The night nurse came around twice before eight am: once to deposit breakfast outside the offices-cum-compartments (runny eggs in a small bowl; two pieces of shriveled bacon; a shingler's tile of toast) and once to pick up spare blankets for the laundry cart. Whump, whump went the blankets whipped into the basin; clank clank went the breakfast trays, in and out. They might be making breakfast and doing laundry in the same room, given the grayness of everything.
When Cuddy came to House's office, the tray was gone. There were crumbs on the new blue blanket. Everywhere, the overpowering smell of chlorine and paprika. Cuddy tried snorting it out of her nose before she tapped.
"Pills," she said. She would not leave them in the hallway. The bottle cuddled like a small animal in her palm.
"Go -- " Pills formed in his brain and he stuck out an elbow. Began to scrape himself out from under the desk. Once he was up on the cane he turned on the desk light. Saw Cuddy.
"Leave 'em on the doorstep and get the hell out."
Angels with Dirty Faces.
"I'm not leaving them out here. My hospital, my liabilities, my rules." The glass made her voice sound like it was being piped in. Cuddy was reminded of an audio tour at an art museum: all of the tourists wandering around like led sheep, their ears draped in headphones and the wax drip of a stereo cord. What was Monet thinking when he painted his Lilies? Perhaps we'll never know. But look at the way he renders light...
"Unlock the door. I'll toss them in."
The desk light cast a yellow spot on the middle of the room. Other than that, there was pale blue seeping in at the edges. He went to the door and pulled at his shirt until it wasn't backwards on him. His suit jacket he discarded on the floor: the morning wasn't as cold as the night. He felt good with his shirt; even undid a button or two. He guessed the time at nine or ten. Looked at his watch: 9:10 am.
He opened the door, eyes on the floor and then her hand. Took his pills blinking. The white hospital light stabbed.
"How many Vicodin you think we have on board?"
She took her hand back immediately and brushed her fingers on her jacket. She looked down the hall with a pinched expression; something in her posture and overall bearing said I have other places I could be. "I don't know. A thousand? A million? Do you want me to count them so you'll know when to start worrying?"
The blue blanket bugged her. She bent over and scooped it up, placing it over his arm. "'Kind of have bigger things on my mind right now than securing your drug connection. Did you see Stacy? She was looking for you earlier. Maybe she can help you count in the pharmacy."
"Why the 'tude?" His brain oozed along at a morning's pace; he pocketed his pills and turned. Certainly no worry about Vicodin at present, but the question had escaped without intention. He kicked at his unmade nest under the bed.
"You know what's great about being afloat? No investors. We can practice medicine however we dandy well please. -- I need a mattress for in here. See about it would you?"
"And when we run out of supplies and food, we can borrow a cup of sugar from Captain Nemo, right?" She stood at the edge of his office, pushed forward on the balls of her feet. She did not want to go in. Going in meant encountering those rats' nest smells and warm, woolen socks under the desk; House's medical journals shoved beneath his pillow like skin mags, providing extra support for his upper back. She had given up her office and it stung her that he was able to keep his.
"If you want a mattress, there are plenty of open beds on the third floor. I think everyone's pretty much settled in. If we take on more passengers --" strange to say that with a straight face "-- we might need it back. It's your job to get it up here. 'See if it fits in the elevator."
"Cameron'll grab it." Already more interested in unscrewing his pill bottle. He went to the window, but instead of opening the blinds, screwed them closed until they bunched against each other. The sea out there. He stared at the blinds as though looking out over the ocean.
"So. Where are we bound, Cap'n?"
"The tide's carrying us east. We could end up in Africa or the Sea of Japan." She shrugged. "Douglass, in Peds, is an amateur navigator. By saying that, I mean that he navigates without satellite technology or that GPS stuff. He's putting together some charts based on stars, or swells, or god knows what. Some of the patients are getting into it. It calms them."
She watched his back bunch like the blinds. "How are you doing?" Part concern, part place filler.
He just looked at her, limp curls of hair on his forehead, eyes cool slits. Put an elbow on the doorframe and leaned closer with the same expression, as though closely examining some unpleasant experiment.
"What?" Closer lean, almost nose to nose. "What?"
She bobbed back, crunching her ankle. House's long, Edvard Munch face swaying with the bob of the boat. "Forget it," she batted the air around her face, as if she'd just sneezed and was trying to disperse the aerosol. "Eat something, will you? It's like talking to a cadaver."
"Cuddy. What do you care what I eat? Nobody new is coming into this hospital. I'm not going to recieve any more cases until the Flying Dutchman decides to tug us back to New Jersey, and I'm not going to perform routine medicine to 'tide me over'. I'm not any more excited by whooping cough on the Atlantic than I am in Princeton. You should really be hoping I'll waste away for your patients' sake."
"Fine." Past the point of arguing, Cuddy had rolled over onto her back to show her steel-plated belly. "If you insist on doing nothing, at least do nothing out of the way of everybody else. If you decide you want to contribute something, you know where my office is."
Rap, rap, rap. Court is adjourned. Cuddy's knuckles on the glass door and she stepped back into the breezy hallway.
Boredom was quickly impending and he didn't like the feeling. He slammed his door and caned out after her, his voice high and sharp as he went.
"And what could I contribute in your office?"
She went quickly on her heels, adjusting for the roll of the waves. It wasn't graceful, but she was getting better at it. The trick was to anticipate where you think the floor might be, then to overshoot your shoe mark by about an inch.
When she thought she could manage it without falling, Cuddy looked back to mark his progress behind her. "Strategy," she told him. "We're starting a committee: what to do about food, supplies, electricity, corrosion." She half turned. "There're also some volunteer positions around the hospital, if you're interested."