"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."
"The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over
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.
"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."
"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—"
"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.
"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.
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."
"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?"
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.
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."
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.
Early morning sunlight struggled to slide through cracks in House's blinds, creating horizontal slats of light and shadow across House's sleeping form. He woke with a groan, as he always did since the ketamine treatments began to fail. He experienced only muscle weakness, but House was never one to count his blessings, as Wilson had urged.
After lying in bed, waking up by degrees, he pulled himself into a sitting position, sliding his feet to the floor in one fluid motion.
As he did so, House's face contorted for a split second as a sharp pain ripped upward through his thigh; House panted, unwilling to move lest the pain return. But his breathing slowed as he gently flexed and released his thigh muscle.
"Greg, you are a royal idiot," he muttered, rising to the familiar weakness, but none of the pain he feared.
In the early days after his ketamine treatment, House had felt phantom pain for weeks, fearing the return of his agony. But, after a month, he had begun to relax. Even when the weakness returned, taking away his ability to skateboard, House was still relaxed. Anything was better than the pain. Anything.
His mornings were normal—first checking to see if the TIVO had recorded any interesting porn last night, then grabbing a pop-tart and settling in to read the latest medical article to catch his eye.
Just yesterday, he had intercepted a copy of Dr. Johnson's new article on chicken pox vaccines. House planned to outline all his mistakes in red sharpie before posting it in the Pediatrics wing. Hopefully, quite a few patients would read his comments before taking their children to see the good doctor.
"Wow. This is going to take longer than I thought," House said, after spending twenty minutes on the first page. "Guess I'll save the joy for tomorrow."
House's routine was simple, leaving him plenty of time for analysis. As always, he reviewed the behavior of those closest to him from the day before.
Nothing new to report with Cuddy, except a confirmation of his excellent skittle throwing skills. Nothing new with Wilson, either, who reacted as expected to the skittle maneuver. Defending House's team and betting against him even though Wilson knew better, also predictable.
As for his team, Foreman was taking competition to new levels. His ego needed to be put in check. It was definitely on the top of House's agenda. Cameron, having finally given Chase a definitive answer, was unique, but not entirely unexpected. She was infatuated with House. Chase would have to go blind to take over the top damaged spot. As for Chase, the changes were notable. He may have liked Cameron, as he was upset over losing her. It might still be a rich boy entitlement issue but, either way, he would require further observation. And the coffee machine incident had earned him definite brownie points, although he would never know that.
Simply putting on a lab coat, House believed, was like using Dumbo's magic feather; in the end, one was always compensating for something. As he walked into the hospital lobby, seeing both Cuddy and Wilson in their starched, blinding white atrocities made him smile.
"House, there you are—only an hour and a half late. A new record," Cuddy said.
Wilson grinned, hooking his thumbs into his pockets.
"Outshining the work performance of an entire hospital is a dirty job, but someone has to do it." House moved toward the elevator.
"Why hasn't Jane Doe been diagnosed yet? She's been here three weeks already."
House sighed. "I gave you a diagnosis. She's all yours."
"How could you have figured out what's wrong with her? You won't even let your team go near her," Wilson said, scanning Jane's file.
"They don't like Creepy Girl any more than I do."
Cuddy's face went white. "You don't seriously call her that, do you? Tell me he doesn't call her that."
When Cuddy turned to Wilson, he dropped his head, staring at the file in earnest.
"He does it, too. And if James Wilson, Golden Boy of Princeton-Plainsboro thinks she's creepy, it must be true."
Despite House's mocking tone, Cuddy turned to Wilson with a serious expression.
"Just how bad is she?"
"She's different. She presents with symptoms of mixed schizophrenia, but still retains a strong semblance of mental facility."
"Which means she's batshit crazy, like I said in her file," House said.
Cuddy yanked the file from Wilson's hands. "Batshit crazy is not a diagnosis."
"Besides, we don't know anything about this girl. Treatment is risky at best without a patient history." Wilson said, attempting to appease both sides.
"It looks like you have your work cut out for you then. I want a full work up of Jane Doe on my desk today."
"But shouldn't we wait until the police can give us more information?"
"Wilson, for once, I want you to stay out of House's case." Cuddy thrust the file into House's arms, missing the shocked expression on Wilson's face. "House, you and your team seem to love playing private investigators, so do some outside research if you have to."
"Wait, are you actually advocating my ethically-questionable method of information gathering?"
Cuddy waved the question off. "Just have something constructive on my desk by tonight."
Wilson stared at Cuddy's retreating figure.
"Well, she's in a fine mood today, isn't she?" House said.
"Nice to see you bright and early this morning, House," Cameron said, holding a steaming cup of coffee in her hands.
Chase looked up from the paper while Foreman paused in his perusal of the bookshelf. House sniffed the air and pulled a face.
"And it's nice to see you've again chosen to make that hazelnut crap for everyone. Way to break in my new coffee machine."
"She just does it so she won't have to share," Chase said, sliding a coffee cup across the table to House. "But there's always something good in oncology."
Cameron snorted into her cup as House reached for his coffee.
"I, for one, completely appreciate such a simple gesture." He smiled as Cameron sneered at Chase's back. Chase leaned over his paper, long bangs obscuring his expression. House turned to Foreman. "What, no words of wisdom from the peanut gallery?"
Foreman's lips twisted in a wry smile. "At least this time Chase was looking out for me, too." He raised his cup in Chase's direction. "Hazelnuts and cranberries do not belong in coffee."
"Philistines," Cameron muttered.
House stood near the white board, hooking his cane over its top. He wrote: "Jane Doe a.k.a. Creepy Girl" in his large, scrawling script.
"Well, that's professional," Wilson said, leaning against the door jamb.
"Piss off, Boy Wonder. You've already proven you're completely worthless this week." Hosue glared at his friend before addressing his team. "Cuddy wants a full work up by tonight. So, what do we know?"
House ignored Wilson as the team waded through the mountains of paperwork on the table until Cameron scrounged up her file.
"She was found a month ago on the Jersey shoreline by the police. Jane resembled no one on the missing person's list, so they turfed her to social services. When she presented signs of mania, social services sent Jane here." Cameron scanned the page further. "Cuddy noticed her case in pediatrics and forwarded her file to us."
"And we've been trying to use her case to get your attention for the past three weeks," Foreman said. "I think that about covers our knowledge of the patient's history."
"As completely riveting as that story was, it has very little to do with an actual patient history." House sighed. "Which of you has actually worked with her?"
Wilson stepped into the office. "I've spent some time with the patient—"
"Standing outside her window only counts as patient interaction of you're...well, me. And I wasn't asking you, anyway."
Wilson flinched and the team recoiled at the strange hostility brewing between the two doctors.
"But I thought the opinion of someone who had significantly more experience working with children might be useful—"
"You thought wrong." House slammed the pen against the white board. "Jesus, you're worse than Chase with the sucking up today. Go find Cuddy or something—she might actually be more receptive to your inane anecdotes."
Wilson's jaw hung open. He gaped at House and seemed about to say something in his own defense, but turned and walked out, one pale hand covering his mouth.
"You're just a ball of fun today, aren't you?" Foreman said, his voice flat.
House expected Cameron's shock and Foreman's disgust, but Chase's face was again unreadable, head bent over Creepy Girl's file this time.
"The patient's mania presented with extreme hyperactivity and violent tendencies, which slipped onto her current state of schizophrenia a few hours after she was admitted."
"Thank you for bringing us back to the diagnosis, Chase." House wrote the symptoms on the white board. "What could cause such extreme changes in mood?"
"Only a severe neurological disorder could cause such wide-spread effects—"
"Again with the neurological diagnosis. Don't you ever think outside the box?"
"Only when it doesn't fit. And mood changes this intense—"
"But over a million disorders can cause such widespread symptoms. How do we pinpoint what treatment to implement?" Cameron asked, hands fanned over her knees, brows furrowed.
"Aren't we jumping the gun here? We haven't spent any time with Jane Doe—" Chase said.
"We never do," House said.
"No, you never do. And if we had a decent patient history, we might be able to get away with that. But we know absolutely nothing about her—any diagnosis we come up with will have no basis whatsoever."
Chase sat up straighter during his little speech, somehow managing to make his position sound reasonable despite his ridiculous accent.
"Fine, then. Since you're so desperate to hang out with little girls, why don't you get a patient history," Cameron said, an ugly, harsh lilt in her voice.
Chase flushed at her rebuke, but didn't slouch or incline his head. "I guess I'll have to, since everyone seems to have left their ethics in their other lab coats." Chase rose, snatching the file from Cameron's hands.
"But I never wear my lab coat," House said.
"My point exactly." Chase walked out of the office as Wilson had moments earlier, one hand pressed against his mouth.
"Since when does Chase have a backbone?" Foreman asked.
Cameron had no witty retort, but simply stared at the chair Chase had vacated.
These new developments were all very interesting, but House remained focused on his mission to get back at Foreman.
"As it's been so eloquently established that I've turned you to into jaded, ruthless doctors, I think another bet is in order."
Foreman perked up. "After I beat you so badly last time? I'm not sure you can take losing again."
House smirked. "Why don't we find out? I say Creepy Girl has an infection causing her symptoms."
"And I think the problem's neurological—a hundred bucks says I'm right."
"Why bet money?" Cameron said. "Let's make this really interesting."
House leaned in closer to Cameron. "What do you have in mind?"
Cameron stood, palms firm against the tabletop. "Winner gets control of the department for a whole week."
"So what? I'm already ruler of this department."
"I'll do all your clinic hours, even make up the ones you've missed," Foreman said.
"You do know I've missed way more hours than you could possibly make up in one week, right?"
Foreman grinned. "I don't plan on losing."
"Oh snap," House said. "It's on."
"Chase's results will decide who wins," Cameron said.
Although House used Wilson's American Express card to buy his lunch that afternoon, he had no intention of actually eating with him. Their strange one-sided argument that morning needed to be analyzed but his new bet with Foreman was proving more distracting than he previously believed.
And Cameron's newfound mean streak would have been a welcome sight without Chase's sudden willingness to speak up. Chase always managed to screw things up just when good stuff started.
And House was unable to decide whether or not he preferred Cameron and Chase's deteriorating relationship. Yes, he definitely needed a place where he wouldn't be disturbed.
House's plan to pass through Oncology undetected was thwarted when both Cuddy and Wilson appeared at the other end of the hallway. Clutching his Red Bull and club sandwich in one arm, he threw himself into a random patient room.
"Hello, Doctor House," Eudora Grayson said, looking up from a book propped against her bent knees.
"Well, shit," he said. "I have two patients in the whole hospital and I just have to end up in your room."
Eudora smiled. "It's nice to see you, too. Pull up a chair—none of the other doctors ever come to visit; they just send nurses, so you're safe."
House sat in the recliner, noticing the IV attached to the hollow of Eudora's elbow. "They've got you on chemo?"
Eudora gave him a level stare. "As per your orders."
They were quiet as House began eating his lunch.
"So, who are you avoiding so thoroughly that you need an actual patient as an excuse?"
"What makes you think I'm avoiding anyone?" House took a large bite of his sandwich in defiance.
"The surgeon who did my biopsy, Doctor Chase, did a follow up today. It took a bit of doing to get him to say anything—most of the people in here are more than willing to gossip—but he did tell me he worked with you." Eudora tapped her fingers against her lips. "He was remarkably reticent—I would hate to face him on the stand. He seemed tense and I told him so, and he said that...oh, how did he put it? He said that department dynamics were changing."
Eudora stopped, forcing House to show his intense interest in her information. "Anything else?"
"I asked him if he liked the changes. He said it didn't matter if he liked them—he would just adapt." Eudora shrugged. "He left soon after that."
House mulled things over, as Eudora seemed content to return to her book.
"For a lawyer, you seem pretty willing to not ask any questions," House said.
"With certain people, I've found, it's best to let them come to you." Eudora let her professional demeanor crack just a little. "Although I will admit I'm curious to know what Doctor Chase meant by changing dynamics. He doesn't look like the type to care too much about ruffling a few feathers."
"No, he looks like an irritating wombat a little too far from home."
"You don't really believe that, do you?'
House stiffened in his chair. "And why would you think that?"
"Excuse me if this is rude," Eudora said, as if she'd uttered such a nicety a thousand times before. "But you're just not the type of person who keeps easily categorized people around you. They're boring. If Doctor Chase really were such an irritant, you would have fired him long ago."
"You know, I never realized how annoying that could be until now."
"Telling someone what they think." House balled up his sandwich wrapper, free throw shooting it into the trash.
"It's only annoying if you're wrong. And I'm not wrong."
Something in Eudora's quiet, unaffected confidence made House wonder whether or not he had chosen the wrong profession. Certainly this lawyer was more of an enigma than anyone else around him.
"I'd better go. You're nurse will be here any minute to switch bags."
For the first time, Eudora's face betrayed some indecision, which she quickly covered. House couldn't be certain the break wasn't planned.
"I think you like Doctor Chase a whole lot more than you let on," Eudora said.
House didn't reply, just peeked into the hall before leaving. He wondered what Eudora's magic feather was.
Evening had arrived and House remained in his office with no word from Chase. Foreman attempted to annoy House but his effort was, ultimately, futile. He was sent to the last place he wanted to go: the Jersey police station. House knew the police had found nothing new on Creepy Girl, but a chance to fraternize with his friends at the New Jersey police department might just make Foreman rethink his less than appreciative treatment of his boss.
But the joy he experienced over Foreman's misery had paled during his time alone. Cameron had gone to write an article on a previous case and Chase was taking far too long with his work-up.
In the fading daylight, House reached for his cell phone. "Come on, Wilson, pick up," he muttered, phone jammed against his ear as the call went to voicemail.
"Just because I said you couldn't help today doesn't mean you had to completely disappear. Quit sulking and come buy me dinner. I'm hungry."
House flipped his cell phone shut, ending the call. He reached for his coffee cup. It was empty. Since it was shaping up to be a long night and it was way too much work to make coffee for himself, House decided to head down to the ICU, get some coffee, and hassle Chase about his slippery work-ethic. The plot forming in House's mind as he headed for the elevator would work particularly well after Chase's speech earlier that day.
By the time he reached the ICU, House had prepared several ways to make Chase's speech work against him.
From the doorway, House paused when he saw not only Chase but Cameron standing on opposite sides of the lounge.
"Chase, this is starting to get ridiculous. Nothing you do will ever make me fall for you—so quit trying to take the high ground. Everyone knows you don't belong there." Cameron sat on the couch as if it were her throne.
"Why do you always assume things are about you?" Chase took a few steps to Cameron, then turned away. From his angle in the doorway, House could see heavy lines etched into Chase's face. "And, speaking of changing for other people—since when did you decide it was okay to bet on a diagnosis?"
"I never bet on anything—"
"No, you just encouraged everyone, then collected your payment. I guess they high ground's more of a slippery slope than I thought."
Cameron crossed her arms against her chest. "I don't have to explain myself to you—"
"Because I can see right through you. It's so damn obvious—you think acting like a morally-corrupt bastard will make House fall for you."
"Shut up," Cameron said.
"Not this time, Cameron. I'm through waiting for you to realize House is never going to want you."
Cameron stood, fists balled at her sides. "Good. I'm glad you're done. I don't need your pathetic self following me around, begging for attention like a lovesick puppy." With that, she stormed out the ICU entrance.
House flung himself against the wall, but Cameron never even glanced in his direction.
As if I needed any more to think about, House thought. If I go to get coffee, I will have to talk to Chase. But, if I avoid him, I will actually have to pay for something I could get for free.
In the end, it was no contest, even though House did miss the days when he could enter a room without announcing his presence with a thunk.
Once again, House found Chase with his head bowed, sitting in the place Cameron had just vacated.
Chase looked up through his bangs, eyes red-rimmed. When he saw House, he looked away, but didn't speak.
House went to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. "Fine. Don't say hi to your boss. It's not like I'll make your life miserable for avoiding the niceties."
Chase sighed. "All I seem to get here are the niceties, I suppose."
House turned to face Chase, who had schooled his expression into something more neutral. House wondered if this was the face he used when talk to Eudora. What had he done to seem so forbidding and formidable? All House could see was typical Chase: quiet, arrogant, and waiting for someone to love him. Whatever that meant.
"I heard you spoke to my patient today."
"Well, if you consider an extended staring contest having a conversation then, yeah, I spoke to Jane. And, before you ask, I'm waiting on some test results—I've cleared the hold-up with Cuddy already."
"No, not Creepy Girl. Eudora."
Chase looked a little shocked. "Miss Grayson? The cancer patient? How did you hear about that?"
House realized his misstep and sought to downplay his connection with his patient.
"I was forced to interact with her. Avoiding Cuddy was worth a few seconds of boredom."
"Sure. That makes sense. Even though I heard you spent over an hour in her room chatting with her."
"Chatting? I don't chat. Ever."
Chase grinned. "Not my words. My source said you stayed there long after Cuddy and Wilson left."
House realized Eudora's estimation of Chase may have been more accurate than his own. "Do you run the hospital's rumor mill now, or what? I thought that was Wilson's job."
"He's got other things on his mind, apparently."
"And you've taken over his retinue of informants?"
Chase checked his watch, then stood. "I have spies everywhere." With another smirk, Chase left the lounge for his ICU shift.
"Very interesting," House said to the empty room.
Another morning washed over House's sleeping body, sprawled and twisted around his sheets. He opened his eyes and took a sharp breath. He'd been dreaming, but what fragmented images he could recall grew softer and hazier with each passing second.
He lay there for a while, trying to shake his lingering malaise. Nothing remained of his dreams but a mild discomfort he couldn't shake. With a sigh, House flung his legs over the side of his bed.
"Fuck," he shouted. A searing pain arced along his thigh, sinking deep claws into the muscle. His body crumpled over his leg, mind wiped clean in a sea of white agony.
Five minutes passed—House could do nothing but stay still, waiting for the pain to release it's stranglehold on his mind.
In an instant, the pain vanished. House's tee-shirt was soaked with sweat as a chill replaced the intense fever his pain had produced. Despite the cold, he stayed still for a while longer, taking deep breaths.
He had begun to shake and forced himself to stop. He stretched his ankle slowly, preparing to feel another flare of pain. But there was none.
He stood and his thigh had no reaction—not even a twinge this time.
House let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding in. He reached for his nightstand drawer, rifling through its contents until he found an orange prescription bottle. On his way to the bathroom, House uncapped the bottle and dry-swallowed two vicodin.
"Nice of you to show up," Foreman said as House walked into the conference room at eleven that morning.
"Why does everyone keep saying that? It's not like I can't pick up on your veiled sarcasm, such as it is." He dropped his messenger bag on the floor. "So, where's Chase? Did you threaten to have your homies bust a cap up his ass if he told you I won?"
Foreman rolled his eyes. "Cuddy and Wilson are overseeing Chase's last test before he brings us the results."
"Wait, Cuddy and Wilson are in on the bet?" Cameron asked, setting a cup of coffee in front of House.
He eyed the cup, then sniffed the liquid inside it. "I don't smell berries or nuts."
"That's because someone hid her batch before she could brew it this morning," Chase said, entering the office with Cuddy and Wilson on his heels. The file he held on Creepy Girl had gotten much larger since yesterday. House was certain such extensive research was in his favor.
"Chase insisted that, before handing the file over to me for review, he show it to you," Cuddy said, hands on her hips. Wilson stood close beside her.
"As he should, seeing as it's my case," House said.
"Yeah, the one you so desperately avoided," Wilson said. Cuddy nodded her agreement.
"How many times do I have to tell you to stay out of this case? Seriously." House snapped at Wilson, who seemed unfazed by the outburst.
"Okay, enough," Foreman said. "I want to hear what Chase has to say."
"Don't worry House—Cuddy already knows," Chase said.
"You told?" Cameron asked.
"Of course he did. A few nurses were asking questions about the overflow of competitive spirit in this department." Cuddy shot a look in Wilson's direction. "Despite the fact that betting on a patient's welfare is completely callous and irresponsible, I've decided that, right now, the diagnosis is of prime importance."
"As long as someone's working the clinic, everybody wins, right?" Chase shoved Creepy Girl's file into Cuddy's arms.
"Just what do you think you're doing, Chase?" Cuddy asked.
"Taking the day off." He slammed the office door shut behind him, rattling the glass walls.
"What a drama queen," Cameron muttered.
House said nothing, still staring at the closed door as Cuddy opened the file.
"So, what's the verdict?" House asked.
Wilson read over Cuddy's shoulder, than whistled. "There's an extreme amount of dopamine in her brain. Whatever's wrong with her, it's definitely neurological." He moved to clap Foreman on the shoulder. "Looks like you're in charge now."
All the sudden smiles in the room made House feel very, very cold.
House spied Wilson in the cafeteria and moved with as much intensity as he could muster to where his so-called friend was seated.
"You just had to congratulate him, didn't you?"
"He was right." Wilson took a bite of a french-fry.
"He's been doing that a lot, lately."
Wilson slapped House's hand as he reached to steal a fry off Wilson's plate.
"You can't just be happy that Foreman has improved so much under your tutelage?"
"As if. He needs to be stopped." House reached again for Wilson's plate, but he shifted it just out of reach. "Can't I at least have the pickle? You don't even like them."
Wilson shook his head. "How's clinic duty going?"
"Horribly. Just like Cuddy planned. I think she paid Chase off, just to get me in there with those sick people."
"Well, Chase does have a history with bribes. And actually working with more than one patient a week? How horrible."
Wilson lifted his burger to take a bite, then House slid the whole plate to his side of the table.
Wilson rolled his eyes. "At least you let me keep my burger."
"This time." House grabbed a handful of fries and shoved them into his mouth. Wilson gaped at his display.
"You usually don't use your manners, but this is overkill, really."
"I'm starving. Cuddy shoved me out of the office before I could even get breakfast," House said, his mouth full of half-chewed French fry. "Why didn't you pick up when I called yesterday?"
"You do know what you sound like, right?"
"Don't try and change the subject. You're not very good at it."
"That's creative. Do you even try to come up with worthwhile excuses anymore, or have you given up?"
"It's hard to compete against you when it comes to fabricating information."
"What can I say? I'm a pro."
A sharp clacking sound against the tile floor announced Cuddy's presence as she walked to their table. House hid his face behind his hands. Wilson took his plate back.
"Very clever, House. I suppose I'll never find you in such an expert hiding place," Cuddy said.
House peeked out from between his spread fingers.
"Not one of your more inspired ploys," Wilson said.
"Didn't your parents ever teach you to use your imagination?" House dropped his hands.
"Yes, but I also learned the value of a hard day's work. Now it's your turn. Back to the clinic," Cuddy said.
"You weren't really serious about that bet, were you?"
Cuddy picked up House's cane and held it out toward him. "Very serious. Now get moving."
House yanked the cane from Cuddy's hands, then rose. As he walked out of the cafeteria, Cuddy called to him.
"Also, if you see any interesting cases, be sure to send them up to diagnostics. I've heard the new department head is a genius."
House restrained himself from using profanity concerning his extremely lucky duckling's intellectual status.
After another hour of clinic duty, House decided he couldn't stand one more vapid child with a stuffy nose and an overprotective, hypochondriac parent in tow. However, he had intercepted a stray interdepartmental memo from the nurses' station, issued by Cuddy earlier that morning, outlining the terms of House's indentured servitude. He noticed she conspicuously left out just how he had been wrangled into such an imposition. In such dire straits, House returned to the one hiding spot no one had yet found him in.
"I was wondering when you'd find your way back here," Eudora said, pushing herself into a seated position as House slid into her room, closing the door and drawing the blinds.
"Desperate times..." House said, moving to sit in the recliner beside her bed.
"That chair is always open for your avoidance needs." Eudora smiled, but she had thick, purple rings underneath her eyes.
"What, no visitors?"
Her smile vanished. "Lawyers rarely have many friends. Especially in the corporate sector."
An awkward silence reigned, as House reviewed Eudora's chart.
"The chemo is a bit rougher than I thought it would be," Eudora said. Any trace of her previous weakness had fallen away as she straightened her shoulders, leaning forward to get a look at her chart. "I always get the feeling that my nurse isn't telling me the whole truth."
"Nurse Barbie does like to sugarcoat things," House said.
"But you don't."
"No, I don't. But extreme fatigue and nausea are common during intensive chemotherapy."
Eudora's shoulders slumped but her smile returned. "So I hear the chief of medicine has you over a barrel for the next week."
"It's her turn next week, but the barrel won't be metaphorical. How did you hear that?"
"Nurse Barbie is an easy mark. Very smart, but not too bright, if you take my meaning. And too talkative for her own good. Someone should really teach her when to shut up."
Now it was House's turn to laugh. "I agree completely." He replaced Eudora's chart, hanging it off the edge of her bed. "There are quite a few people around here who could stand to learn that lesson."
House had a choice: he could tell Eudora a pack of lies, which she would most likely recognize, or he could tell her the truth. House, who had never cared for such defined options, picked his favorite choice: neither. And both.
"Chase may have had something to do with my current status." House could practically see Eudora connecting the dots in her mind; he just wasn't sure what sort of conclusion she would come to.
"Are the 'departmental dynamics' still changing?" she asked.
A refreshing, unexpected question deserved an answer in kind, in House's estimation. "This place is filled with subtext and I'm the best at deciphering it."
"Lucky for you."
"People never change, but they can reveal things they've kept hidden."
House stared at Eudora, but she was examining her palms, an abstracted expression on her face.
"You get that a lot, too?" House asked.
Eudora looked up. "The only reason lawyers have to lie so much is because no one tells us the truth in the first place." Eudora sighed. "In the courtroom, I can control them, deal with the liars in my own way. Here, I can't even keep track what my nurses say to me. Hell, I can't even trust my own body." She shook her right wrist viciously, shaking an IV line attached to it, calling attention to the bruising on her skin.
And how could House respond, other than to nod in agreement? The clinic was a hell filled with intentional and unintentional liars—at least in diagnostics he had time to parse apart the really interesting lies, instead of sifting through a sea of mediocre ones.
The silence between them felt raw, as if Eudora had shown House much more than the soft inside of her wrist.
"Foreman—he's taken over my department for the week. Because I lost a bet. Over a patient." He cleared his throat as Eudora raised an eyebrow. "Not you."
"Then it was that little girl, the missing kid." There was no malice, no judgment in her voice to put House on the defensive; Eudora stated the facts as she understood them.
"I've been wrong a lot lately. And—and I think things are just going to get worse." House felt a light pressure on his hand, then saw that Eudora had reached out to him, placing her palm over his knuckles. She couldn't meet his eyes, and House endured a secret relief. However, no insults came to his mind, no cutting remarks. He hadn't realized his hands were cold until she touched him.
After a moment, Eudora began to move away, then gripped House's fingers tightly.
"Jesus," House shouted, unable to extricate himself from her grasp. "Eudora! Eudora!"
His patient had fallen against her pillows, eyes twitching back and forth in their darkened sockets.
House struggled and pulled out of Eudora's vice grip. Snatching his cane, he rushed to her door and slid it open with a resounding crash. An insistent beeping trilled behind him from Eudora's stat monitor.
"Call a code," House shouted, getting the attention of every person in the Oncology lobby. "My patient's having a seizure."
As it had each morning of his clinic-induced misery, the sun rose, casting pale fingers over House. The sun's appearance presented a slight inconvenience to House, who rolled away from his window. He let out a startled grunt as a burst of pain exploded in his thigh.
Fully awake, House struggled to keep his breathing deep and measured, hoping to ride the pain out as he had done for the last week. What started as a mere twinge now kept House motionless for over an hour.
When the pain dissipated, House couldn't bring himself to move. He reached for the bottle of vicodin stashed underneath his pillow and dry-swallowed two of the white pills. At first, House had taken a perverse sort of pleasure in the "pill fairy's" visits, but now they seemed more like errands of mercy from a kind angel.
When the medicine calmed him down, House was able to appreciate the fact that his sentence had been served—Cuddy could no longer keep him from his department. He wondered how badly Foreman had screwed everything up and what it would take to make things right again. House was certain that, no matter what happened, an extreme amount of gloating was well overdue.
But that was the real horror of this whole scenario: Cuddy had made sure House was completely cut off from any information outside of his clinic duties. And, after revealing his best hiding place by calling a code for Eudora, Cuddy instructed the nurses to keep him away from her. Nurse Barbie, in her insufferably cheery manner, had told him Eudora was stable, but he would have to wait a week before he could treat her again. Her case had been turfed to Foreman in the meantime, based on her new presentation of symptoms. The blonde bimbo hadn't even told him what the new symptoms were.
House would have gone to see her despite his restrictions, but the clinic had sapped his strength much more easily than he had anticipated. The Vicodin and coffee were all that kept him going—he had spent his last two lunch breaks sleeping in an empty exam room.
After this hellish week, House was more than ready for things to return to normal in his little corner of the hospital.
House took two more vicodin while he walked into the hospital. He saw Cuddy and Wilson talking next to the reception desk. Leaning against it, Wilson laughed while pointing at his tie, a shocking blue color. Cuddy smiled back, a sheen of lip gloss catching the morning light.
House felt like gagging, but he continued his observation, drawing closer to the two doctors while keeping his presence unnoticed. Nurses passed by, content to ignore House and his eccentricities if he, in turn, stayed out of their ordered, boring world. It wasn't difficult to oblige them.
Cuddy leaned into Wilson, touching his shoulder, then fingering his tie for a second. Wilson, however, chose that moment to interrupt House's observations by looking in his direction.
House shifted his messenger bag on his shoulder, staring down at his cane.
"House," Wilson said. He seemed to have noticed being under House's watchful eye, having taken a full step away from Cuddy.
"If you say it's nice to see me, I'll beat you with my cane."
"That's original," Cuddy said. Her demeanor had shifted—arms at her sides, straight posture—projecting the competent chief of medicine for House's benefit, he guessed. Like it had ever done any good.
"You seem to have braved clinic duty and come out unscathed," Wilson said.
"No thanks to you. And you better hope I can say the same for my department or there will be hell to pay."
"Don't worry. Cuddy and I have been checking in with Foreman. Everything's fine."
"Better than fine," Cuddy said. "The team cured a new patient this week."
"Wonderful. Now his head will be twice as big. It will take another week just to demoralize him."
Cuddy's eyes narrowed. "I didn't hear that. And if he's getting a fat head, it's only because he's trying to catch up with you."
"I told him it was a lost cause—no one can compete with House when it comes to being arrogant and self-centered," Wilson said.
Cuddy and Wilson laughed. House caught a pungent whiff of Wilson's expensive cologne and tried not to gag.
"Since you're both having so much fun at my expense, I'll follow your example and take my hurt feelings out on my team," House said, walking to the elevator.
"Come on, I know you can take a joke, especially when it's true," Wilson said.
House entered the elevator. "Just remember: Whatever happens to them is your fault."
House couldn't help but revel in Cuddy and Wilson's shocked expressions as the doors slid closed.
"Nice of you to show up," House said as Foreman led Cameron and Chase into the conference room.
"Why are you here so early?" Foreman asked, sitting at the table. He checked his watch. "It's before eight."
"Oh, don't be upset because your reign is over. All things have to come to an end sooner or later.
"Is that so?"
"Isn't that what I just said?" House hooked his cane over the top of the white board. "Why would I say something if it wasn't true?"
"Because the lunch lady didn't serve you your sandwich fast enough. Because Wilson said something remotely resembling a censure of your behavior." Chase ticked reasons off on his outstretched fingers. "Because it's Tuesday. Because it's before one in the afternoon."
"You forgot to say that I have flames on my cane, so I need to maintain my badass street cred." House pointed at the bottom of his cane. "Foreman would know all about that."
Foreman rolled his eyes. "I don't know about street cred, but I do know this team cured a patient with sarcoidosis without your help last week. Looks like we can survive just fine without you."
"Oh, one patient. I should bow down to your greatness at handling such an extensive caseload while I was gone. I commend you."
Cameron sat down next to Chase at the table. "As if your caseload is so much larger."
"Two patients is still one patient more. And what sort of progress have you made with Creepy Girl?"
Foreman's face darkened, his forehead furrowing with wrinkles. "We were busy with this last patient. Since she was stable, we decided to handle the other case first—"
"So you took the easier case while waiting for me to come and clean up the mess. How thoughtful of you, Foreman. But you know you could have just come and liberated me from clinic duty and I would have been more than happy to help you then."
Foreman got to his feet. "We didn't liberate you because we were better off without your insanity."
"Then why is Creepy Girl still here?"
"Her name is Jane Doe," Cameron said. Both Foreman and House ignored her interjection.
"You can't do any better. You don't know what's wrong with her, either."
"And this petty arguing isn't going to get us any closer to a diagnosis," Chase said. "Can we actually do what we all came here for today, or do I really have to sit here and watch you two act like children?"
House snorted, but Foreman still looked angry. They stared at each other across the room before Foreman sat in his chair, shaking his head.
"Have you discovered anything new about Creepy Girl in the past week?" House said, picking up a marker and staring at the board.
"Her name is Jane Doe," Cameron said again.
"You act like I don't know that."
"There hasn't been any change and the police still haven't found out anything concerning her identity," Foreman said.
"That was ridiculously informative. I know I can solve the case now," House said.
"Social services spoke with Dr. Cuddy yesterday," Chase said. "Apparently Jane's been here too long—they want to put her in foster care before the end of the week if we can't figure out what's wrong with her."
"Has social services actually spent any time with the girl? She is creepy."
"Creepy, but not sick. They think she's emotionally disturbed and a family environment would help her more than a hospital."
"Yeah, foster care is known for its good time family fun. Eighteen kids in a run-down trailer sounds like just the treatment." House tapped the marker against his pursed lips.
Cameron examined Jane Doe's file. "An agent should be coming by today to review Jane's case."
"We can't let her go until we figure out what's wrong with her. Her schizophrenic symptoms are unique enough for her to remain in our care," Foreman said.
"Social services won't care about that," House said. He grabbed his cane and headed for the door. "It's not like I haven't stopped case workers before."
Deciding that neither Chase nor Cameron were ready to tangle with social services, he sent them back to his office to open the mail he'd missed during his week of clinic duty. Cameron was incensed, which was no surprise to House, who knew she couldn't miss an opportunity to make another broken person need her. But Chase shrugged his shoulders, walking away without a second glance, saying something about going to lunch and leaving House to his own devices. His clingy, brown-nosing wombat had turned to indifference, it seemed.
But House, as it usually turned out these past few days, had no time to spare pondering the vagaries of his most predictable duckling, as a woman in creased, black slacks and practical shoes marched with authority toward where he and Foreman stood outside Creepy Girl's door. In a strange accord, neither were eager to spend time with their young patient.
"Are you Doctor House?" the woman asked, pulling a tape recorder from her pocket and pressing the record button with a sharp click.
"I am. And you're Jane Doe's case worker, I assume."
"Cynthia Woolerton." She extended her hand and grasped House's with an over-firm grip. "And this is Doctor Foreman, a member of your diagnostics team."
"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Woolerton." Foreman received the same hard, swift handshake.
"You know a lot about my department," House said.
Ms. Woolerton looked down her nose at the doctors. "And about this hospital. It's my job to come prepared. Now, if you'll please show me Miss Jane Doe, we can avoid wasting any more time than we already have."
House pulled the sliding glass door open and gestured Ms. Woolerton through with his cane. She eyed the flames on its base but didn't comment.
"She's a real charmer," Foreman muttered as he passed House, following the case worker into the room. House, for once, kept his similar feelings to himself.
"Hello, Jane. My name is Cynthia and I'm your case worker," she said, moving to stand beside Jane's bed.
Jane didn't respond, didn't move from her sitting position, hands clasped in her lap, eyes unblinking. Ms. Woolerton waited for a response, then turned to House.
"Why doesn't she respond? What's wrong with her?" The somewhat softer voice she'd used earlier was obviously reserved for the children, as her harsh attitude returned upon speaking to House.
"We're not sure yet," Foreman said, standing on the other side of the bed. "She's exhibiting some unique symptoms."
"Unique? I've dealt with catatonic patients before."
Jane grunted low in her throat, but didn't move. Ms. Woolerton stared at the girl.
"Jane appears much more cognizant of her surroundings than a typical catatonic patient," House said, as Foreman seemed as unnerved as the case worker.
Ms. Woolerton appeared to think for a moment, staring at Jane's face. "She's been under your supervision for over a month. Are you any closer to a diagnosis?"
"These circumstances are as unique as her symptoms, Ms. Woolerton. We need more time to fully understand the nature of her illness," Foreman said.
"From what I've heard, Doctor House, you work better under pressure. You have forty-eight hours to present something more conclusive than ‘unique symptoms' or we're taking Jane out of the hospital." Ms. Woolerton walked to the door and left, clicking the tape recorder off and putting it in her coat pocket. House and Foreman quickly followed suit.
After the charming case worker, Ms. Woolerton, had given House a one day reprieve, he did the same thing he always did in times of stress: he delegated. Finding Cameron in his office, opening and filing his mail into dutiful, neat piles, he sent her with Foreman to complete more tests as they saw fit. There was nothing linking Creepy Girl's disparate symptoms to any single disease; he needed more information, and who better to collect it than his faithful ducklings? Foreman grumbled a bit at his orders, but acquiesced nonetheless. It was the main reason why he would never be as good as House.
After a few hours of catching up on Prescription: Passion hadn't calmed his nerves, House put on a Miles Davis CD and reached for his red and grey oversized baseball.
"Did the case worker finally take Jane away?" Chase asked, standing in the office doorway.
"What do you take me for? She gave me two days to come up with a diagnosis, or Creepy Girl's out of here."
"And here you are, hard at work, as usual. Just how long have you been in here, tossing that ball up and down?"
House leaned forward to catch the ball in midair. "About a half hour. And I am hard at work. I supposed you aren't much used to just thinking about things, seeing as you're all weighted down by that unruly hair."
Chase moved into the office."My hair is not unruly. And I do think, occasionally."
As Chase reached the desk and leaned up against it, déjà vu washed over House. Cameron had been in that same position a week earlier, using her rather overt flirtation tactics to get his attention. Where she had been tense, focused, Chase was relaxed, calm.
"I guess Foreman and Cameron are hard at work getting you a diagnosis for tomorrow, yeah?" Chase looked at House, the light flickering against his green eyes.
"Information gathering. I'm the one who makes the diagnosis around here."
"Bet they'll be here all night gathering information."
"Seems like it."
Chase was quiet, tapping his fingertips against the desk edge. House decided to wait him out.
"They can handle it. I just pulled six hours in the OR. I'm getting dinner and going home. Night, House." Chase walked out of the office, unable to see House's strange smile, head cocked as he watched him go.
House reached for his baseball again, but let it drop. Maybe Chase had the right idea. Whatever Cameron and Foreman found would keep until morning. He reached for his cell phone, flipped it open, and dialed Wilson's number. It rang several times, then went to voice mail. Unperturbed, House gathered his things and closed his office, heading through the hospital halls with care, avoiding other nurses and doctors.
When he reached the lobby, House could see snow falling through the dark glass. He glanced at Cuddy's office, relieved that her lights were off.
Snow was thick on the parking lot as House made slow progress to his car. The cold stiffened his joints, preying on his weakened leg. He was out of breath by the time he reached his car.
Turning his key in the ignition, House sighed when the engine refused to start. A few more intense turns and some colorful language later, he again pulled his cell phone out of his coat pocket, redialing Wilson's number.
Although he would have never admitted it, House's heart sunk when his call went to voice mail. But he resisted this emotion, jaw tightening as he called a cab company for a ride home.
House had forgotten how easy it was to get used to pain, to act as if something was normal, even if it wasn't. He'd woken up over an hour ago, pain clawing at his thigh like any other day. But the vicodin bottle which stood sentinel on his desk, a bastion against all his agonies, big and small, had nothing but air underneath its plastic helmet.
He had to stare at the bottle, had to remember what it could do for him. Because, although his vicodin was missing in action, he knew exactly where a squadron of relief could be found. The little bottles of liquid underneath his bed, tucked in next to a small pile of syringes and a line of surgical tubing; the little army was calling to him, a siren song of pleasure and freedom.
If the vicodin sought to protect House, to bolster his confidence by freeing him of pain, the morphine obliterated it. But it obliterated everything, and he needed his wits today, couldn't stay abed dreaming in Technicolor while his morphine regiment sang him to sleep.
So, he got up.
House made it to the elevator of Princeton-Plainsboro by sheer force of will, but the cab ride he took to work had done nothing to improve his mood. And, when he arrived, he realized his car had been towed the night before. He tried not to brood about how Wilson had been lacking in his friend duties as of late. So, when Wilson strode into the elevator with House, whistling a merry tune, House chose to show him how to be a good friend by saying absolutely nothing when Wilson sidled up next to him. Wilson, however, did not take the hint.
"You look like hell."
House didn't respond.
"What, are you giving me the silent treatment because I didn't return your calls?"
Again, not a word from House. He stared at the flickering elevator light, ticking off floor numbers. Even the elevator was against him today.
Wilson shook his head. "That makes you a pouting five year old or a jilted teenage girl. And that's just weird."
The laughter in Wilson's voice made House's well-intended resolve crumble. "Maybe I wouldn't be so upset if my car had actually started last night." House flinched—revealing his feelings was never a part of the plan, unless they were lies.
"Look, I'm sorry. I thought you were just calling me to come watch TV or help you break into a patient's home or something. I had some other things going on that night and—"
"What could be more important, by your all important good guy standards, than helping a friend in need? Breaking your own moral code never looks good."
"But you do horrible things all the time."
"That's the point. I lie. I cheat. I occasionally steal. But you are the upstanding, sacrificing friend of said liar, cheater, and occasional thief—which only makes you look good if you bail my ass out whenever I call you."
"Oh yes, taking care of you is what makes me a good person. Not helping people with cancer."
"Taking care of suffering people who actually want your help is worthwhile, but helping a friend who routinely manipulates and torments you? Priceless."
Wilson rubbed his temples, his over-starched lab coat rustling. House's mood had improved—Wilson would stay glued to his cell phone, desperate to make up for his transgressions. The needy were just too easy.
The elevator chimed, the doors sliding open on House's floor. He stepped out, then put his cane against one door, preventing it from closing again. "Just out of curiosity, what were you doing last night that was so important, anyway?"
Wilson looked up, a strange expression on his face. "I was on a date with Cuddy. Our second, in fact."
House couldn't protest as Wilson stuck out his foot, pushing House's cane out of the way so the elevator doors could close.
Still stunned by Wilson's revelation, House walked into the conference room, feeling even worse than he had earlier. Chase and Cameron were huddled by the table in the corner, heads close together as they talked. Ignoring them, House dropped his things on the floor, then got himself a coffee cup. But the smell of hazelnuts and cranberries assaulted him as he reached for the coffee decanter.
"Who the hell let Cameron make the coffee this morning?" House said, rounding on the two members of his team.
"I did," Chase said, not even sparing House a glance.
Cameron sat in her chair, sipping her coffee, steam swirling around her eyes as she looked at House.
"Why?" House slammed the cup on the counter. A crack etched up the side of the ceramic from the blow. "You hate this stuff almost as much as I do."
"No one could hate anything as much as you do, House," Cameron said.
"Besides, I don't think any of us really gave it a chance," Chase said, eyes still locked on Cameron. "It was worth another try, don't you think?"
"Of course it was," Cameron said.
House felt something hot skitter underneath his skin, lodging in his heart with its tiny claws like the pain in his thigh. Even if his mind wasn't so wrung out by pain, Foreman entered the conference room before House could even begin processing what had just happened.
"I've got a new patient. Thirty-three year old male with hypertension and liver failure, but has no prior history of alcoholism."
"We're still working with Creepy Girl. We can't take on another case," House said, wiping a sheen of sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.
"Maybe you can't handle more than one patient a week, but I know I can multitask well enough."
"Yeah? And what have you done for her, recently? Do you have any idea what's wrong with this kid?"
Foreman paused for a moment, looking confused. "I put her on a low dose of aripiprazole but she hasn't responded—"
"Then up the dosage, for Christ's sake."
"If she's not schizophrenic, high doses of antipsychotic drugs could be fatal and you know that. And since when did you stop caring about a diagnosis so early?"
For the second time in twenty minutes, House felt his resolve crumble again. But behind his defenses no anger rallied, just more pain layered with fatigue and confusion. "Go ahead. Take the patient. I've got somewhere to be."
He had gotten everyone's attention by giving up. Walking out of the room, his small victory was bittersweet.
House checked his watch—Ms. Woolerton wasn't expected until the next day, but she seemed like the type of case worker who checked in on her patients, no matter how strange they were. Case workers like her were nothing if not predictable—if she came in again, it would be the same time as yesterday. Considering the way his morning had gone, his afternoon would be much better spent at home, in front of his television, ignoring the calls of his morphine as best he could.
House felt his pager vibrate and sighed. He yanked the contraption out of his coat pocket: it was an urgent call from Cuddy. He knew she would be watching the lobby, recognizing his knee-jerk reaction to avoid her summons, no matter what it concerned. Wilson's revelation in the elevator still echoed in his mind, requiring instant explanation.
But standing was wearing him out and any joy he could have derived from outfoxing Cuddy was ruined by his lack of energy. Like a prisoner headed for the gallows, House resigned himself to his fate.
"So you've decided to let Foreman handle things on your own terms this time around?" Cuddy asked, sitting at her desk, not looking up from the paperwork she was scanning.
House dropped into a chair, attempting to muster his energy reserves in good enough form to get him out of there for the rest of the day. "He wouldn't shut up until I gave him something—he's a control freak."
Cuddy looked up, no hint of reluctance in her eyes. Wilson must not have updated her on outing their relationship. "That's not what I heard. The team tells me you've been distant recently."
"You'd think they'd love that. I thought I was doing them a favor. Less time spent around a bitter, genius misanthrope, the better."
"Only two thirds of that statement is true, House."
"Bitter is a bit melodramatic, isn't it?"
Cuddy stood and came to sit in the chair next to House. She was wearing the same shirt she'd worn weeks ago, showing ample enough cleavage for a skittle to sail into. House saw his memory like a man in a lighthouse, staring at a ship sailing into the horizon. It kept getting further and further away from him.
"The only reason Foreman is a control freak is because you've bred it in him—you're never too far from your work. This isn't distance; your newfound lackadaisical attitude has gone way beyond the usual avoidance schemes. If you've lost interest in the puzzle, than this hospital may really be better off without you."
Her voice wasn't harsh—in fact, it was soft, almost gentle. House wondered if she spoke to Wilson that way. He pictured them in the semi-dark of a movie theater, pressed close together, Cuddy whispering in Wilson's ear, lips brushing against his skin.
Cuddy placed her hand on top of House's. Her fingers were cold. House thought of how Eudora would handle this situation, how she would go for the jugular, discredit her opponent, make him look stupid. House was surprised a patient had been good for more than just the diagnosis.
"Wilson tells me you're sleeping together."
Cuddy pulled her hand back as if she had been burned by his words. Her eyes opened wide, her face paled in shock.
House didn't wait for Cuddy to recover. So what if it wasn't the truth? The truth hadn't been waiting for him much, recently. "I guess you two are having some wild nights together. Funny, I never thought you'd end up some rich doctor's fuck buddy, but I should have known you and Wilson would end up boning sooner or later."
It was vulgar and it was working. Cuddy, instead of using her anger as drive to question the validity of House's statements, was accepting his proclamation like it was holy writ from on high. He must have hit closer to home than he'd realized.
"I—I need to make a phone call." Cuddy looked at House, but she wasn't really seeing him. House could picture the images Cuddy was conjuring, the connections she was making.
House rose, making no attempt to hide the pain in his thigh. Sitting, even for such a brief period, had been a bad idea. "I'm going home. I'll be back tomorrow. The team can handle everything until then."
Cuddy didn't reply. One hand covered her mouth, as if she could hold back her insecurities. House pulled out his cell phone as he left, preparing to call a cab for a ride home.
Mornings had gone from purgatory to utter hell in House's estimation, and his current situation was no exception. House had been vomiting for the past hour in short but vicious cycles. When his head wasn't trying to crawl into the toilet bowl, he lay curled on the bathmat, forehead pressed against the toilet's cool porcelain, cradling his stomach, trying to stay still so as not to upset the pain demon residing in his thigh.
When he'd come home from work the day before, he tried watching television for hours, reruns of anything mind-numbing on MTV. When even spitting vitriol at the idiotic, spoiled teenagers on "My Super Sweet Sixteen" couldn't distract him, House decided to make one final shakedown of his apartment for heretofore undiscovered bottles of vicodin he may have missed in his previous searches. The fading voice of reason inside his head may have mentioned once or twice that such a search would prove fruitless; he was much too careful with his medication to have misplaced any of it. House told that voice of reason to shut the fuck up.
It was around four in the morning when House gave up the search, leaning against his now-empty bookshelf, his floor littered with medical journals and mystery novels by Raymond Chandler. He was panting, the pain sending bright sparks across his field of vision. In a desperate attempt to ease his pain, House hobbled to his bathroom, pulling out his often neglected bottles of Excedrin, Aleve, and Extra Strength Tylenol. Wilson had brought these over before the ketamine treatment, hoping to lessen House's dependence on vicodin. And didn't it make perfect sense that thinking of Wilson would make everything hurt even more?
Even though the rational side of his mind could name at least three different textbooks outlining the seriousness of mixing aspirin, acetaminophen, and naproxen in large doses, House ignored them all, downing the pills with a bottle of Glenlivet he'd been saving for a special occasion.
House wasn't sure if the special occasion he'd had in mind wouldn't have ended in his current puking spree even without the medication. But that was neither here nor there when he woke groggy from a heavy slumber. His head felt like it was the size of a weather balloon.
His cell phone vibrated against the tile floor. House groped for it, staring blearily at the bright screen. There were seven new messages waiting for him and House realized why: it was almost one in the afternoon. That was late, even for him. House shoved aside the hopeful feeling welling up in his chest. Maybe he could tell someone about his new descent into familiar pain—maybe someone would decipher his strange behavior as more than just bullshit.
He listened to the latest message.
"House," Cuddy said. "I don't know where the hell you are, but I talked to Wilson. You may not have actually lied to me, but you sure as hell implied a lot more than the truth yesterday. I should have known better than to listen to you." She took a sharp, angry inhale. "I know you think you're in pain. But your pain was no excuse to say those things. No excuse. I've been letting you get away with foolish things for far too long. It's time you shape up, House. As of today, I've put a stop on your vicodin medication. Anyone who gets their pharmaceuticals through this hospital knows they will lose their job if they even so much as give you an aspirin."
House's head ached with the unintended irony in Cuddy's words.
"I'm through catering to your addictions. You can work here clean or you can find another job."
The message ended and House threw the phone against the bathroom wall, where it landed in the bathtub with a sickening thump.
Getting up had been the last thing House wanted to do, but he needed to get to the hospital and convince everyone that he didn't need them. After his horrible morning, the pain in his thigh had ebbed, allowing him to get moving.
The look on the cab driver's face was proof enough that House looked like shit, but he hoped to blame it on food poisoning, or some other innocuous disease Cuddy would believe. When he arrived at the hospital, he had the whole story planned out. Bad seafood and a night shared with a bottle of Glenlivet would keep her from asking any questions until he could raid a patient's room for vicodin.
In the lobby, House got a few stares at his disheveled appearance, but nothing too scrutinizing. He wasn't sure which patient he could steal from without being noticed—none of Wilson's patients would let him get away with anything. He wanted to keep Eudora as far out of the picture as possible until he was more presentable.
In the elevator, House knew whose room he could steal from undetected: Creepy Girl. Since there was no medical history, the nurses kept a little bit of everything stored close by, just in case. And, since the nurses only stayed in Creepy Girl's presence as long as they had to, there was a high probability they would chalk up a few missing pills to their own neglect and cover up the loss themselves.
Being so caught up in his machinations, House didn't hear the raised voices coming from Creepy Girl's room until Foreman and Ms. Woolerton saw him through the glass. House took a deep, shaky breath as he entered the room.
"Finally. Nice of you to show up, Doctor House," Ms. Woolerton said, wearing the same dark suit she'd worn before. "As I was telling Doctor Foreman, the state has decided to place Jane in foster care since you've procured no diagnosis in the time I gave you."
"Did you show her the results of the tests you ran, Foreman?" House asked.
Foreman's face was pinched, as if he hadn't slept in a while. "Yes, but we haven't found anything conclusive yet. Jane's case is a complete mystery. If you take her out of the hospital now, she may never recover."
House was shocked. He could imagine how many tests his team could have run in two days, considering they usually worked under much tighter time constraints. If there was absolutely nothing conclusive, then something was very wrong this patient. House couldn't let her go until he had the diagnosis.
"Recover from what, exactly?" Ms. Woolerton crossed her arms. "If we need to, the state will find another doctor with more time to devote to his patients." She glared at House. "Until then, she's being removed from this facility."
Foreman placed himself at the head of Jane's bed, between the patient and her caseworker. He looked at House, eyes pleading for some assistance.
House walked between them, really looking at his patient for the first time in over a week. She was skinnier than she had been before, wrist bones protruding from underneath her sallow skin. Strands of her hair lay on her unmoving shoulders. As he got closer, Jane's head slowly turned on her still neck, bringing her unblinking eyes to rest on House's face. He froze, then Foreman coughed and House looked at Ms. Woolerton, who was trying not to gape at Jane's movement.
"Like I said before, Jane's condition is entirely unique. We need more time."
Ms. Woolerton shook her head. "I can't give you more time. The state can't afford to pay her medical bills any longer unless her illness is documented as warranting such extreme care."
"So that's what this is about? Money?" There was a ragged, bitter edge to Foreman's voice.
The caseworker seemed affronted by bringing up the subject. "The state doesn't get paid quite as well as you do, Doctor Foreman. There are other children who need immediate care, too."
House, whose brain was floundering for a way out of this mess, latched on to the first excuse he could find. "But Jane Doe does need medical care. She's seriously underweight, which can be treated while she remains here and we find a diagnosis."
Foreman's eyes lit up, but Ms. Woolerton looked skeptical.
"You don't need to be a doctor to see how skinny she's gotten," House said, reaching for Jane's bony wrist. But the second he touched her skin, Jane growled, yanking her hand away from him. Her whole body jerked backward, slamming against the headboard.
Foreman went to the opposite side of the bed, hitting the nurse's emergency call button. Ms. Woolerton, however, shoved House to the side, reaching out to calm Jane.
Another howl from Jane, then a strange, sinking sound. One of Ms. Woolerton's hands was gushing blood onto the white hospital linens. Foreman moved to help her, but House stared at Creepy Girl.
Her mouth was an open slash of smeared blood, hands tearing at the pillow underneath her. Her eyes never left House as he moved as fast as he could out of the room.
House was unaware of his body's movements, walking down whatever hall his brain stem must have chosen, because his higher cognitive functions seemed to have taken a vacation. It wasn't like he hadn't seen such a violent act before, but the mental beating he'd already taken hadn't left him well-prepared for such an event. But his primitive mind led him in a good direction; House realized he was outside Eudora's room. His intentions of waiting until he felt better to see her vanished as he opened her door and went inside.
He closed the blinds before taking his usual seat in the recliner beside her bed. Eudora was sleeping, so House decided to wait there until she woke up. Just being in her presence was calming enough. The weariness he fought just to get to the hospital claimed him as the shock let go of its grip on his consciousness. He closed his eyes.
"House. House, are you all right?" Eudora asked, voice quiet but compelling.
Even though he wanted to, House couldn't bring himself to open his eyes, couldn't tear himself away from the placid darkness inside his skull. "I'm all right. Just tired."
"You look sick. Are you in pain? Is it your leg again?"
He opened his eyes. Eudora was bending as close as she could get to him without leaving her bed, hands gripping the railing of her bed. Her brown hair was loose, hanging past her shoulders in soft waves. Her frown deepened.
"Oh, God. What's happened to you?"
House thought he wouldn't have the strength to tell her everything, but his mouth opened and words tumbled out like water from a spring. Not just about Creepy Girl and Ms. Woolerton, but about Wilson and Cuddy, Cameron and Chase, even Foreman. Even the pain and the fear. He let his agonies spill onto the floor at Eudora's feet. When he was finished, the sky outside her window was orange and purple and yellow, the colors of a mottled bruise.
Eudora's face was grim, jaw set, as a tear slid past her nose, into the corner of her mouth. She took a deep breath. "There's extra vicodin in the medicine cart. You know the code, don't you?"
"I can't take medication from you. If anyone finds out, I won't be allowed to—to see you anymore." House stared at his feet.
Eudora reached out, lifting House's face with one delicate hand. "If you tell me what to write on my chart, I'll say that Nurse Barbie gave me the vicodin. No one will ever know."
House felt a bubble of laughter rise in his chest at the arrival of another unexpected, perfect plan. Handing Eudora her chart and watching her fill in what he dictated lifted his spirits even further. But, when she held out two vicodin in the palm of her hand, he finally laughed outright. Eudora laughed with him.
"You're looking much better today, House," Eudora said.
House swore he could feel the healthful, numbing influence of the vicodin rushing through his veins. "I guess I am. No thanks to you, anyway."
That morning had been nothing short of bliss. Lying in his bed was a sweet heaven he never wanted to leave. But, as the pain dimmed, his appetite returned. He came to work in search of lunch and company. House sat in his familiar chair in Eudora's room, arms loaded with a huge sub sandwich, three Snickers bars, two bags of Fritos, and a giant soda. The familiar weight of a vicodin bottle in his pocket was nothing short of a miracle.
"No chemo today, so you had better plan on sharing some of that enormous repast with me," Eudora said.
"Don't worry, it's a moveable feast." And wasn't that about the corniest thing House had said in forever.
"Ah, the literary joke. A fragile thing, at best. But wonderful to those who understand it."
"Hemingway should have been more careful with his titles if he wanted to remain joke-free." House tossed a snickers bar on the bed, then opened one for himself.
Eudora grimaced as he took a huge bite. "I suppose I couldn't ask for manners after your pain-induced starvation. So, enjoy."
"Thanks," House replied, speaking around a mouthful of chocolate and peanut. Her casual reference to his personal hell made it seem even more distant while it dragged his memories hiding on the horizon back to his immediate shore. "I've had a most productive day."
Eudora, eating her candy bar in a much more delicate manner, had still managed to get a smear of melted chocolate on her face. "Busy with a new puzzle?"
"You could say that. Fate, or what have you, has smiled on me today. Miracles and wonders abound."
Opportunities presented themselves in record numbers that day, and House couldn't decide if this was some twisted form of fate or if he simply had been too pain-addled to notice them. House outlined his day of unmatched activity to Eudora.
First, he realized that both Cuddy and Wilson had decided to avoid him, rather than deal with their current issues. House, ever willing to be the light of reason in a troubled world, snuck into Wilson's office, looking for ammunition for their upcoming fight of epic proportions. Logging on to his computer, House intended to favorite as many fetish porn websites as he could, alerting the hospital's watchdog network. However, a quick perusal of Wilson's history files revealed his purchase of tickets to see Puccini's Tosca.
Even though House was certain Cuddy would enjoy a night of cultured entertainment, he decided to do yet another favor for his ungrateful friend. House canceled the Tosca order, buying tickets for an altogether more exciting event.
"What are those two getting in to?" Eudora asked.
"Well, I was going to send them to a monster truck rally, but something better came along."
"Better than knowing Cuddy would be covered in mud, surrounded by New Jersey's finest hillbillies?"
"Front row seats to the Ultimate Fighting tour."
Eudora's eyes lit up. "That is good. But what if they just decide not to go?"
"No refunds on fight night. And those tickets cost too much for Wilson to stay home, no matter what."
"Either way, a win-win situation." Eudora balled up her candy wrapper and tossed it at the waste basket. She missed by about a foot. "Oh well. Is there more?"
"Candy or stories?"
House handed over the last Snickers. Buoyed by his good fortune with Wilson, he had gone in search of his team. At the end of the hall, House saw Chase furtively exiting the staff locker room, shoving a large wad of plastic wrapping into a trash can before he walked away.
Not one to ignore his capricious nature, House went into the locker room to investigate. Almost immediately, he spotted a few stray red rose petals on the floor in front of a locker marked: Alison Cameron. It was easy to jimmy the lock, but a torrential amount of long-stemmed roses cascaded on House the second he pried the metal door open.
House held out his palms to Eudora; they were covered in light scratches. "That idiot didn't even think about the thorns. So, to reward his stupidity, I put all the roses in Nurse Barbie's locker."
"But how will she know who they're from?"
"I wrote another card and left it inside. It's very...explicit."
"Harlequin romance explicit or Ron Jeremy explicit?"
"He would have approved."
Even House felt satisfied with the brewing mayhem he'd planned as he left the staff locker room. But, just as he was about to leave for the cafeteria, Nurse Barbie emerged out of a patient's room, head bent low over a clipboard. House couldn't resist a chance to intercept. He walked past her, sticking out his cane at a subtle enough angle to trip the nurse up without looking like he'd done it on purpose.
It was better than he'd expected: she tripped and the clipboard flung forward, smacking her soundly on the forehead.
"Oh, are you okay?" House asked, slumping his shoulders in an attempt to look frail.
Nurse Barbie rubbed her forehead, seemingly unaware of his deliberation. "I'm okay. Just a little bump on the head. But, wait, maybe you can help me?"
House resisted the urge to mention only idiots needed to phrase everything as if it were a question needing conformation. "Sure. What's up?"
"Well, Doctor Foreman wants me to do a treatment on his sarcoidosis patient, but got paged about Jane Doe while he was writing down his instructions, so it looks all scribbly and messy. Can you read it for me?"
Nurse Barbie held the clipboard out to House with a plaintive expression on her face she probably used on every man in the hospital. Even though he was sure "scribbly" was not a word, for the third time that day, he couldn't resist the golden opportunity resting at his feet.
"Sure I can. You know, Foreman does have a kindergartener's handwriting." House gave the nurse his cheesiest smile, reserved for schmoozing donors when he absolutely had to.
Nurse Barbie giggled. "I know, right? Where do you suppose he learned to write like that?"
"I don't know... kindergarten?" House perused the clipboard, able to read Foreman's hurried penmanship, as it was still better than his own on the best of days. As treatment for his patient's sarcoidosis, Foreman had prescribed an alternating day regimen of prednisone. A simple enough answer, if the patient's symptoms weren't so severe. Foreman was using corticosteroids as a stalling point until he could get up the nerve to try another, more risky treatment. House was more than willing to ramp up the treatment for him.
"It says here that he wants the patient on a round of methotrexate as soon as possible."
"I'm on it," Nurse Barbie said, smiling her sunniest smile.
House smiled back until she left, feeling nauseated and victorious all at once. It was a combination he hadn't experienced since college. He walked off his sick feeling and, when he reached the cafeteria, he was flush with satisfaction.
"And that's the end," House said, eating the last of his chips. The remains of his sandwich lay on the little table between the chair and the bed.
"What an inspiring story. Makes me wish I could get out of bed to see the fallout of your diabolical schemes." Eudora fiddled with her IV.
House let silence fall between them, musing over what he could say to make her feel better. Eudora had improved, but recovery from any type of brain cancer was risky business, at best. He felt compelled to lie, but couldn't quite bring himself to do it.
"Look who's out there—is that the creepy girl you've been telling me about?" Eudora pointed at her glass door.
There was Nurse Barbie rolling Creepy Girl in a wheelchair down the hall—to one of Foreman's tests, House presumed. It shocked him to realize he hadn't worked on a diagnosis in so long, but he didn't feel guilty about it. Sitting in that chair, full of vicodin and junk food, was excellent.
"I'm guessing her arms and legs are strapped down because she bit her caseworker."
Visions of yesterday's gore flitted through House's mind in red-tinged snapshots, but it felt like a distant nightmare, a horror movie he'd seen ages ago and promptly forgotten until now. "She's probably strapped down and under constant supervision after everything."
But the girl wasn't moving in the wheelchair, wasn't fighting against the restraints that bound her. Nurse Barbie was chatting at her patient, the lilt of her voice reaching their ears in the quiet room, as she slowly pushed her down the hall. As the duo passed the door, Creepy Girl pulled herself out of her strange catatonia once more.
Her head swiveled, but House was hidden from her view. Creepy Girl focused on Eudora, head cocked, lips deepening into an almost comical frown. House pushed himself further back into his chair, but Eudora placed a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Could you please go shut the blinds? We don't need to let her gawking ruin our lunch." Her reasonable tone compelled House out of his seat against his better instincts. Even though he passed into Creepy Girl's sightline, she didn't take her eyes off Eudora.
The vertical blinds stretched across the door and, with a sharp turn of his wrist, they slid shut. A howl wrenched itself from Creepy Girl's throat, raw and inhuman sounding. House, pushing one blind aside, saw Creepy Girl convulsing against her restraints, howling and grunting over Nurse Barbie's pleas.
"I need a doctor here, now," she shouted, trying to keep her limbs away from Creepy Girl's jaw, which began snapping open and closed with swift flashes of her white teeth.
House let the single blind slip from his fingers, then returned to his seat by Eudora. Her face was grim, but not scared. They both felt the weight of House's avoidance between them, but it didn't shove them apart. They were complicit in this act, as if Eudora had broken an oath also.
They waited together in silence, listening to the sounds of footsteps running to aid Nurse Barbie.
It was another morning and House's head felt like it had been filled with sawdust. As he opened his eyes, he saw Eudora standing over him, a worried frown on her face.
"House, I'm sorry to wake you. But you've been sleeping for so long." She handed him a glass of water from her table.
He took a grateful sip. "How long?"
"Almost fourteen hours. I tried calling someone, but oncology was pretty much deserted."
"I don't know." Eudora picked up House's pager and handed it to him. "It started going off constantly a few hours after you fell. I tried to wake you, but you wouldn't budge."
House saw that Foreman and Cuddy had left several emergency pages. "I have to go." Grasping his cane, he stood, on his trembling thigh, but the throbbing did not increase.
Eudora held out his vicodin bottle, full to the brim with little white pills. "I refilled it and wrote it out on my chart. No one will know."
House put the bottle in his pocket, then held Eudora's hand. Her face was pale and stretched a little thin, eyes hollow in her bony face. He tried to speak, but his pager went off again.
"Thanks," House said, dropping her hand. As he left, he closed the door behind him, trying not to think of Eudora's face.
It was a struggle just to get to his office, but he made it, thigh aching the whole way. House pushed the conference room open, grimacing at any form of physical exertion.
A loud popping sound greeted House as he entered the room.
"Hey, House. Want some champagne?" Wilson asked. "We're celebrating."
"What?" House couldn't muster enough energy to be shocked at this latest development.
"Foreman caught a patient in the ER with an early strain of bacterial meningitis. It started spreading, but he was able to contain it before things got out of hand," Cameron said. She raised her champagne glass in Foreman's direction. "It really was amazing."
"Hear, hear," Chase intoned, and the four tapped each other's glasses.
House pulled Wilson aside while he downed all the golden liquid in his glass.
"What, House?" He looked exhausted, but still as happy as before.
"Wilson, I need your—"
A steady vibration emanating from Wilson's lab coat pocket interrupted their conversation. He pulled his pager out and stared at it's screen for a few seconds before scrambling to get around House and into the hallway.
House followed, close to falling again. "Where are you going? We need to talk."
Wilson didn't even turn around as he ran for the stairs. "I got a page from Lisa. We'll talk later." Rounding the corner, Wilson disappeared, his footsteps clacking as he barreled down the stairs.
House, adrift in a sea of events moving too fast for him to comprehend, turned to look through the glass windows of his conference room. His team was still drinking, Chase's arm wrapped around Cameron's waist. The early morning light coming through the windows behind them sent their shadows toward him. House felt engulfed by them, subsumed into darkness.
When had everything all gone to hell?
Entering her room was never easy, and House realized he'd felt this same apprehension upon meeting Jane Doe. Creepy Girl was severely disturbed. Foreman was too cautious to treat her; Ms. Woolerton was bitten because he didn't take action in time to prevent a violent episode.
Something hard and cold settled in the pit of his stomach as he looked at her. Thick, padded straps on her feet and wrists kept her immobile on her bed. Her hair was matted, clumps of scalp peeking through. The IV she so hated was taped to her wrist, as well as several monitoring electrodes. The steady beat of her heart thumped in her quiet room.
House's problems had started with her arrival; perhaps curing her was the only way to bring everyone back into their normal orbit around him.
Opening the medicine cart, House felt a stab of pain as he knelt to reach a lower drawer. He rifled through several syringes until he found a shot of clozapine. If she was schizophrenic, this would certainly bring her to a higher-functioning level.
House limped toward his still patient, her eyes following his every move. Her jaw tensed as he stood next to her IV. He shoved the needle into the tube and depressed the syringe, watching the liquid empty slowly.
Creepy Girl closed her eyes.
House had lined his pills in tiny rows on his table, six thin lines which should have led to freedom. But his fall precipitated the worst pain he'd experienced since his surgery years ago. Lying on the couch, even breathing set his body on fire. Death, not for the first time, seemed a welcome respite.
A box on the table sat behind the lines of vicodin. They were a shield, silencing the strange song the morphine hummed in his ears, a sweet lullaby. He'd held out for so long, but his resolve was failing.
He took a deep breath and reached for the box, dragging it toward him and sending his vicodin flying off the table. They clicked sharply as they hit the floor. The process was simple: tying surgical tubing around his forearm, filling the syringe, finding a vein, inhaling sharply as the morphine flowed into his bloodstream. The burning receded, his mind falling into an endless darkness, where the faces of his friends and the agonies engulfing his body faded into nothing.
There was a ringing in his ears, shrill and repetitive. Emerging from his dense morphine fog, House realized his phone was ringing. He reached for it too late, but saw that he had a missed call from Cuddy at 10:35 PM. He'd been under his morphine's hypnotic spell for over ten hours. She didn't leave a message, but even in his relaxed state, House knew what Cuddy was calling about.
Creepy Girl wasn't Creepy Girl anymore. Jane Doe was probably sitting in her bed, talking and laughing with Cuddy and Nurse Barbie, eating ice cream from a thick plastic bowl. She had already told them her real name.
The image of a renewed Jane Doe materializing in his mind, House was able to stand and reach for his cane. Holding his cell phone against his ear, he called the cab company for a ride to work, the spilled vicodin crunching underneath his feet.
The lobby was quiet in the evening. The clinic was closed and the reception desk was unmanned, but lights were on in Cuddy's office. House entered the office quietly, but Cuddy was waiting for him.
"Where the hell have you been? I've been calling you for hours." Cuddy's unexpected anger sapped the strength from House's legs—he collapsed into a chair by her desk.
"You've got to pull yourself together, House. Or I can't keep you here. The board is clamoring for your immediate dismissal. Your treatment of Jane Doe goes beyond negligent. It's criminal. I really don't know how to get you out of this mess."
"What happened? She should be in recovery."
"You gave a young girl with no medical history over fifty milligrams of clozapine," Cuddy shouted. "What did you think would happen? Her heart failed. She's in the ICU in critical condition."
House stared at Cuddy, breath tight in his chest. "I can't believe you'd stoop this low just because I tried to mess up your relationship with Wilson." Once again, House had hit the right nerve.
"Don't you talk to me about him. Or your team. I know the sort of childish pranks you've been pulling lately. What's gotten into you?" Cuddy threw her hands in the air, but the sudden motion made her sway on her feet. She leaned against her desk for support.
"What was that all about?" House asked.
Cuddy's hands cradled her stomach as she took a few sharp breaths. "Don't change the subject. You're suspended until I can find a lawyer crazy enough to represent you."
"What's wrong with you? I'm not leaving until you tell me."
Cuddy's eyes wavered, as if searching for a way out of her situation. "House, I'm pregnant."
House sneered. "You're lying."
"No, I'm not. Wilson and I are having a baby."
They're eyes locked, each staring the other down as if the truth hidden within them could be revealed and the excess burned away by searing glances alone.
"Jesus Christ," House said, snatching his cane and walking out of the office. Cuddy didn't come after him until he'd entered the elevator.
"Don't go up there, House, or I'm calling security. You're suspended," she said.
"I'm not leaving until I talk to Wilson," House said as the doors slid shut. But he had no intention of being anywhere near Wilson.
Cuddy couldn't be right about Creepy Girl. Just couldn't. House knew he cured her. She was probably lying to him, exacting revenge for the tickets he'd switched out. It was a vicious trick, one he would have played himself. But Eudora would tell him the truth. She always would.
House had almost reached her door, but his team intercepted him first.
Foreman came forward, flanked by Cameron and Chase. "You poisoned that girl, House. She was your patient and you nearly killed her. How could you do something like that?" Foreman asked.
"She was dying because of you."
His team had matching awestruck expressions, but Foreman recovered first. "And why is that?"
"Because you couldn't take a risk. You were willing to let her die just so you didn't look bad. You're even worse than I am. You're the selfish bastard, not me."
Foreman's fist connected with House's jaw—it happened so fast House didn't realize he'd been hit until a new starburst of pain eclipsed the one radiating in his thigh. He slammed into Eudora's glass door, which shuddered but didn't shatter under his weight.
"Go fuck yourself, House. I hope you get fired—no, I hope you lose your license for this," Foreman said, shaking out the fist he'd punched House with. The trio stalked off, but not before Cameron shot him a look of pure disgust.
He leaned his head against the cool glass, but moved away as the door slid open. He walked in and closed the door behind him, then ended up in Eudora's waiting arms.
They held each other for a long time, House hiding his aching face in the crook of her soft neck. But House felt Eudora's body begin to tremble and he pulled away.
"Don't go," Eudora said.
"I won't. But you need to lie down, now."
Nodding, Eudora did as she was told. House sat in his chair, realizing what was wrong with his friend. Her cold, pale skin. Her shallow, swift breath. Her hacking cough.
"They stopped my chemotherapy today, but I'm not getting better. Doctor Wilson said I'm septic. He said I have an infection." Her voice was flat, but her eyes were locked onto House.
"You're organs are failing because your body cannot maintain homeostasis. Somehow, you contracted an infection because the chemotherapy destroyed your immune system. In any other case, this would be treatable." House sounded like he was giving a lecture, but they both knew what he really meant.
Eudora choked back a sob, hands knotted together. "How did I get an infection? The nurses said I was safe."
Even as she spoke, they realized where she must have contracted an infection. House's unscheduled visits were unorthodox and too frequent to go unnoticed.
"You have to help me." Eudora's voice, high and breathy, was laced with fear. "Doctor Wilson tried to sugarcoat his diagnosis, but we know the truth. This death, it's painful. It's ugly."
"Every death is ugly." But House couldn't meet Eudora's eyes.
"You know that's not true. Please." She reached out to House and he rose, leaning over the bedrail, taking her hands in his own. She was so cold, as if death had already leeched away her warmth before taking her life.
"There are...ways to make death painless."
"But you could lose your license if anyone catches you."
The thought of losing his license, which had scared him before, was nothing more than a quibble now. He had brought death to her doorstep; the least House could do now was lead him across the threshold.
House let Eudora go, once again raiding a medicine cart for something he shouldn't have. For something he'd taken only hours before to avoid the pain he knew Eudora would face if he didn't help her soon.
The vial of morphine held more than enough to do the job, and House filled a syringe with the innocuous liquid before turning back to Eudora. Her eyes widened as she stared at the needle, but she didn't look afraid as he walked to her IV.
"House, I want to help you, before I go. But you may not believe me," Eudora said.
House didn't know what sort of help a dying woman could give him, but he listened to her anyway.
"I want you to have this." Eudora pulled a thin, silver chain off her neck and handed it to House. "It was given to me by my father when I was young. It has certain gifts I want you to use."
House fingered the pendant hanging from the chain: a flat circle of silver with an arching dragon etched into its surface.
Eudora's face was shining with sweat now, her eyes glittering. "You won't believe me, but this necklace makes certain things come true. It hasn't worked for me in a long time."
House couldn't keep his disbelief from flitting across his face.
"I would never lie to you, House." Her face was grim. "It will work. I know it. Please, promise me you'll use it to make your life better."
It was completely crazy, but House nodded. The pendant was slick in his sweating palm.
"Good." Eudora leaned against her pillows, hands folded on her chest. "Goodbye, House."
"Goodbye, Eudora." House turned off the machine monitoring her vitals, then pumped the morphine into her IV tube. Her eyes closed as her breathing slackened. After a few moments, her breathing stopped altogether.
It was as if death had dragged House into a soundless fog, where this final moment continued into eternity. The syringe slipped from his fingers and hit the ground with a sharp clack, rolling across the floor underneath Eudora's bed.
The sound broke something inside House. Tears slid down his cheeks. The pendant dug into his palm, drawing blood as he made a fist. Whatever had happened here, between the two of them, was gone. Whatever had been between House and Wilson, House and Cuddy, House and his team, this too had faded into nothing. Whatever was to come for House, surely, it didn't matter. All he had left was a dead woman's necklace and her insane belief that its power could save him.
As House wept, he wondered if such miracles could exist in a world full of pain.