"You're Robert Chase," said the man sitting behind the desk.
He didn't stand up; Robert's eyes flicked over the cane briefly, but he was too nervous to make much of it. Here goes; don't screw up...
"That's me," Robert said, letting the slick, cool glass door swing shut behind him. There were two men in the room, in fact. The man sitting behind the desk was Dr. House; he remembered the face vaguely. The other man looked familiar, probably from some medical-journal author photo.
"I'm House; that's Dr. Wilson," House said, jerking his head at the brown-haired man sitting nearby, a National Geographic magazine on his lap. "He was just leaving."
"Cuddy told me to -- " Dr. Wilson began, but House interrupted him.
"Cuddy told you to make sure I didn't kill and eat anyone. He's too stringy. Go away before you witness a criminal act," House said. Dr. Wilson rolled his eyes and folded up the magazine. He clapped Robert on the shoulder as he passed.
"Good luck," he murmured. "Try not to cry."
Robert twisted a little to watch him go. "Is that James Wilson? The oncology guy?" he asked.
"I think most of his friends just call him Jimmy," House answered. "Sit."
House gave him a long once-over, which he was used to; people did it all the time, for one reason or another. He took the time to give House the once-over right back. Scruffy, no lab coat, jeans, sneakers -- well, naturally, given the cane -- and a plethora of interesting toys and tools scattered all over his shelves. A phrenology head. Neat.
"You're too pretty," House said finally.
"I know," Robert replied, before he could stop himself. House granted him a swift twitch of the lips.
"At least you're quick. And you're pretty on paper, too. Good schools, good internships, damnation by faint praise in your recommendation letters..." House sifted through the small pile of paperwork required when applying for any medical position, "...but you're not beautiful. Not outstanding. You're not special, are you?"
"I..." Robert said, startled by the assessment. "No, not really."
"Just as well. I don't want someone who thinks they're outstanding. I definitely don't want someone who thinks they're special." House was leaning back in his chair, head bowed a little so that he could still see Robert's reactions. "Are you ambitious?"
"Aren't all doctors?"
"Are they? You're a mediocre applicant for a fairly prestigious position. Either you're ambitious or you're delusional. Or you want something from this job. More than a name and a letter of recommendation when you move on -- "
"I saw you speak," Robert interrupted, because it didn't look like House was going to stop anytime soon. House raised an eyebrow. "At the conference on Emergency Services, in London, two years ago. You did a lecture on the importance of efficient and accurate diagnoses in -- "
"I know what I talked about," House said.
"I thought it was a brilliant speech. I learned something. Not about disease, about how to handle it. I liked that."
House leaned forward, resting his arms on his desk. "And you want to work for me because you think I'm going to impart all my wisdom. Be a mentor to you."
"You don't have to teach me crap," Chase said. "But I'll learn from watching regardless."
"That may be. And...you want to get away from Australia, right?" House asked shrewdly. "Out from under a couple of long shadows. But I am not your daddy and this, Doctor, is not a Greek tragedy. If you work for me you work for me, not against me, not to win against me. Unless you're right, in which case I expect you to do your damndest to stop me from doing something wrong."
Robert was silent, watching him.
"Did you know your father called me?" House asked. "That's why you're sitting in that chair."
Robert shook his head. "No he didn't."
"Did I hallucinate that? It's the drugs, they mess you up," House said, nodding to the small prescription bottle sitting next to his keyboard.
"I called you."
House's head snapped back and Robert Chase found himself staring down the barrel of the most intense blue-eyed examination he'd ever seen.
"I called you," he repeated. "I said I was my father, faked his accent. I know I'm not the best person you've seen today, even on paper. I knew you wouldn't give me a second look otherwise. I want this job, Dr. House."
House was silent for a long minute. Robert sat still, consciously relaxing his shoulders and arms. If he'd blown it, he'd rather know now. The other man checked the clock on his desk, then glanced at a television in the corner.
"How soon can you start?" he asked finally.
Robert couldn't help it; he grinned and asked, "Really?"
"No, just kidding," House said, but Robert heard the sarcasm. "Rule number one. Don't ask stupid questions."
"Yes, sir," Robert answered, almost bounding out of his chair. He offered his hand across the desk, and House stared at it for a second before shaking it. "Thank you, Dr. House. You won't be sorry."
"I'd better not be. Take this..." House gave him a thick envelope, "to Dr. Cuddy. She'll want to give you the once-over, but you're her type. If you do her, she might even give you your own parking space."
Robert didn't care whether House was joking or not; cloud nine had just appeared and there was a little square marked "Reserved for Robert Chase". He didn't come down from the high of getting that job for a good twelve hours, until he got his first three-am call from House. Even then, he never looked back. Robert was good at not looking back.
"Oh my god," Dr. Wilson said.
"Your god is way less hot than she is," Dr. House replied.
Behind them, a very-late-for-work Robert Chase hurried up, holding his coat closed against the bitter November wind. House was usually late for work, but he expected Robert to be there on time, and Robert knew when he saw House coming in at the same time he was that he was about to get royally reamed out. So, in a way, the woman standing in the entrance atrium of the hospital was his saviour.
The two department heads were standing just inside the doors, House leaning on his cane, Wilson brushing snow off his shoulders. Wilson kibbitzed an awful lot in Diagnostics, but Robert didn't mind. James Wilson was famous and interesting and way nicer than House.
The woman they were staring at had clearly only just arrived as well; she was wearing a sleek black parka with the hood pulled back, revealing an amazingly shiny mass of dark hair. She had one of those perfect faces, too, oval and pale and reminding Robert vaguely of the Madonna painting at his church, the one he'd had an incredibly inappropriate crush on as a child. Something about the eyebrows.
"Take it off," House urged under his breath, and the Madonna in the atrium agreeably complied, unzipping the parka and laying it over the satchel at her feet.
"She's gotta be a student or a supermodel or something. What is she, twelve?" Wilson asked nobody in particular. "I'm going to hell. I'm married, and I'm going to hell."
"You. Ogler," House said, whacking Robert in the leg with his cane. "Find out who she is. If she's here for a clinic exam, I want her chart."
"You're a pervert and you're going to hell too," Wilson said.
"I have a ton of clinic hours to make up!"
"I'm on it," Robert said, striding bravely forward. Under her parka the Amazing Madonna was dressed in a businesslike pair of black wool trousers and some kind of vest thing that managed to show off her breasts and massively understate them at the same time. Robert was deeply impressed.
"Hi," he said, catching her attention. She'd been staring at the floor directory. "Um, can I help you?"
"Oh! No, thanks, I'm just -- coffee," she said to him, and up close he saw that she looked tired and nervous. "Do you know where I could get some coffee?"
"Ah...sure. There's a stand on the fourth floor, or right through there -- are you a patient here?" he asked, offering his hand. "I'm Dr. Chase, I work on the fourth floor. Ride up with you if you like."
"Oh -- thanks -- no -- I mean," she said, composing herself, "I'm not a patient, and I'm going to the fourth floor anyway, so you could...come up with me, and if you show me where the coffee is I'll buy you one."
"Are you sure you...need coffee?" he asked, amused.
"It calms me down," she replied as the elevator door opened. Robert, behind her back, held up four fingers to House and Wilson, mouthed coffee, and followed her into the elevator.
"So you work here?" she asked. "Is it a good place to work?"
"That's...a really complicated answer, actually," Robert replied. They stopped at the second floor and a few people got on. "I like it, I guess. You're not a patient, are you."
"No, I'm, um, here for a job interview," she said. "Allison Cameron."
"On the fourth floor? Are you sure?" he asked, horror slowly dawning. He didn't want to see the Madonna brutalised by his boss.
"That's where Diagnostics is, right? Please, tell me I'm not screwing that up," she said.
"No, no no, it's...definitely the fourth floor. You're applying to work for Dr. House?"
"Do you know him?"
"Yeah, I'm his assistant."
She stared at him. "Oh, god."
"Don't worry, I doubt he'll ask me my opinion or anything. Not that I have a bad opinion of you!" he said hurriedly.
"Thanks," she said, a trifle sardonically, though it was hard to tell through the panic. When the door opened at the third floor, he got off and pulled her along after him.
"This isn't -- "
"Yeah, I know. Listen," he said. "My boss is going to be lying in wait for you at the elevators. You seem really...kind, and nice, and he's really, really not."
"He can't be much worse than my med school professors," she said.
"Oh god, don't tell him that, he'll take it as a personal challenge. My advice to you is to give a very short interview and then run away."
She smiled at him. Angels sang.
"I've heard the stories. I think I can handle him," she said, climbing back into the next elevator that opened. He followed her.
"Right, but listen, remember I warned you," he said. A few seconds later, the doors opened on the fourth floor lounge. Wilson and House were loitering at the coffee booth nonchalantly.
"Dr. Chase," House called, as Chase prepared for the disaster that was to follow. He mouthed She's applying at Wilson, who looked confused. "Who's your date? We don't allow supermodels in the Diagnostics office."
"Dr. House, this is Dr. Allison Cameron," Chase said slowly. The name meant nothing to Wilson, clearly, but he saw the oh shit look in House's eyes. Easy to miss, but definitely there. "That's Dr. Wilson. Dr. Wilson, Dr. Cameron. She's applying for the second position in Diagnostics."
"Pleased to meet you," Cameron said, holding out her hand to House. House put his coffee in it. She stared down at it for a moment, then looked up at Chase and winked.
"Sorry, I take mine without cream," she said. "I'm sure you'll get the hang of it in a few days."
"Extra sugar?" House asked with a leer.
"They told me you were classy," she answered. "Do you want to do the interview now, or should I wait until you've finished your coffee?"
"Right here in the hallway? Decent people do these things behind closed doors," House replied.
"Ten minutes, then. See you," she said. She walked away still carrying his coffee, heading for one of the small seating areas near Oncology.
"She's like the female Chase," Wilson said finally. "Except with balls."
"She's stunning," House observed, but Robert saw that look, the one he was already learning to recognise, which meant in about ten minutes either someone would be healed or something would explode. It was his I have an epiphany look. "If I were that stunning, I definitely wouldn't have an MD."
"If you were that stunning I'd have married you instead of Julie," Wilson said.
"So what's wrong with Allison Cameron?" House asked himself.
"Nothing," Wilson said firmly. A muscle flickered in House's jaw. He was still thinking hard about something.
"Fine," he said. "Chase, go find something to do. I'm going to go pretend to interview her before I hire her."
As he walked away, Wilson made a very small yes! gesture, then looked deeply ashamed of himself.
Robert Chase was not above listening at doorways. Neither, after six months, was Allison Cameron.
They both stood on one side of the wall that separated House's personal office from the Diagnostics office, ears pressed to the glass, careful not to move in case they were spotted through the drawn blinds.
"I'm looking for something," House was saying.
"I know! You've been looking for two months!" Cuddy replied. They didn't really need to listen so closely to hear her. She was shouting. "I want you to find something. Someone. You've turned down five perfectly good candidates -- "
"Who were all carbon copies of the people I already have. Listen, I'll know it when I see it."
"Are you even looking at anyone right now? I personally recommended Joshua Hill -- "
"And I personally rejected him, because he is a moron," House replied. "What was he, your nephew or something?"
The barb hit home. Cameron, facing Robert, winced and then grinned impishly at him. He'd almost gotten used to working with her, because she was as annoyingly, painfully honest and optimistic as she was beautiful. But she was smart, too, so the scales were still tipping towards I'd ask her out but House would strangle me.
Still, no harm in admiring.
"I have someone I'm looking into," House said. "But I want a more thorough follow-up."
"Every single application that's gone into that...pile of irrelevance you call a desk has been perfect. You're looking at the top neurologists and psychiatrists from across the country. If you don't want to hire someone, don't hire someone, but at least let me redivert the salary budget in the meantime."
"I haven't found what I'm looking for."
"You are not Bono. Hire someone by Friday or you lose the salary money."
By the time Cuddy had stormed out and House had emerged into the Diagnostics office, Cameron was sorting through books on the shelf at the far end of the room and Robert was propped in a chair at the conference table, reading the newspaper.
"I need some fresh air," House announced. "Get your coats."
"Where are we going?" Cameron asked. House studied a piece of paper in his right hand.
"New York," he said finally.
"New York?" Robert asked, disbelieving.
"Your turn," House said to Cameron.
"What's in New York?" she asked.
"Broadway, the Plaza, Central Park..."
"I'll drive," Robert said resignedly.
House apparently knew where he was going; he directed Robert effortlessly to what was definitely the Wrong Side of Town, then had him park in front of a high school. There was an exercise field, small and grotty, behind a chain-link fence.
"Coming along?" House asked. Robert weighed his curiosity against his car being stolen. "Fine. Stay here. Cameron, stay with him. I expect you to defend his honor if anyone 'jacks you both."
Cameron, in the seat next to Robert, craned her neck to watch his progress. He crossed the street, passed by the kids lounging outside the fence as if they weren't there, and made his way onto the small enclosed field. He watched the drills going on inside the fence for a while, propped on his cane.
"What the hell are we doing here?" Robert asked.
"Following House," Cameron replied.
"Right, so, what the hell is he doing here?"
She shrugged, sitting back. "Do you think he's...um, scoring a fix or something?"
Robert snickered. "Where'd you learn that, Law and Order reruns?"
"He might be."
"Nah." Robert leaned over the steering wheel, watching House. "Anything he wanted he could get in Jersey just as easily. It must be about a patient."
"We haven't got any patients."
"Prospective patient?" Robert suggested. The drills had ended, and House was making his way slowly but confidently across the field to where an enormous black man, clearly the coach, was giving orders to a handful of students.
"He doesn't know him," Robert continued. "Look, they've never met. But..."
"...either he's heard of House or House knows someone he knows," Cameron finished. "I see."
The coach's face ran a quick gamut of emotions as House spoke and he answered; cheer, pride, perplexity, sorrow, anger, more pride, and finally an obliging grin. House thanked the man, shook his hand, and returned to the car.
"Going to tell us what that was about?" Robert asked, as he pulled back into traffic.
"No," House replied cheerfully. "Home, Jeeves."
Three days later, Eric Foreman showed up in a lab coat, without warning, ready to work. They'd met him briefly when he interviewed, and Chase had been really impressed by the tattoo on his wrist, but otherwise they'd had no word he was coming, and House wasn't due in (by their reckoning) for another two hours.
"He called me and said I was hired, I should show up on Thursday," Foreman said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have the job, but I interviewed three weeks ago. I figured he'd found someone else."
"House works in mysterious ways," Cameron replied, and Robert grinned at his playmates before returning to his crossword.