Author's Note: This was produced through an experiment from the LJ Community HouseficPens to try and create a fic through a collaborative workshop process, with input from topazeyes, npkedit (sherlock21B), jdaisy, uarazy2 (Roga), stephantom, and thinleysliced
"You haul sixteen ounces of strained peas out of a toddler's ear canal and what do you get?" House tossed a file onto the desk in front of Wilson.
"Another day older and closer to getting out of Cuddy's debt?" Wilson guessed.
"Impossible," House said. "I'll never be out of Cuddy's debt. She's got plans for my life until the day I die."
"She lied for you, you owe her," Wilson said. "A few extra clinic hours a week aren't going to kill you."
"Shhh." House cocked his head toward the security camera at the side of the room.
"The judge rescinded the subpoena," Wilson said. "They're not watching your every move any more."
"That's what they'd like you to think." House said.
Wilson sighed and leaned back in the chair. He watched as a woman stepped out of the room where House had just been. She carried a baby in one arm and held the hand of a blonde girl, who was maybe three years old. The girl waved at House, who ignored her.
"Wait a minute, sixteen ounces?" Wilson turned back to House.
"Sixteen ounces, six ounces, one ounce, half-an-ounce, whatever. It's a metaphor, work with it," House said. He looked up at the clock as the minute hand slipped past the top of the dial. "And, I'm now officially out of here. I have fulfilled the terms of my slave contract for another day. I have another twenty-two glorious hours free until Cuddy can suck the life out of me again."
House leaned against the counter. He tapped his cane against Wilson's leg. "Why are you here? You're not scheduled until Friday."
Wilson shrugged. "Charts," he said. "I thought I'd get them done while I have some free time."
"You don't believe in free time," House said. "You've got three new patients coming in this week."
"Two," Wilson corrected. "And do I want to know how you know this?"
"I know everything."
"I keep forgetting that you're omniscient, what with your forgetting to get your budget to Cuddy yesterday."
"I didn't forget," House corrected him. "I was ignoring it. Completely different situation."
"So you're what, ignoring your paperwork to make up for actually showing up in the clinic?" Wilson signed off on one of the three charts stacked on the desk in front of him.
"It's all about balance," House said. "Yin and yang, harmony, keeping an even keel. It's all the rage in rehab."
"You faked rehab."
"Shhh." House nodded toward Brenda this time and Wilson shook his head.
House tapped his leg again. "Seriously, why are you here?"
"Seriously, because I wanted to take care of my paperwork," Wilson said.
"You could have done that in your own office."
Wilson shrugged. "The charts were here. It's just as easy to take care of them here, rather than carrying them back and forth."
"Fine, don't tell me," House said. "I'll figure it out for myself, more entertaining that way."
"Why don't you entertain yourself by seeing patients?"
"There is nothing entertaining about patients, especially these ones." House pointed toward a screaming infant. "Colic," he said. He turned to a middle-aged woman wrapped tightly in a coat, coughing into a tissue. "Flu." A brown-haired toddler rubbing his ear. "Ear infection." A teenage girl. "Birth control pills."
"That's half of them. What about the other half?"
"Boring, boring, boring and boring," House said. "There is absolutely nothing interesting in this room."
"Excuse me? Can I get some help?" They both turned toward the main entrance as a man in a tuxedo opened the door. He turned to support a woman wearing a bridal gown, veil pushed back from her face. She was followed by a woman in a frilly mint green dress, holding the train up off from the ground, then another woman in an identical dress and another man in a tuxedo.
"Let me rephrase that," House said. "There is nothing in this room interesting enough to keep me here longer than I have to be."
"Chances are, it's one of two things," House said, turning away from the group that continued to straggle in through the doors. One of the nurses was motioning the bride toward an exam room. "Either someone had a panic attack, or there was a massive case of food poisoning at the reception. I'd go with food poisoning."
Wilson saw one of his staff doctors, Brown, follow the bride into the exam room.
"I'm hungry," House said and nudged Wilson again with his cane. "Buy me lunch."
Wilson shook his head, but signed off on the final file and put it into the "out" box. "Fine." he said. He got up and walked around the desk. He was halfway to the double doors leading out of the clinic when he realized that House wasn't with him.
"That's it? No bitching about me sponging off you? No kvetching?"
"I gave up kvetching for lent."
"You're not Catholic."
"It's a metaphor," Wilson said, and walked out of the clinic. He held the door open and waited for House. "Work with it."
House stood on his balcony, watching Wilson through the glass. He'd seen him confer with two doctors, one patient and his admin assistant so far. Every once in a while Wilson stole a look up at House, a confused look on his face, but he hadn't come outside or said anything.
House turned as his door opened. Foreman leaned outside.
"Are you done stalking Wilson, or do you have time for a case?"
"Not stalking," House said. "Thinking."
"It's 42 degrees and you've been out here for more than an hour without a coat. That's stalking."
House hadn't noticed the cold until Foreman mentioned it, but his leg responded with a deep twinge as he turned to step inside. He ignored it. The heat in the office hit him like a wave as he followed Foreman into the conference room.
"Twenty-four year old female, history of asthma," Cameron said. She handed him the file. He opened it and scanned the pages. "Also, her wedding day."
"Ah, Tony and Tina," House said.
"No, her name is Kim," Cameron said.
"Obviously, you haven't had enough exposure to bad dinner theater extravaganzas," House said. He looked up from the file. "Who gets married on a Wednesday?"
"Someone who wants to save money on the reception hall?" Chase guessed.
"Maybe they work weekends," Foreman said. "Does it matter?"
"Probably not." House went back to the reading the patient history. "So ... asthma, wedding, I'm guessing a severe attack?"
"During the vows," Cameron said. "She refused to get help until they finished."
"Oxygen deprivation," House said, placing one hand over his heart. "It's always a romantic gesture." House saw Chase roll his eyes, but he didn't say anything. "So, her regular inhaler didn't help and she finally comes in."
"But she didn't want to stay," Cameron continued. "They gave her Atrovent. She responded to the treatment, and they let her go with advice to check with her regular doctor in the morning."
"And an hour later, she's back, this time in an ambulance," House finished the story for her. "I'm guessing they already checked the normal allergies?"
Cameron nodded. "Nothing."
"All very tragic," House said, "but what makes this interesting to me?"
"Seizures," Foreman said.
House put the file on the table and picked up a marker. "It'll do."
House sat alone in the conference room, a blank sheet of white paper on the table in front of him, the white board covered with his own handwriting: the patient's latest O2 sats, 95 and dropping on a nasal canula; the timing of her latest seizure, a minor one less than twenty minutes ago, lasting for a little under thirty seconds; and a list of her allergies, ragweed, mold, soy, shellfish and tree nuts.
House had sent Foreman to clear time in the MRI, he'd ordered Chase to switch her over to an oxygen mask and start diazepam for the seizures and had told Cameron to get a sample of the coffee cake the bride had nibbled on that morning, just in case nuts somehow made it into the mix.
"And do a scratch test while you're at it," he'd added on their way out. "Make sure you try dairy."
"You think she wouldn't know she's allergic to dairy products?" Foreman had asked.
Cameron had spoken up before House could respond. "Stress can increase the reaction to a mild allergen," she said, and shrugged. "Weddings are stressful."
"Especially for those who expect to celebrate more than a one-month anniversary," House had said. Cameron had ignored him, and left the room.
With one diagnosis under way, House picked up his pen to start the second.
"Never leaves," he wrote.
"Has stopped complaining."
The door swung open and House flipped the paper over. Wilson stood just inside the conference room. He was wearing his coat.
"Leaving so soon?" House looked him over again. "But no briefcase, so you don't want anyone to know you're playing hooky."
"No, I leave the four-hour work days to you," Wilson said. "I'm backlogged on personnel reviews, but I'm falling asleep at my desk."
"I've told you that you should just do what I do."
"Strangely enough, my staff expects annual reviews."
"That's because you stupidly raised their expectations," House said. "I told you that you should give them no expectations. Then they'll always be happy."
"No, then they'll always be miserable."
"But you'll be happy."
Wilson shook his head. "I'm going to clear my head and go out for some real coffee. You want any?"
House didn't say anything for a moment and studied Wilson. Same ugly tie he always wore on Wednesdays. Some nice but modest suit, same white shirt -- probably cleaned at the same cleaners he'd been using for the past six years. He looked a little tired, but nothing worse than any other day. Wilson looked out the window, then at his watch.
"You want something or not? I don't have all day."
House wondered how long Wilson would be willing to wait. "Let me think."
"Think fast," Wilson said. "I don't want to be here all night just because you feel like timing me."
House smiled. "Get me something big, with a lot of sugar and a lot of caffeine."
"I could have figured that out on my own," Wilson said. He opened the door.
"And it better still be hot when you get here," House said, and Wilson nodded as he left the room.
House watched him head down the hall, then flipped his page back over. "Avoids eye contact," he wrote.
He studied the words, then moved onto the other side of the page.
"Spending money cops released before Julie's attorney finds it," he wrote on the right side of the page, the one reserved for "diagnosis."
"Wants to move back in."
His hand hovered over the page as the door opened again. It was Foreman this time. House checked his watch.
"Too early to have the MRI results," he said. "What went wrong this time?"
"The diazepam isn't working, she's still having seizures."
"Often enough to stop us from doing the MRI," he said.
"And you're thinking ..."
House sat back, and looked at the white board again. "How are her O2 sats? They holding?"
"They're at 95 now, with the mask," Foreman said. "Not great, I know."
"And the phenytoin will only screw with her lungs some more."
"I know," Foreman said.
"Cameron do the scratch tests?"
Foreman nodded. "Negative, and she checked the coffee cake. That's clear too."
"So," House said, "we keep her on oxygen and see how long she keeps having seizures and hope that they slow down."
He pushed himself up and crossed the room to pour himself a cup of coffee. He hesitated for a moment when he remembered that Wilson was bringing more, but then shrugged and kept pouring.
"Or we wait to see if the diazepam just needs more time to take effect," he said, and walked back to stand in front of the white board. "Or we keep her on oxygen, give her phenytoin so we can do the MRI to look for what's causing the seizures, and hope we figure it out before we have to intubate because the phenytoin will further depress her respiration."
"Or we could wait," Foreman said.
"I already said that," House said. He sat at the table again -- the white board to his left, Foreman still waiting by the door on his right. "You know what I'm going to say."
"Sure, but it's better for my malpractice premiums if you make the actual call on it, rather than me," Foreman said.
House took a drink , then put his mug down on the table, next to the paper. "Your diagnosis is that you're afraid to take a real chance," he said.
Foreman crossed his arms and leaned back against the glass wall separating the conference room from House's office. "I take chances all the time," he said.
"Sure, chances like whether to sleep with the new pharmaceutical rep or the new nurse, or whether your shoes are too fashion forward, but nothing that really counts. Nothing that will really make a difference."
"By your definition, maybe."
"By the definition of real medicine. You tried once, with John Henry, and it didn't work out as well as you'd expected. You needed me to pull your ass out of the fire."
Foreman straightened his arms and took a step forward. "And look where you ended up. In court, again." He leaned on the table, bringing himself closer to House. "With a subpoena, again."
"And with a cured patient who's recording. Again." House shook his head. "You keep bitching that you're here to learn ..."
"I want to learn about medicine." Foreman shook his head. "It seems like lately all you're interested in teaching us is how to post your bail."
House shrugged. "I thought you already knew all about that."
House saw Foreman's jaw tighten, saw the anger in his eyes. He braced himself. Foreman closed his eyes. When he opened them again the anger was still there, but under control now. He pushed himself back, away from the table. House wondered how far he'd have to push Foreman before he'd actually take a swing at him. He wondered when the last time was that Foreman even allowed himself to be pushed that far.
"You want to play games or make a decision on this case?" Foreman stepped back, arms across his chest, as if the anger had never even been there, had never existed.
"You don't know what you're missing," House said.
"I'd say I'm missing out on lawsuits," Foreman said. "I can live with that."
House shook his head. "You'll see a whole new side of Cuddy," he said. "Anger is like an aphrodisiac for her."
Foreman didn't say anything. He just waited for House to say the words they both knew were coming.
"Fine," House said. "Start the phenytoin."
Foreman didn't even nod. He just turned and walked out. House watched him as he moved down the hallway taking fast, even strides. Foreman had a way of walking that told everyone around him that he was confident, sure of himself. It didn't give away even a glimpse of the uncertainty that House knew hid deep inside.
He picked up his mug as Foreman turned the corner and passed out of sight. He brought it up to his mouth, and caught a whiff of the acrid tang of the cheap coffee that Cameron must have put into the coffee pot after lunch. It was the same crap they served in rehab -- gallons of it. House put the mug back down without taking a drink. He'd had too much of it in the past couple of months.
House took the mug over to the sink, and dumped the coffee down the drain. He'd wait for Wilson's brew.
He turned to the window. The sun was out, its weak late winter rays working at melting the snow that still remained on the ground. Maybe he should have gone with Wilson, House thought. At least it would be someplace different -- a different set of walls, a different set of smells.
But then maybe he should have gone someplace else for rehab, someplace where the air was different, someplace without the same boring parking lot beyond the glass panes, someplace where no one knew him -- where no one knew where to find him.
But PPTH had been easy. Easy to get into, easy to get out of, easy for a guy who knew a guy who needed some extra cash to get something he wanted. House fingered the bottle in his pocket. Something he needed.
House shook his head and turned away from the window. He was tired of thinking about himself, of dragging up all his faults, all his issues -- even the ones he made up. He needed to find something else to think about.
He crossed the room and took the paper off the table, folded it and put it in his pocket, then walked out the door, down the hall and turned left. He'd wait in Wilson's office. It might be the same air and the same building, but at least Wilson's office had a different angle on the same boring view of the parking lot. Maybe he could find something new there, something different. Something distracting.
Wilson kicked him out of his office less than fifteen minutes later.
"Which part of the phrase: 'I've got a lot of paperwork to finish' don't you understand?"
"The part where you actually do the paperwork," House said, but he got up from behind Wilson's desk anyway.
The conference room looked just as boring it had a few minutes earlier, so instead he headed for the elevator. He got on when the doors opened, but didn't push a button. Just stood there with one hand on the cane, the other holding his extra large triple shot mocha and waited to see where it went. Elevator roulette. Let fate decide where he ended up.
Third floor. Maternity. House turned right. There were balloons in the first room, the bassinet to the side of the bed, the baby asleep inside, mother dozing, father standing by the window, looking content.
The next room was filled with family, the flashes from at least three different cameras, someone ordering the tired woman in the bed to smile as her baby wailed.
The next two doors were closed, the fifth a repeat of the first room, but the father was holding the baby this time, whispering something to the creature under the blue cap.
House didn't bother looking into the other rooms. Nothing there of interest. There never was.
NICU was at the far end of the floor, around a corner and out of the way, so most parents never saw what happened in there if they were lucky. He recognized a couple of the nurses as ones who had worked with Chase. Chase had seemed satisfied there. Sometimes House expected he'd ask to be released from his fellowship, go someplace safer, quieter. Someplace like here. It'd be a waste. Chase had good ideas. Unusual ideas. Putting him someplace where all he did was put out fires wasn't right.
House was still surprised Chase hadn't asked to leave after the case with light girl. The case he screwed up on. The one that Chase solved. The one where he'd almost... He stopped, and took a drink of his coffee, tasting dark chocolate and even darker espresso.
It didn't matter. The amputation had never happened. They'd figured it out in time. Chase had figured it out in time, and House was tired of thinking about his mistakes, of being forced to talk about them, of having to drag them out in front of some quack and a half-dozen losers in group therapy.
Damn. House cursed his own brain for returning to familiar patterns, like it was stuck on some kind of a loop. He took another drink, then turned and headed back to the elevator.
ICU. House didn't get out. He didn't feel like seeing desperate patients and more desperate families, all hoping someone would give them the answer they wanted to hear, rather than the truth.
At least Chase hadn't demanded an apology. He'd sat on the floor, one hand holding his jaw, staring up at House. He hadn't even asked why. Good thing, because House didn't know if he could have said why. He could have said something -- something about pain, about frustration. It wouldn't have actually meant anything, though. It wouldn't have explained a thing. All he could think about was how ... how good it felt to actually take out that pain, that anger, that frustration on anything. On anybody. And how frightening that feeling of relief was.
But Chase hadn't asked. He'd focused instead on the case, on the kid, on the diagnosis, and House knew what to do with that information. He'd picked up the phone, called the OR to stop the surgery, told Chase to get the kid moved, and to have Cameron or Foreman tell the parents. Then he'd gone home and finished off nearly half a bottle of Maker's Mark.
Foreman was easy to predict. He'd get angry. He'd yell. He probably would have fought back, House thought. He probably would have quit. Chase hadn't done any of those things, and House still couldn't figure out why. And he still wasn't sure if he was more interested in why Chase had never demanded an apology, or more grateful that he hadn't.
The elevator doors closed and House felt it drop. He took another drink of his coffee. The doors opened on the clinic. Definitely not getting off there. He punched the L1 button before anyone could step in.
He turned left, past radiology's offices and conference rooms. He peeked through the window at the MRI machine, and saw Cameron settling their patient on the table. He went to the next door and entered the control room.
"We haven't started yet," Foreman said. Chase didn't say anything, just studied the readouts from the woman's lab work.
House leaned against the wall. "I'll wait," he said.
Cameron came through the door and Foreman started the machine. The table slid backwards into the tube.
"She's ready," Cameron said.
No one was ever ready, House thought. You lay there on a cold table in a thin gown and waited for the test to start, just so that it would end.
House knew that you could hear the belt working underneath you as the table slid back into the machine, just a faint sound as the rest of the machine roared to life, then the clatter of the magnet thunking, each "kerchunk" seeming louder than the rest, echoing against the concrete walls and through the plastic tube.
If patients were lucky they'd be unconscious, sleep through the procedure. If they weren't, then ... House took another drink, emptying the cup. He tossed it into the garbage.
He hadn't wanted this. He'd wanted distraction, wanted to think about something other than himself, his problems, his issues.
"Her O2 sats are falling again," Chase said as he read the monitor. "Let's get this done."
"I don't need any back seat drivers," Foreman muttered.
House leaned his head back against the wall. He could feel each thump of the machine through the concrete blocks, through the floor, up and into his leg. Sympathetic vibrations, he thought. Wilson said he'd never felt them. House always did. It's why he usually stayed away from the MRI, from the CAT scan, from the whole damn floor, unless he had a good reason to be there.
He looked down and saw Cameron watching him. He pushed himself away from the wall. "I'll be in my office," he said.