Thank you to everyone who has reviewed so far, I appreciate your kind words.
Every single person he had previously taken on for his team had been an internal applicant. That meant that he knew House, and House knew him. Or her. You sifted through the applications, which weren't usually that many, invited the likely candidate for an interview and that was that.
"How on earth am I supposed to decide which ones are worth calling for an interview if I don't know what they look like?" He turned to Wilson, talking around a mouth full of Singapore noodles.
"Oh come on, House, you can't tell me you've never done this before", Wilson scoffed and got up to get himself another beer.
"You read through them, weed out the ones that are clearly below standard, then you go through what's left and decide which ones sound interesting enough that you actually want to talk to them. Then call them for an interview. Where's the problem?"
He pulled himself up to his full height, which turned out to be kind of difficult, slumped as he was on the couch with a carton of Chinese noodles on a cushion in his lap. Not exactly impressive.
"I have taken on new people before, you know, and I have also done interviews before. What I mean is, there's just so many of them. What if I weed out someone who's really a genius?"
Wilson nearly spluttered beer all over the coffee table.
"Seriously? You are worried about that?! What have you done with the Greg House who never thought twice about offending or disappointing anyone?"
It wasn't that, Wilson had it wrong. But he was too tired to explain. What if he weeded out, as Wilson called it, someone who could have been very useful for his team? Lost in his own thoughts he rubbed his thigh. He hadn't even realized he was doing it until Wilson asked if he was okay.
"Huh? Yeah, sure, fine", he replied distractedly and turned to pick another résumé out of the box.
Then he had a brain wave.
"I know, we should just throw darts at the lot of them!"
Wilson grinned. "That sounds a lot more like you. You'll figure it out, I'm sure."
He needed his laptop if he wanted to get anywhere with this. Lost in thought he pushed up off the couch, for a careless second forgetting that he needed his cane to do that. The searing pain shooting through his thigh reminded him.
"Fuck!", was all he could get out before falling back onto the couch and gripping his thigh with both hands, the résumé fallen to the floor. This was bad.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" He banged is fists into the couch, the next best thing to pummeling his thigh, which was what he really wanted to do but couldn't. Pain was shooting through his leg in waves, burning him from the inside. His heart was racing, bordering on tachy, and he knew his breath was coming too fast.
Wilson's hand landed on his shoulder. He shrugged it off.
"Leave me alone. I'm fine."
That was a lie and he knew that Wilson knew. It was one of those tacit agreements: neither of them would mention what was really going on but Wilson knew anyway what to do.
"I said I'm fine."
Double lie. He was sure Wilson could see the muscles spasm through the thin fabric of his pajama pants. Maybe it wasn't too late and he could still stop it. His hands were on autopilot, rubbing and kneading to get some heat going to calm down the muscles that were left.
He hadn't even noticed Wilson had left the room until he came back with the heat pad from the bedroom and plugged it in behind the desk. Without a word he took the pad from him and placed it on his leg. The pain would respond to heat – he hoped. This was a simple spasm, not nerve pain, which should respond to heat. And it did. It took twenty minutes to calm down but it did calm down eventually.
He found the first candidate in the bathroom. Well, sort of. He read the résumés while he was soaking his leg in the tub. After the muscle spasm on the couch, Wilson had offered to draw him a bath. He had felt too crappy to object to being mothered by Wilson. Also, Wilson had elevated mothering to an art form over the last few months.
House knew he was an ungrateful ass for taking Wilson's caring and not responding or thanking him. But even after all these months he was still embarrassed about accepting help and, worse yet, having to ask for it. They had come to the unspoken understanding that Wilson wouldn't mention any of the embarrassing moments to anybody, ever. And there had been plenty of them. More than one man should have to go through in one lifetime. In return House accepted Wilson's mothering without griping. At least that's how it usually worked.
Once House was safely installed in the bath, Wilson withdrew back to the couch, leaving the door ajar; presumably to make sure he didn't drown himself quietly in the tub.
The hot water quickly relaxed his muscles and he was able to go back to reading the small pile of résumés he had brought with him. One went onto the newly created 'definitely not' pile because he had a record. Helpful as always, Cuddy had stuck a post-it note on top of it. She must have had her assistant do some preliminary screening on everything that had come in. This one was quickly followed by one riddled with errors. Doctors didn't need to be able to type. But they had to be able to use a spell checker; this was Doctoring 101. Three others went onto the 'maybe' pile.
And the last one was the one that established the 'possible interview' pile; Allison Cameron's file. Her résumé was flawless, her grades extremely good but just shy of perfect. He didn't want perfection, he wanted drive and commitment. Her cover letter also read well, just the right amount of flattery but otherwise serious and to the point. This was one interview he would definitely need to do.
He'd added one more to the 'definitely not' pile when he nodded off and dropped one résumé in the water. It was unreadable after that and he chalked it up to bad luck and 'it wasn't meant to be'. Then the water got cold. Tomorrow was another day. Only another 30 applications to go through.
Wilson must have heard him pull the plug because he showed up even before all the water had drained. He was too tired to resist when he offered to help him out of the tub. He would need to talk to Henderson about the Vicodin dosage. The pills were keeping his pain under control most of the time but they were making him drowsy. At night he couldn't sleep because he was too uncomfortable in bed and during the day he had trouble staying awake because he hadn't slept all night.
Maybe a nice scotch before bed would solve the problem.
The next morning he woke feeling more refreshed than he had in at least six months. After Wilson left he had crawled back out of bed and gotten himself a shot of scotch. He shouldn't be drinking while on heavy-duty opiates like Vicodin. But seeing that he would probably be on this or some other opiate for the rest of his life he didn't think that was a viable option. No more alcohol? You must be joking. I'm a doctor; I know what I'm doing.
The scotch, combined with his evening dose, had knocked him out fairly quickly and he had slept through for the first time in months.
Having popped his morning batch of pills, including his anti-coagulants and Vicodin, he went about the business of getting out of bed. Over the last few weeks he had perfected his routine and it now took him less than half the time it had taken him only a month ago. Still, 20 minutes to get out of bed and finished in the bathroom was pathetic. Maybe it was a reasonable time for an 80-year-old; for a man in his forties it definitely was pathetic. But he didn't need to go out today, so he had all the time in the world and he didn't even need to get dressed.
Still in his sleep pants, he got himself settled on the couch with a bowl of cereal for breakfast, his laptop and the box with résumés within easy reach. The morning cartoons were on. What more could a man want?
Aside from two healthy legs, that is.
Three hours later he had read every single one of the résumés and drawn up a list of candidates he wanted to see for an interview. It was a short list of only five people.
Time to do some research. He went online to check out the candidates' backgrounds and references.
Most of them checked out; Dr. Cameron's stint as an intern at the Mayo Clinic and her work in their Allergic Disease Research Lab had left at least one professor gushing about her. With a specialty in immunology she sounded like a good candidate. He sent off a short email inviting her for an informal interview next Tuesday. And while he was at it, he also invited Dr. Julia Dent for the same day. She had specialized in pediatrics, indicating she had a broad spectrum of interest.
Two more doctors were invited for Tuesday, may as well get it all over with in one clean sweep. They were Martin Friedman, a young doctor with a specialty in toxicology, and Nikhil Chopra, an oncologist fresh from Harvard.
He invited them for an 'informal interview' because he had no idea yet how he would do this. If he had his way, he would have someone else do the interview and just listen in.
There was one more applicant he wanted to see but considering that he was currently still in Australia, he doubted Cuddy would stretch to paying his expenses for travelling to the interview next Tuesday. He did think this guy was an interesting candidate, though, so he would have to go about it in a different way. Here was one candidate he didn't have to see in person at least.
He verified colleges and schools listed and, naturally, they checked out. He hadn't expected any different. Nobody would be stupid enough to list any credentials that could be that easily debunked. One professor from Notre Dame in Sydney came back to him within an hour, surprising really, considering the time difference.
He had just about read through the professor's reply when his inbox pinged again, this time with an email from Cuddy. This was shaping up to be a busy day after all.
I've received a phone call from a Dr. Rowan Chase. He's recommending one candidate whose application I have already sent over, Dr. Robert Chase.
Let me know which ones you think are suitable and I'll sign off on your choice if appropriate.
If appropriate. Right. She was claiming to give him free reign but the leash only reached from her desk to her office door.
With regret, he would just toss that résumé onto the 'definitely not' pile then. He didn't want a fellow who needed someone else's backing to get this job.
Especially not if the 'promoter' was his own father, he thought after looking at the résumé. This was almost funny. Dr. Rowan Chase, who he knew was a top rheumatologist, was recommending his own son, Robert? But then, Chase senior would be aware he wasn't doing his son any favors by recommending him; nepotism was probably frowned upon even in Australian medical circles. There had to be more behind this. At the very least it had served to make him curious. Maybe it was worth talking to Junior after all.
A reply to his invitation for a short video chat came almost immediately. The man was eager, it seemed. Good.
And he looked it. House leaned back on his couch and regarded the fresh face before him, the floppy blond hair and blue eyes. If he based his selection on looks, then he guessed this guy would come out ahead of most female candidates in terms of looks.
"Dr. Chase, you look remarkably perky considering it's the middle of the night and you should be asleep right now rather than talking to me."
The young man grinned. "My star sign is Night Owl, Dr. House. I've been on nights for the last two weeks. I'm up all hours."
And still mentally quick on his feet. Another box ticked for the pretty boy.
"You specialize in intensive care medicine, Dr. Chase. Why does a good Catholic boy not end up in a much more prestigious specialty like dermatology? Lots more chance to do good there and the patients are also more grateful usually, simply on account of more of them being alive when they leave your care."
"I don't need my patients' gratitude, Dr. House. I get paid for my efforts. At least that's the way it works here in Australia. I hope it does in the States, too."
Ah, he was in it for the money. "Then, why not go into cardiology if it's the money you're after?"
The young man on the other side of the globe leaned back with a smile. He was wearing a wrinkled t-shirt and shorts. Jeez, he was doing an interview in boxers, even if he probably wasn't aware the camera was currently showing more than his head and shoulders! Another tick for the surfer dude for being unconventional. And just a little bit dumb. Or maybe he knew full well what the camera was showing. Oh, this was good.
"I never said I was in it for the money alone, Dr. House. That's your interpretation. If that were the case, I wouldn't bother applying for a job overseas; I'd just stay right where I am. And to confuse you even more, I've also garnered quite a few points in surgery, but haven't officially specialized in it. You're trying to figure out my motivation, I get it. Okay, I'll make it easy for you – I don't like being bored. Intensive care isn't boring. Neither is surgery most days. Neither is going abroad. Neither is earning money for the work you do. And neither is learning from a world-renowned doctor. So, that's my motivation right there, hope this fits into one of the boxes you need to fill on the interview sheet."
He finished the call and emailed Cuddy the details to arrange visa and other details for the Australian.
He had his first fellow.
If it were up to him he would have the candidates parade behind a one-way mirror while he asked them some quick-fire questions via a microphone. Wilson rejected this option, though.
"House, you can't sit them in a room and then question them without ever showing yourself. This is not an interrogation. I'm sure it's probably even illegal on grounds of intimidation or something."
They were having lunch in the hospital, the interviews were scheduled for an hour from now, and Wilson had made him come in to have a bite to eat beforehand. And a bite was exactly what he was having. One bite of Wilson's sandwich, to be precise. It wasn't a very good sandwich and besides, he wasn't hungry anyway.
"I could lock them all in the conference room, give them a case to work on and spy on them through the blinds from my office. Do you think that would work?"
"What? No! House… this isn't a game. You need to filter out the best of these four. Cuddy said you can have two since you already recruited the Australian. Just talk with each of them and then figure out who you want and send the other two packing. It's not that hard."
Oh, but it was. He leaned back in their booth and shot a look at Wilson. Here was the picture of a young, successful doctor: well groomed, a clean, ironed shirt, subtle if slightly boring tie, and his white coat was actually white. Very white. He probably had Julie wash and iron his work clothes.
He himself, on the other hand, had just dressed in what he had found in his closet this morning. His shirt was all wrinkly because he couldn't stand at the ironing board long enough, unsupported. His dress pants had actually fallen off his hips when he tried them on earlier because he had lost so much weight. He had managed to disguise the fact that his jeans only stayed up because he had cinched the belt so tight by wearing his shirt untucked.
Wilson had followed his look and, so it seemed, also his train of thought. He stilled House's hand, which was beating a tattoo on the cafeteria tray between them.
"House, this is not about what they think of you. They want this job. They are here to impress you. Don't forget that forty people applied to work for you. This is a big deal for them. They're the ones who should be nervous, not you. You'll be fine."
Of course he would be.
He settled himself behind his new desk and took out the first candidate's résumé. Wilson positioned himself slightly to one side behind him – probably, House assumed, so it wouldn't seem like he was hiding behind House.
None of the candidates was very impressive, until it was Allison Cameron's turn two and a half hours later. She was the last of the four and by the time she came in he was flagging. His leg hurt like hell but he had left his meds in his backpack and his backpack in the conference room. There was no way he was getting up now to retrieve them.
Wilson must have seen him rubbing his thigh just as Dr. Cameron entered the office.
"Do you want me to get your meds for you", he whispered while at the same time smiling at the gorgeous brunette who was looking at them expectantly.
"No way, I'm fine."
Wilson looked doubtful. Rightly so. House was anything but fine. But he was not going to let Wilson get his pills for him now, which he would then have to take in full view of Dr. Cameron.
"Seriously, Jimmy. Leave it."
It was all he could do not to snark at him in front of the candidate. To make matters worse she smiled and held out her hand for him to shake. He would have to get up.
He pushed himself up from his chair with both hands on the desk and then shifted to his left so he could grasp her hand with his right. As expected, he felt his leg cramp right away. He bit back a groan. Little beads of sweat were forming along his hairline.
The only way to get out of this was to get rid of her as soon as possible. The minute she had entered the office she had got the job anyway. No point beating around the bush then.
"Right, Dr. Cameron. Your résumé was very impressive, far better than any of the other applicants. If you're interested, I'd be happy to offer you the job. When can you start?"
Five minutes and one surprised Dr. Cameron later, he sank back in his chair, exhausted. His hands gripped his thigh, desperately trying to control the spasm. It was futile. Wilson had sprinted into the conference room the second the door closed behind Dr. Cameron and he was now holding out the amber vial like a lifesaver.
House dry-swallowed two; one just wouldn't cut it now, things had progressed too far. He vowed to never again leave the Vicodin out of reach like that.
"You're an idiot, House, you know that? What would it have cost you to let me get you the pills earlier? Don't you think she would've preferred to see you swallow a pill instead of seeing you in pain like this?"
He didn't reply. Wilson was right, he had been stupid. If he looked anywhere near as bad as he felt, he was a frightening sight right now.
His silence must have been telling enough for Wilson, though. "Oh my God, that's it, isn't it? You're afraid to show weakness. You're afraid to show yourself, let them see your leg. That's why you were freaking out about the interviews. And that's why you're hiding behind the desk. You even have the cane stowed away so none of them could see it from where they were sitting."
"Shut up, Wilson. I was not freaking out."
Wilson stared at him from the other side of his desk. "House, you can't go on like this."
"Seriously, Wilson. Shut up."
But, like a dog with a bone, he just wouldn't let go.
"House, I thought we were past this. Nobody is judging you or giving you the evil eye. You don't need to hide like the phantom of the opera. Don't be so melodramatic. It's only a cane. . ."
That did it. If he had been able to, he would have gotten up and throttled him. As it was he couldn't even conjure up enough energy to sound as angry as he felt.
"SHUT UP, Wilson! You have no idea what you're talking about! It's only a cane? Seriously? Do you even know me? And where were you over the last six months?"
To his shame he felt a lump rise in his throat. But he would be damned if he let Wilson see how close to the core he had cut this time.
"You have no idea what it's like. Care to take a guess why I'm not wearing my suits anymore? Or iron my shirts? Or why I'm constantly tired during the day? Or why I've sold my car and gotten that old rust bucket instead? No? Didn't think so. So do us both a favor, Wilson. Piss off."
To his credit, Wilson knew when to retreat. Head low, he backed away from the desk and then left the office without another word.
He managed to hold it together until the door quietly closed behind Wilson.
"So, which of the other three are you taking?"
Wilson was back the next day. House had been sitting in his new chair, deep into the current issue of JASN when Wilson came into his office, carrying muffins and coffee from the cafeteria. A peace offering then. Neither of them mentioned the fight. Or the actual issue they had argued about. They were getting very adept at ignoring the herd of elephants that had assembled in the room over the last few months. It was getting a bit crowded.
"None", he said with his mouth full of blueberry muffin.
The confusion on Wilson's face was plain.
"But why? You can take one more and that toxicology guy seemed pretty good. Or maybe the pediatrician? The oncologist? He knew his stuff. I thought you wanted me here to check him out. House, you'd be stupid not to take one of them. You have the budget, why not use it?"
Clearly Wilson wasn't fully awake yet or he wouldn't be asking such stupid questions.
"Don't need either of them. I can handle the toxicology myself; don't you think I've got enough experience with all sorts of substances at this point? And an oncologist? What for? I've already got one in the office right next door and his salary isn't coming out of my budget."
"Okay, but why Cameron instead of Dent? Why immunology instead of pediatrics? You'd think the pediatrician would have a broader spectrum of knowledge, so why not her?"
Clearly this would take a while to explain.
"Wilson, are you really that dense? I don't need broad knowledge, I have that myself. I want experts. But even more important – were you asleep when Dent was in here? Why would I choose her over Cameron?"
Julia Dent was a homely looking, friendly young woman, and there was nothing wrong with her at all. Except that she looked frumpy next to Cameron.
Wilson was slowly catching on. "Wait. Are you saying you've taken Cameron because she's prettier than Dent? You're unbelievable! What are you going to say when Cuddy asks you to justify your choice? You can't do that, House. That's discrimination."
"No, it isn't. They both had about the same grades. They're both ambitious. One of them is very pretty, the other one isn't. I'm taking the pretty one because she's going to be nice to look at. And, just in case you think I'm really that shallow, I'm taking her because she has no reason to be working so hard. She's pretty enough to get by without doing much work. And yet she's been in the top 5% of her class, she's done extra work; she is outstanding according to her profs. Dent needs to work hard; she's got nothing else going for her. Cameron doesn't. She could just sit back on her pretty little ass and wait for everything to fall in her lap. I want the woman with drive and commitment and curiosity, Wilson. And I'm getting her."
And he did. Cuddy didn't even ask why he had picked whom he had from the list of forty candidates. She did raise an eyebrow, however, when he told her he would not be taking on a third fellow at this point.
"Why on earth not? You can't tell me there wasn't at least one more good application in that box. I know it's not true, I had a quick look at the résumés myself. There were at least another five interesting candidates. What game is this, House? Because I'm telling you right now, I'm not playing. I've got enough on my plate with the board over this, I don't need you being a pain in my butt before your department is even up and running."
He was not playing any game at all but it would be next to impossible to convince Cuddy of that. She was expecting him to have a hidden agenda when really all he had was no good reason to pick another candidate. He knew why he wanted the Australian and Cameron, that was all.
"You should be happy I'm not using all your money yet. Rejoice, Cuddy. It won't last."
A few weeks after his two fellows started their jobs he figured out what was wrong with his selection.
"Look at them", he said to Wilson while they were having coffee in his office. The door to the conference room was closed but they could see both Cameron and Chase sitting at the table reading case files.
"Why, what's wrong with them? Oh… you mean they're not working? Yeah, I've been wondering about that."
He threw cookie crumbs at Wilson's coffee mug. Three tries, two hits. He was getting better.
"No, you idiot. They are working. They're covering my clinic hours. And Cameron is doing my mail every morning. We don't have any case, that's all. Everything they keep dragging up for me is a joke. No, what I mean is look at them. It's obvious what's wrong."
Wilson stared through the glass door at the two young fellows. You could actually hear the wheels in his head turning. They were making loud, creaky noises. Clearly they needed greasing. They were all rusty from disuse.
"They're too good to be true, Wilson. They're like Snow White and Prince Charming. Goody two shoes. One prettier than the other. This is not going to work once we get actual cases. I need an ogre to join the party. Someone with street smarts, someone gritty."
This was how he went back to the box of applications that he still hadn't given back to Cuddy for filing, despite several, increasingly annoying, requests.
There were twenty more applications in the 'maybe' pile but none of them was what he was looking for. Had anyone asked what it actually was he was expecting to find, he could not have said. Team member Number Three would have to complement the others in medical expertise as well as personality. None of the 'maybes' had anything special. It was very disappointing.
One night, in a fit of desperation, and under the influence of two glasses of scotch, he grabbed the 'definitely not' pile.
He got rid of the stupids, the ones that couldn't even use a spell checker or quote correctly. That left exactly two résumés - the one he had dropped in the bath and that was therefore unreadable and the one with Cuddy's post-it saying 'juvenile record' on it. He hadn't looked at that application at all because he had been so overwhelmed by the sheer number of them that he was grateful for Cuddy having already run the basic checks for him to filter out any time wasters.
If something is important, always do the work yourself. He should have realized that right at the start.
"Dr. Eric Foreman?"
"Yes. Who is this? Do you know what time it is?"
"Yes, I do realize it's late. But I thought you might be interested to hear that I'm currently looking at your résumé…"
"Right. Is this for the Peripheral Nerve Group at the Mayo Clinic? Thank you for calling back... "
"No, Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, this is for the Diagnostics team. I'm looking for one more fellow."
"Oh. Okay. Hang on, is this Dr. House? It's great to finally hear from you …"
"Yes, that's me. If you want to come in tomorrow at 3pm to discuss the details, I'll make time for you then."
That should give him enough time to find out what exactly he was on record for and whether or not he could use him. Truth be told, the guy sounded pretty arrogant on the phone. But then, looking at the résumé, maybe he had reason to be. House was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and have him explain himself and his amazing 4.0 GPA through med school.
How did a guy with a record end up a neurologist from Johns Hopkins with a perfect grade average? It was intriguing enough to go to the trouble of one more meeting.
But this one was not going to be another debacle of Cameron-type proportions. Since that disastrous interview he had made sure to have his Vicodin handy at all times. He also didn't give a damn anymore about anyone witnessing him taking a pill. Better this than being seen in pain. A reputation as a pill popper he could handle. However, having a future employee see him in agony, possibly in tears if it got really bad, was not an option.
Pills or pain, that's what it all boiled down to in the end. The two big Ps in his life. He had made his choice.
He spent the morning before the interview on the phone with various people at Johns Hopkins and, after he had exhausted that avenue of investigation, high school teachers. It took three hours of seemingly endless questions and sneaky lies to finally hit pay dirt.
When Eric Foreman entered the Diagnostics department at 3pm sharp House knew he would be offering him the job before the 20 minutes he had allowed for this meeting were up. Unless the man turned out to be a total idiot.
Which he didn't. He turned out to be a smart dresser, smooth talker and quite intelligent doctor indeed. And his dark good looks complemented House's other two beauties perfectly.
Wilson showed up after House had sent Foreman into the conference room to talk to Cameron and Chase. At the moment the three of them were awkwardly passing sugar and creamer for their coffees around the table. They knew he was watching; he had made no secret of that. But House knew they couldn't figure out what they were supposed to do – either the new guy got the job or not, it wasn't up to the other two to decide that.
"Have you found your ogre? It's just that he doesn't look very ogre-like to me."
"Turns out I wasn't looking for an ogre after all. Just an ugly duckling. Aw, Wilson, look at them. They love each other already."
Wilson leaned against the glass door and frowned. He really didn't see it.
"Huh. You do know the ugly duckling turns out to be a swan in the end, right?"
House sighed. He would have to work on his metaphors. Either that or send Wilson on an advanced course for House speak.
"Yes, Wilson, I know. And I even found a rare black one."
"Nice, House, very nice. I'm glad your quest was successful. I'll leave you and your ducklings. Some of us actually have work to do."
Once Wilson was gone, he grabbed his cane, checked his pocket to make sure everything was where it should be, and opened the door to the conference room.
"Right, if you kids are done making nice, maybe you can manage to find me a proper case. I'm not paying you to sit around all day."