Written July 2006
Synopsis: He could tell her mood by the way she held a coffee mug.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Heel & Toe, Shore Z. Productions, Bad Hat Harry Productions, and other corporations. No infringement is intended.
He could tell her mood by the way she held a coffee mug. If she was relaxed or generally cheerful, she held the handle with most, if not all, of her fingers and sometimes her thumb. Always one handed, always delicate and poised. If she was upset or under pressure, she gripped the sides of the mug with both hands, ignoring the handle completely.
On a Tuesday night, at a quarter to eleven, she was alone in her office, bathed in artificial lighting. It didn’t take a mug for him to see that she was exhausted, stressed, miserable.
“Knock, knock,” he greeted as he entered her office, not actually bothering to knock. Besides, his hands were full, one with a cane and one with a coffee mug. It was a miracle he was even able to open the door.
“You’re here late,” she said. “Cable out at home?”
A dozen snark-filled replies played in his head, none of which he wanted to use tonight. Instead, he simply placed the red mug in front of her. She looked at him suspiciously then at the beverage, as if it might explode. “You’re here late, too. What are you working on?”
“Our budget. I have a meeting in–” She checked her watch, and her eyes widened. “–seven, eight hours, I can’t even count anymore. All the numbers are making my head spin.” He watched her pick up the mug with both hands and hold it firmly. “Thanks,” she said before taking a drink. Her expression changed. “You put Bailey’s in here?”
“The Irish know how to make some good coffee.”
She shrugged and took another sip before putting the mug in the corner of her desk, away from the countless pages that covered her blotter and much of the rest of the room. Then she looked at him expectantly, and he did the same. “What? You want me to sing your high praises? Oh, glorious Doctor House, thank you for bringing me coffee laced with alcohol. It is exactly what I needed to ensure that I pass out before finishing my work.”
“Have you eaten?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah, at–” She glanced at her watch again then gave up. “I ate at lunch. And my assistant brought me a pretzel before he left.”
“They have a steak and egg special at the diner down the street. Open twenty-four hours. Let’s go.”
“You think the budget is just going to miraculously fix itself?”
“I think next time, you should give it to your accounting team. That’s what they do, isn’t it?”
“That’s what they did, but considering their department was one of the first to receive cuts last quarter…”
“So when does my department get cut?”
“Believe it or not, Diagnostics has some financial backing. Doctor Cameron brought in approximately–”
“Hold on. Cameron brought in money? What about me?”
“You think the patients actually like you? That they want to give your department money, that they want you to stay employed?”
He stared at her, weighing the various options on his mental scale. He may not be the most loved physician because of his bedside manner, but they should adore him for the simple fact that he saved their miserable little lives. That should net him some money.
“Don’t worry, House, your reputation precedes you. You received more donations than the rest of your team combined. You’re safe — this quarter.” She rubbed her forehead with a groan. “Thanks for the coffee-slash-Bailey’s, but I’ve really got to finish this.”
“Let me guess. For breakfast, you probably ate some kind of healthy cereal with skim milk, maybe some wheat toast — plain or with light cream cheese, not butter, some fruit. For lunch you had a salad prepared by the kitchen staff with turkey, tomatoes, carrots, and … fat free ranch dressing? And then the pretzel.”
“You’re stalking me, aren’t you?”
“I’m betting that some time ago, your glucose level bottomed out, causing nausea, headache, fatigue, and irritability. If you don’t get some food into your system, the likelihood of you passing out while presenting your budget report is pretty high.”
“What are you, a doctor or something?”
“No, but I play one on TV.”
She looked at him for a long moment, the hint of a smile playing on her lips. For once, he didn’t try to guess what she was going to say. He just let the moment pass, kept their eyes locked. Finally, she threw up her hands. “Okay, steak and eggs it is. But you’re buying. Nobody’s making any donations to the administrative department.”
“How will you maintain your wardrobe budget?”
“Guess I’ll just have to find myself a rich sugar daddy,” she replied, taking her purse from the closet.
“Well, you’ve bypassed a rich sugar daddy’s preferred age range, but I’m sure if you squeezed into a naughty nurse uniform, the geriatric ward would be all over you.”
“Sorry, I don’t date patients.”
“What about doctors?”
“The head of our geriatric department is female.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Could be hot. And if you both wore naughty nurse uniforms–” She elbowed him in the ribs. “Hey! Assaulting the handicapped is no way to–ow! That one really hurt, Doctor Sadist.”
“Irritability from hypoglycemia, remember? Come on, I’m starving.”
He looked at the mug on her desk. “Can’t let that coffee go to waste, and if you don’t finish it off, I will.”
“Fine.” She lifted the mug by the handle and drank the remainder of the liquid. “Better?”
He smiled. “Much.”