They Also Serve
They also serve who only stand and wait
John Milton, On His Blindness
House decided that there was someone, somewhere who was responsible for designing these plastic chairs. They probably ironed creases in the front of their pants and never, ever went out with girls. In revenge, they created chairs that were only comfortable if you had three buttocks and no shoulder blades. He shifted again, knowing that he wasn't going to get comfortable, but not giving up hope of finding a position that wasn't agony for at least one part of his anatomy.
It was cool down in this part of the hospital basement, the quiet barely disturbed by the comings and goings of the morgue staff. He tucked his feet under the chair, deciding his back was in greater need of relief right at that moment, and began fishing in his pocket. He'd got the tablet cupped in his palm and halfway to his mouth when Chase came striding round the corner.
Without glancing at House, he walked straight past then stopped, shook his head and turned back.
"What-" Chase shook his head again as though to clear it. "What are you doing?"
House looked down at his hand.
"Just one at the moment. More later if I need it."
"No, what are you doing down here?"
"Oh." House swallowed the tablet. "I'm waiting."
Chase glanced back down the corridor towards the morgue.
"The patient's dead. There's nothing to know."
"Yes, but you know these pathologists. Need constant supervision." House nodded to the folder Chase was holding. "What's that?"
"Autopsy report. Not ours," Chase said. "I'm taking it up to oncology." He paused. "Are you coming?"
"You're blond and pretty but not my type," House said. "All in all, I think I'll wait for a better offer." He settled back in the chair as best he could, the Vicodin rattling as he folded his arms.
Chase stared in disbelief. "Are you out of your mind? You can't stay here." He looked at his watch. "It's 10.30 p.m. The full results won't be available til tomorrow."
"So you're going to sit there all night?"
"Unless I get tired. In which case I'll probably lie on the floor." House gave Chase a happy, crazy smile. "Wanna have a slumber party? I'll braid your hair."
Chase tucked the folder under his arm, still shaking his head. "You're insane."
"You knew that already, but I'm not sure about everyone else. I've got a reputation to maintain." House dropped the pill bottle into his pocket and took out his yo-yo. At first he thought Chase was going to protest some more, then the other man threw up his hands and turned away, heading down the corridor as fast as he could. House let the smile fade from his face and caught the yo-yo on its next upward trip. He stowed it away again and fidgeted in the chair, wondering how much longer it would really be.
He got nearly twenty minutes of uninterrupted brooding before he heard the click of high heels down the corridor. Tipping his head to one side, he concentrated on the sound, trying to identify the owner.
"Cameron!" he called, even before she'd turned the corner and come into sight. When she did appear, it was with an exasperated look and – which was more interesting – a white bag that was giving off an aroma he recognized. They looked at each other for a moment, then House glanced at the bag in her hand.
"Are you going to give me that, or are you just using it to try and tempt me away? I'm warning you, I have expensive taste."
"No, you don't." Cameron held out the bag to him. "One Reuben and a cup of coffee. Still got change from five dollars."
"Thanks." He took the bag, fishing out the coffee and taking a long gulp. "Even put the sugar in for me. I think you care."
She didn't answer right away, just moved to stand opposite him, leaning against the wall and watching. Still sipping the coffee, House started a mental count. He'd reached four when her expression began to change from irritated to concerned.
"I know today was hard-"
"Failing to save someone from an inevitably terminal illness? Phwah. Already forgotten." He took a bite of the Reuben, suddenly realising how hungry he was.
"Then what are you doing down here?"
"Well, I'd heard that, if you stay long enough, you can actually see the ghosts of patients past. Thought it might be cool to watch."
"It's understandable to be upset at the death of a patient-" she began.
"Oh, please! Go find your own corner to cry in." House waved the half-eaten sandwich at her. "At least have the decency to let me eat in peace."
"Fine." Cameron pushed off the wall. "And you owe me three-fifty." House regretted that his mouth was too full to reply, but Cameron caught his look anyway and rolled her eyes at him. "For the food."
He listened to her walk away again, wondering what it was that gave her heels such a distinctive sound. Or did all high heels sound like that? He'd have to check.
Half an hour later, he was listening to his own footsteps as he paced up and down the corridor, trying to relieve the pain and the boredom. He was so absorbed in distracting himself that he wasn't even aware of Foreman until he turned round for another lap and they nearly bumped noses.
"Chase said you were down here," Foreman said, stepping back and raising an eyebrow, "but I didn't think you'd still be down here. You know it's after 11.30?"
"Watch stopped. I am now timing seconds by pacing and you just made me lose count." House started back towards his chair, counting under his breath. "One elephant, two elephant."
"I found a case." Foreman followed, tapping House on the shoulder with the patient file he was holding.
"It's 11.30 at night. You expect me to work?" House lowered himself into the chair, still not finding the elusive comfortable position.
"I thought you might be interested." Foreman stood over him, holding out the file.
"Did Cameron put you up to this?"
"No. Being sane, she left about ten minutes ago." Foreman gave an exasperated sigh. "It looks interesting."
"Don't they all?" House gritted his teeth and rubbed a hand up and down his leg. "Sorry, I closed up shop at five."
"You called the time of death at seven-thirty," Foreman pointed out, waving the folder under House's nose again.
"That wasn't work. That was an act of mercy for her and you." He snatched at the folder. "Gimme that."
Foreman gave a satisfied smirk and began to walk away, just a little more of a swagger to his step than usual. He stopped when House called after him, "I hope this is actually interesting or you've got my clinic hours for a week. And make sure there's fresh coffee in the morning. We're all going to need it."
"Deal." Foreman finally left, leaving House to his reading, which, on reflection, was probably better than being bored.
He became so absorbed in the file, that he wasn't aware of the footsteps until they stopped in front of him. But he did recognise the shoes. Without looking up he said,
"Is it a disciplinary offence to sit in the corridor and work now?"
"No, but I'm sure you could find a way to make it one," Cuddy said.
When he finally looked up, her expression was its usual mix of annoyance and puzzlement.
"What are you doing here, House?" she asked. "Your autopsy report won't be in until tomorrow."
"Well, unless you practice necromancy, I'm not dead yet," House said. "My patient's won't be back til tomorrow either. And last time I checked, we get them delivered. I don't even have to leave a tip." House gestured to the sheaf of papers in her hand. "Is that today's list?" When she nodded, he tipped his head back against the wall, watching her through half-closed lids. "Have a look at the fourth person to die this morning. She beat my girl by eighteen places, so I hope you didn't have money on it."
He heard the rustle of papers as Cuddy checked, then another rustle as she found the answer, running her eye from the name of the patient across to the name of the attending.
"It ruptured," she said.
After contemplating the list in silence for a moment, Cuddy walked slowly back down the hall, round the corner and out of sight, the sound of her footsteps oddly muted. There was a pause, then more soft clicking as she came back to stand in front of him again. He decided her heels did sound different to Cameron's. More metallic, somehow.
"How much longer, do you think?" she asked.
"And you just plan to sit here til then?"
"No, of course not." He held up the file Foreman had given him. "I have a case to solve."
"Let me know how that goes." Cuddy's voice was softer now, and she nodded to him as she turned to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow."
House watched her go, wondering if she really, fully understood and hoping that she didn't. That could mean serious trouble of the disciplinary kind. Leaning his head against the wall again, he turned his mind back to the patient Foreman had given him, drawing up a list of tests for the morning.
He woke up when someone kicked him. It wasn't the jarring pain of someone tripping over his outstretched feet, just a couple of gentle, insistent taps on the sole of his left foot, bringing him back to consciousness. Blinking sleep out of his eyes, he peered across the corridor at Wilson.
"You've got a promising new career as an alarm clock," House said, stretching a little.
"What's yours?" Wilson asked. "Road block?"
"No, cab driver. Want a lift home?" Wilson knew he didn't mean it. House usually cadged a lift when his leg was this bad, and Wilson looked the more awake of the two of them right now. Leaning against the wall, lab coat off but tie still firmly in place, he shifted under House's undisguised scrutiny.
"Not yet," he said at last. "How did you know?"
"Trade secret." In fact, it had been Chase, who'd got it from radiology who got it from an oncology nurse who got it from Wilson's secretary that Grace, finally losing the battle with her cancer, had named her oncologist as her only next of kin. But House would walk to work before he admitted that he got gossip from Chase. Instead, he braced a hand on his cane and glanced at his watch. One a.m. "Much longer?" he asked.
Wilson glanced at his own watch. "Five hours to dawn. Come on, I've got the chairs out of the morgue office. They're padded."
"With an offer like that, who could refuse?" House said, pushing to his feet and gasping as the pain hit. Without even thinking, his hand took the pill bottle from his jacket pocket and he shook one out. At Wilson's frown of concern, he shrugged and made a show of stretching out his back. "Just stiff from this damn chair. You mentioned padding?
Wilson shook his head. "Of course. And I'm sure a night in a nice, cold morgue will do you the power of good." But he didn't protest when House fell in beside him.
It wasn't until they had turned the corner that Wilson spoke.
"So, how did you know?"
"A little ghost told me," House said, then relented under Wilson's steady glare. "When your uncle died three years ago and you couldn't get to the funeral, you turned up on my doorstep. Wouldn't have a drink, wouldn't talk, certainly hadn't shaved. You just sat on the couch and stared at the piano."
The corners of Wilson's mouth twitched. "And you kept playing inappropriate songs to try and make me laugh."
"It worked, didn't it? Least I could do." House put out a hand and they stopped outside the morgue doors, looking at each other. "You're a disgrace to your people. You don't keep Kosher, you don't keep the Sabbath, you don't go to the Synagogue unless you're getting married." He paused. "But, in your own way, even if it's just for one night, you like to sit Shivah."
Wilson glanced through the windows of the morgue doors. House had already spotted the thin body lying on the slab inside.
"She wasn't Jewish," Wilson said, not meeting House's eye.
"Nor am I. Think of it more as a wake. Does it matter?" When Wilson shook his head, House pushed at the doors and led the way inside. "Besides," he added with a grin, "I don't just play inappropriate songs. I sing them too."