Early morning wake-up calls were a bitch.
Greg House groaned as he punched the "end" button on his cell phone and smacked it onto his bedside table, reaching blindly for the bottle of Vicodin that he knew was approximately an inch and a quarter from the reading lamp. Swallowing two pills, he lay still, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the medication to kick in and make the throbbing in his leg a little less insistent. It was always worst in the mornings.
For the past few days, one of the doctors in his employ had stayed overnight at the hospital to closely monitor the progress of their latest case, a patient who was, for all intents and purposes, topsy-turvy (at least, that was how he'd described her on the dry-erase board). The woman had red discoloration--and they'd quickly found that wherever she didn't have the discoloration was cause for concern, as the skin was rapidly decaying.
He hadn't bothered to keep track of who had drawn the short straw each night, but the voice that had called was pleasant enough, and answered a question he hadn't even known he'd asked. He supposed that, if pressed, he would admit that to wake up to Allison Cameron's voice would be much more desirable than the alternatives: the grating squeal of the Australian pig-boy or the not-quite-Barry-White tones of Foreman.
"It's Mrs. Webbers," she'd said, her tone professional but apologetic. "I think you need to come down to the hospital. Should I call Chase and Foreman?"
He'd told her to leave them alone (although he'd debated having her call Chase for the hell of it--why should the little shit be allowed to sleep?), and gave her the recipe for a drug cocktail to pump intravenously into the topsy-turvy woman (whatever her name was), grouching that he'd be at the hospital within the hour.
He hung up after she thanked him, but before she finished apologizing for waking him.
And so it was that ten minutes later, the throbbing in his leg at least somewhat manageable, House plucked his crumpled pants from the floor and eased both legs into them, buttoning and zipping where applicable. Pushing his head through yesterday's band shirt, he threw on a wrinkled over-shirt before sitting back on the bed to pull on his Nike Shox. Finally dressed and ready to face the six other cars that were sure to inhabit the roadways at this hour, House watched the digital clock on his bedside table change to 4:18 before pushing himself to his feet and limping out of the bedroom, grabbing his keys, and heading out his front door.
She met him in his office with a cup of coffee in her hands and an apologetic smile on her face.
He held up his free hand to stop her from speaking as he swallowed three large gulps of the life-restoring beverage. He could tell that she was anxious to fill him in on the nightly progress of the topsy-turvy woman, but House reasoned that since the woman wasn't dying, his need for coffee took precedence.
"Shoot," he finally said, handing his coffee mug back to her.
"Mrs. Webbers is in a coma," she stated, her voice tainted by fatigue.
House snapped his fingers at her and pointed at the file she currently held. "Why didn't you tell me before, Cameron?" he huffed, tucking the file under one arm and limping quickly towards the woman's room, a distant part of his mind hearing Cameron's heels clicking quickly behind him.
"Did this happen before or after you administered the drugs?" he said loudly while still facing forward, confident that she would be able to hear him.
"Before," Cameron replied. "So it wasn't due to an allergic reaction...her history says she's clean, and she's not showing any signs of reaction."
"Except for maybe that discoloration," he muttered sarcastically before walking into the patient's room, leaving Cameron standing in the hallway.
House narrowed his eyes as he regarded the comatose woman, noting that a rash-less patch of skin on the back of her left hand was indeed getting worse. The flesh was getting progressively darker; amputation was likely in the woman's future.
Pulling a pair of latex gloves from the supply table, House snapped them on and picked up the woman's hand, running a thumb over the dying flesh and noticing that it began to peel away. He hissed, dropped the hand and pulled off the gloves, throwing them in the trash can before limping quickly out of the room and towards his office.
Cameron was sitting at the conference room table, head cradled in her folded arms, her breathing slow and steady. House grunted at the sight and somewhere in the irrational part of his mind he debated letting her sleep. That compassion quickly died as he poked at her calf with the end of his cane.
She inhaled deeply and moaned a bit as she raised her head and looked around, temporarily disoriented. Finally, her eyes focused on the man in front of her and she bit her lip, feeling sheepish.
"Sorry," she muttered. "I didn't realize--"
"I need you to run lab work on that woman," he interrupted, limping over to the white board and adding the word "hyper-" to the already-present "necrosis."
Cameron sucked in a breath through her teeth as she read what he'd written. "You mean it's flaking off?"
He capped the marker and turned to look at her. "Exactly."
"That's not good."
He ignored her statement of the obvious and said, "Run that lab-magic you do so well and let me know what the hell is going on with her."
Cameron nodded. "Are you going back home?"
House looked at the clock--5:22--and sighed. "No. I'll be in my office. Let me know when you find something." He limped through the connecting glass door, the sound barely covering that of Cameron's heels clicking out of the conference room and down the empty hallway.
He was jolted into consciousness by a gentle hand shaking his shoulder, and opened his eyes to a healthy amount of cleavage.
"Morning, Dr. Cuddy," he mumbled, "glad to see you so business-like, as usual."
Cameron--notably not Dr. Cuddy--cleared her throat and shifted uncomfortably, dropping her hand from his shoulder. "I have your test results, Dr. House," she responded.
House rose from where he'd been slumped over his desk--he didn't even remember falling asleep--and promptly snatched the folder from Cameron's hands. Running his eyes over the test results, he picked up the phone and quickly dialed a number, tucking the phone against his shoulder as he made a few notes in the woman's chart. Cameron assumed that he was ordering more tests.
"Chase. Get out of bed." A pause. "I'm well aware of what time it is. You really should learn to love the morning; I've been up for HOURS." Another pause, and Cameron could see his eyes roll. "What, your mistress won't let you? It's your turn to watch the patient, and unless you've made some sort of arrangement with Cameron, I'd better see you here immediately."
Hanging up the phone, he looked at Cameron.
"Am I the only person who pulls his own weight around here?"
It occurred to her that she should be insulted. It also occurred to her that there was a joke in there. Regardless, she answered with, "Chase doesn't have to be here until nine. Why did you call him?"
"I just don't like him. If I have to be up at six in the morning, then so does he."
She quirked a smile and chuckled. When her eyes fell on the file still in House's hand, she lifted her chin towards it and asked quietly, "Am I right in thinking that she might die?"
House fixed her with a stare. "Everyone who walks into this hospital might die. There's always that chance. What you need to learn is how to accept that and still continue to do the work." He tossed the file onto his desk and reached for his oversized tennis ball, rolling it in between his palms. "Is there any coffee left?"
Cameron was torn between wanting to thank him and wanting to kill him. Instead, she turned on her heel and walked over to the coffee machine in the conference room, pulling out the old filter and replacing it with a fresh one. She bent at her torso and reached into the lower cabinet, pulling out the tin can of coffee. After putting enough of the ground beans into the filter, she removed the glass pot and poured the flat remains of lukewarm coffee down the drain, refilling the pot with fresh water. Soon the coffee machine was churning and Cameron was left with nothing to do.
"Do you even know how to make coffee?" she asked as she entered his office.
House hadn't moved since she'd left, and he looked up at her from the tennis ball. "Are you suggesting, Dr. Cameron, that I don't possess the fundamental skills required to make coffee?"
Normally, she would probably put on a sheepish expression and drop the matter. But going without sleep does strange things to one's judgment, and so Cameron found herself with a hand on her hip, replying, "Yes, actually. I am."
House quirked an eyebrow as a smirk pulled at his lips. "I know how to make coffee. I just don't like making it. In any event, yours tastes better. Probably because making coffee is the woman's job."
Cameron snorted. "Nice."
Without warning, House threw the tennis ball at her, causing her hand to fly away from her hip so she could catch it, awkwardly. She held it up in one hand and asked, "Should I interpret that as an attack?"
"If I wanted to pelt you with a projectile weapon, there are better things in this office to serve the purpose," he replied, and waggled his fingers at her. "Gimme."
As she tossed it back, she added, "Then why did you throw it at me?"
House gave an exaggerated scoff. "Surely you used to play catch when you were younger? Or was the brain space taken over by coffee know-how?" He shrugged. "I did it because I'm bored." He tossed the ball back; she caught it with a bit more grace. "There's really not much we can do for this woman right now--not until Chase gets here. Although I probably would have woken him up anyway, just for kicks. I'm like that."
The coffee machine gurgled loudly, signaling that the water had finished seeping through the grounds. Cameron tossed the ball back to House and crossed into the conference room, pulling two red mugs out of the cabinet and filling both with the steaming hot brew, altering each beverage according to personal tastes.
She walked back into House's office, his coffee at the end of her outstretched arm, and he took it from her without a word of thanks, blowing some steam off of the top and taking a tentative first sip.
They both drank their coffee quietly, minds dwelling on different issues. Cameron couldn't stop thinking about the comatose woman down the hall, anxious to treat her and hopeful that they wouldn't have to do anything drastic in the process.
For his part, House put his coffee down and rooted around in his desk drawers, brow furrowing in concentration for each second in which his search proved fruitless.
"What are you looking for?" she asked.
"Something...extremely...important," he managed in between shuffling through the mess that constituted his desk.
"What do we do now?" she pressed, when she realized that he wouldn't elaborate on his words.
His brow finally lifted as his hand closed around...something...and pulled it out. "We wait," he replied, opening his palm and using his thumb to flick the Gameboy's "on" button.
She rolled her eyes. "Anything else? Maybe one of us should check in on Mrs. Webbers."
"Hey, there's an idea," House quipped, and tore his eyes away from his Gameboy to look at the clock mounted on the wall. "It's too early for my lunch, though...so you'll have to do it. Maybe if you're really nice she'll let you eat breakfast in there. Comatose people make the best dining partners. They never complain about your choice of soaps." His concentration fell back onto his game of Metroid.
Cameron, somehow convinced that she could change the state of the patient's coma, shuttled off to check the woman's progress. She came back twenty minutes later, traces of defeat and disappointment evident on her face.
"She hasn't moved, right?" House did not look up from his Gameboy.
"No," she confirmed. "She hasn't changed."
"Yes, well, that's usually a defining characteristic of a coma," he replied, tapping madly at buttons. "Not much happens."
She would have replied--with what, she wasn't quite sure--had Chase not chosen that moment to enter the office. He crossed immediately into the conference room to grab coffee. He walked back into House's office a moment later, stirring his coffee with a tiny straw.
"Ah, the good Dr. Chase is finally ready to face the day!" House exclaimed sarcastically, putting his Gameboy away and holding the file out to Chase.
Chase took the file and flipped through it, eyes scanning over the new additions and ordered tests. He swore under his breath before tossing the file back on House's desk and running a hand through his hair.
"When did she go into the coma?" he asked.
"A little after four," Cameron replied. "House prescribed a drug cocktail to help with the necrosis, and I gave it to her at a quarter after." She shook her head. "Now I'm not sure what's going on."
House used his cane to push himself to his feet. "That's why Chase is here," he said simply. "Good thing, too, because it gives me time to get some breakfast." He limped over towards the door, paused, and turned in Cameron's general direction. "You coming?"
Cameron blinked in surprise and said hesitantly, "Okay. Sure."
"Are you going to get me something?" Chase asked as Cameron shrugged off her lab coat and draped it over one of the conference room chairs before grabbing her purse.
"You're center stage now, Chase," House replied, his eyes following Cameron's form as she left the conference room and walked to stand at his side. "And everyone knows that prima ballerinas can't afford to eat." He pushed the door open and began to limp down the hallway.
He heard Cameron catch up to him seconds later, and he slowed down his pace.
"That wasn't very nice," she observed.
"I'm not a very nice guy," he responded. "We've been over this."
They reached the elevator and stopped, and House pushed the call button with a closed fist.
"What kind of car do you drive?" he asked, turning to face her.
Her brow furrowed in confusion. "A blue Taurus."
"Let me see your keys."
He tapped an impatient rhythm with his cane as she rummaged through her purse. Finally finding her keys, she held them in her hand and asked, "Why do you want to see them?"
"Because we're taking your car," he replied, snatching the keys as the elevator rang, indicating its arrival. "And I'm driving."
Cameron's nails dug into the passenger's seat as House sped his way off of the hospital grounds and onto the streets, and she said a silent thanks that six-forty in the morning was still a bit too early for morning traffic.
"This car can't handle corners," House grumbled, slamming on the breaks at a red light.
"It's not made for speed or maneuvering," she responded, working the kinks out of over-taxed finger muscles. "Why didn't we just take your car?
"Because your car's cooler," he mocked. "It's a real chick magnet." A pause, and his voice returned to normal. "Or, I guess in your case, a dude magnet. But please tell me you get some chicks in here, too."
"I had a pretty hot one in here last night," Cameron responded with a shrug.
House choked back a surprised cough and instead pressed the gas pedal as the light turned green. He drove notably slower, and pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant a few minutes later.
"IHOP?" Cameron asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Have any other ideas? Besides, they make damn good pancakes. The coffee's shit, though. Good thing you made plenty." He opened the door and began to awkwardly push himself out of her car.
"Good thing," she concurred sarcastically as she climbed out of the passenger's seat of the car and closed the door, holding out an open hand towards House. "Give them to me," she stated.
House's eyebrows waggled. "Isn't it a bit too early--and public--for that, Dr. Cameron? I didn't know you were into exhibitionism."
"The keys, House. I'd like my keys back."
House's lower lip jutted out in a pout as he said, "You're no fun anymore," and placed her keys in her palm. She chuckled in response and tucked the keys back into her purse, walking with him into the restaurant.
It had been a while--quite a while--since she'd last graced the doorways of any IHOP. She immediately took in the cheesy décor gracing the walls, the sticky tile on the floor, and the general smell of old syrup, bad coffee, and grease.
She trailed a few steps behind House, who was in turn limping right behind the waitress who seated them at a corner table in the mostly-empty restaurant. It was the restaurant's awkward time--the late-nighters and stoners had left hours before, but it was still a bit too early for the breakfasters.
Cameron, for all intents and purposes, hid behind her menu. When the entirely-too-upbeat waitress--Tiffany, her name would be Tiffany--asked for a drink order, she settled with just water. She stole a peak over the top of her menu at House, who was thoroughly engrossed in his. When Tiffany came back with their drinks, she mumbled her order--pancakes with strawberries on top--after House placed his, a disgustingly large omelet.
House quirked an eyebrow at Cameron after Tiffany left, toting off their menus. "You don't have a menu to hide behind anymore," he noted. "So I'm afraid you're going to have to face me head-on. Although I am a bit surprised that a woman who demanded that I date her in order to get her to come back to work is now having problems meeting my eyes."
Cameron sighed and bit the bullet. After all, they had taken her car; she could always just leave him here. "What are we doing here, House?" She shook her head, trying to get her thoughts in order. "We have a comatose patient back in the hospital that needs constant supervision."
"That's pretty much the reason I called our young Aussie friend. Don't worry, I'm keeping him busy. You should have seen all the tests I ordered for him to do." He idly waved a hand. "The tests are purely ceremonious; her diagnosis is already noted in her chart. I win again."
She sighed, and continued in a much lower voice, "Mrs. Webbers is probably dying, and you're here eating breakfast without a care in the world. Doesn't that bother you?"
House shrugged. "Not really. You'd be surprised how many times I've done this. Although usually I just go to the hospital cafeteria." He paused a moment, then, "What you're going to have to learn, Cameron, is that you can't fix everything. You need to separate your life from your job. What goes on in one should have no effect on the other. You'll destroy yourself otherwise." He took a sip from his drink. "And you needed to eat something," he continued. "You're not holding up your end of the hiring bargain. People will think I'm not keeping proper maintenance on my artwork."
Cameron was furious. Outraged. And horrified; the man sitting before her, while a sarcastic son-of-a-bitch, was absolutely right. She now felt something new: shame? Defeat? She wasn't quite sure, but whatever it was, it mixed with her earlier feelings of anger and the concoction slipped through her body to push out through her feet.
She was saved by the speedy arrival of their breakfast orders. Tiffany dropped them off with a flirtatious wink to House and a plastic smile for Cameron. When she left, Cameron picked up her fork and stabbed at her pancakes furiously, using the side of the fork to saw off a piece. Running it through the strawberry syrup already present on the plate, she brought it to her mouth and shoved it in, uncaring as to what the man before her thought.
A corner of his mouth was drawn up and his eyes were almost dancing; was he smiling? Impossible; must have been a trick of the light. For in a heartbeat the look was gone, and he was digging into his own breakfast. There was something about that look she'd probably imagined that caused Cameron to cease her attack on her innocent breakfast food, instead eating calmly.
A silver flash soon made its way to her plate, and Cameron shot her fork down to pin the intruder--House's fork--down onto the side of her plate.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I want to try what you have."
"The omelet not good enough?"
"The omelet's great. Now I want to try the pancakes."
She narrowed her eyes in mock annoyance and a challenge glittered within their depths. "You could just ask. I won't let you steal my breakfast, but I might be coerced into voluntarily giving you a bite."
House scoffed in good humor and wiggled his wrist, indicating that she should release his fork from captivity. He placed it on the side of his plate and said, "It's a fair offer. But now that I think about it, I don't want your strawberry syrup to contaminate my omelet." He stretched an arm across the table and waggled his fingers. "Gimme."
Cameron blinked in surprise. "...You want my fork?"
"That's the general idea behind the motions, yeah. Preferably with food on it."
In the next few moments, Cameron found her head and her body becoming more and more disconnected. She was a spectator of her own life, watching from the sidelines as her body cut off a piece of pancake, speared it securely on the tines of the fork, and pass it over to House. She watched as the food disappeared into his mouth, watched as he scraped the tines against his teeth as he slowly pulled the fork back out, watched as he rolled the food around in his mouth a bit before swallowing.
Watched as he tapped the end of the fork against his slightly-pouted lips as his eyebrows rose once, twice, before his familiar mask slipped on and he passed the fork back to her.
"It's good," he said. "Of course...mine's better."
Cameron resisted the urge to grin as she began to reach across the table with her newly-returned fork. "Can I try--"
House's arms flew down to curl around his plate. "No," he said sharply. "Mine."
Cameron snorted, shrugged, and went back to her own breakfast.
Cameron was the one who drove them back to the hospital, much to the dismay of House, who had wanted to see if her car could actually be "broken in." He knew she'd never give him the opportunity to find out.
His mind drifted back to when they'd left the restaurant. Being around Cameron long enough meant that he could make educated assumptions as to the causes of her behaviors at any given time. He had expected to be thanked--he'd actually had a sarcastic come-back for her gratitude--but she had simply unlocked the car and hopped into the driver's seat, waiting for him to maneuver his frame into the passenger's side.
She had grumbled a bit when she had to reposition everything--mirrors, seat--but had finally backed the car out of the parking space and taken it onto the road.
Their talk was entirely work-related, and there was no additional mention of breakfast. They briefly touched upon the subject of Mrs. Webber and her treatment before moving on to how the other two fellowship doctors were doing under House's employ (House actually tried to get Cameron to lay down money on when he would make Chase crack).
The drive was entirely too short, although it wasn't quite clear who thought so. She pulled into the parking garage and found a decent spot near the door--a few spaces away from his Corvette, he realized with a smirk.
Her movements were purely business. She turned off the ignition, grabbed her purse, opened the door and stepped out of the car, closing the door behind her and walking over to the trunk, leaning against it as she waited for House to finally climb his awkward way out of her passenger seat. When he was finally on two legs again, she pressed a button on her keychain to lock the doors, idly looking around the garage.
House tapped his cane on the ground once, twice, three times in rapid succession before beginning to limp his way towards the hospital doors. When he passed by her, her hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. He turned to face her.
"I could sue you for assault," he quipped.
Cameron did not respond. Instead, she stepped towards him, closing the space between them. If either had breathed in that moment, they would have been touching.
Before House could comprehend what was happening, Cameron had pushed up on the balls of her feet and pressed a soft, gentle, chaste kiss on his lips. It ended just as quickly as it had happened, and she slowly sunk down to rest on the hard concrete again. He stared down at her; she did not meet his eyes, choosing instead to focus on the middle button of his shirt.
"Thank you," she said quietly. "For..." Everything? "...Breakfast," she finished. She took a deep breath and met his eyes, smiling. "I had a good time. I hadn't been to IHOP in a long time." She hesitated, as though she wanted to say something else, but something in her eyes declared that she had decided against it, and instead she nodded. "At the very least, it gives me energy for work today. I'm looking forward to all the hours of sleep I'll get when I go home tonight." She pushed past him and walked towards the doors, not looking back when he didn't follow.
Instead, House merely stood in the parking lot, mind reeling. He had no concept of the passing time; it could have been hours, minutes, seconds. Years. It wasn't until an approaching car honked its horn that he snapped out of his thoughts and began to hobble towards the door.
Early morning wake-up calls were a bitch.
Cameron groaned as she rolled over in her bed and grabbed her loudly-ringing cell phone, noticing that the digital clock on her bureau read 6:09.
Flipping open the phone, she brought it to her ear and laid an arm over her eyes, muttering a sleepy, "Hello?"
"They're having a two-for-one special at IHOP," the very-awake voice on the other end sounded. "Get up; I'll be there in a half-hour to pick you up. You can see how a real car handles."
Despite her fatigue, Cameron found herself smiling foolishly. It was going to be a good day.