A/N: Based off of the Janitor's comment to Carla in the episode "My Turf War" from Season 6: "Do you know how messy kids can be and do you know how clean this place has been ever since 'The Ghost?' Besides, I'm only picking on the tonsil cases; the spoiled ones getting ice cream for every meal."
Warning: Spoiler from Season 8.
Disclaimer: I own a very large nothing.
Their One Hundred and Seventy-Five Days
"Oh no, not again!"
The Janitor smirked in the doorway as the frantic young patient scrubbed hurriedly on his meal tray with the end of his sleeve, doing his best to prevent the juice he had just accidentally spilled from dripping off completely and making a sticky landing on the floor.
"Oh yes," the taller man finally intervened, voice ominous and low. "I know exactly what you're thinking, David, and it's true. The Ghost Who Hates Spills will come again if summoned, whether it was an accident or not, and he will haunt those who spill so carelessly; he will haunt those who make such senseless, senseless messes."
The boy's eyes doubled in size as he frantically went back to the task at hand, muttering small prayers that his sleeve would absorb the sticky mess before making its little venture down and onto the tiled floor below.
The Janitor gave a little hop as he turned to leave pediatrics, but was stopped by a voice from a bed much farther down from the patient he had just got done tricking. "That wasn't very nice of you…"
The taller man frowned, annoyed. Here he was, just trying to make his job a little easier, and some snot nosed, little kid was going to tell him what and what not to do? Punks… While they sat on their little cots all day, dining on ice cream and jello, he was forced to clean up urinals, coffee stains, and whatever other mess some uncaring, self-absorbed doctor left for him to take care of. And now this little whiner was going to tell him it wasn't 'nice?' The Janitor's eyes narrowed as he began the start of his speech, still in the process of turning around. "Not nice, huh? You know what's not nice? Having to walk into a bathroom and plunge the same toilet every single day, because some supposedly intelligent doctor was too stupid to read the sign that clearly stated 'Out of Order.' Now you tell me if that's –"
But that's when the Janitor made his complete turn around; when his eyes connected with the owner of that voice, and when that very rare but very obvious ball of guilt began rising anxiously at the bottom of his stomach.
The child – skinny, pale, and involuntarily bald – stared back at him, waiting. "Yes?" she asked innocently, the question devoid of any sort of challenge.
The taller man found himself shifting awkwardly, his hand rubbing at the back of his neck in more than obvious discomfort. Tonsil kids were fine to pick on, but cancer patients? No. No way. He more than well knew that certain people in this place didn't consider him a man with any normal standards or normal feelings, but he would never, couldn't possibly, pick on somebody in this girl's situation, especially when they were just a little kid. "I, um…you know what? Never mind. You're right. It, uh…it wasn't nice. Yeah…sorry, kid."
The Janitor turned to go, stomach still churning, but was stopped by the same voice from before. "Did I offend you? I'm sorry. It wasn't on purpose. Though the kids are really scared around here, you know? The ghost isn't helping their nerves much."
This time, the brunet turned around a bit slower, hands now stuffed nervously in the pockets of his navy blue pants. For a moment, he honestly didn't know how to reply. There was only one real question he wanted to ask, but he wasn't too sure if he should. Yet something about the way she was looking at him seemed…inviting. Like conversation was perfectly acceptable. "Are you one of those kids? The scared ones?"
She smiled. "No. Sorry, but…your costume wasn't that good. I knew you weren't real."
"I wasn't really talking about the ghost…"
There was a long pause, in which the Janitor silently cursed himself for asking such a hard hitting question, but finally, the little girl spoke. "Sometimes. But…I think I can do this."
She reached out, her skinny, bony finger tapping the cool, metal pole that held the bag of poison that was currently streaming into her body. "I think I might just win."
"Well, I, um…I hope you do, kid. You, uh…you take care then?"
The patient smiled at him. "You too."
The Janitor let out a frustrated sigh as he once again realized that he'd been cleaning the same spot for the last half hour. God, what was wrong with him lately? He could just barely remember the last time he tortured Scooter. And he'd been, dare he think it, cleaning! Not the best he's done, of course, but for the past week or so, it seemed that's all he could really bring himself to do. Wake up, clean, go home, drink, fall asleep, repeat.
In terms of tormenting Scooter, or rather, the lack thereof, he tried telling himself that it was simply the off season, but he just couldn't bring himself to buy it. After all, every season was hunting season; at least in his world.
So why was he just standing there, mopping silently, while the rest of the hospital went about its daily routine?
He knew why. He didn't want to admit it, but he did.
God, he wasn't a doctor. Why was this happening? He didn't connect with people. He didn't even like people, let alone connect with them! And of all the people to converse with too: someone whose fragility could be broken with just one poorly phrased sentence. So what if he did go back and talk to her? What would come of it? He would eventually say something wrong, make the poor girl cry, and get kicked out of pediatrics all together.
But those eyes were still staring at him inside his own head, and, for one reason or another, it was driving him insane.
And could he really afford to lose any more sanity?
Angrily, he slammed his mop down on the wet floor, making a passing intern jump in response. He'd let whoever slipped first be a sign to the others that the floor was wet. He didn't have time to go get one himself. He had an important place to be.
He'd walked there in long, almost angry strides, but once he actually got there, he froze. What was he doing? Did he honestly think that, that little girl was going to be even remotely interested in his company? And what did he have to offer, anyway? Sure, he'd kept Mr. McNair company last year, and yes, it had felt wonderful that he had actually appreciated his presence, but he suspected that, much like him, he had been an older man that would've taken anybody, even a lowly janitor, for company. But would this kid feel the same way?
Frustrated, the Janitor turned from the doorway, but was stopped, yet again, by the voice he had come to visit. "I haven't seen you here for a week. Are you really done playing the ghost, then? I wasn't sure if you would actually stop."
The taller man turned back around, walking towards her bed and pulling up one of the small, plastic chairs. "I get bored easily," he replied while taking a seat, "So I stopped. Besides, the lesson got across alright, didn't it? Not many spills in here this last week."
The young girl smiled. "It's been pretty clean, yeah, but if it stays clean like this, you won't come and visit."
The Janitor's eyebrows actually shot up at this, definitely not having expected that response. "I, um…I didn't think you were expecting me …"
She shrugged. "You always came here before to clean anyway. Even if you never really talked, you were still here, right? That's something."
There was a moment of silence, in which the Janitor silently watched the young girl readjust the pale pink cap that sat a little too loosely on her head.
"So what's your name?" she finally asked, breaking the stillness between them.
The Janitor looked around, suspicious eyes on the children in the area, then turned back to her. "I can't say. You never know which one of these tonsil kids could actually be a spy."
He was surprised, but oddly pleased, when she gave out a genuine sounding laugh. "Well, okay then. Aren't you going to ask for mine?"
"Oh, um…sure. What's your name?"
"'Shirley?' That's...I like that."
She smiled. "Me too."
"So, Shirley…how are you, um…how are you holding up?"
"I'm doing okay. The chemo makes me a little tired, and, well…I don't like eating too much on the days I have to get it, but when I do eat, it's not bad."
"That's, um…that's good."
Another stretch of silence.
"I make you feel uncomfortable, don't I…?"
The Janitor, who had been uncharacteristically fiddling with his hands, looked up at once. "What? No! I mean…okay, maybe. But wait. Just…it's not. It's not the, uh…"
"It's okay. You can say it."
"The cancer. That's not what's making me uncomfortable. It's just…I don't really like people, and I'm not good at connecting with them. And I'm definitely not good at interacting with kids, either."
"I'm glad. Glad that the cancer doesn't…doesn't shoo you away, I mean. And I know you just said that you're not good with kids, but…I'm glad you're here to keep me company."
"What about those other kids? Don't they keep you company?"
Shirley looked to one side of her, where most of the tonsil patients sat talking to one another, and then to the other side, where the rest of the children, much like herself, lay in critical condition. "I think some of the kids that are here for smaller things think that cancer is contagious, and I think that some of them, even if they know it's not, are a little afraid to talk to me – all of us – because they think they might say something wrong and hurt our feelings. They think we're fragile. I guess we are, physically. But in way…I feel like I'm older than I am. Like this cancer has forced me to age, but I'm not complaining. I'm stronger for it. Emotionally, I mean."
The Janitor swallowed, guilt ridden over having thought the very same thing that those kids who weren't talking to her were probably thinking as well. "Oh," seemed to be the only thing he could manage.
The two turned to look at the newest presence; a younger nurse who was approaching with the very thing that both hurt and helped the patient in question. "It's time for your chemo, sweetie."
The Janitor scowled when the nurse gave him an odd look, but as he went to stand from the plastic chair, a pale hand reached out to him. "You can come back, okay? I mean…it's up to you, of course, and I wouldn't want to interrupt your work."
The brunet actually managed a grin. "Work? Get out of here."
"Invention day!" Shirley proclaimed as the Janitor came striding in.
He had been coming to see her every day since his first real visit, and they were beginning to make a sort of schedule for themselves. Today was Sunday, in which the Janitor would bring one of his inventions, old or new, to show her. "Hey, Shirley," he greeted with a smile that would leave many of the hospital's occupants unbelieving. "I have a good one today. Ready?"
The Janitor sat on his customary plastic chair, whipping out his invention before doing so. "I call this, 'The Drill Fork!' It's a drill and fork…but mostly fork."
The young patient giggled. "I like it. Too bad I didn't get spaghetti for lunch today. That would've been perfect!"
The Janitor grinned. "You're right."
"Are you ready?"
"Alright then, sweetie, let's go."
The Janitor watched from the doorway, having just arrived for today's visit, as Scary Nurse Wife escorted the child into a wheel chair. "What's going on?" he asked from the entrance, voice oddly strained.
Carla looked up at him, surprised. "Excuse me?"
The Janitor held back a snarl as he turned his attention to the small girl before him. "Where are they taking you?" And suddenly, it dawned on him. Yeah, he'd definitely miss her, but still, this was great! The chemo had worked! She was going home! She was –
"They're taking me to a new room."
"I…wait, what? What do you mean? It –"
"The ICU," Carla cut in, voice unusually soft.
The Janitor watched her go, hoping he didn't look as stunned as he felt. Shirley turned her head as best she could while still being wheeled away from her usual environment. "Come see me tomorrow, okay? We'll make up for today. I'll just…be in a different room. That's all."
"That's what they told me."
"Do you believe them?"
"Do you still think you can beat it?"
"Hey, Shirley. So what do you want to talk about today? I was thinking we –"
"Oh, Janitor, perfect timing! Mommy, Daddy – this is the Janitor. My new friend I was telling you about!"
At first, the taller man's heart leapt wildly. Did someone just voluntarily and whole heartedly refer to him as their friend? But then, of course, he grew uncomfortable; the eyes of Shirley's parents taking him in, judging him, the question on their mind unspoken, but still very, very clear. Why would a Janitor be interested in keeping our daughter company? Creepy…
With a small nod and smile, the brunet gave a quick wave before leaving.
They needed their privacy.
He had avoided going back there ever since stumbling upon Shirley with her parents. Surely they had asked a nurse or doctor not to let their child talk to the frightening man who had been, for one reason or another, coming to keep her company. And even if they didn't, they had to be there with her almost always now, right? That was good of course, but…
Frustrated with himself, which seemed to be happening more often than not lately, the Janitor abandoned the scuff on the wall to go see her, though he was sure to keep his footsteps quiet, just in case he accidentally intruded again. That way he could simply turn around and –
"You're here! I thought….I thought maybe something happened to you. Or maybe…"
For a moment, all he could do was stare at her. Twenty-five days. He'd been absent from her side for just twenty-five days. Not even a month. Not even a whole month, yet here she lay – more pale and skinny than ever. "I…I thought your parents would be here with you now. It's not…I didn't not want to come visit, I just –"
"I thought something happened to you. I thought maybe you were in an accident. I thought…I thought maybe you died!"
And for the first time since meeting her, Shirley began to cry. Yet she wasn't crying over her own poor health, no, but the mere possibility of his own.
The Janitor swallowed down an odd feeling in his chest that he very, very scarcely felt, grabbing the nearest tissue and heading over to her bedside at once. "Shirley, I'm sorry. I really thought that," he stopped, remembering to hand her the kleenax. "I really thought that your parents would –"
"Only visiting hours, remember? They can only stay with me through visiting hours."
"I…I forgot. And no, that's not a lie. I know you've seen me lie to everybody in this building by now, but I'm not lying to you okay? I don't lie to you. It's a rule I made."
"I know," she finally answered, her tears coming to a close. "I'm happier than anything, to be honest. To see that you're okay."
The Janitor opened his mouth to say the same thing, that he was happy to see she was still okay, but she wasn't, was she? So he closed his mouth and simply stared at his lap. He just got finished telling her he would never lie to her. He certainly wasn't going to start now.
"It's so cute!"
The Janitor placed the fuzzy, orange bear in her arms, happy to see her so thrilled by it. "Got it at the gift shop. And guess what? I actually paid for this one. Yeah, usually, I just steal things from them, but since it's you, I decided to pay."
Shirley giggled. "Am I giving you a conscious, Janitor?"
"I'm not sure if I would go that far."
"That was great!"
Ted, who had been brought into the room by the Janitor, lit up with a very rare smile, along with the rest of the Worthless Peons. "You really liked it?"
"Yeah! Especially 'Speed Racer.' That one was my favorite!"
The lawyer opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by a strong series of coughs from the very same person who had just been giving him praise. The room was filled with her struggle, and the five of them could only stand there, silent, as she went about fighting her most recent attack. Finally, she calmed, but when she looked at them again, her lids were clearly heavy. "Yeah, it was really amazing. Janitor…?"
"Do you think…I'm pretty tired. Is it alright if I –"
"Say no more."
The five of them left at once, allowing the young girl to sleep.
"You can't come in here right now."
The Janitor frowned instantly, surprised at the Latina woman's behavior. "You know I visit her! What do you mean I –?"
"She's sleeping again, Janitor…"
"Can you come back tomorrow, though? She was talking about you again earlier."
The taller man nodded, moving to go, but as he passed her window, blinds still slightly open, he could not help but notice the bear he had given her; her frail arms curled around it's middle as she slept.
"Are you…are you afraid to die?"
She didn't answer him right away, her large, hazel eyes staring off into the distance. Finally, she turned to him. "I wish I could tell you that I wasn't. That I was a brave girl. But I…I am. I'm very afraid to die."
"Yeah…me too." The Janitor stood up to leave, the girl in front of him clearly tired. He stopped though, turning back to face her from the door. "Shirley."
"You are very brave."
"Oh yes. Definitely. It makes me happy too. Not so sad that I…that I'm going to…Janitor?"
"I'm not going to win this."
He had never been more ashamed of himself when that single tear escaped him.
"I know this is a really delayed answer to your question, but..."
"I'll carry it to my grave."
"That wasn't funny."
"It made me laugh."
"Well, that I like."
"That was random. For what?"
"…I know what you're doing. Stop. Just…don't, alright? It'll…it'll all just…"
"…Remember? I can't lie to you."
"I know. …Thank you."
"I feel like it should be the other way around."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not good at poetry."
Shirley laughed, and for the first time since his arrival that day, she opened her eyes; those large, hazel orbs focusing just long enough to settle on his own. "Janitor."
"I know, but I like Janitor. It's how I met you when I was still –"
"Janitor it is."
"Don't not be you after this."
"Don't not be you. Don't not do silly things. Don't change. Though if you could end up happy, I'd like that. I know you always act like it's impossible, but…I'd really like that."
He watched as her parents sobbed beside her. Watched as the doctor called out the time of death, tone low and mournful. Watched as Latina Nurse silently bowed her head.
But he could not watch Doug come and take her away.
The hallway was oddly vacant, for which he was grateful, as the mother took his hand in hers and squeezed it lovingly. "She talked about you every day. She adored you. And I…I don't think she would have lasted as long as she did without you."
He nodded, but his jaw was clenched tight; too tight. She smiled at him as best she could before leaving him alone, allowing him to partake in the human act of crying.
"You've been gone for a while. Everything…everything alright?"
The Janitor stopped his mopping to turn accusatory eyes on his favorite target. "Oh, so what? Because I'm a Janitor I can't take a few days off? Kill a few squirrels, invent a drool absorbent pillow, adopt a monkey – none of that's okay with you, is it?"
They stared at one another for a moment, because he knew…knew that the kid wasn't just talking about accidentally offending him again. He knew. And he wanted more than anything to bite back. To knock him over the head; to trip him. But then he had to wonder: How many times had Dorian gone through what he…what he just…
"Move it, Scooter."
The doctor nodded, leaving him alone to finish mopping up pediatrics.
~For my Grandmother: Rest in Peace ~