Disclaimer: Characters and situations are the property of David Shore, Bryan Singer, Bad Hat Harry Productions, and NBC Universal Studios. (Fox is still in the doghouse for canceling Firefly, so I'm not mentioning them. Gorram it....)
Author's notes: Spoilers for season 2, especially Autopsy, Hunting, The Mistake, and Euphoria. Takes place before No Reason. Thanks to Meg Freeman for the beta and Kathryn Andersen for suggesting a title and finding a few stray typos.

Distant Friends

by Beth Epstein

Chase walked into the exam room, taking a quick glance at the file. He took a deep breath and steeled himself. A thirteen year old girl presenting with stomach pain was most often a little girl with a single father who hadn't thought to ask if she was menstruating.

"Amanda Spencer?" he asked, as he walked in. The clinic was rather busy, and it wouldn't have been the first time Brenda had sent him into the wrong room today.

The girl nodded, staring at her shoes.

She was skinny. "Stick" might've been more appropriate. Chase looked more carefully at the nurse's notes, she was running a temperature.

"Looks like you have a bit of a fever. Any nausea, dizziness?"

Amanda shook her head.

"Her fever was higher last night," said a woman from behind her.

Chase looked up at Amanda's mother. "How high?"

"A hundred and one," she replied.

"Amanda, any nausea? Vomiting?"

The girl coughed.

"That's new," her mother said.

Chase frowned, pulling out his stethoscope. "Cough for me again."

He spent a few minutes checking her lymph nodes and looking up her nose and down her throat. He frowned. "It really looks like you just have a good cold, Amanda. I'm not sure if it's bacterial or vial, but honestly, I'm more concerned..."

Amanda's eyes rolled back in her head, and she fell back on the table, shaking.

"What's happening?" Amanda's mother asked, panicked.

"She's seizing," Chase said, calmly. He threw the door open, shouted, "I need some help in here," and rolled Amanda onto her side.

* * *

Once Amanda was stabilized and settled in a room, Chase turned around to allow her mother into the room when he was met by Cameron.

"I hear you had some excitement in clinic this morning," Cameron said. "Need any help?"

"Severely underweight thirteen year old girl presents with stomach pain and fever and progresses into seizures." He lowered his voice, glancing nervously at Amanda's mother. "I'm tempted to say it's Bulimia nervosa and a cold but..."

"That pesky House like voice in the back of your head doesn't want to let it go?"

"That pesky limp of his makes me want to be sure," Chase said, thinking of House's lecture to that class a couple months ago.

If only his doctors hadn't been so quick to snap to conclusions...

Cameron nodded.

"I don't think this would really be our department's..."

"It's this or answering House's e-mail," Cameron said.

"You'll probably be better with getting the patient history out of the mother anyway," Chase said, grinning.

Cameron rolled her eyes, snatching the folder. She glanced through it. "Cough and irregular fever?"

"That's why I want to rule out a serious infection," Chase replied.

Cameron nodded. "Let's go talk to the mother."

* * *

House took one look at the chart. "Your patient has bulimia and a cold."

"No history of body image problems, her appetite's normal, and..."

"Cameron," House said, raising an eyebrow.

"Ok, her mom says that she doesn't have a history of body image problems and that her appetite is normal," Cameron replied.

"Chase just wants to cover his wombat ass before he sends her home with instructions to drink plenty of fluids and eat lots of cheeseburgers without throwing them back up," House said.

"I'd rather not get suspended again," Chase pointed out.

"And after what happened last time, I'd think you wouldn't want him to either," Foreman pointed out. "Lots of other things could cause stomach cramps and seizures. Lead poisoning."

"I could add a heavy metals screen to the blood work, but it doesn't explain the fever," Chase replied.

"Your patient is a thirteen year old honor student, don't you think she'd have enough sense to avoid eating lead paint, or is that a new designer drug? We're not seriously doing this?" House asked.

"Pneumonia," Foreman suggested.

"You do know you're not in charge anymore, right?"

"Lupus could cause seizures and abdominal pain," Cameron said, ignoring House and writing "abdominal pain," "seizure," "fever," and "weight loss?," on the white board. She wrote "pneumonia" and "bulimia/cold."

"Oh, please. It's never Lupus." House stole the marker. "I'm the only one who gets to write with the markers, remember."

"So write down tapeworm," Chase suggested.

House glared at him. "Which part of we're not doing this do you three not understand?"

Cuddy walked into the office. "House! You were supposed to be in the clinic fifteen minutes ago."

House rolled his eyes. "We have a patient, little bulimic girl with a stuffy nose."

"Sounds like you all ready have a theory, your fellows can handle the testing while you do your clinic hours."

"No," House said, reaching for his bottle of Vicodin. It slipped out of his hand and rolled on the floor.

Cuddy snatched it up. "Want this back? Do your job."

"Are we twelve now?" House asked.

Cuddy sniffed, leaving the Diagnostics conference room.

House followed, grumbling.

"I should've thought of the dodging clinic hours excuse sooner," Chase said, picking up a marker and adding "tapeworm" to the list.

"Well, if House is distracted, he'll let us handle this on our own." Foreman flipped through the chart. "She's a little old, but what about Reye's Syndrome? The mother did give her aspirin."

"Porphyria?" Cameron suggested.

"No skin symptoms," Foreman pointed out.

"I'll add parasite antibody tests to the test order I all ready sent in," Chase said, looking over the list.

"And the heavy metals screen," Cameron suggested.

"House was right about that one, or do you really think a thirteen year old has been chewing on lead paint?" Chase asked.

"Didn't her mom say something about her painting her shirt?" Cameron asked.

"You would remember that," Foreman teased.

"Well, if she's artistic, maybe she does ceramics as well," Cameron said. "We should probably do the ANA just in case."

"It's all ready on the test order." Chase turned to the board and sighed. "There's enough environmental causes on here for us to have to do some breaking and entering, isn't there? Check for animals, lead based ceramic glazes, and laxatives or other indications that she's really bulimic."

"Like what, reading her diary?" Foreman asked.

"I'll go update the testing," Cameron said, snagging the file from Chase's hands. "I think the two of you are next on the petty crime rotation."

"Lovely," Chase said.

"You get to break the lock on the on her Hello Kitty diary," Foreman said.

"Idiot, she probably has a LiveJournal or Xanga or something," Chase replied, rolling his eyes.

"What?" Foreman and Cameron asked.

"Web blogging sites, what century are you two living in?" Chase asked.

Foreman stared.

"How did we forget drug use?" Cameron asked, looking over her list.

"Look for a stash too, got it," Chase said.

"And condoms," Foreman added.

"Thanks, Foreman, I'd just about restored my faith in humanity since that pregnant diver last year," Chase replied. "And Cameron, please get Amanda in line for a psych consult the minute she wakes up--I think we're going to need a psychological diagnosis to convince her parents if there really is a problem."

* * *

Chase and Foreman had barely made it out of the diagnostics office when they were accosted by Amanda's mother and a man that Chase hadn't seen before.

"What's wrong with our daughter?"

"I'm afraid we haven't figured it out yet, Mrs. Spen..."

"That's Dr. Spencer to you," the woman snapped.

"My apologies," Chase said. "We're still running tests, but we're concerned about..."

"My daughter is not bulimic," the man snapped.

"Mr. Spencer," Foreman started.

"I'm a doctor too," he interrupted.

"Sorry," Foreman said, exchanging an exasperated look with Chase. "I'm sorry, but for medical professionals..."

"I'm a doctor of economics and my wife is a doctor of botany," Dr. Spencer snapped.

Chase and Foreman exchanged 'good grief' glances.

"I see. Unfortunately, there aren't any instant tests for anything that might be causing Amanda's symptoms. We've started the tests, but there are a lot of environmental factors that could be contributing to your daughter's condition--parasites, food poisoning. Would you mind if we had a look around your home? We might get answers more rapidly than if we wait for the test results to come back."

* * *

"I still can't believe that worked," Chase said as he and Foreman followed Amanda's dad to their house.

"We'll have to remember that one," Foreman added.

"Beats worrying about a felony charge," Chase agreed.

"You really think House was wrong on this one?" Foreman asked.

"Bulimia is one of the few diseases where it actually helps to talk to the patient," Chase replied. "Few diseases? Oh, god I'm sounding like him, aren't I?"

"You have your moments--wanting to be like him. There's a lot to emulate and a lot not to. You can learn from him without becoming him you know," Foreman said.

"I know," Chase said quietly.

Foreman glanced at Chase. "You're not such a bad guy. Quit letting House convince you otherwise."

Chase looked away. "Cameron's harder to ignore."

"You'd be surprised how far an apology will get you."

"I think going into a chemically induced coma just to get her to forgive me seems a little extreme, don't you?"

"It wouldn't have taken two tries if I hadn't waited so long. Learn from my mistake and quit being a stubborn idiot."

"Now you sound like my therapist," Chase said.

Foreman took advantage of being stopped at a red light to give Chase a long, hard stare. "You're in therapy? How are you affording it? Weren't you pulling double shifts in the NICU to make ends meet?"

"That was a stop gap until I could get my budget under control. It's amazing what living within your means instead of drawing on your savings will do. Besides, the hospital has lousy pay, but really good health insurance."

"Once you get past he deductible."

"Double shifts this year, and the flex plan for next."

"Yeah, but it's not just a money issue, I mean..."

"Green light," Chase prompted.

Foreman turned back to the road. "Don't think you're getting out of this so easily."

He followed Dr. Spencer in a left turn down a residential street. "Seriously, Chase..."

"I got railroaded by a Journalism student and two high school juniors, and that's as much as I'm telling you."

"Come on, Chase, what else are we going to talk about on the way to this place?" Foreman asked.

"I think we're here," Chase replied as Dr. Spencer's Prius pulled into a driveway.

"Damn," Foreman said, parking in front of the house. He parked, then threw Chase a wicked grin. "Of course, there's always the way back."

Chase threw a glare at his colleague as he got out of the car.

* * *

"Has the cat been treated for parasites lately?" Chase asked as he and Foreman followed Dr. Spencer to Amanda's room.

"She's had all the routine vet visits if that's what you mean."

"Okay, it's not the cat," Foreman said as he entered the room, looking around. "Pretty neat for a thirteen year old."

Dr. Spencer shrugged as Foreman started going through dresser drawers.

Chase moved to the desk, intent on looking through the desk drawers, but his eyes settled on a frame and he picked it up, staring at it. Staring back at him were four people, all wearing what at first glance would have been Hogwarts robes, but the crest was slightly different--that of Madame Sawyer's Academy for Harry Potter Fan Fiction. One face had blonde hair and blue eyes, and was wearing Slytherin green and silver. He'd seen this before, online. At first he thought it was odd that Amanda would have a print out of this picture, but then he saw ridges of wax under the glass. This was clearly an original drawing done in oil pastels.

"Oh my g-d." Chase sank to the bed, staring at the frame.

"Dr. Chase?" Dr. Spencer asked. "I realize my daughter's a good artist, but what does it have to do with..."

"I know her," Chase said. "This is me," he pointed at the figure with blond hair. "I'm SlytherinAU. Are you telling me that Amanda's Squeak?"

"Yes," Dr. Spencer said. "And she usually goes by 'Mandi.'"

"Squeak?" Foreman echoed.

"It's a nickname she picked up from when Kneazle was tackle hugging her on the forums," Chase said, smiling. "She kept saying 'squeak.' I started calling her that and it stuck."

"Huh?"

"It's an internet name," Dr. Spencer explained. "Are you the one who got her to tell us about the bullying?"

"Twisting her arm about it, more like. Mentioning that she was getting beaten up for her lunch money might've been helpful for us to exclude bulimia," Chase pointed out. He frowned. "Of course, she's still underweight and that could just be exacerbating the cold."

"You've been talking to a thirteen year old online?" Foreman asked, eyes narrowing.

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Foreman, it's not like that. She's practically a kid sister."

Foreman turned to Dr. Spencer. "You don't find this at all weird?"

"Mandi tells us all about her talks with Dr. Chase; if it were someone whose name I didn't recognize, I'd be more worried. Besides, she's fairly responsible and we have talks about internet safety every week or so, I'd hope she's pretty careful."

"I didn't know we lived in the same state, yet alone the same city," Chase piped up.

Foreman eyed Chase uneasily.

Chase gulped, knowing Foreman was thinking of Andie.

"Weren't you two meant to be checking for environmental causes?" Dr. Spencer asked.

"Right," Chase said, gulping a bit. He wondered which would be worse: betraying Mandi's trust about her secret hiding place, revealing to Foreman and Mandi's father that he knew, or somehow managing to switch with Foreman and check the dresser.

He'd never forgive himself if he left it unsearched either.

"Dr. Foreman, don't forget to check the lower right hand corner in the back of her underwear drawer. If there's anything that she wouldn't want her mom or I to see, it'll be there."

Or her dad could all ready know.

Foreman raised an eyebrow.

"I figure if she doesn't know I know where it is, then as long as all I'm finding is candy bars and presents there's not much to worry about," Dr. Spencer said. He turned to Chase. "Please don't tell her we know."

Chase mimed zipping his lips. "I always wondered why a sixteen year old felt the need to hide candy bars."

"You thought she was sixteen?"

"Shut up, Foreman," Chase said irritably, returning to the desk drawers.

* * *

"So you met this kid on a chat room?" Foreman asked when they were back in the car.

"Harry Potter fan fiction board, I was her writing mentor," Chase replied.

"Harry Potter?"

"Don't even try it. You might have taken the dust jacket off, but I saw you reading Half Blood Prince last summer."

"Fan fiction?"

"Everyone's got to have a hobby."

"But what is it?"

"Where have you been?"

"Reading journals instead of wasting time online, apparently."

"Just because you're 'on' twenty four seven, doesn't mean the rest of us have to be."

"You're stalling."

"Damn right."

"Chase."

Chase sighed. "It's... what it sounds like basically. Fans writing fiction about their various favorite... well, it started mostly with TV shows, but it's moved into books and movies too."

"So you write stories about Harry Potter?"

"Yeah."

"You're insane, Chase."

"Yeah, so?"

"And how, exactly, does our patient fit into the picture?" Foreman asked.

"I was her writing mentor--the idea of the board is to help newer authors improve their writing."

"So you've been teaching her to write?"

"I did at first. Now it's more like the other way around."

"She's thirteen."

"Yeah, I'm still digesting that. It was bad enough when she was writing circles around me when I thought she was sixteen."

"Chase, you scare me."

"Good."


* * *

A case that House dubbed "interesting" was admitted through the ER later that afternoon, and it was pushing eight o'clock before the fellows of Diagnostic Medicine had him settled and resting comfortably.

They finally dragged themselves in the cafeteria once they were cleaned up. Chase chose a light sandwich, having to force himself to chew.

"Hot date, Chase?"

"You know as well as I do visiting hours are over at nine, and since I recused myself from the case..."

"Given your history, that might not be a bad thing," Cameron said, frowning with concern.

"Mandi is going to be just fine and have plenty of opportunities to kiss boys her own age--hopefully not for another fifteen years or so," Chase said, throwing Cameron a glare.

"You don't exactly have a great track record when it comes to exercising good judgment," Cameron chided.

"Look, Cameron, I'm sorry I didn't come through for you," Chase said, scrubbing hand over his face, "but..." he paused as if searching for the words.

"But?" Cameron said, voice rising in pitch.

"You're the one who took the drugs, I had nothing to do with that," Chase snapped. "You went straight for the jugular and I just... wasn't strong enough." His stomach twisted, expecting Cameron to find the jugular again.

Cameron blinked. Hard. Stared.

Chase's stomach twisted and he shoved one more bite of his sandwich into his mouth, forcing himself to chew as the food tasted more like sand. He gathered the rest of the sandwich into its wrapper, shoving the chips into his lab coat for later.

"Where are you going?" Foreman asked.

"To see if I still have a writing partner," Chase said, picking up the rest of his dinner and depositing it in the trash on the way out.

* * *

Chase lingered in the door to Mandi's room trying to catch her mother's eye...

"Hey, Alter, are you coming in or what?" Mandi asked groggily.

Chase stepped into the room, smiling. "You all ready heard, I see."

Mandi nodded.

"How are you feeling?"

Mandi yawned. "Sleepy. And my head hurts."

"Don't worry, it's probably just 'cause Dr. Cameron has you all doped up so you don't have any more seizures," Chase replied. "You'll be back to making trouble on the boards with Kneazle in no time."

Mandi smiled shyly. "Does that mean you're not mad?"

"For what?"

"Lying about my age."

Chase managed a mock glare. "You could've gotten Sarah and me into a lot of trouble. We're going to suspend you from the boards for a couple of days. Effective immediately."

"Dr. Cameron said I have to stay here for a couple days," Mandi said.

Chase winked.

Mandi giggled, but her laughter turned into a coughing fit.

"Easy," Chase said, placing a calming hand on her back, "you're meant to be resting, don't get too excited."

Mandi took a breath, nodding and laying back down. "Guess I have some extra time on that book report, huh?"

Chase laughed. "You're sick, I think we can get you out of some schoolwork."

"What about GlindaGryffindor killing me over dropping out of the ficathon?"

"You're sick," Chase repeated, with more force. "Let me handle her."

Mandi nodded, yawning.

The doctor in him decided there'd be more time for chatting once Mandi was better. "You should rest. I'll look in on you in the morning before work, all right?"

"'kay, Alter." Mandi yawned again.

"Call me Robert in person, okay?"

Mandi nodded.

"'Night, Mandi."

"'Night, Robbie."

"D..." Chase started automatically. "Never mind."

"Huh?"

Chase smiled. "Don't worry about it."

"Cool."

"Get some rest, doctor's orders."

"'kay, Madame Pomfrey."

Chase made a face at her.

Mandi giggled as Chase left the room, but it turned into a coughing fit that made Chase wince. Chase changed directions, heading for the nurse's station.

"Donna, would you please page Dr. Cameron; I'm probably being paranoid, but something's not quite..."

He jumped as someone tapped his shoulder.

"What's going on, Chase?" Cameron asked.

"I'm probably being paranoid, but something about Mandi's cough doesn't sound right. Can you humor me?"

Cameron smiled indulgently. "Sure."

She headed back for Mandi's room, Chase at her heels.

"Is there a problem?" Dr. Spencer asked.

"I thought I heard--it's probably nothing," Chase said. "Dr. Cameron's just being kind enough to check anyway. There's a reason I recused myself from Mandi's case."

Cameron touched Mandi's shoulder. "Mandi, can you sit up for me, please?"

Mandi didn't move, her eyes were closed, and she was breathing evenly.

Cameron shook her gently. "Mandi? Are you asleep?"

She didn't respond.

Cameron and Chase exchanged glances as Cameron reached into the pocket of her lab coat. She gently lifted Mandi's eyelids, shining the light in her eyes.

Chase's stomach sank when her pupils remained open. He raced to the nurse's station. "Dr. Cameron needs help."

Donna nodded, and Chase trailed after her, stopping in the doorway. Dr. Spencer was at the side of Mandi's bed, shaking her daughter, and tears streaming down her face. Cameron was trying to pull her away so she could examine her.

Seeing something he could do, Chase gently took Mandi's mother by the arms. "Dr. Spencer, let's wait outside and let Dr. Cameron and Nurse Malone work."

"Mandi!" Dr. Spencer sobbed.

"Out here," Chase said gently, pulling insistently.

Dr. Spencer fought against him, but Chase managed to manhandle her into the hallway. She moved towards the window, but Donna pulled the shades shut. Dr. Spencer sank to the ground, sobbing.

Chase sat next to her, awkwardly patting her shoulder.

"What's wrong? Is she going to be all right? Why aren't you doing something?"

"It looks..." Chase scrubbed a hand over his face. "I'm panicking here, hence the not being on Mandi's case."

Foreman raced by into the room.

"Maybe not unjustifiably," Chase said.

"Can't you give her more than fluids?"

"The question is what," Chase said. "She's very weak, Dr. Spencer. We give her the wrong thing and it could kill her faster than whatever's making her sick. Normally, we'd treat with both broad spectrum antibiotics and antivirals, but..."

"But you tested..."

"We took blood cultures. You're a biologist, did you ever culture bacteria?"

"It takes at least twenty four hours," Dr. Spencer said, paling. "Won't that be too late?"

"It could be, which is why we're looking for other ways to know what's causing this. We'd start treatment if we had a good working hypothesis. So unless there's something else you can think of... Well, we'll just have to do our best until the tests come in," Chase said.

Foreman came out, looking worried.

"Coma?" Chase asked.

"Yeah," Foreman said. "You want to point me at another intensivist?"

"Myers," Chase said.

"You think he'll do it?"

"I'll ask him," Chase said, getting up.

"Can I go in?" Dr. Spencer asked, shaking.

"Yeah," Foreman said. "Dr. Cameron wants to ask you some more questions."

Doctor Spencer nodded, walking in.

Foreman waited until she was safely engaged in conversation with Cameron. "I don't need to tell you we need to figure out what's causing this faster than the labs will," Foreman said. "Can you think of anything she might have told you?"

"Not off hand," Chase said. "I'll talk to Myers and then I'll take a look at the chat logs."

"You save IM conversations?" Foreman asked.

"Fire has a logging feature. It's really useful when you're writing stories in IM."

At that moment, Foreman and Chase's pagers went off.

"Bugger," Chase swore.

* * *

"Again," Cameron said.

"Cameron, call it," Chase said miserably. "He's gone. Time of death 9:45 PM. Guess we'll find out who was right from the autopsy."

"Damn," Foreman said, raising the sheet over the patient's face.

"Want me to talk to the family?" Chase asked, gently taking the paddles away from Cameron.

"You might as well," Cameron said. "Foreman and I should concentrate on the patient that's still alive."

"Chase's little age inappropriate friend," Foreman said.

Chase sighed. "Please, Foreman, she's practically my little sister."

"You're creepy, Chase," Cameron said, eying him skeptically. "Hanging out with a thirteen year old."

"Look who's talking," Foreman said. "I'm surprised you weren't braiding her hair and gossiping with her about boys when she slipped into that coma."

Cameron glared at Foreman. "I'll go talk to her mother again, see if we're missing anything from the history."

"I'll go check on the lab cultures, see if we can at least get a gram staining and some microscopy," Foreman said.

Chase sighed, taking a deep breath and steeling himself for his least favorite part of the job. Giving the family bad news.

* * *

Chase rubbed the bridge of his nose, staring at his Powerbook blankly.

"What are you doing? Looking for a new little buddy?" Cameron asked.

Chase glared at her. "I'm going through old IM logs--I have this nagging feeling I'm forgetting something."

"Like where you..."

"Cameron!"

"Can you print them? Maybe I can help."

"Maybe," Chase said, unsure how the hospital network would react to his iBook. "Well, I can see the printer..." A piece of paper came out of the printer. "Damn."

"What?"

"Well, I printed a different log for you and now I lost my place."

"Print a bunch," Foreman said, coming in. "I'll help."

"Anything useful?" Cameron asked hopefully.

"The colonies aren't big enough to do jack with."

"Media any help?" Chase asked as he fiddled with his computer.

"Standard blood agar, nothing differential."

"Great," Chase said.

"Any sign of House?" Cameron asked.

"He left after I told him what happened with the other patient. He said we'd better not be up all night looking after Chase's girlfriend," Foreman said.

Chase sighed with frustration.

Cameron smirked. "Did he hit a nerve?"

Chase got up, pulling the chat transcripts off of the printer. "Here, take the day before yesterday."

* * *

"She makes virtual faces at you when you're upset?" Foreman asked.

"Trying to make me laugh," Chase explained, a smile briefly tugging at his lips.

"And you believed she was sixteen?" Foreman asked, laughing.

"Mocking me isn't going to help us figure out what's wrong with Mandi," Chase replied irritably.

"Neither is a blur of letters," Cameron said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "I'm going to head down to the cafeteria for some caffeine, you guys want anything?"

"Why don't we run across the street to the donut place?" Foreman suggested. "They should be fresh out of the oven by now, and the coffee's better too."

"Coming, Chase?" Cameron asked as she got up.

Chase shook his head. "Just bring me back a coffee."

Foreman and Cameron exchanged glances, then headed out to the elevators.

"He's really worried," Forman said, glancing back towards the office. "Especially for a guy who threatened to quit talking to her until she told her parents about the bullying."

"Tough love. From Chase?"

There was a beep, and the elevator doors slid open. The two doctors stepped into the elevator.

Cameron pressed the button for the ground floor. "Are you finding this thing a whole lot less creepy reading this stuff? There's nothing sexual. The stories are either magical adventures or just cute. And they support each other. How sad is that Chase gets support from a thirteen year old?"

"I don't know, Cameron; there may be nothing sexual, but he's still twice her age. That can't be healthy."

"He wouldn't hurt her," Cameron said.

"It's not just Mandi I'm worried about."

* * *

"Eat," Cameron said when they got back to the office about twenty minutes later. She placed a chocolate donut in front of Chase.

"I'm not hungry," Chase said. "Did you bring coffee?"

Cameron put the cup in front of him. "You love her, don't you?" Cameron asked, picking up another log.

Chase looked up. "That's a loaded question."

"I meant like a brother," Cameron said.

Chase raised an eyebrow.

"These..." Cameron gestured towards the pile of discarded logs on the table. "Although where you find so much time to be on IM is beyond me."

"Like House ever keeps us that busy," Chase replied.

"You're avoiding the question."

Chase smirked, and went back to reading. He then promptly smacked his own forehead. "I can't believe I forgot this. Mandi was helping her mother out at the greenhouse in her lab."

"Some sort of soil born bacteria?" Foreman asked. "That'd be a nice fix--antibiotics. Is her mom still here?"

Chase stared at Foreman.

"Stupid question, let's go talk to her."

* * *

Dr. Spencer was napping sitting up in one of the hard, uncomfortable chairs they seemed to keep in hospital rooms.

Chase reached out and shook her gently. "Dr. Spencer?"

She jerked awake.

"Mandi?"

"No change," Cameron said from the other side of the bed, where she was taking Mandi's pulse. "We'd like to start her on ceftriaxone."

"Cef..."

"It's an antibiotic," Foreman said, displaying the IV bag. "One that treats against most soil borne bacteria."

"Mandi was helping at your lab," Chase added. "Something about new plants?"

"Yes, a shipment from Thailand I just got out of quarantine. We're studying... What?"

"Meliodosis," Foreman said. "It fits."

"Mel...what is that?"

"It's a soil bacterium," Cameron said, "one that's susceptible to ceftriaxone. We'll know which tests to run on the cultured bacteria when we have enough to confirm, but it's better if we start her on the antibiotic right away."

"But yesterday Dr. Chase said if you gave her the wrong treatment, it could kill her," Dr. Spencer said, looking straight at Chase.

"If we're wrong," Chase said, quietly, "it might not matter."

"This is her best chance, Dr. Spencer," Dr. Foreman said.

She looked at Chase. "If it was your little girl..."

"This is Mandi," Chase interrupted, his voice quiet. He threw a worried look at the young girl laying on the bed. "And Dr. Foreman's right. This is her best chance."

Dr. Spencer studied Chase carefully. "All right," she said finally.

Foreman hung the IV bag he was carrying, expertly adding it to the glucose and fluids they were all ready giving her.

"If it works, how long before she wakes up?" Dr. Spencer asked.

Chase sighed. "It's up to Mandi." He drifted over to the bed, squeezing his friend's hand. "Hopefully soon," he said quietly.

"You should get some rest," Foreman told Dr. Spencer. He touched Chase's shoulder, steering him towards the door. "Come on, we should get some sleep, too, or House will have our heads."

* * *

"You too, huh?" Foreman asked sleepily as he saw Chase get out of his car. It was just after nine thirty--it seemed no one from their department had made it into work on time.

Except possibly for House.

"What happened to the Porsche?" Cameron asked, stifling a yawn.

"Sold it for Herbie here," Chase said, shutting the door of his VW bug.

"Herbie?"

"Mandi's insane," Chase said, with a shrug. "It was certified used and the insurance was half that of the Porsche.

"You never even met her and she named your car?" Cameron asked, holding back a laugh.

"Hey, keep that up and I'll give away the chocolate latte I got you," Chase said, gesturing with the tray of drinks in his hand.

"You brought coffee?" Foreman asked as the three started walking into the hospital.

"Least I could do since you two lost so much sleep to help..."

"Just doing our jobs," Cameron said, lifting a cup from the tray. "Not that we object to coffee."

Chase handed Foreman another cup as they reached the doors.

"You brought coffee for House?" Foreman asked, realizing there were still two cups in the tray.

"If sucking up to him would work, I would have," Chase replied, face coloring slightly. "This is for Mandi's mum."

"So you're sucking up to someone who it will work on?" Foreman asked.

"I just figured she didn't sleep too well in that chair and could use some coffee."

"Uh-huh," Cameron said.

"Want me to come face the music with you?" Chase asked.

"Thought I'd check in on your favorite patient first," Cameron said. "Come deliver that coffee and entertain Dr. Spencer while I examine her daughter?"

Chase grinned. "Delighted."

"Sure, throw me to the wolves," Foreman said.

"Dr. Foreman," Brenda called as they passed the clinic.

"Yes?" Foreman asked, turning.

If there was one thing the fellows of Princeton Plainsboro Hospital had learned it was never, never cross Nurse Brenda unless you wanted your life to be miserable.

"Dr. Simpson needs a neurology consult and Dr. Ford isn't answering her pager."

"Done," Foreman said

"Meet us at Mandi's room?" Chase suggested.

"All for one and one for all," Foreman replied.

* * *

"How much longer is this going to go on?" Dr. Spencer asked Chase as they stood outside of Mandi's room sipping their coffee.

"We don't know a lot about comas," Chase replied. "Hopefully, once the antibiotics start to kick in she'll come out of it."

"And if she doesn't?"

"She will," Chase said forcefully.

"You must think I'm a terrible mother, not realizing how much weight she was losing, not letting her eat enough, and then topping it off by letting her play around in exotic plants..."

"I'm not that good of a friend either, I've been trying to get her to tell you for months."

"What else could you do? My daughter's a very stubborn little girl when she puts her mind to it, Dr. Chase. Hopefully you won't need these, but my husband and I thought you should have our business cards. If there's something else you think we need to know..." Dr. Spencer reached into her the side pocket of her purse, handing him two business cards.

Chase stared as he realized he was looking at Mandi's parents' work numbers.

"The home number's on the back too," Dr. Spencer continued. "That one I hope you do use--once we bring Mandi home."

Chase smiled. "Thank you, Dr. Spencer."

"Please, call me Jennifer. Mandi adores you, and I'm glad she has someone else looking out for her."

Chase flushed. "Thank you, Dr. ..."

"Jennifer."

"Jennifer."

* * *

The three fellows finally approached the Diagnostics office with a degree of trepidation. They found House sitting at the table in the conference room, leafing through a stack of papers.

"Bugger," Chase said. "We forgot to recycle the chat logs."

"Maybe he'll be so busy mocking you he won't kill us," Foreman said.

"Thanks, Foreman," Chase said. "Let's get this over with." He strode into the conference room. "Sorry about the mess." He reached out to start gathering up the papers, only to find his hand pinned by House's cane.

"I seem to remember telling you guys not to stay up all night trying to cure your girlfriend."

Chase bristled. "She's not my girlfriend."

"Then do you have a secret daughter you're not telling us about? I can't think of a single reason why else you'd let her name your car. Not to mention let virtual puppy dog eyes keep you in therapy."

Chase glared, his hands clasping and unclasping.

"So, tell me, what is the punishment for a staff that disobeys direct orders from their supervisor?" House asked.

"You could ask Dr. Cuddy," Cameron said, sweetly. "She's coming right now."

"Nice try, Cameron, but I'm not as gullible as Dr. 'she was supposed to be sixteen' here," House said, gesturing towards Chase. "What kind of sixteen year old names other people's cars? Or helps Mommy out at the lab?"

Chase gulped, looking for a retort. Until the door to the office burst open, causing Foreman to have to jump out of its way.

"House!"

"Gee, if you want me that bad, I'll come, but you have to keep it down," House said. "We don't want the staff getting ideas."

"Did you tell a thirteen year old boy that if he kept making faces at you it would freeze that way?"

"The little brat was..."

"My office. Now."

House followed Cuddy out of the door. "You know, you don't have to go through all this just to get me alone."

As the door closed behind them, Chase sighed with relief, then hurriedly began gathering up the papers.

"He could just fish them out of the trash," Foreman pointed out.

"I'll recycle them in the clinic," Cameron said. "I have duty in a few minutes, and it's not like he'll want to go in there."

"Just don't show them to Nurse Judy, okay?" Chase asked. "I'd hate for this to get into the hospital grapevine."

Cameron studied him carefully, then winked. "Your secret is safe with me."

"See if you can find something he'll be interested in," Foreman said. "I really don't want today to drag."

"We'll see if I find something worth missing my date for tonight," Cameron said, taking the pile of papers from Chase.

Chase sighed, heading for his stash of crosswords. He sat down, and started chewing on a pen, staring into space.

"Go back upstairs, Chase," Foreman said. "I'll page you if anything comes up."

"If I'm up there when House gets back..."

"I'll get Freeman in NICU to help cover for you," Foreman said. "She owes me a favor."

"Oh?"

"I'll never tell," Foreman said.

"Thanks," Chase said, hightailing it for Mandi's room.

* * *

Friday dragged by at a snail's pace. Chase went home after work and tried to sleep. He caught a few hours' fitful doze, and got ready for the day in time to reach Mandi's room during visiting hours.

"Jennifer, really, come have something to eat, you haven't moved from Mandi's bedside in two days."

"I'm her mother, Richard, I'm not leaving her alone. What if she wakes up and we're not here?"

"I'll stay with her if you like," Chase said. "You need to keep your strength up." He wondered, absently, if Jennifer would let him give her a lift home--she looked like she could use some sleep, and would certainly be more likely to leave Mandi safe under the care of her father. "I can come get you if she wakes up."

"Then she'd be alone."

"Someone else would need to examine her anyway. I won't leave her alone. Go, eat. You're no use to her if you get sick too." He didn't want to add that it could be weeks before Mandi woke up. "We'll be fine." He held up the book he was carrying.

"So You Want to be a Wizard?" Jennifer asked.

"I loved this book when I was about her age," Chase said. "I've been trying to convince Mandi to read it, but she won't listen. I'm thinking now that I have a captive audience..." He waggled his eyebrows.

"Can she hear?"

"It's hard to tell," Chase said. "We do know that talking to coma patients stimulates their brains. It might help. Or it just might make us feel better, it's hard to know for sure."

Jennifer rubbed her eyes.

"You look like you could do with some rest," Chase said gently. "I'd be happy to drive you if you'd rather her father stay..."

"I won't leave her."

"At least eat something," Chase said. "Dr. Spencer..."

"Richard, please."

"Richard is right, you do need to eat. I'll go with you if you'd rather he stay."

"Half an hour, Jen," Richard said. "I'll stay here with Mandi and Dr. Chase if you want..."

"Robert, please," Chase said. "It's only fair."

"I'm sure Mandi will be fine in Robert's care," Jennifer said. "You'll come find us if she wakes up?"

"Promise," Chase replied.

They left, and Chase sat next to Mandi's bed. He started to open the book, then frowned, closed it, and reached out to take Mandi's hand. He squeezed it gently. "I know things have been kind of tough out here, kiddo, but they'll get better if I have to brain those bullies personally. I need you to wake up, all right? I don't think I can take losing you, too." He rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb, watching her closely.

He sighed when there was no response and withdrew his hand. "I'm not too good at one sided conversations, so I thought this was a good time to convince you that you'd like the Young Wizards books." He opened the book and began to read.

* * *

The next day, Chase went to church, oddly needing.... he wasn't sure if it was strength for himself or simply wondering if the extra prayers might somehow make Mandi pull through. He grabbed a quick sandwich, and then headed to the hospital to check up on Mandi.

"Her fever's down, that's good right?" Richard asked as Chase entered Mandi's room.

"That's certainly a start," Chase said neutrally--ingrained habits of bedside manner coming to the fore. Whether it was his own hopes he wanted to keep in check, or Mandi's father's hopes he just wasn't sure.

He reached out, taking Mandi's hand. It was cool and dry. "That is much better," he said, squeezing her hand. He turned to Richard. "Where's Jennifer?"

"I finally got her to go home and get some sleep."

"That's a relief, Mandi's going to need her when..." Chase paused. He felt the pressure again, but this time it wasn't so slight. He beckoned to Richard.

"Mandi, sweetie, if you just squeezed my hand, can you do it again?" Chase asked.

The pressure returned.

"Mandi? Honey?" Richard asked.

"Daddy?"she croaked.

"Can you open your eyes?" Richard asked gently.

Mandi tried. "Ow."

Chase reached for the dimmer switch. "Sweetie, I can turn the lights down, but I'll need my hand."

"Tough," Mandi said.

Chase glanced at her father and shrugged. He tapped the nurse call button instead. "The patient decided to rise and shine."

"I'll be right in,"came the voice of Nurse Wanda.

Chase bit back a curse, hoping his poker face was still showing. Wanda was infamous for her love of gossip--the story of Mandi and her refusal to let go of his hand would be all over the hospital by ten o'clock on Monday morning.

"I'm surprised to see you here, Dr. Chase," Wanda said as she walked in, stepping to his side and handing him a penlight. "My understanding is that Amanda is Dr. Cameron's patient."

"Robbie's my friend," Mandi said brightly--finally letting go of Chase's hand so she could rub at her eyes.

"Oh really?" the nurse asked, shooting Chase a curious glance.

"I mentor in a program for young writers," Chase said quickly, reaching over to dim the lights. "Mandi here is one of my favorite students.

Mandi giggled, probably because she knew why Chase was leaving out some key details.

Brenda took the penlight back from Chase. "Well, since you're a visitor, will you and Dr. Spencer please step outside while I take some vitals for Dr. Cameron."

Chase nodded, gesturing for Richard to lead the way.

"Is there a pay phone somewhere?" Richard asked. "I can't call Jen from my cell phone from here, right?"

"It's against hospital rules," Chase said. "I'd let you use the phone in my office, but it'll really be faster just to let the nurse finish up and use the one in Mandi's room, she won't be long."

"Is Mandi out of the woods now?"

"Most likely," Chase said. "Assuming she gets back to a healthy weight and everything--and finishes the course of antibiotics."

* * *


Chase had clinic duty first thing on Monday morning--complete with the expected ribbing from Nurse Brenda and Dr. Bennett--so it was late morning before he finally found time to look in on Mandi. He walked into the room without thinking and found Cameron examining Mandi.

"Did you find something to distract House while you were on clinic duty?" Cameron asked.

"No such luck," Chase replied. "I left Foreman there, though, maybe he'll be able to turn up a case. I thought I'd check in on Sq--I mean Mandi before I grabbed some lunch. How are you feeling, Mandi?"

"Better," Mandi said. "I'm almost done with 'So You Want to Be a Wizard', though, can I borrow the next book?"

"Sure," Chase said.

"I think Mandi will be able to go home as soon as the anti-seizure medication clears her system," Cameron said. "We had a nice little chat while I was checking everything out."

"And we agreed you're not a Slytherin!" Mandi added.

Chase flushed, approaching the bed.

"What are we going to do with--oof!"

The wind was knocked out of him as Mandi hugged him round the middle.

Chase hugged her back awkwardly.

"Dr. Cameron says I'm not contagious anymore," Mandi said brightly, as if that explained everything.

"I know," Chase said. "I'm just not used to being glomped like that."

"We're gonna have to fix that!" Mandi exclaimed.

Cameron chuckled.

"Mandi, sweetie, I think we need to let Dr. Cameron finish examining you," Chase said, gently prying the teenager's arms from his waist.

"Oh, I'm finished examining her, I just wanted the low down on the secret life of Robbie Chase."

"Robert. There's only three people allowed to call me 'Robbie' and you're not one of them."

Cameron raised an eyebrow.

"Only three?" Mandi asked.

"Yup."

"And I'm one of them?"

"Uh-huh."

Mandi hugged him again.

Chase's cheeks grew hot, but he noticed Cameron was stifling a laugh.

"Mandi..." he started.

"You may have to take it easy on him, kid, he's not a hugger."

Chase jumped, turning to see Foreman standing in the doorway.

"I think I've got something that House may actually want to see," Forman explained.

Cameron closed Mandi's chart. "I'll be by later to check up on you."

"Me too," Chase said.

"Do you have to go?" Mandi asked.

"We need to take care of someone who's actually sick," Chase said.

"I'm not?"

"Not anymore," Cameron said.

"That's good news," Dr. Spencer said from the door frame--she was holding a cup of coffee and a bag of potato chips.

"Baked Lays!" Mandi squealed, happily taking the chips from her mother.

"See you later, kiddo," Chase said, ruffling Mandi's hair and following Cameron out the door.

* * *

"You're coming over tomorrow, right?" Mandi asked, nearly rocking the wheelchair by bouncing with excitement as Chase pushed her towards her father's waiting car.

"Yeah, we have Kneazle's birthday story to write," Chase said.

"Promise?"

Chase beamed. "I promise. Now remember..."

"Don't say anything on the boards about us living in the same town so we can surprise Sarah when she comes to visit next month," Mandi parroted. "You told me five times!"

They reached the car.

"OK, kid, get plenty of rest and I'll see you soon." Chase mussed her hair affectionately.

"Thank you," Mandi's mother said, giving Chase a hug.

Chase strongly suspected he was blushing. He said his goodbyes to Mandi's parents and went back into the lobby to find House waiting for him.

"Did Mrs. Peterman get a new symptom?" Chase asked.

"You met her on a Harry Potter board?" House asked, laughing.

"I wouldn't expect you to recognize fine literature if it jumped up and bit you," Chase retorted, trying to push past him.

House grabbed his arm. "You don't exactly have a good track record with the jailbait set; does this one get you..."

"Get your mind out of the gutter, House."

"You may have Foreman and Cameron fooled, but you can't fool me that easily," House said.

"There is nothing inappropriate between me and Mandi," Chase said, trying not to grit his teeth. He needed to get out, fast, before House got a rise out of him.

"Yes, because you're such a good influence on a thirteen year old child," House said. "Given that you consort with dominatrixes and take advantage of your colleagues when they're high on meth."

Chase swallowed, glaring at House.

"Or is it just easier for you to mentally relate to a thirteen year old?"

Chase took a breath, looking for something, anything to say. Then it hit him. "At least I can relate to sane people--you related best to that patient we thought was schizophrenic. What's that say about your mental state?"

House stared for a moment. "I wonder what your little friend's parents would say about you making out with a dying nine year old when you were supposed to be doing an MRI on her."

"It was a peck," Chase said, jaw clenching. House might be right--no parent in their right mind would let a thirteen year old near him.

Except he would never hurt Mandi. At least intentionally. Was he really bad for her?

House smirked. Bile rose in Chase's throat. House was trying to make him doubt himself.

Chase wasn't exactly perfect, but he could do better--for Mandi.

What he needed, in the meantime, was an exit strategy. Or a snappy comeback.

"So you're saying you couldn't get past first base with a nine year old?" House asked.

Chase balked, his stomach twisting. He stared at House, and something inside him just clicked. "You know, just because you lead a lonely, miserable existence doesn't mean the rest of us have to. Even you don't have to--if you'd just quit driving Wilson and Cuddy crazy."

"You sound like you've been doing Wilson."

"I know better than to move in on your territory," Chase said. With that his pager beeped. "Mrs. Peterman's in cardiac arrest." He pushed past House, dashing for the patient's room, relieved by the reprieve.

There was no reason this woman should be in cardiac arrest--but she was. He knew when they had the patient stabilized, House would be too distracted by the puzzle to pick on him.

Even more motivation to make sure Mrs. Peterman stabilized.

The End

Back
Feedback