight strawberry brown hair that spilled down her back in a long ponytail, and was built along a lanky type of framework that he'd always found surprising and appealing. Surreptitiously, he leaned forward, trying to catch a glimpse of the title she was reading.

No, it was pressed to her lap, probably a science fiction paperback -- though he saw that she was dressed in cutoff jeans and that her legs were long, and intensely freckled. Then he felt a tickle take hold in his nose, immediately, suddenly -- a sharp sensation that his frantic rubbing wouldn't alleviate. He breathed in shallowly, a quiet, trembly breath.

"Hhuhhh -- ahh --" and there, it had gone again. His nose felt drippy with the fading tickle. He sniffed, snngk, and discovered his sinuses badly clogged, which the sniff didn't clear; it didn't even alleviate the sharp feeling. How had that come on? This place was a hotel, with air conditioning, no windows open; he hadn't come prepared for an allergy attack. He searched his pockets for a tissue, but didn't find one. His itching nose slowly started to calm down.

The lecturer was still droning on, boring the hell out of him. He turned towards the girl in the next row again, and tried to see if she had moved her book. He saw her move her head -- perhaps glancing towards him? -- but no book was visible. His nose was still trying to drip, and his head felt stuffy. He sniffed, trying to clear his sinuses, and all of a sudden the tickle was on him again, full force.

"Ehh -- ehhhuhh -- hrrAATSHOOOH!" There, maybe that had done it. It had loosened the congestion, at least. He sniffled wetly, hoping for relief. But the sensation returned, up at the back of his nose, and he blinked his eyes rapidly as allergic tears ran into them. "Huhh-h'ehh-KNNNTH!" He tried to stifle that one, but it was no quieter. His nose was stuffy enough that it sounded almost like a noseblow.

"Hehh-hhEESHU, uhhhhEESHU," they were coming one on top of another, never a good sign. Well. Excuses to leave. He pulled himself to his feet, hardly able to see with his glasses fogged from his eyes running. Another sneeze crept up on him as he stood, and he bent over with the force of it, catching himself on the empty chair next to him. "h-HACHOO!" They were getting more rapidfire.

He didn't think he needed to apologize, but an unnecessary apology was better than -- "I'b sorry about dis," he managed to get out, and the effort of talking made him sneeze again. "HurrrATCHOO!" Then he made it out into the hallway and leaned against the wall, sneezing over and over again, letting the fit work itself out. He still couldn't find anything to wipe his dripping nose, other than his sleeve, which he used, sheepishly, between sets of five or six sneezes.

After about twenty they slowed down, finally, and he gave a long wet sniffle. Whatever set me off, he thought, it was something in that room. The urge to sneeze was fading, though he still felt the irritation playing on the nerves in his nose. David sniffed again. Things were definitely clearing up. He continued standing against the wall, catching his breath. "Damn trigeminal nerve," he muttered to himself, rubbing at his nose again, trying to get the tingling sensation to go away.

"Trigeminal nerve?" he heard a voice say, pleasant, sharp, female. He started, and looked up -- to see a fuzzy person-colored blur in front of him. "I brought you tissues," the voice continued.

His glasses were completely fogged. He took them off and rubbed them clean against his shirt, blinking as the world went from one kind of blur to another, wiped his itching eyes, and put the glasses back on. It was the appealing freckly woman from the conference room, holding a large paper bag in one hand and a small packet of kleenex in the other. Her green eyes were bright behind small round glasses. What was that damned book? It was under her arm, he noted. He still couldn't catch the title.

"Thangk you," he said, his voice a little blocked up, and then snuffled thickly again, trying to get the congestion to go away. "It's highly appreciated . . ." The sensation suddenly rose again, bringing tears to his eyes anew, and he breathed shallowly for a moment, trying to hold the sneeze back. "I . . . ugh! Excuse be, I seeb to be havig . . . ahhhh . . . huehh . . . a histabide reactiod at the." He gave up talking as his breath got too shaky to speak, and then sneezed, sharply, uncontrollably.

"HhehhCHOO! HhCHOO!" He was briefly aware that she was handing him a tissue. He muffled his next sneeze into it. "Hh-KKCHXTT! Uuhh," he moaned, "Pardo -- IIKXTT!" He'd used up that tissue quite quickly, and knew that if this was the start of another fit, the mini packet would not last long. He grabbed the next and blew his nose into it, trying to expel the allergen, whatever on earth it was, so that he could get down to the business of talking to this fascinating twenty-something who was sweet enough to be bringing a random stranger tissues. Probably, he thought, she just wanted out of the lecture.

"Trigebidal," David said, and sniffed, "Uh, trigeminal nerve. The one that carries the sneezing impulse from the nose to the bedulla --" he tried blowing his nose again, and blinked tears out of his eyes -- "medulla oblongata in the brain --"

The urge to sneeze was too strong for him to hold back, and he succumbed to another three sudden sneezes. "Hhhaaa-aahh-TCHOOO! HhhECHOO! HTchoo!" The fourth took longer to build through the thickness in his nose. "Hhehh . . . Ahh . . . Uhh . . ." He reached around blindly. Wordlessly, the lanky woman handed him another tissue. "Hhh . . . SchOOH."

He stood for a moment panting, trying to avoid the next onslaught of sneezes. The tickle in his nose had abated for a moment, but he knew by the feel of it that it was only temporary.

"I'm sorry," he heard her say. His glasses were fogged up again. Tiredly, he removed them and wiped the moisture out of them as she continued, "I'm pretty sure this is my fault."

David blinked and put his glasses back on his face. "How could it be your fault?" he said, his voice emerging thickly and with a slight tremor, but no sneezes.

"Logic. You seemed to be doing all right when I came out into the hall, but got worse again right after. And you first started sneezing when you peered over my shoulder." The woman related this all matter-of-factly, and her sharp freckled face was clearly smiling.

David blushed. He hadn't wanted her to know that he was looking over her shoulder. "So whah --," he sniffed congestedly, snrgk, "What were you readig adyway?"

"Oh -- that would be this." She showed him the front cover. The Steerswoman's Road by Rosemary Kirstein. "I love it because she uses the principles of science in a really great character-driven story that reads well -- none of that idea story crap. Oh, I'm sorry, are you -- ?" She paused.

He was struggling not to sneeze again, taking light shaky breaths and shuddering with the effort, but as soon as she stopped talking he couldn't distract himself from the difficulty of it. He exploded in another violent sneeze. "Hueh-KTCHOO!" Then he blew his nose. "No, I'm okay, go od." Another thought occurred to him. "You're not wearing any perfube." His voice clogged on the last word and he sniffled again, uselessly, just driving the congestion further into his sinuses.

"No, actually I'm not. I think it's my fault because of these flowers." She reached into the bag and showed him the contents. "I'm supposed to deliver them to one of the lecturers."

He looked into the bag and saw the flowers. Even the sight of them made his nose and forehead crinkle, made him want to sneeze again. He suspected he'd sneeze at a picture of them. "Ugh. Oh. I'm supernaturally allergic to stargazer lilies."

"I'm sorry," she said. Her green eyes were intent on him, concerned and something else. "I should go."

"No! Don't go. You haven't told me your name yet." Another sneeze caught him up, too fast to grab a tissue, and he turned around to stifle it over his shoulder. "KSSHT! Uuhhh."

"I'm Tara." She reached out her hand. He saw that it was lithe and long-fingered, and when he gave her his in response, found that she shook hands firmly, like a man. He liked that. He noticed that her touch gave him something else to distract himself from the burgeoning urge to sneeze in his nose.

"Both ends of the autonomic system at once," he muttered. His pants weren't usually too small.

"What?" Tara said, confused. Then she looked. "Oh." He caught sight of her facial expression, which was one of consideration; he felt sure he was blushing. She blinked at him through her glasses and cracked a wide smile. "I like you too," she said, dryly, openly.

And then the allergic tears in his eyes crowded out her face again, and he bent forward with a series of explosive sneezes.