This story is a surprise cookie for the people who faithfully read through Seven Stages and Sixteen Days! It will make no sense at all to you if you haven't read those, so basically I just wouldn't bother if I were you and I hadn't read them. Warnings as for Seven Stages Sixteen Days... Well, you know. Slaves at PPTH, House is one of them, Horrible Things Happen To House.
Obviously I should really be getting on with CollarRedux! But I got kind of stuck, and I was thinking about what that first Sunday after House's roller-coaster sixteen days... and I thought, well, it would be...
A Quiet Sunday At Home
When House's eyes opened, he stared up at the ceiling above him, confused about where he was. He lay still, listening to the silence - turned his head, and saw the outline of his desk against the morning light from the window.
He struggled to get his hand from under the blanket to touch the heavy weight around his neck. Touched cold metal, felt a D-ring. He knew then.
He sat up and looked across the room. Two desks, a table with a small coffeemaker, comfortable chairs for visitors. A filing cabinet. It was an ordinary office, except for himself in the corner - a bunk, a drawer underneath for storage, a locker to hang clothes up. He was part of the office furniture. He was diagnostic equipment.
He was a slave.
House wasn't sure afterwards how long he sat there, that first morning, but he was cold when he finally bestirred himself and got out of bed. After the confusion and insecurity of the past two weeks, this room, and what it represented - he was valuable, he would be carefully kept and taken care of - was the very best he could hope for. He would get to sleep every night in this quiet room, he could sit out on the balcony in the sun whenever he liked, he could set his own hours for exercise, and he'd be working as a doctor. Doctor Cuddy had made clear he was to be protected from casual or vicious abuse. He was safe.
He was a slave. For the next twenty years - he'd seen the paperwork, the hospital planned to have him depreciated over twenty years - he could be waking up, every morning, to this office room where he was basically part of the furniture. Valuable hospital equipment.
He'd make them see that he wasn't furniture. He wasn't equipment. Cuddy wanted him to become a famous doctor, to found Diagnostics as a new medical speciality, and he'd do that. He'd write papers, Cuddy would see they were published. He'd keep on with that project of editing the text book. He was legally a slave, but he wasn't like the other slaves, and he'd make that clear, starting right now.
He must have woken up not long after four in the morning - it wasn't five am yet. His dorm - his old dorm - would go for their first meal at six after two hours cleaning. Then they'd have hours of basement cleaning to go. He was allowed to have his first meal any time between six and eight, Cuddy said so: he'd go downstairs after seven. Slaves showered at the end of the working day, he'd take a shower this morning, and get dressed in clean clothes. He wasn't allowed to wear a roll-top or a white coat in the basement, but he'd wear his good clothes.
He had to remind himself not to walk out of the office naked. Slaves did that. He wasn't like them.
He was showered and dressed before six: he could have gone downstairs and had his first meal with his dorm (his old dorm: he didn't sleep there any more) and he was hungry. He hadn't expected to feel this hungry. He sat at the desk (his desk, in his office), and stared at the clock, and felt hungrier and more nervous the longer he waited. Supposing they didn't feed him if he didn't go to the canteen when his dorm ate? Suppose they gave him slave chow to eat and caned him for being late?
No. They couldn't cane him. Only Mrs Foster could cane him, and she didn't work Sundays.
She could cane him on Monday. Surely she wouldn't do that just for being an hour late for a meal? Doctor Cuddy said he could eat whenever he liked, she said...
The last flight of steps into the basement even smelled different, and the noise of people working and the smell of cleaning fluids and hot water and unwashed slaves all hit him and made him shudder. He walked with his head up, his hands creeping together behind his back, directly for the canteen door.
There were slaves already sitting there - all women: he recognised the one they called The Peach, and a few of the rest. He walked over to the serving counter and picked up a clean bowl. The kitchen supervisor was watching him. She didn't say anything, but the expression on her face wasn't pleasant. There was hot cereal, and bread, and apple sauce and raisins - evidently that was the Sunday treat.
There were no spaces at the benches. He'd thought there was, but maybe the slaves had moved while he had his back to the room collecting his food.
The kitchen supervisor pointed at the floor. "Get down there," she said, and jabbed her hand downward, emphasising her command.
The floor wasn't clean. The slaves would clean it later.
"Did you hear me, boy? You get down on your hands and knees and eat off the floor right now."
"Ma'am, this slave..." He hated himself. "I'm not supposed to get these clothes dirty."
"Laundry gets done this evening," the supervisor said. "Boy, you get down on all fours and eat up, or go report yourself to the overseer's office and tell him you wouldn't eat your food." She jabbed again with her hand. "Now."
Greg sank down on to his knees, and put the bowl down. He'd taken two slices of bread as well as the cereal, and a big dollop of applesauce. He swallowed. "Please, ma'am."
The supervisor reached down and turned the bowl upside down, spilling the food out on the floor. "Eat it," she said.
Horrified at himself, shuddering, he ate. The floor was dirty. He was shivering. He was trying not to eat the wet food that was actually touching the floor, and the supervisor kicked him. "Finish it up."
The other slaves were done with their meal and getting up to leave by the time he was nearly finished. "You stay there," the supervisor told him. Another dorm of slaves came in, falling silent when they saw him, filing past him to collect their food and sit down at the benches. Greg stayed on all fours staring down at the floor he had just cleaned of food, wondering hopelessly if the supervisor meant him to lick it clean.
"You can get up now," the supervisor said finally, when the second dorm of slaves had gone.
He stood up. His pants were dirty and so was his shirt. His face felt dirty and sticky. He swallowed, clutching his hands together, head down, wondering numbly if she meant to make him clean the kitchen again, like he'd done last Sunday.
"I know what you horn-dog slaves are like, boy," the supervisor said. "You come in here one more time when the females are eating, and try to sit down next to them, and I may not be allowed to cane you, but I'll see you smart for it. Now get out of here."
He went, his hands clasped in front of him, head down. It didn't occur to him to protest that he hadn't meant to, he hadn't known (he didn't know) when the women slaves ate.
The balcony comforted him. He had washed his face in the bathroom they said he could use, washed his face and scrubbed his hands, till he was clean and cold and shaking. He sat on the balcony in the sun and stared across at the park in front of the building, and imagined running, on a wide path under the trees, running free, no collar on his neck.
If he wasn't supposed to eat at the same time as the women ate, then he'd ask Mrs Foster when they ate and what he should do if he needed to take a meal at the same time at the women slaves. Mrs Foster had said he could ask questions. And he'd done exactly as he was told, he hadn't talked back to the supervisor, she couldn't cane him for being disobedient or insolent...
Yes, she could. House sat up. If the kitchen supervisor complained, he'd be caned on Monday morning. He'd be bent bare-ass over Mrs Foster's desk and Mrs Foster would cane him. But she wouldn't do anything any worse to him, he was due in the clinic at eight, and Nurse Previn would be angry if he wasn't there. House stood up and leaned on the balcony, looking down, seeing the metal mesh and realising without thought what it was for, looking out and away over the trees. He set his mind to face it stubbornly. Tomorrow morning, he might just as well accept it, Mrs Foster could cane him. It would be painful and humiliating but he could stand it, because he had.
And then he'd ask Nurse Previn if he could have his breakfast in good time for the clinic. Not Doctor Cuddy, she would just say of course he could eat in the canteen whenever he wanted, she'd said so: Nurse Previn would listen to him. She might bring a sandwich for him tomorrow, to eat when she had her lunch, and he'd ask her then. His mind shied away from telling her he'd eaten off the floor, but he'd say there was some discussion about whether he was allowed to eat in the canteen at that time. That would get Nurse Previn on the case.
He looked down at his dirty shirt and pants and shrugged and went back inside to change. There was a bag he guessed was for laundry piled in with the clothes. The dirt was just dirt, now. That wouldn't happen to him again.
...He'd eat with his dorm this evening. That should be safe.
House figured out two different points systems for the Diagnostics fellowship, and sorted the resumes out in order twice. He was interested that the same three names appeared in the top five both times. He amused himself writing up exactly how and why he'd devised each points system, and a few comments for each of the top three candidates, and when he was done, in more detail than he could imagine Cuddy would want, it wasn't even noon yet.
He could go do his exercise. He was supposed to do eight hours a week. He could do two hours today. He wished Doctor Cuddy or Nurse Previn were around today to buy him lunch.
On his way down to the exercise field, he passed by the open door to an office where someone was working on Sunday. They had the radio on, and music was playing - moronic lyrics, are you okay, and a beat he didn't like that made his hands twitch, anyway. He didn't stop: he knew better. Music.
He wanted to play the piano again. He wanted to listen to the radio. For most of his life he'd never been without music, and then suddenly he'd been plunged into a music-less world.
Slaves didn't need music. Slaves didn't get anything they didn't need.
Cuddy had bought him that big box of cookies. As a reward, for passing his medical license exams.
What if he asked for something he didn't need? Maybe he could get a radio for his office, just a little one, if one of his papers was accepted for publication.
The exercise supervisor looked at him with indifference and told him to kneel down outside and wait till the girls were done. The changing room benches were piled with dirty folded clothing. House ducked his head and stepped back, going down to his knees to wait in the hall outside. He stayed still, breathing in the thick air of the basement, waiting. Nothing happened.
There was no music in the basement. House moved his hands, playing silent notes against his legs with his fingers. Thinking about music, he was able to say to the exercise supervisor, politely, that he'd like to stay out for two hours. The supervisor shrugged. "You're Doctor Cuddy's boy, right? Okay, no skin off my nose, I guess. Run laps. If I see you slowing up, you can do hurdles."
House ran. Out at the edge of the exercise field, under the high walls, over the muddy grass. He didn't slip or fall. It wasn't warm out, but he kept going, working up a sweat, consciously pushing all of himself into the feel of his muscles driving himself on. He barely noticed when slaves left the field and came out again.
The supervisor yelled at him to come in: he was dropping with exhaustion by then, sweat flooding out of him: the shower felt good, and best of all, it was nowhere near cleanup time. If the supervisor was going to fuck someone, it wasn't going to be House.
His legs were rubbery with exhaustion, climbing the stairs, but he felt good. He drank some water, realising as he gulped it down that he was hungry and slightly queasy: if he drank too much water he'd throw up.
He went back to the Diagnostics office and lay down on the bunk. For a while this felt like enough of a luxury - just this, being tired and being able to lie down on a comfortable surface and rest - but he was hungry and thirsty. He had to wait before he drank more water, and he wouldn't get to eat till six.
There was a Coke machine down the hall. And a snacks machine. One of them was the sort that took notes and gave change, and he had that five-dollar bill he'd stolen from Cuddy's tips, only Wednesday. He'd tucked the money into hiding in the good suit Cuddy had bought him, hanging up in the locker. He could buy himself a can of coke and a bag of chips.
Once he'd thought of it, he wanted it. He had to find some place else to hide the money besides his clothing.
It would be easier to hide change than a bill. He thought about it, the popping sound the tab would make, the sigh of the fresh chilled COke, the rattle of the chip bag, the salty taste of chips, the sweet-rough edge of Coke. The caffeine rush from the Coke would feel good too.
The Coke machine was not far down the hall. House got up off the bunk and went to the door of the Diagnostics office. There was a security station there, but it wasn't staffed today. He could just walk down the hall and slide the note into the machine and the can would fall down into the little window with an icy chunk, and the clatter of change would follow.
He stood at the door of the Diagnostics office and realised slowly that he didn't have the nerve to do it. He stepped into the hall once, briefly, but he seemed to hear someone shouting at him, and he was back inside the office before he realised it must have been an auditory hallucination.
He hid the money under his mattress. He'd figure out how to spend it some other time.
He went downstairs slowly. His old dorm ate at six, and he was too hungry to wait.
They all looked tired, and they all stank. None of them - not even Kev - tried to speak to him. He'd enjoyed rubbing their noses in it yesterday that he had his own place, not the dorms, that he had his own office. But this morning the supervisor had made him eat like an animal from the floor of the canteen. And this afternoon he'd learned that without orders he was scared to walk down the hall by himself and buy a damn Coke from the Coke machine.
There was a different kitchen supervisor on duty, and the floor had been cleaned where he'd gone on all fours this morning.
The room smelled of food and unwashed bodies. The food was good, chopped vegetables mixed with cooked lentils, and instead of the usual big chunks of brown bread there were slices of what looked like pizza, one each - it turned out to be the regular bread baked with tomato sauce and cheese, but it was good: House ate his slice slowly, letting his stomach settle. He would have liked a glass of water to drink afterwards, but of course there was none: he could get upstairs afterwards and drink all he wanted.
He sat for a minute or so over his bowl, looking at the square of food dumped into it - he could see the individual shapes of the chopped vegetables, they hadn't been cooked into a mush, they'd taste good - and thinking, as he'd thought this morning: this was the best he could hope for, the very best. For twenty years. Maybe more. Enough food to eat, Sunday treats like apple sauce and pizza, cheese and jam, people leaving him alone to work. Or not work. He had done a lot of sitting and thinking today. He looked at his hand on the table, and saw it twenty years on, still sitting in this room. Looking forward to tomorrow when he might get a sandwich for lunch.
Maybe they'd open the clinic on Sundays now they had a slave doctor to work in it. House ate the food, slowly, spooning it into his mouth, keeping his eyes down. When he'd changed into cleaner clothes, he'd picked out jeans and a t-shirt: he was still a bit cleaner now than the others, but he didn't stand out from the crowd. Tomorrow morning, he'd have to wear his clinic clothes. But they couldn't make him go down on all fours and dirty his clothes up, if he had to work in the clinic. He was pretty sure about that.
The slave next to him had a red circle drawn on the back of his hand. House stopped eating for a moment as he realised what it was. See you in three months, the vampire had said cheerfully: but of course most of the slaves probably had their blood taken at regular intervals. Did they hate it? Did they like getting light work and a cookie and a drink of juice and just not think about the hospital taking their blood?
He glanced sideways at the slave, who hunched a shoulder up defensively and curled his arm round his bowl - he was saving his pizza for last, House realised, and was probably afraid House planned to steal it. His name was Lewis.
"You gave blood today," House said.
Lewis glanced at him, and went on eating. He finished his lentils and vegetables, and picked up the pizza slice, looking more relaxed.
"I don't want your food," House said, annoyed. "I just saw - you gave blood today."
Lewis glanced across the room to the table where Kev and Jon sat, and shrugged. He said to the slave across the table, whose name House couldn't remember, "Crazy slave says I gave blood today."
The slave across the table, said "Think they'll want crazy slave's blood?"
The one next to him - Jim? - said "Maybe if you use crazy slave blood on a patient, they go crazy."
Lewis snorted. "Yeah, they'd sit in a room all day and do nothing."
House looked down at his bowl. He knew better than to try and get up without finishing his food, but all he wanted was to get away from the slaves grinning at each other and making funny-to-them jokes about what "crazy slave blood" would make a patient do.
He ate the last few mouthfuls, and stood up, showing his bowl to the kitchen supervisor and asking meekly to be excused. He was waved out, and he went back upstairs. The last climb of the day was the most tiring, but at least when he reached the fourth floor he wouldn't have to leave it again tonight.
He knelt down on the floor to look through the piles of resumes and re-read his notes: he wondered, looking at the names he'd written, which of them Doctor Cuddy would choose to be the Diagnostics fellow. They'd be sitting at that desk, they'd see where he slept, how he lived, but they'd be working for him: they wouldn't be able to give him orders. He could tell them what to do.
He could tell them to go buy him a Coke, even.
He was thinking of that - it amused him - when the other slave walked into the office. He was one of the slaves who'd sat at the table with him, House still couldn't remember his name.
"You live pretty fancy up here, boy," the slave said.
House stood up. "What are you doing here?"
"Mr Hemel says you didn't bring in your laundry this morning," the slave said. "And you didn't pick up your clean clothes tonight. You're going to get a thrashing for that, fancy boy. You better pack up your laundry and get it down there, because the longer you keep Mr Hemel waiting, the more you get on your ass."
I didn't know, House thought of saying, but he didn't bother saying that: that wouldn't make any difference. He packed his dirty clothes into the laundry bag: he didn't have a lot left fit to wear. He slowed down, seeing the slave shifting uneasily.
"Hurry up, crazy," the slave said angrily.
"Mr Hemel won't cane me," House said. Mrs Foster probably would, on Monday morning, even if House tried to explain that he hadn't known what he was supposed to do with his dirty clothes. But Mrs Foster and Doctor Cuddy had both been very clear: no one else got to "discipline" him. He stopped, looking the slave full in the face before he went out of the door. "I bet he'll cane you, though, for taking so long to fetch me, right?"
From the pale look the slave gave him, House knew he'd guessed right. He grinned at the other slave, and went ahead of him down the hall and ran down the stairs, laundry bag swinging over his shoulder. He knew where the laundry window was: he arrived there out of breath. There was a man leaning against the wall with a clipboard, a free man: House went down to his knees very promptly, holding out the laundry bag. "Sorry sir."
"Why the fuck didn't you turn in your dirty clothes this morning, stupid fucking slave?" The man clipped him at the back of his head, a sharp stinging blow.
"Sorry sir," House said. "This slave didn't know."
"Yeah, right. Where's that stupid bastard I sent to find you? I should have gone home half an hour ago." Mr Hemel reached down a cane from a high shelf, a light one. The slave came panting up behind him. "You'll get yours tomorrow from Mrs Foster, boy," he told House. "You, Len, you'll get yours right now. When I tell you to go find someone I want you to do it fast, boy. Get your clothes off, all of them."
That was addressed to Len. House waited on his knees, holding the bag of laundry. Len was stripping off, head down, trembling. He went down on all fours without waiting to be told. Mr Hemel glanced at House. "What are you waiting for? Put that bag over there and get back upstairs."
There was a stack of other laundry bags like the one House was holding, piled against the wall, each one tied with a label. House's bag wasn't labeled. "Sir?"
"What the fuck is it?"
"Shouldn't this bag have a label?"
"You trying to tell me how to run this laundry, boy? Put the bag over there and get upstairs. Don't answer me back. You get your clean clothes tomorrow before you get fed. Next week, you bring your dirty clothes and bedding downstairs at the start of the day, not the end of it, got it?"
"Yes sir, thank you sir."
Mr Hemel was standing over Len. House sidled round them. He didn't want to watch when the other slave got caned. He wished he hadn't slowed down upstairs. It had seemed funny then, watching the slave who'd tried to bully him getting anxious and twitchy, but now it wasn't.
The sound of the cane hitting Len's ass was wincingly loud. Twice, fast. House heard Len say, miserably, "Thank you, sir."
He might get six from Mrs Foster tomorrow, House supposed, on his way upstairs. He'd got six on Friday, and they still hurt: he didn't want to think what six on top of that would feel like. He hadn't known what he was supposed to do about his laundry, but he didn't suppose that would save him from being caned for it.
He went out on to the balcony. It was dark outside, but not very cold. He could see the city lights and cars moving on the streets. The park was an area of darkness. He hadn't been alone outside at night since... since the last night of his freedom, when he'd gone from bar to bar, strip joint to strip joint, spending the last of his cash and the end of a credit card that was nearly maxed out.
He'd never do that again.
He'd been so stupid, so recklessly insanely stupid, and now he was working in a hospital where he could get caned for not turning in his laundry at the right time.
Just before eight, he went to the washroom to shower and brush his teeth. As he'd done last night, he left the light on in his office, dim. Downstairs the guards would be doing a headcount and shutting the slaves in to the dimly-lit dorm. At least he wasn't there.
Tailkinker and I have talked about doing a "first six months of the first fellowship", probably called "Sonata". Obviously not written on a day by day basis, or we'd never finish! Though actually we haven't started yet. Maybe we will. I think we were meant to be taking a break from "Sixteen Days" stuff. Sorry! And I have another episodic story in the works taking place over the years, working title "That Bloody Story"... guess what's that's about!
Plot bunnies, what do you do with them...
But this is just a one-off surprise for everyone who was enthused enough to read through Seven Stages/Sixteen Days - hope you like it and leave a review. Thanks for reading!