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and all our little agonies

Chapter Text

"I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it's true --
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe --

The Eyes glaze once -- and that is Death --
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung."

--Emily Dickinson

"The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over
nothing"

--Herodotus


It wasn't as if Dr. House had better things to do. Seriously. His minions passed patient files underneath his nose like freshly-prepared plates of filet mignon, but one bite of their fleshy interior revealed nothing but cheap gristle.

House grinned.

"What's so funny?" Wilson asked, moving to stand beside House against the railing overlooking the lobby of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.

"Just imagining what it would be like if all meat tasted like paper. Or vice versa? Would we stop eating meat and start eating paper?"

"PETA would be thrilled, but I doubt paper's nutritional value would sustain us for very long." Wilson stared at the lobby floor but saw nothing out of the ordinary, just groundlings House's puzzle-seeking intellect would overlook.

House palmed a handful of sour skittles from a bright green bag and threw them into his mouth, eyes never leaving the lobby floor.

"Replacing the vicodin with candy, are we?"

House gave Wilson a level stare. "As if. I have a way better use for these puppies than becoming my pain meds of choice. Just because you can get those whiny dying kids to believe that a bit of sugar is a magical pill doesn't mean I'll be fooled so easily."

"Heaven forbid. No one would ever compare you to an eight year old."

"Your voodoo witchcraft won't work on me, Doctor Wilson." House's voice rose, echoing into the lobby. Several people looked up.

Wilson's lips thinned into a pale line as he turned away. He sighed. "You know, every conversation we have is not an excuse to humiliate or embarrass me."

"You just wish it wasn't. Now quit distracting me."

"From what? Scoping out all the sick people?" Wilson paused. "If you're trying to avoid clinic duty, this is probably the worst hiding place you've ever come up with."

"Exactly."

"Oh." Wilson stared at the crowd with House for a few minutes in silence. Just as he was going to suggest an early lunch, House spoke.

"Ooh, look. Here she comes."

Dr. Cuddy emerged from her office and crossed the lobby, stopping to speak with a receptionist at the front desk.

"So what? It's Cuddy. You see her every day."

"So what? You can practically see down her shirt from up here."

Wilson seemed surprised to spot an overwhelming amount of cleavage and averted his eyes.

"I bet I can get one of these skittles down her shirt," House said, rolling a single piece of the candy between his thumb and forefinger.

"What? I...no, House. You really shouldn't."

"You think I can't?"

"No, I think throwing things down the chief of medicine's shirt is a really good way to get fired."

"Cuddy wouldn't fire me. She loves me, just like you do."

Wilson rolled his eyes.

"I'll do my clinic duty to make it up to her, okay?" House said.

"No, because even if you weren't lying to me right now, you still couldn't make the shot."

House raised his arm, poised to chuck the skittle. "The key here, Wilson, is not to squint. Squinting narrows your field of vision and throws off your aim."

Cuddy turned in their direction, an open file held out before her, as House cocked his arm back and let the skittle fly.

House and Wilson traced the candy's movement as if it were in slow motion, its lazy arc descending toward Cuddy. The skittle hit Cuddy's sternum and rolled down her chest, disappearing into the depths of her low-cut top.

Cuddy yelped and all activity around her froze, every eye tracing the candy's path upward to where Wilson and House stood.

Only, as Wilson's throat dried out, he realized that House had vanished.


The flush staining Wilson's cheeks had not abated since he fled the scene, finding House down a hallway, leaning against a wall nearly breathless with laughter. He posed no resistance as Wilson shoved him into the elevator, then dragged him into Cuddy's office.

"I swear, Dr. Cuddy, it wasn't me," Wilson said.

"I know." Cuddy held the offending skittle up for them to see. "Throwing snack food isn't your style."

House levered himself into one of the chairs near Cuddy's desk. "Can I have it back?"

"What?" Cuddy said, picking up the blue file she'd held earlier.

"The candy. I'll treasure it forever." House did his interpretation of a lovesick teenager, holding both his hands against his heart.

Cuddy threw the skittle into the trash can by her desk, where it clanged against the metal.

"You're a cold, cold woman, Doctor Cuddy."

"And you're either a complete moron or a deranged lunatic. I haven't decided which. Here." She dropped the file into House's lap. "Go do some work."

"But this is a file from the clinic." House stood, leaning against his cane.

"I told you that was the worst hiding place ever," Wilson said.

"And I told you I could make that shot."

"House, please. Go do something useful. I have a meeting in ten minutes and I don't need you here scaring off the donors." She ushered both men to the door. "And stop throwing candy or I'll have the snack machines removed."

House poured more skittles in his mouth before he and Wilson walked into the lobby.

"Oh, Wilson, wait," Cuddy said. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Aw, why can't I have some alone time with Cuddy? I know she loves my cane." House tapped it against the floor. "Can't get enough of it."

Wilson sighed, turning back to Cuddy's office. "Just try not to act like a child while you're treating patients, all right?"

"I thought we decided I wasn't eight?"

"They jury's still out, House."


"So, what seems to be the trouble, Miss...Grayson?" House said, letting the exam room door close behind him as he sat on a rolling stool before his patient.

"I—I'm not feeling too well," she said, smoothing out her black skirt with her fingers. House wished his patient shared Cuddy's taste in tight clothing, as this appointment was sure to be boring as hell.

"Ah. And here I thought you just wanted a pat on the back for staying so gosh-darned healthy." House flipped open Miss Grayson's file, but was still able to see a shocked expression flit across her face. She recovered, continuing as though nothing untoward had happened.

"I'm getting these awful headaches." She pressed her black, horn-rimmed glasses further up the bridge of her nose.

"Uh-huh." House didn't look up from the file. "Anything else?"

"I've been feeling weak lately, like I can't move my feet very well. I trip over things a lot."

House looked up. "Open your mouth."

Miss Grayson raised her eyebrows.

"Open your mouth, pretty please, and say ah?"

Miss Grayson opened her mouth wide as House leaned in close to her, sniffing the air.

"Minty fresh. Did you brush your teeth this morning?"

"Yes, but I don't see what that has—"

"Mouthwash?"

"Yes."

"You've been covering up more than bad morning breath with all that brushing. Quit making yourself puke and you'll feel all better." House grabbed his cane and walked to the door.

Miss Grayson's mouth hung open for a moment before she spoke. "But I don't make myself throw up."

"Sure you do. Your chart says you've lost almost thirty pounds in the last six months and since you certainly look more like the bride of Dracula than a bodybuilder, I'd say you didn't drop all those pounds working out."

"But what about the stumbling? I really have been having trouble walking recently." Miss Grayson clutched her large black handbag to her chest as if it were armor.

"No food in the body means no energy for the body to use. A lack of energy causes extreme fatigue and a loss of coordination." House pulled out his prescription pad and wrote on it. "Here." He handed the scrip to his patient.

"A ham and cheese sandwich?" Miss Grayson said.

"As long as you let it sit in your stomach long enough to digest, your symptoms will improve immediately." House opened the door and walked out. Cuddy was waiting at the main clinic entrance for him.

"I see you're actually doing your job, for once."

House handed Miss Grayson's file to a random nurse. "How many more patients do I have to see before I turn into a real boy?"

Cuddy smiled. "Your team just came to see me."

"Oh? Planning a mutiny, are they?"

"Close enough. They said you've rejected over ten cases this week."

"They were boring."

"And now your team is bored. Just pick something and let them handle it."

"Can't. I have clinic duty, remember?"

A heavy thud, then several screams shattered the relative calm of the waiting room before Cuddy could reply. Nurses surrounded Miss Grayson who lay on the floor, limbs flailing as blood flowed from a cut on her forehead.

"She's seizing," a nurse shouted.

"Get her some lorazepam," Cuddy said to the nurse, cutting through the chaos. She turned back to House. "Once she's stabilized, she's all yours."


"So, we have a patient in her mid-thirties who shows up in the clinic complaining of headaches and stumbling, then has a seizure as she's leaving the clinic." House stood before his team, who were staring blankly at his sudden entrance. The conference room was littered with potential patient files. "Put her on a nutrient rich IV, make her eat and keep down a few good meals, and she's out of here."

Not one member of his team moved from the table.

"Does anyone here remember how to hook up an IV or do I have to do everything myself around here?" House turned to walk into his office.

"But, wait—" Cameron said. "We don't even know who the patient is."

House tossed her the file, which she caught awkwardly.

"Aren't we going to do a differential?" Chase asked.

"Can't talk. I'm missing my stories."

"House, we really need to run this case," Foreman said. "Headaches and persistent muscle weakness could indicate a neurological problem."

House sneered. "You always think it's a neurological problem."

"Weight loss could mean her body has issues absorbing essential nutrients."

"Or she could just be on the Kate Moss miracle diet and spending a fortune on mouthwash and dental work to keep it under wraps."

"But that doesn't explain the seizure," Chase said, running a hand through his hair. "And if there's one, there could be another."

"Chase is right," Wilson said, holding open the door to the conference room.

"Have you and Cuddy resorted to following me around to make sure I do something productive?"

"We even thought about holding your hand, but we knew you'd just bite one of us."

Cameron at least had the decency to keep her amusement to herself, but Foreman and Chase laughed.

"You might want to have your patient checked for cancer, just to be on the safe side."

"You always think it's cancer," House said.

"I'm just saying that before you assume the patient has an eating disorder, you might want to check a few other options out instead of prescribing her—" Wilson examined the scrip in his hand, "a ham and cheese sandwich."

"You didn't," Cameron said, glaring at Chase's grin.

"Do whatever you want," House said, throwing up his hands in disgust. "I don't care. Just get out of here. You all made me miss the first five minutes of Prescription: Passion."

"But, House..." Cameron said.

"Look, there's nothing wrong with this woman. She's spent too much time puking and it's traumatized her system."

"But you can't know that for sure."

"Sure I can." House twirled his cane in one hand.

"Feeling good enough to bet on it?" Foreman asked.

"Hundred bucks says there is nothing diagnostically wrong with the patient."

"You're on." Foreman grinned.

"I'm in, too," Cameron said.

All eyes turned to stare at her. She just smiled.

"Easy money. And I get the chance to prove House wrong. What could be better than that?"

"Nothing," Wilson said. "I'm in, too."

"Good," House said. "At least this whole pointless fiasco won't be a total waste of time. When you're done, bring the results here. I want to see the look of shame on your faces when you realize how wrong you were."

"What about you, Chase? You in?" House asked, rounding on the blonde doctor.

Chase shook his head. "It's unethical to bet on a patient's welfare."

"Oh, this is no time to be taking a page out of Cameron's playbook."

"Look, either way, this woman is still sick. It isn't as if we're betting favorable against unfavorable odds. Even if she has bulimia, she's still sick. Hoping for anything worse is just wrong."

Cameron looked suitably chastened, but Foreman just looked annoyed.

"Chase, this really wasn't the time to decide to become a pansy," House said.

"He's just abstaining because all he does is suck up to House," Cameron tossed the file to Chase, hoping he'd drop it.

Chase caught the file with one hand, then gave an exasperated sigh. "Whatever. You can't shame me into betting. Besides, I'm the only impartial person left. I'll get an MRI to see if there's anything unusual."


Having sent Foreman on another pointless errand, House had some free time. Wilson, it seemed, was actually treating patients and had made it quite clear the last time House interrupted a mammogram that he wasn't welcome. So bothering Chase and Cameron seemed like the next best alternative. Hoping to go unnoticed, the sounds of the MRI machine muffled his entrance. Sticking close to the wall, House got close enough to the doctors to hear what they were saying.

"So, it's Tuesday," Chase said, staring at the MRI computer screen, flicking through ascending images of the patient's body. "Can I see that last shot again? It's a little blurry."

Cameron touched a button and spoke into a tiny microphone. "Miss Grayson, I'm going to need you to be very still for a little bit longer."

"Sorry," Miss Grayson replied, her voice tinny through the intercom speakers. "I'm just a bit nervous."

"You're doing great. Just relax." Cameron let go of the button and made some adjustments on the computer.

"Anyway, since it's Tuesday, I just wanted to remind you that I like you. A lot."

"How long is this going to go on for, Chase?" Cameron turned to stare at him. He continued to flick through the MRI images appearing on the screen.

"What?"

"This little...game you've got going on."

"It's just a friendly reminder, nothing more."

"No, its your irritating, manipulative way of getting me to admit I actually have feelings for you."

"Well, do you?" Chase turned to her, smiling, but his brows furrowed at Cameron's angry expression.

"The only feeling I have for you is regret. I wish nothing had ever happened between us." She stood and stormed out of the room, running smack into House, almost knocking him over. "What are you doing here?"

Cameron's hands gripped House's shoulders, steadying him, but he shrugged her concern off. "I need one of you to do my clinic hours," he said, thinking fast.

Chase put his head in his hands, ignoring House. Cameron just looked irritated.

"Guess that means you're stuck in the clinic," House said.


"Okay, can I have a drum roll, please?" House slapped his palms against the conference room table.

Chase stood by the white board, holding a manila envelope, acting as if House hadn't just seen him completely rejected earlier that day. Foreman and Wilson sat at the table, while Cameron leaned against the wall.

"And the winner is..." House trailed off, staring expectantly at Chase.

"Cancer. In her parietal lobe."

House yanked the scan out of Chase's hands, holding the black and white scan up to the light.

"Face it, House," Foreman said. "You were wrong."

Wilson stared over House's shoulder at the scan. "We'll need to do a biopsy to confirm, but that's a fairly large sized tumor. Almost certainly malignant."

"Time to pay up," Cameron said.

"This woman could be dying and all you care about is your money?" House asked.

"No weaseling out of this one," Wilson said.

House reached into his pocket, pulling out his wallet with a disgusted frown on his face. "This blows," he said, handing a hundred dollar bill to each of the three doctors.

"Don't you wish you'd gotten in on the action, Chase?" Cameron said, unable to hide a slight sneer.

"I'll go sign Miss Grayson up for surgery," Chase said.


"I don't know if there has ever been a more unlovable patient on the planet," House said, staring through the glass walls of a patient's room. It still seemed dark, despite the open window letting the early afternoon sunlight pour into the room. The patient had no name, but looked to be about twelve years old, with stringy blonde hair and unhealthy-looking skin.

"That's not true," Wilson said. "Unless you're not including yourself in this list."

"Oh, very funny. I bow down to your comedic genius."

Wilson smiled. "Do you know what's wrong with her yet?"

House's expression darkened. "No. She's just another patient Cuddy foisted on me for no reason." He'd dubbed the nameless patient Creepy Girl on her first day in the hospital, when she'd ripped out her IV drip ten times without being seen moving by anyone. Even the nurses didn't like to be around her for very long. "The police picked up Creepy Girl a week ago and social services sent her here."

Wilson shook his head, as if he was unsurprised with House's nickname for his patient. "And have you actually done any of those things that doctors do to gather relevant information for a diagnosis? I think they're called tests."

"It's hard to do a stress test when your patient won't even stand up by herself, much less do her song and dance on a treadmill." House frowned. "Tox screen revealed nothing out of the ordinary, as did routine blood tests and an MRI."

"So, what? You decided to just give up on this one?" Wilson asked. "What about her parents?"

"As far as we know, she doesn't have any. The police think she may have been abandoned or a runaway."

Wilson gazed at Creepy Girl. "Has she spoken yet?"

"No. She just sits there, staring off into space. She hardly even blinks. The nurses have to give her eye drops and that's like pulling teeth to get done."

"So what? Creepy Girl has dry eyes."

"I can't get the nurses to go near her. Cuddy gave the staff a long, boring speech about patient equality."

"Did you learn anything?"

"I slept through it."

"Then why are you here?"

"Where better to avoid Cuddy and my minions? They don't like the kid any more than I do. Even Cameron." House smirked. "Besides, Foreman's become completely intolerable. I need to fire him."

"You can't fire him for a little gloating. Not with the way you lord your discoveries over the rest of us."

"Sure I can."

"Doctor House," a nurse said, tapping him on the shoulder. "I'm glad you're here. It's time to administer the patient's eye drops." She stared at him expectantly.

"So? Go give them to her."

"But, since you're here, I thought you might—"

"You thought wrong. Now go help a sick child. Isn't that what you nurses get off on?"

The woman's face fell. She walked into the room and spoke to the patient, but Creepy Girl didn't respond. She was stiff in her upright pose, hands held motionless in her lap.

"Why does everyone here dislike her if she's catatonic? That's got to be an improvement from when she was admitted," Wilson said.

"Because she's not catatonic."

The two men stared as the girl's head turned to face the window, her thin body still. Her pale blue eyes never moved as she stared at the doctors.

The nurse seemed reluctant to touch the patient. She threw her hands up in the air, signaling defeat.

"Come on. You owe me lunch," House said, tugging on Wilson's sleeve before walking away.

"Yeah, sure." Wilson turned to follow, feeling dazed underneath the intensity of the girl's stare.


It's a mistake, House thought, to place a bet you can't win.

He waited at his desk, throwing his red and grey tennis ball into the air, legs stretched on top of his paperwork-laden desk.

He knew he should have been a least a little sorry for the mental beat down he subjected Foreman to day in and day out. But apologies didn't help a masochist in denial, only positive reinforcement.

The afternoon sun was bright, a thing Wilson or Cameron believed lent a cheery atmosphere to any room.

So House shut the blinds, relishing in the mote-riddled dimness. A little mood music, and he could have been in his favorite jazz club from college, feeling the pulse of the piano keys reach him through the smoky haze, around the bowed heads of pent-up patrons waiting for that one, single melody to unhinge something they only kept halfway locked up, a melodic excuse to let go, to open up Pandora's elegant box of sultry wonders.

"House."

No mistaking that Australian accent or the light press of Chase's palm against his shoulder, a brief pressure quickly removed.

House's eyes fluttered open, but Chase had moved away from the desk. Cameron came forward, brows furrowed in a knot of worry. House waved her off, certain she would come as close as she dared if left unchecked.

Wilson leaned against the glass door; a silly, somehow effortless gesture of calm.

Foreman's hands were shoved into the pockets of his lab coat. "Chase has the results."

House felt a spark of eagerness in his chest, almost able to smell blood on the water, electrifying this moment, this bet. "And?"

All eyes turned to Chase who, for once, had his back turned. He pulled an MRI sheet from a manila envelope. A sharp click as he shoved the sheet into place on the light board, the illuminated scan hidden briefly by Chase's head.

Chase moved away from the light board as Cameron, Foreman and Wilson moved toward it in unison. House stared at Chase, more interested by the man's sudden lack of interest in showboating and sucking up—his two strongest talents. Chase stood by the glass wall, staring into the hallway.

"Oh, Chase," House said, "don't worry. I'm sure Cameron and Foreman won't shoot the messenger. They're used to news of my astounding medical discoveries."

"We wouldn't shoot the messenger, House, but you would," Foreman said.

Cameron and Wilson stared closely at the scan.

"She has cancer in the parietal lobe. It explains everything," Foreman said.

House pulled his leg to the floor, grabbing his cane as he rose. Pushing between Cameron and Wilson, he stared at the bright white lumps on the scan.

"It all fits. We need to get the patient into surgery as soon as possible," House murmured, still staring at the scan as if the lumps were an optical illusion.

"That's it? That's all you have to say?"

House turned as he heard Foreman's indignant tone. "What do you want, a gold star? Your patient has a brain tumor. I didn't think you were one to gloat over another person's misery?"

Cameron hovered in between House and Foreman, wringing her hands. Wilson stood next to Foreman, but kept his eyes on the scan.

"And you don't? You have never felt joy at the expense of another person's misery?" Foreman said.

"Just go do your damn treatment before your patient has another seizure," House said.

Foreman didn't look angry at his outburst—his rueful smile made House want to slap him.

"Chase, I'll need you in surgery as soon as possible." Foreman said. "Chase?"

"Interesting," House murmured, staring at the spot where Chase had stood moments before.

"Where'd he go?" Wilson asked.

"He probably couldn't bear to see House brought down off his pedestal." Foreman smirked.

House gave a bitter laugh. "Planning to steal it, while I'm gone? I don't think there's a black market for pedestals, but I'm sure a man with your expertise could find a way to make a few bucks."

"House," Wilson said, moving between the two doctors. "This is foolish."

"What's foolish is wasting time glorying in a diagnosis that will most likely kill the patient."

"Can you hear yourself?" Foreman asked, a note of bewildered hysteria creeping into his voice. "You sound so much like Cameron right now I'd swear you'd switched bodies."

"But, if I were Cameron, she'd be engaged in all sorts of lascivious activity in Cuddy's office right now—wearing far less clothing than she's currently got on."

All eyes swiveled to Cameron, who crossed her arms and glared at them. Wilson and Foreman looked away, but House let his gaze linger as he popped open a prescription bottle in his coat pocket.

"If I were in House's body, you can bet I'd be off the vicodin" She yanked the bottle out of House's hand. "And you two would already have found Chase and be arguing about treatment options."

"Yeah," House said, taking back his bottle. "What she said. But it's not vicodin. They're skittles." He poured the candy into the palm of his hand. Cameron smirked.

"God, you are such a damn hypocrite, House." Foreman sighed, walking out of the room. Wilson shot House a strange look as he followed.

House sat in his chair, leaning his cane against the desk. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"

Cameron stepped forward, doing her usual, unsubtle dance into House's personal space. Like he was a feral cat, skittish if anyone got too close. A feral cat with a PHD. If I had claws, House thought, they'd be out.

"What was all that about?" Cameron said, using a soft tone House assumed she reserved for all damaged people.

"Foreman was being an idiot."

"So were you. Pretending to be me is not one of your strong suits."

"Oh, and I thought the lack of boobs would tip people off to that fact."

Cameron sighed, taking another baby step closer, resting the palm of her hand against his desk. The light sent highlights of honey blonde coursing through her hair.

"Pretending to be nice, I mean. Pretending to care."

House leaned back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head, elbows sticking out.

"I never said I would be using myself as a model of virtue. Foreman knew he was wrong—he was just trying to repress it."

Cameron's soft smile hardened into a smirk. "You were just grasping at straws. Your diagnosis was wrong, so you jumped on the first thing you knew would make Foreman feel guilty about being right."

"Doesn't matter what my personal motives are, as long as Foreman realizes that the patient comes first."

"Not for you. The puzzle is what matters. All you care about are the answers, so why can't Foreman?" Cameron took another step forward, her calves close enough to brush against House's leg. She leaned against the desk, her hip pressing into the metal.

"I never said this was about me. Foreman isn't me. He's not smart enough."

"But he wants to be."

House turned his chair suddenly, swinging his legs underneath the desk, feeling the brush of Cameron's tailored trousers against his ankles. He winced, his thigh aching at the sharp turn.

"That bothers you. Foreman's need to be like you." She leaned in closer, her hair sliding off her shoulders, the smell of eucalyptus drifting toward House. "Why? You think you're an original—no one's misery can match your own?"

House looked up as Cameron leaned closer, her dark eyes widening.

"Ahem, Doctor House?" A nurse in pink scrubs stood in the doorway.

"What?" House didn't notice how soft his voice had become as he spoke.

"Miss Grayson, your clinic patient, is asking for you."

"Send Wilson or Foreman."

"They've already seen her. She's asking to see you." The nurse looked bewildered as she said it. House knew she was wondering why anyone would prefer House over two nice, sane doctors.

House rose and Cameron handed him his cane.

"Interesting," she said. "Wonder why she would choose you?"

Cameron didn't move as House shuffled past her, getting way too far into her personal space.

"Stop speculating and go answer my mail," House said. The nurse's scandalized expression was almost as satisfying as the reflection of Cameron's smirk in the glass.

"So, what did you do? Let the big, bad cancer monster scare the crap out of her? I know Foreman's presence engenders all sorts of doubts, but I'd expected more from James Wilson, Boy Wonder Oncologist."

Foreman and Wilson's heads shot up at the sound of House's voice echoing down the hallway of the oncology unit. Their expressions almost matched Nurse Barbie's from earlier, which made House smile.

"I tried to tell him it's supposed to be quiet in the oncology unit, but he wouldn't listen," Nurse Barbie said, coming up from behind House.

"And I told her that I am above the rules here, because I am loved and respected by all." House waved his cane about like it was a scepter.

"Don't worry, Susan," Wilson said. "We'll take care of everything from here."

Nurse Barbie nodded, her blonde hair bouncing while she smiled at Foreman and Wilson before walking back to the nurse's station.

"Susan?" House asked.

"That's her name, House. And, no, I'm not sleeping with her. She was just hired and needed a little help getting acclimated to a new environment."

"And if she just happens to look like a Barbie doll, it's not your fault, right?" House walked past the two doctors into the patient's room. As Wilson and Foreman tried to follow, he slid the door shut. "Believe me, you two have done enough."

House drew the blinds shut on Wilson and Foreman's shocked faces. Turning around, he scanned the room. The usual accoutrements: stat monitor, IV drip, et cetera—House's mind logged these things without even registering he was doing so. It was always the little details that mattered—a large book on the night stand, black purse in the recliner, an empty cafeteria plate with dirty utensils, a keychain with a picture hanging from the ring—these small details never lied, never changed the truth to protect someone, to spare them grief or pain. Whatever was wrong with her, it wasn't going to be cured by pandering to the lies of a scared patient.

The patient shot House a small smile as he reached for her chart, but didn't speak. House noticed her teeth were very white and even, reminding himself to have Foreman check into her recent dental history. Such a menial task was sure to piss him off.

"So, Eudora Grayson," House said, reading from her chart. "Eudora? Isn't that an old person's name?"

She grinned, revealing even more of her exceptionally straight teeth. "My father named me after Eudora Welty, the author."

"I know who Eudora Welty is," House said, still scanning her chart.

"What novel is she famous for?" Eudora asked.

"You don't believe me?" House looked up at the patient for the first time. With her glasses off, her eyes were very wide—a dark green color.

"A lot of people say they know who Eudora Welty is just because they want to sound intelligent and knowledgeable. She's famous, but not so famous that everyone knows her."

The patient didn't seem at all fazed by saying something ninety-nine percent of people would find rude. She was lucky House fell squarely into that one percent. Hell, House thought, I basically invented the category.

"Although Miss Welty is well known for her short stories, she won the Pulitzer prize for The Optimist's Daughter in the seventies."

That neat smile appeared again. "Wonderful. It's rare I meet someone who has read her work."

House had read Welty as an undergraduate and he felt nothing but pride in his excellent memory.

House sat in the chair beside her bed, picking up her purse and setting it on the floor. Holding his cane, he tapped it on the edge of her bed.

"Let me guess—you work with children for a living. Ones who definitely can't appreciate the subtleties of early 20th century literature."

"Close, but no cigar." Eudora leaned forward, a thin silver chain appearing from underneath her hospital gown. "Sometimes I feel like I'm working with children—I'm a lawyer."

"So you're a public defender, saving New Jersey's misspent youth from the electric chair."

"Lethal injection is the preferred method for killing convicted children nowadays," Eudora said, in a breezy tone that made House smile. "However, you're still wrong. Could you go into my purse and grab my wallet?"

House stared, caught off guard by her request.

"What? I saw you eyeballing it when you came in. And since you don't seem like the type of guy who appreciates five hundred dollar Prada purses, you must be more interested in its contents."

House picked up her purse, setting it in his lap as he rifled around for her wallet. Thick black leather with at least a thousand dollars in cash.

"Contrary to what you might think, doctors of my caliber make quite a bit of money, so your obscene amount of dough doesn't impress me."

"Look in the left pocket."

House pulled a slim, ivory colored business card from the pocket. "Eudora Grayson," House read. "Corporate Law and Defense Management." House took a moment to hide his shock form the patient. "So, you're one of those lawyers."

Eudora shrugged off House's sarcasm as if she were used to such negative comments. "Even evil corporations need someone to stand up for them."

"And the fact that these corporations are almost definitely doing some very bad things behind closed doors?"

"Does it bother you that, while you spend a week analyzing a single patient, hundreds of others may have died while you were wasting time?"

House saw no spark of hardness in her eyes, heard no challenging heat in her words. Just a quiet acceptance, as if they were talking about the weather, not challenging the validity of each other's chosen professions. A marked lack of emotion could be diagnostically relevant, House thought. There's no way she's that good of an actor.

Instead of answering, House chose to switch topics and see how she reacted.

"So, why won't you let Wilson and Foreman treat you, Miss Grayson?"

She paused for a moment, pursing her lips. It made her look pensive but vulnerable.

"Although I'm sure that look makes jury members and judges want to fall down at your feet, you don't really have time for acting," House said.

Her eyes widened, enough for House to realize he had surprised her.

"What Wilson and Foreman have told you is true—you do have a tumor in your brain. You need treatment as soon as possible."

"You think I have cancer."

"Yes. The biopsy confirmed our diagnosis."

"So I've been having seizures because of the tumor?"

"We...we won't know for certain until we've started treatment."

Eudora sighed; House knew she had interpreted his pause as an aversion to telling patients bad news. With normal doctors, this would have been true.

"Look," Eudora said, letting her body slump—a slouch indicated a casual tone, implying through body language that she had dispensed with pleasantries and was now willing to be more honest and direct. House thought anyone else would have bought her tactic—it was subtle and well-acted. House, impressed with her subterfuge, let Eudora continue.

"I don't presume to know who you are or how you operate, but you don't seem like the kind of guy who doesn't have an opinion. You're holding back this opinion because it directly affects my opinion of your coworkers."

"And what is your opinion?"

"Foreman tries to seem kind, but he really isn't. I knew he would do anything to get me to agree to treatment the second I walked in. And Wilson—well, he's just too polite."

"Never trust a man with manners," House intoned.

"Eudora Welty was a smart woman." Eudora smiled for a moment, but it faded.

"So why ask for me?"

"Because you have the stones to do what they couldn't. They wanted to play out that good cop, bad cop routine, but it didn't work."

"Why?"

"Because they couldn't commit. They were too worried about themselves to get the job done."

"But that doesn't add up," House said. "They're too worried about harming you, making a mistake that could hurt you, to commit."

"You're wrong. Although I'm sure they care about whether I live or die, they're chiefly worried about how their mistakes will affect their lives, not mine. After all, if they do somehow kill me, they'll live with the consequences, not me."

In the short pause, House felt himself almost warming inside. It was a strange feeling.

"So, will you be my doctor?" Eudora asked, straightening her back.

House stood, tossing Eudora's wallet into her lap, then reached for his cane. "Only if you'll play nice with Foreman and Wilson, for now."

It was a small smile, but House could sense the triumph Eudora felt. It was something he'd felt many times before.

"I guess I won't ask you to actually administer my treatments. I'm sure you have many important things to do."

"Oh yes. Episodes of Prescription: Passion to watch. Nurses to annoy. A chief of medicine to alternately ogle and avoid. I'm plenty busy."

"Just how do you find time for it all, Doctor House?"

"Trade secret."

Eudora's laughter followed House out the door, threatening to make the corners of his mouth tip upward into genuine laughter.


The ICU lounge had by far the best coffee in the hospital. House had often admired if from afar, but subtle hints to Cuddy and Wilson had gone unnoticed. It was time, House believed, to take matters into his own hands.

And if someone got in the way of his hands, his cane was more than willing to make an appearance.

House sauntered—as well as a man whose thigh gave out half the time could saunter—into the lounge, bypassing overstuffed couches as he made a beeline for the kitchen area.

"Hello, my precious," House said as he unplugged the coffee machine.

"Who's precious?"

House flinched, once again cursing the Australian for having such a ridiculous accent.

"None of your business," House said, turning to shield his captive. "Now get lost before you become an accessory after the fact."

Chase was wearing dark blue scrubs.

"Cuddy wrangled you into another night shift?" House said.

He nodded and moved closer, craning his neck to see behind House's back. "Gets me out of clinic for a week—one of the other doctors got sick."

"How ironic," House said, whacking his cane against Chase's calf and grinning at his requisite yelp.

House had to admit Chase had mastered the indignant look, angry but with just enough pout to make lesser mortals feel bad about what they'd done.

"What was that for?" Chase wobbled backwards to land a on couch.

"Told you not to come any closer." House turned back to the machine, grabbing the decanter and pouring the excess coffee into the sink.

"So much for my evening boost," Chase said.

"Oh don't be such a baby. I'm sure you could find some young nurse around here who's just dying to make you a cup of coffee."

House watched Chase's face. Instead of his previous indignation, his face fell slightly, eyes staring at the carpet but unfocused, seeing something else inside his head. It was unique, inasmuch as House had monitored his behavior. Now was the time to switch tactics, to strike while the subject was vulnerable.

"Why didn't you take the bet today?" House asked.

Chase's eyes refocused on House's face, then shifted to somewhere just above his left shoulder, a smile that would have better suited a waxworks dummy plastered on his face. "It's not right to bet on the health of a patient."

"Please. Even Cameron got in on the action today. Since when have you let a little thing like ethics stand in your way?"

Chase's eyes jerked away and House felt a piece of this puzzle fall into place. Cameron. House had known about Chase's moronic attempts to woo Cameron since they began and had given them favorable odds at the outset, since Cameron had a penchant for doing moronic things. But Chase's reaction signaled a strange turn.

"You know, getting fired at this point should be the least of your worries. Keep sucking up to me and soon you'll end up with a felony on your hands. Believe me, you would not do well in prison."

The attempt at humor didn't seem to amuse Chase—House decided to push his advantage.

"So this is about Cameron. Did she finally put an end to your Tuesday game?"

"It wasn't a game, for Christ's sake." He rose, wincing as he put weight on his bruised calf. "I actually was trying to be genuine."

"No shark stories?"

Chase blinked, then shook his head. "I should know better than to be sharing this with you, by now. You're just going to use this against me. And Cameron."

House took a few steps away from the counter without his cane. Seeing House limp always seemed to make people trust him against their better judgment. "You're probably right. But you're also really angry and, judging by the intense amount of sucking up you indulge in just to keep your job, I'm guessing you don't have anyone else to talk to right now."

Chase sat back on the couch, scrubbing his hand across his face. "I didn't try to play Cameron. I thought just telling her the truth would be enough."

House studied Chase—the way his body went slack and his hands dangled off his knees. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed.

"Have you ever had a conversation with someone that wasn't bent on finding the truth?" Chase asked.

"Never. Now carry this coffee machine up to my office before I tell Cuddy you're late for your ICU rotation."

Chase smiled. "Are you kidding? There's already one in your office."

"What?"

Chase rose again, moving to the lounge's door into the ICU. "I saw you bothering Cuddy about it last week. I figured, rather than let you play some devious game to keep the entire hospital without coffee, I'd meet your demands in advance."

House couldn't help it, he laughed. He seemed to be doing a lot of that today. "When did you become so adept at managing my demands?"

"Three years of intense sucking up will do that." Chase paused in the doorway. "And make sure to plug that thing back in. I need caffeine on my break."

House grabbed the coffee machine and placed it in the spot where Chase had been sitting before he decided to head home for the evening.