Categories > TV > House > Pathology

Chapter 4

by MelantheVida 0 reviews

House must once again race against time to save a patient, while dealing with the aftermath of his bitter argument with Wilson.

Category: House - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Allison Cameron, Eric Foreman, Gregory House, James Wilson, Lisa Cuddy, Robert Chase - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2006-08-15 - Updated: 2006-08-15 - 12346 words

"New symptom." House finished scrawling the words on his whiteboard and turned, tapping his pen. "Respiratory arrest. What does this tell us?"

Foreman replied slowly, as though stating the obvious. " could be any number of respiratory conditions."

"Flu-like symptoms rule out a lot on that list, though," Cameron was quick to add.

"Could still be plenty." Foreman shrugged. "Leptospirosis, for one. Patient works in the gardens, he could've picked it up from the soil."

Cameron shook her head. "Place has no pets, and given that he works for an extremely rich woman at a very large mansion, I doubt there's rat urine just lying around." She flipped through the patient history with a practiced eye, pen poised to jot down notes. "It says here the grounds are fenced in, too."

"Okay. Let me rephrase that," House cut in with mocking indulgence. "What new information not previously stated in the differential diagnosis or otherwise identifiable by a first year med student - " Abruptly, his cane came flying down to slam squarely onto the heavy, leatherbound red textbook in the center of the table. " - with a Merck Manual does this tell us?"

He was greeted by unanimous silence.

Perfect. At this rate, they should come up with the correct diagnosis sometime within the next century.

"Come on, people!" House barked, impatience finally getting the better of him. "Respiratory distress, blackouts, and the flu. What do they all have in - "

"I still say TB," Chase broke in. "It fits everything - respiratory failure, fever, fatigue, the only thing we're missing is the risk factor."

"Which almost automatically rules it out," Foreman retorted, annoyed.

"He's got a history of cancer in the family," Cameron suggested helpfully, trying to steer the conversation away from three angry men snapping at each other's throats. "Says here his mother died of leukemia five years ago." She glanced over at Wilson in the corner.

But the other man shook his head. "If you're thinking of Hodgkin's, that's not it. His lymph nodes are swollen, but they're tender, not painless." His eyes shifted distractedly out the window, then back again. "The symptoms don't match."

The room lapsed once more into silence.
"You're all missing something." House tapped his cane thoughtfully, head tilted toward the tabletop, where several patient folders were scattered in disarray. His staff waited expectantly for the moment of brilliance. "The CBC. Foreman, what did his white count show?"

"Dramatic increase would suggest a bacterial infection." Foreman sighed, realizing where this was going.

"And what common bacteria do we know of that causes fever, drowsiness, and really, really difficult breathing?"

"...Histoplasmosis?" Chase suggested hesitantly. "The disseminated form could resemble TB. He's got fever, chest pains, ARDS with the respiratory failure." Leaning in, he rapped the test results with his pencil. "Explains the white count, too."

"I was actually thinking...bacterial pneumonia." House furrowed his brow in a semi-quizzical gaze. "But that works too. Get me a chest x-ray, CT scan, arterial blood gas, and check his lymph nodes again while you're at it. Better safe than relying on Dr. Wilson's pain - " He made sure to emphasize the last word with a glance at the corner. " - sensibilities."

Cameron blinked, frowning slightly as she looked from her boss to Wilson and back. Those two looked like they'd just been through the meat grinder together. Although she'd only been working at Princeton Plainsboro for about a year till now, she had quickly picked up on the odd sort of friendship House shared with the amiable oncology head. The two worked together, ate together, even lived together for a time, or so she heard (Chase seemed to find that last one especially amusing). Given everything Cameron knew about her boss, and the fact that Dr. Wilson had managed to stay around him for almost ten times the length of her fellowship, House must've really pushed things over the deep end to bring their relationship to this level.

Not that she, of all people, should be surprised.

Shrugging inwardly, Cameron gathered her papers and filed out with the rest of her colleagues, leaving the room empty but for the two men.

Wilson stood up in silence. "Well, since I'm no longer needed here..." He trailed off, turning slowly to follow the others out the door.

"Going home?" House's voice held a tone of idle curiosity, which only a person experienced in parsing such things could tell was actually a mask for keen intrigue.

Wilson paused at the entrance, one hand above the knob. Deliberately, he ignored the question. "Page me when you're done. Your place is on the way to the hotel."

The door swung shut, cold as ice.


Chase made his way down to the patient rooms briskly, hands shoved in pockets as he mused idly on the case. It seemed pretty open-and-shut so far, despite the respiratory incident, and House had probably already figured out the case several steps in front of them. His boss did that often, withholding information from his staff that he might have deduced privately during the differential diagnosis. Supposedly, it was to train them in their diagnostics fellowship. Chase thought it more likely that House did it just to seem superior.

Turning a corner, he arrived at the patient room and opened the door. Immediately, a dark-haired man whirled to address him.

"Are you Dr. House?" he demanded.

Chase closed the door slowly behind him. "No, I'm Dr. Chase."

"Well, where is he then?" the other man asked angrily.

Ah, and here came the fun part. Making excuses up for his boss. By the looks of things, Chase doubted anything short of imminent death would pacify this parent, but he gave it a try anyway. "Dr. House is...very busy. He's got a lot of difficult cases to deal with at the moment." Difficult cases involving missed soap operas and skipped clinic duty, if the last year had been any indication.

The father certainly wasn't buying it. "He hasn't been in to see my son once since they admitted him yesterday," he said as he paced around agitatedly. "What the hell am I paying this hospital for?"

"Mark, please." The lady by the bedside finally spoke up. She looked too different to be a relative, fur coat and expensive diamond earrings belying her high social status, which clearly rested in some sort of old money inheritance. Oil, most likely. "Can you tell us what's wrong with him, doctor?"

"Right now, the most likely candidate is bacterial pneumonia."

"What do you mean, most likely?" Angry parent was quick to catch onto rhetorical details. Chase guessed he must be a lawyer.

"There are some symptoms that may point to another disease, but we can't know for sure at this point. The best thing to do is to allow us to run our tests and narrow down the options as quickly as possible." And if that weren't clear enough... "The faster we figure out what's wrong, the faster your son gets better."

The other man stood in silence for a few moments, then finally turned and muttered angrily beneath his breath, "This is all because of your...Devil-worshipping DND games."

"Dad - "

Chase cut the argument off before it could heat up again. "We're going to need to do a CT scan," he said pointedly to the father. "The room is downstairs."

He made greater haste than usual getting the patient into a wheelchair and out the door.

Several feet safely down the hall, Michael turned and regarded him with an apologetic smile. "Sorry about my dad. He's been this way ever since mom died."

"Don't worry. I never got along with my father when I was your age either."

"Do you get along with him now?"

Chase paused, his mind flashing back to the tight, awkward good-bye that would be the last time he'd ever see his father alive again. Two months later, a phone call from home would nearly cost him his job, kill an innocent woman, and reveal exactly what level of lies the old man had been holding over his head all this time. Even in death, his father still managed to screw up his life.

"...We don't fight anymore," Chase answered shortly. Which was true, though perhaps not entirely complete.

They rode the elevator down in silence.

"So who was that lady in the room with you?" he asked after several seconds of uninterrupted walking.

"Oh, you mean Ms. Laudenbaum?" The kid perked up a bit. "She lives in our neighborhood. She's got a lot of money from an inheritance of hers, and spends most of it on plants for her home. I take care of her garden," he added offhandedly.

"You two seem close," Chase observed.

"Yeah, well..." Michael shrugged. "I started working for her freshman year. She owns a big mansion up in the hills, and sometimes, she lets me and the guys play DND there in the back. Her basement has awesome acoustics." For a moment, his eyes gleamed with all the joy of childish glee. Then, they softened and fell slowly to the ground. "I guess...since my mom died, it's been like a second home."

The CT room was empty when they arrived, having been booked for afternoon testing by the diagnostics staff (though not without a little strong-arming thanks to House's reputation among the nurses - but then, that was what Dr. Wilson was for). Stopping in front of the scanner, Chase began to make preparations for the exam as he explained the procedure.

"We're going to take a picture of your chest with this machine, so we can get a better look at your lungs."

"Like an X-ray?"

"Yeah, but much, much clearer." He indicated the table beside the hollow, cylindrical machine. "I need you to lie down and hold still for me, alright? This should only take a few minutes."

After making sure that Michael was properly aligned, Chase retreated to the control room where he began running the procedure. It was standard fare in the line of tests, stuff he'd been doing for years before this. Back when he was the only fellow working under House (his predecessor having quickly cracked beneath the man's virulent sarcasm - the Irish were, if possible, an even easier target for unceasing mockery), all the history-taking, treatment-noting, and general errand-boy-running fell to him. Which...wasn't so bad, considering they took about a case a week.

He'd seen how intensivists got treated at regular fellowships.


"...We are not the same people that we were a year ago," the blonde announced significantly, as though she had just spoken the true meaning of life. "We've been fighting to hang on to something..."

"Yeah, we have."


"Maybe we shouldn't anym - "

"The tests came in." Chase's words abruptly interrupted soap reality. House tried vainly to ignore his subordinate's voice.

"CF was negative for histoplasmosis, and his blood sodium levels are normal. We didn't see any evidence of-"

"Shh." House waved a hand in that universal shut-up-now gesture.

Chase stopped mid-sentence, shocked, if not a little irritated, at being shushed by his employer. House gave him a meaningful glance. "Commercial's on in five minutes."

Foreman sighed and exchanged an exasperated look with his other two colleagues. This was just like House, always setting his priorities straight. Soap opera romances came before dying children. While they all ran around and tried to keep the patient's family happy, their boss was busy catching up on his TiVo list with The Young and the Restless over lunch.

Cameron opened her mouth to interject a comment, but Foreman beat her to it.

"We didn't see any evidence of pneumonia, either," he proclaimed loudly over the television. "X-rays show no sign of consolidation."

"Did you check the CT? Because I hear the CT is really great for getting at all those blind spots." House was stalling. Three more minutes. Just three more minutes until Nick finally confessed to Sharon. He licked his yogurt spoon absently as his fingers fiddled with the volume control.

"Could you maybe turn that down?" Chase asked, annoyed.

"We checked." It was Cameron who finally stepped in front of the television and switched it off. "There were mass lesions and an absence of pleural effusions. No bronchial narrowing or artery obstruction." She placed her hands on her hips. "It's not histoplasmosis."

House raised a noncommittal eyebrow. "Any new symptoms?"

"No." Chase shook his head. "He's still got the fever, the chills, the headaches, and of course, the cough, which is getting worse."

None of this seemed to bother House, who gave the list some moments of thought, then raised his head. "...Okay. Put him on broad-spectrum antibiotics, and send a sputum culture to the lab." He snatched the remote back from Cameron, saying pointedly, "Don't interrupt my soap."

"The kid doesn't have time to wait out a culture that might not reveal anything useful," Foreman objected angrily. The way his boss acted, it was like they could play chemistry set with the kid's lungs for weeks on end. "His O2 stats are dropping, he won't last for another two da - "

"If it's an infection, the antibiotics will cure him. If it's environmental, just staying here will fix him. Anything else..." House shrugged as if all of this was obvious. "And we get a new symptom to play with."

"Now, are we done here, or do I have to get out my headphones?"


"A sputum culture?" Foreman demanded, walking briskly beside Chase as they headed toward the patient's room. Cameron had left for the cafeteria, as only one person was required to collect a sample. Foreman was following along for entirely different reasons.

"That's forty-eight hours minimum for any results to appear," he continued. "Longer if we're dealing with a fungus."

"I think House is aware of that," Chase replied, hands in his pockets as he walked. The pair split in opposite directions momentarily to steer around a nurse pushing an elderly patient in a wheelchair before meeting up again on the other side.

"The kid could be dead by then," Foreman said, gesturing emphatically with one hand.

"I think House is also aware of that." Chase sighed as he caught a look from his colleague. "Yeah, okay," he said, turning to face Foreman. "The kid could be dead. Or he could just be dying still and we'd have a culture to look at."

Foreman gave an impatient huff. "You know perfectly well House isn't going to sit around waiting for bacteria to spring up. That is, if any even does. With the antibiotics we've been giving him, there's a good chance we'll get nothing."

Chase turned a left corner, shaking his head. "We're not doing a brain biopsy. We're getting the patient to cough a few times and then sending the samples up to the lab. It'll take five minutes. What's it matter if it's potentially useless?" He glanced at Foreman. "You're just arguing against House on principle. Weakly, at that."

Foreman rolled his eyes. "I'm just saying -"

Chase paused outside the patient room. "I know what you're saying. So go tell House, then." He thrust his arm in the general direction of their boss's office. "Or Dr. Cuddy. Pretty effective the last time you did that," he added dryly.

Foreman raised an eyebrow, not at all insulted. "Hey, my tattling only temporarily cost him the case, and I did it to save a patient. Yours, on the other hand, nearly cost him his job permanently, and Cameron's. And Dr. Wilson's."

Chase's expression darkened. He shifted his gaze, both irritated and uncomfortable about having the Vogler incident brought up. He was extremely lucky House hadn't fired him, really. One upside to working for a complete cynic was that House was never surprised at how far people would go to save themselves, and he never took it personally. A good thing too, since in the end, Chase had to admit he'd do the same if it happened all over again. Self-preservation was what got him through the years his father abandoned their family. Leave the sacrifice to Cameron.

Chase put his hand on the door handle, looking straight at Foreman in slight exasperation. "I'm collecting the sample." He slid open the entrance and stepped inside.

Foreman hesitated for a few moments before deciding he was probably better off joining Chase with the patient than catching up with Cameron in the lunch line. He followed resignedly and shut the door behind him. Chase was already holding out a standard four-ounce container in front of the patient.

"Aim and cough," he said. "Deep as you can. We're going to see what grows on the fluid you give us. Should tell us what's wrong with you."

Michael took the plastic container, appearing mildly interested even in his weakened state. "Like...mold? My eighth-grade biology teacher made us stick slices of bread in Ziploc bags. My dad thought it was a waste of food."

Chase smiled a little. "Well, fortunately, we're not using food this time."

Michael hesitated, unsure of exactly how he was supposed to cough in such a situation. After a few moments, he hacked.

Chase took the sample and peered into it. Too much spittle. "No good." He grabbed another container. "Could you try again?"

Foreman leaned against the glass door with his arms crossed, watching the patient cough deeply for roughly another three minutes before Chase was finally satisfied. The Australian doctor set the sample aside.

"Good. We'll get back to you when it's ready."

"Okay." Michael cleared his throat, moving slowly to adjust the pillows beneath his head. "You know, hospital beds suck as much as the food. My neck hurts from laying here."

Chase paused. "It's probably just from the sampling we did, all that coughing must've jolted a few muscles."

"Oh." Michael squinted and turned to face the two doctors, not moving his head, but his entire body. "Wait, where's my dad? Wasn't he here just a few minutes ago?"

Chase exchanged a slightly baffled look with Foreman. "No, your father left about an hour ago..."

"But he said he'd leave at ten-thirty."

Chase glanced at his watch. "Michael, it's eleven-thirty right now." He shot a look at Foreman. This was appearing to be a neurological problem, after all.

Foreman only looked back. "New symptom. Guess House was right."


A pretty brunette was showering behind foggy glass on screen, but no sound came from the television. House had flicked it on mute about ten minutes ago, opting to think in silence while he paced back and forth inside his office. A white yo-yo with a simple black swirl design on the side bounced up and down rhythmically.

Tests were still running in the lab. No new symptom from the kid. The flu...but not the flu. Or a really, really nasty version of the flu. A super bug.

He tilted his head, contemplating that option, but discarded it quickly. This was an isolated case. He would've heard about something already if it were an epidemic that something such as a super bug would no doubt lead to. And so far, the news had only mentioned a really bad flu season. No deaths from the flu. Nothing from other hospitals, either, aside from your usual immunocompromised patients and the elderly. No, this was something else...

House slowed his yo-yoing as he caught sight of Wilson glancing briefly in the direction of his open office door. The oncologist hadn't really seemed like he was about to step in (Wilson always did have a thing with avoiding confrontation), but there was a definite look in that direction.

"Stopping by?" House called, eyes not moving from the spinning yo-yo.

Wilson, knowing he was caught now, made as though he were heading for House's office all along. There was a moment's hesitation as he struggled to find something to say.

"I was attracted to your yo-yo prowess," he said finally, deciding to fall back into the old bantering routine of theirs. The words came out with a stiffer undertone than intended, something that House didn't miss, but chose to ignore for the moment.

"It's a gift. I can spank the baby like no man can." House demonstrated said spanking. The yo-yo snapped up directly into his palm.

Wilson edged slightly to the side in case House didn't quite live up to his reputation. "I'd clap, but my hands are full." He waved his coffee mug as proof before stepping up to the desk, and cleared his throat. "How is your...patient?" When in doubt, steer the conversation towards business.

"Stable." House sat down in his chair and dropped the yo-yo onto his desk with a clatter, expression darkening. "They took him off the ventilator." He stared off thoughtfully into space. His index finger remained on the yo-yo's side, twirling it on the desk. "What type of cancer...would induce ARDS, but cause painful lymph nodes?"

Wilson set his coffee mug down. "None," he replied flatly. "Unless you're in the late stages, which your patient clearly isn't." Although...there was the one case where a woman was misdiagnosed... "Or," he went on, "unless the lymph nodes are painful due to non-cancerous factor."

House nodded his head, considering. "Like the flu, which, given the size of the waiting room lobby, our patient most likely has."

Wilson nodded as well, almost curtly. "Right." Silence descended once more. House kept on spinning his yo-yo, the plastic making a constant scratching sound against the wooden surface that eventually faded into white noise. Wilson studied the cream swirl in his half-empty coffee mug. Matisse, it was. Very vogue. The outer edge looked almost like a spiraling vortex.

After another few awkward moments, he picked the cup up in his hand and turned to leave.

"...You're mad at me," House stated suddenly, his tone matter-of-fact.

Wilson paused in his tracks, and turned around slowly. He wasn't sure if he was mad or if it had already faded into the aftershock awkwardness that always followed these ugly affairs. Certainly, he'd gotten into enough yelling matches with Julie to know all the steps that came after an initial explosion. Making up was almost an ancient ritual between him and House.

"You could say that," Wilson replied finally, taking a tentative step away from the door. Not that he wasn't entirely without fault either. It was true that House's callousness had pissed him off, but after about twenty years

("does it occur to you that if you need that kind of a friend, you may have made some deeper errors?")

he really should've known better than to expect much else.

House had taken to turning the yo-yo over in his hands, not looking at his friend. He hesitated, uncertain if now was the best time to bring up Julie again-but his need to pry got the better of him.

"The call with Julie didn't go over very well," he said. One eye shifted up to regard Wilson, trying to determine if any backfire was going to occur. From the way the other only pulled out a chair and sat down wearily, House decided he was in the clear for now.

"No," Wilson admitted, recalling the short conversation. If one could call it a conversation. "Not that I'm surprised."

"She bring up the house?" The yo-yo flew into the air and then came back down neatly into House's palm.

"Actually, she did. She asked me when I would come over to pack the rest of my things, so that she can leave." It didn't escape Wilson that he was starting to pick up the same cynical undertone that was a trademark of House.

The other man raised an eyebrow. "She's moving out?"

Wilson frowned. "No. I'm moving out. She's just moving out temporarily while I'm over there gathering what's left of my possessions." He'd stuffed another two suitcases when first going to the Fischmanns' and then his current hotel, but there were still a few remnants. A tie here and there, a few medical texts.

"Heh." House chuckled wryly. "From telephone tag to apartment swapping. I can see mediation's going real well."

Wilson opened his mouth to reply, only to be cut off by the familiar beeping of a pager. He automatically set down his coffee mug and started to check his, but stopped when House stood up and made his way to the door, indicating that it was his emergency.

"What's wrong?" Wilson asked.

House paused at the doorway and turned back around, eyes squinting sarcastically. "You're not communicating enough."

Wilson blinked in confusion as House disappeared around the corner, only sitting back in his chair when he realized the other man had been referring back to the earlier mediation comment.


"He's got meningitis."

House wrinkled his eyes. "Yeah, I figured that out from the memo."

"Headache, confusion, and progressive neck stiffness," Foreman continued as if his boss hadn't said a word. "It's the classic trifecta."

"Could be a complication from the lung inflammation," Cameron suggested.

"Or it could be a sign of the underlying condition," Chase was quick to add on. "Adenoviruses have been known to cause meningitis, and it would account for the respiratory symptoms as well."

"Adenoviruses don't progress this quickly."

Chase shot Foreman an irritated glance. "You've got a better idea?"

"Pneumococcal is much more likely given his current symptoms. The pneumonia led to the respiratory problems, which then progressed to the inflammation." Foreman laid it all out in a matter-of-fact tone, like it was a one-way road map.

"CT already ruled out pneumonia." Cameron shook her head. The symptoms weren't matching up, and her two colleagues still hadn't considered one other option. "This could all be...a totally separate illness, something he developed while he was here. Meningoencephalitis," she threw out.

"You think he has two rare conditions at the same time?" Foreman asked skeptically.

"Only one way to find out." Ever the peacemaker, House broke in before the argument could get any more heated. "Put him on ceftriaxome and vancomycin in case it's bacterial." He gave Foreman a pointed look. "It's lumbar puncture time."

"Where are you going?" Cameron asked quizzically after her boss's retreating back. House was definitely not heading toward the direction of his office, or his lounge, or the empty exam room where he occasionally caught a snooze when Dr. Cuddy wasn't watching. In fact, he almost looked like he was actually going to speak voluntarily with another human being.

"To find out if our patient has been anywhere he shouldn't." House turned, and called toward three teenage boys sitting outside in the waiting area, "Hey! Which one of you's been sleeping with your boyfriend?"

They stared back at him blankly.

"Obviously not STD's," House whispered confidentially to his staff.

The three just shook their heads and left.

"So..." Limping forward, House waved his cane at the three cloak-clad figures on the sofa. "No cure spell for blackouts? I thought they had a cleric in these games."

"Paul refused to play one," a serious-looking boy sporting blond hair and a smattering of freckles responded testily, as he pushed his coke bottle glasses up his nose.

"Right, because you couldn't decide whether to give a +2 or a +3 bonus in third edition." The other boy, whom House assumed was Paul, turned and fixed the diagnostician with a grave gaze. "Look, doctor..." He searched the man's jacket for a nametag, but found none.

"Foreman," House supplied helpfully.

"Doctor Foreman." Paul tried for a smile. "We already told the nurses what happened before. Mike was the first person to take a drink from the chalice, and after about five minutes, said he was feeling dizzy and collapsed. He asked for water right before he passed out."

"The dizziness started before he drank the concoction." Quiet till now, the boy with the mop of shaggy hair (it looked somewhat like Chase's after that unfortunate encounter with the switched shampoo bottle - totally not House's fault, of course) finally opened his mouth to back up his comrades.

House waited several minutes for him to elaborate, but was only met with awkward silence. "What was.../in/ the concoction?" he prodded impatiently. The three boys hesitated and glanced at each other. "Or is that a trade secret among you grim reapers?"

At last, Ben spoke. "Just some water, cinnamon, grape juice, and - "

"What? That's not kosher!" John cut in shrilly, as if he'd just been informed he'd eaten his baby's placenta and joined the Church of Scientology. The irony that he had been leading a chant for the Devil only an hour ago completely flew over his head.

"Somehow...I doubt the blood of a thousand virgins is either," House remarked sarcastically, earning a blank look from the other boy. He asked again, sharply, "What else was in the chalice?"

"A few herbs from this Korean drugstore we go to." Ben stopped, then added on quickly, "But the guy said it was totally safe, and we've been buying from him for months."

Ah, and therein lay their mistake. Trusting the guy who chopped up ginseng at the corner market in matters of public health. House was pretty sure there hadn't been a sane Korean since Kim Jong-Il took power. "Yeah. Next time, you might want to get a warranty." He shoved a pen in Ben's direction. "Give me the address."

"Does that mean we're sick too?" John piped up worriedly. "I mean, Mike's one of us and all, but he doesn't do the DND thing as much as we do. He's always hanging around Laudenbaum's place."

House paused, intrigued. "Gardening?"

Freckle face rolled his eyes. "Hardly. She has him working on all kinds of stuff in the house now. Took him out on a trip somewhere for two weeks over the summer, and neither of them ever talked about it afterward." He leaned over to whisper confidentially, "They were probably buying drugs."

House nodded slowly, in that way most people reserved for the very old or very stupid, but then stopped as his gaze wandered over to the patient windows. A glimmer of an idea tugged at the back of his mind.

"Or...doing something else illicit."


Wilson hurried along quickly, head down, arms stiff, eyes focused on the hard paneled wood beneath his shoes. The normally neat bangs brushed ragged across his face, falling lower and lower from their initial position atop his forehead until they nearly swept all the way down his nose. One strand in particular bobbed irritably over his eye.

Shaking his hair aside, Wilson turned a corner and spotted the last person he wanted to see at the moment standing in the middle of the hallway, spinning an old, oak cane thoughtfully in one hand. House looked like he was contemplating the meaning of life there beneath the fluorescent lights, eyes turned upward to the ceiling, which probably meant he had found another piece of his medical puzzle that wouldn't quite fit into the logical scheme of things, except for the possibility of some human error to detract from the exact science. Human in the form of a wayward patient. Suspected lies or cynicism, most likely. The stubborn jerk could never let those things go.

Having already sat through copious amounts of both in the last few hours (several phone calls from a man with a very precise, very polite, and very curt tone of voice), Wilson was in no mood to deal with yet another dance of constant aggravation. He opted for duck and run.

House, however, moved quicker. His cane shot out to hook over Wilson's arm, forcing the oncologist to stop abruptly and turn, hand thrown out to catch his balance.

"Visiting a patient?" House asked before Wilson could protest.

"What? No, I was just...with one." Only when he finished did Wilson realize his slipup. Crap.

House gave him a knowing, you-can't-fool-me smile. "You're walking toward your office."

"I'm...putting this away." Wilson waved the blue folder in his hand to indicate exactly what it was he was putting away, as well as buy himself more time to make up an excuse. "I thought I needed something out of it, but I decided that maybe...working out a combination of meds for another patient would be better. Sara's actually doing alright at the moment."

"Hmm. Well." House pretended to reflect on this seriously. "Considering Sara/lee's/ in stage three liver cancer, that combination must be quite an accomplishment." He ignored Wilson's surprise, nodding at the file in the other's hand instead. "You only use the blue folder for terminal cases."

Wilson reluctantly glanced down at the folder he was holding.

"Hard to keep the colors straight, I know," House continued. "Blue is green, green is blue, red is magenta salmon pink..."

"I've got a lot of bad cases right now, that's all. Unlike you, I do get a lot more than one patient per week." Wilson gave his friend a pointed look and irritably shook his arm free of the cane.

"Somebody's moody." House sounded interested.

"I'm not moody, I'm just-"

"Distracted. With your heavy caseload." House nodded. "Got the memo." He tilted his head, gazing at Wilson out of the corner of his eye, like a child sneaking a shameful peek at the parents after committing some sort of household crime. Except House's expression was anything but guilty. "Can I ask you something before you flee?"

Wilson sighed, resigned. "Fine. What is it?"

House squinted thoughtfully into the patient room, both hands wrapped around the head of his cane. Laudenbaum had one hand over the kid's. "What kind of employer...sits by the side of her garden boy in the hospital?"

Typical. House digging into personal territory, destroying lives left and right while saving just as many. And all out of not malice, but simple curiosity, no less.

Wilson turned to observe the two behind the glass. "One who obviously cares about the well-being of her employees," he said, almost dismissively. Not that he quite believed that himself. Even the best employer, if remaining on a completely professional level, would only send flowers and visit once or twice at most. Maybe just a phone call.

"She is a widow," he added, his own curiosity beginning to peak now. Normally, he would scold himself for being so interested in another's personal business, but at the moment, he welcomed the distraction. "Maybe she's lonely."

"If you're lonely when you're that rich, you attend bridge clubs and cocktail parties, you don't hold hands with your lawn boy." House's eyes didn't move from the pair. "No, they're a lot closer than that..."

"Maybe they are." No, not maybe. They just were, anyone could see that. An heiress was closer with her gardener than Wilson was with his own wife. He wasn't sure if that was ironic or just pathetic. "Maybe she lost a grandchild, too. A son."

" She doesn't have any kids."

"You talked to her?" Wilson looked mildly surprised. House never talked to any patient, let alone patient relative, voluntarily unless they were either one, attractive; two, a source of amusement; or three, hiding some deep, dark, juicy secret. Since this lady was neither of the first two..

He glanced at House with slight interest. "So what else did you manage to find out?"

There was a dramatic pause before House leaned in close and whispered conspiratorially, "Her Zodiac sign is Cancer."

Wilson rolled his eyes. "Very medically relevant, I'm sure."

"Of course. Also." House took a deep breath, then began rattling off information like they were stats. "She's a widow, almost divorced. Inherited a massive oil fortune following the death of her husband, and spends the majority of it tending to her expensive gardens, which she stocks from such exotic locales as New Jersey and the base of southeast Asia. Also enjoys sewing, cooking, reading, traveling...Oh, and sleeping with our patient," he tacked on at the end, almost as an afterthought.

"Really." Wilson shook his head, unsurprised at the conclusion. Not because he believed they were sleeping together-although even he couldn't deny the possibility-but because this was, well, House. "And how do you figure that? Because she cares for him?"

"Nope. Because she's wearing his ring." Blue eyes flicked in the direction of Wilson's finger, which was most certainly free of any adornment, gold band or otherwise.

Wilson shifted, but ignored the look. He switched the folder to his right hand and put his left inside the pocket of his lab coat. Three marriages. Three rings. The first one he wore all the way even past the final divorce. The following two were worn only on the day of the wedding. Maybe he was automatically damning himself by doing that, but it was easier. It was too hard to have to take it off after, far too difficult to wear the supposed symbol of fidelity when it was so obviously mocking him, so clearly untrue.

"And I assume you're thinking that her sleeping with him has everything to do with why he's sick?" he asked, pushing his bangs back into place again.

House shrugged. "Could be. She flies him out for a trip, they get wild, next thing you know, junior's wading through a cesspool of Dengue fever." He put on a mock quizzical expression. "Think that's how her husband died?"

Another slightly exasperated roll of the eyes from Wilson. "Doubt it. If you actually looked at the patient history for once, he died of cardiac complications."

House held both hands close to his chest overdramatically. "'Twas the result of a broken heart."

"It could very well have been," Wilson said seriously. "Psychological pain can certainly manifest as the physical."

"Does my cane hitting your leg ring any bells?"

"Yes, well, in certain people, the physical aspect isn't always inflicted upon just themselves, apparently." He gave House a meaningful look.

House snorted. "By that logic, Cuddy should be mowing down terrorists by the plane-full."

The remark managed to evoke a small smile from Wilson. "Cuddy can lead a team of med students currently cramming for their midterms in the fight against terror."

"I'll phone Homeland Security immediately."

Silence followed, but not as awkward as any of the previous ones. Wilson briefly considered going back to his office, but well, he'd lied. His caseload was actually a bit lighter than usual, and returning to the comfortable nest of papers and documents meant moping alone for the rest of the day, as he waited for the final call from his lawyer. Of course, staying with House meant he ran the risk of being psychoanalyzed piece by piece, so...

"You know," House began finally, "psychological pain has also been known to manifest itself in sudden loss of memory."

Knew it. Wilson glanced down at his folder again. Maybe he should've left while he had the chance earlier.

"I told you that I've got a lot of patients on my hands right now."

"Most of which can be easily handled by your subordinates." House stepped closer, stopping just short of that boundary of personal space. "You only see cases that are sketchy to treat, or difficult to diagnose, or in which the patient has less than one month to live. Thus begging the question-why is Saralee being treated for cancer in the ophthalmology lounge?"

Wilson shot House a glare, but eventually relinquished. "Alright," he admitted reluctantly. "So maybe I've got something else on my mind. Would it kill you not to poke and prod just for once?"

"I can push and shove."

"Would it kill you not to do that, either?" Wilson threw up his hands. "Or anything else that results in you refusing let go of whatever you've grabbed onto..."

House peered at him keenly. "And allowing it to boil under the surface for several months on end?"

Wilson scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Well...maybe. I don't-" He exhaled loudly. "It's like a splinter. That you know you should dig out, but you don't in hopes that it'll...disappear. On its own. Even though," he added quietly, "you know it won't from your experience with past splinters."

Oh God, was he building an extended metaphor around splinters? Probably why he was an oncologist and not a poet.

House looked down at his shoes, his voice taking on the methodical tone that he used to lecture patients about their condition. "But once in awhile, splinter infections can get real nasty, and before you know it, you're in the ER with cephalic tetanus from a wound that should've been cleaned out weeks ago." There was a thoughtful pause. "The U.S. divorce rate is forty-nine percent, tetanus's mortality is forty-five. Our society is better at keeping people from dying-" He raised an eyebrow at Wilson. "-than leaving one another."

Wilson gave a short laugh. "Ironic, isn't it? So much for 'til death do us part."

"...The Latin is less dramatic." House glanced up as he spotted three figures approaching him out of the corner of his eye.

Wilson followed his gaze, then looked back. He managed to catch House's eye for a moment before leaving, deciding that now was as good a time as any. Before House started prodding any deeper. Not that this was the worst conversation he'd ever had with his friend. If he didn't know better, he might've even said House had been less...aggressive.

"LP wasn't definitive," Foreman said, as he stopped in front of his boss. "His CSF showed signs of decreased glucose and mildly elevated protein, but the bacterial, fungal, and viral cultures all came back negative."

There was a moment of silence as the team exchanged looks with each other. Lost, apparently. Again.

House tapped his cane. It wasn't the first time there seemed to be literally no diagnosis, but every time it happened...

"It could still be food poisoning," Cameron said. "Or a food allergy."

House didn't act as though he'd heard her. "What else did the LP show?"

Chase shrugged. "Nothing. Just evidence of meningitis. Other than that..." He shrugged again.

Food allergy...and meningitis. Well, at least the meningitis could be treated. The lumbar puncture had shown no evidence of what kind of meningitis, but tests weren't always accurate anyway. For now, he'd have to rely on the symptoms. It was progressing too slowly to be bacterial, but viral didn't have any specific treatment and it was unlikely to be fungal. And since he already had the kid on the ceftriaxome and vancomycin, there was no point in doing a swap.

"Keep him on the bacterial meds," he said finally. "Cameron and Chase, go break into the rich widow's mansion. Foreman-"

Cameron frowned. "Wait," she interrupted. "Her mansion - why hers, why not the patient's home?" She couldn't believe she was debating rationalizations for committing illegal activities with her boss.

House nodded in the direction of the patient's room. "Woman's been holding the kid's hand day in and day out. Kid's friends say he hangs out with her a lot, probably more than he does in his own house. Besides, dad's not sick."

"Kid's boss isn't sick either," Chase pointed out.

"I'm not talking about a home-based environmental cause," House replied. "Friends tattled, said Mikey ran off with his mistress for a couple of weeks in the summer. I'm guessing they went somewhere exotic. Find out where." He shoved a piece of paper at the remaining team member. "As I was saying, Foreman can go dig through this Korean guy's box of herbs. Meningitis can hide in...rosemary, or whatever the kids cooked up for their demon summoning spell. I suppose we'll entertain Cameron's food poisoning theory, too."

Foreman raised his eyebrows. "Apothecary?"

House tilted his head. "What, surprised I'm not making you break in this time? Don't want the woman to come back home and find all her possessions have been pawned, that's all."

Foreman rolled his eyes.


Red ginseng. Lizard tail. Green tea. Dried seahorse. And...several horns. He couldn't read the Korean, but it looked like rhino. Maybe. Either way, he was pretty sure that was illegal. Although, the way they left it out in the open like that led him to think perhaps they weren't aware of that fact.

Foreman raised his eyes in to the flickering fluorescent bulbs above (a broken spider web was stuck in a corner) and sighed. Did House really expect him to know the possible of effects of something such as dried seahorse on a human being? If there was anyone who knew that, it would be House himself. The man tended to retain large amounts of what was seemingly useless information-until it saved a life.

Stepping through the narrow aisle lined with bulk bins of...(roots?) and golf-sized nuts of sorts-they looked a little like chestnuts-he approached the counter up front. A seventy-something Asian man was fiddling with a set of metal scales as he measured out a small pile of red powder. There was more of the copper powder on the two sheets of newspaper that were spread out on the glass counter. Entertainment section on top, featuring a black and white of a pregnant Britney Spears. A portion of the local news peeked through with the headline stating in bold black font, "Health officials warn th" before being cut off.

Foreman waited until the shopkeeper glanced up before offering a, "Hi."

And who wants to bet he doesn't know any English?

The old man smiled, appearing both confused and surprised-both no doubt due to seeing a black guy in an apothecary of all places. "Hello."

Perfect. One hurdle cleared-he did know English after all.

Foreman cleared his throat a little. "I was wondering about one of your customers. Do you...remember seeing a white kid come in here about a week ago? He bought some herbs or ginseng or something."

"Ah." The man nodded and pulled a package from the shelf. "White ginseng. Yang energy. Make you feel better."

...or maybe not.

"No, no." Foreman shook his head, waving a hand. "I'm not looking to buy anything," he explained slowly. "I just need to know if you remember a customer of yours. He's young, about seventeen. White."

"Customer?" the shopkeeper repeated blankly. "I have many customer, yes." He tapped the package importantly. "Ginseng very good cooked with chicken."

Foreman scratched the back of his head in frustration. "I am not interested in purchasing anything. Could you just please tell me if you remember-"

Another package was produced, held in the old man's hands like an offering. "Eunhang. Ginkgo. Make memory much better," he said gravely, tapping his temple.

There was a moment as Foreman simply stared at the package. All right. Perhaps simply trying again would prove effective.

"Okay," he began. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Of course!" the shopkeeper replied brightly. "Question welcome always."

Foreman leaned forward. "Do you remember a white kid coming in here about a week ago?"

The old man snorted, dropping the ginkgo down on the counter and causing the red powder to scatter a bit on the newspaper. "Kids come in here, they mess my whole store. I tell parents to give them valerian, it get them right away to sleep." He glanced at Foreman curiously. "You have problem sleeping," he stated firmly. "Here, I get for you."

"No, I-"

The shopkeeper wandered off, ridiculously swift on his feet for an old man, and disappeared, oblivious to the protests.

Foreman sighed and leaned back against the counter. He glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of zero progress.

He hoped Cameron and Chase were having better luck. Well, either that, or he hoped they were getting arrested or otherwise equally screwed over.


The mansion was large, expansive, and utterly devoid of any security beyond the usual lock and key that they, as House's staffers, had grown accustomed to navigating. There were several fenced entrances, a hurricane door securely locked by the basement, but beyond the sheer size of the residence's grounds, little else stood in the way of their illegal search.

Cameron turned for a second to admire the view.

A Dutch gabled roof spread over several wings of the mansion, done up in painted brick and stucco, to slant down over the stone patio at the structure's far end. Its arches made it almost resemble a courtyard from old Spanish times, and the lush, effulgent garden that covered the majority of the terrace certainly added to that mystique. After spending just a few minutes looking through the nursery, she could already appreciate the massive amounts of time and staff that must be required for its upkeep.

Unfortunately, neither she nor Chase found anything diagnostically relevant outside (the pesticides had been checked, the plants were perfectly harmless), or on the ground floor of the mansion. Which led them to...the bedroom.

"Did you notice the tension between House and Dr. Wilson lately?"

Chase blinked at the unusual question. "That's the first and foremost thing on your mind, House and Dr. Wilson?" He turned, eyeing his colleague.

"No." Cameron shrugged and went back to rifling through several papers in the corner. "But you can't ignore the fact that they act as if they've been feuding all day. Normally, House at least tries to be civil when Wilson's around."

"Actually, he doesn't." Pulling open a dresser drawer, Chase studied the lingerie for a second (frilled...lace?), before closing it again. "It just seems that way because Dr. Wilson doesn't blow up like everybody else."

"Snapping during the DDx? Slamming his cane into textbooks? Insulting the guy's medical abilities in front of our faces?" Cameron shut the bathroom cabinets with a bang. "That doesn't strike you as personal?" She got up and walked over to the bathtub, where several cooking magazines, along with a scented candle, stood neatly arranged beneath the narrow skylight. The tag said Made in China. "House may be a great diagnostician, but he knows when a specialty is out of his range."

Chase paused for a second, considering the thought, then shrugged dismissively. "I suppose. So what? House probably stepped over the line again, like he always does. Stole a lolly from a cancer kid." He pulled open the doors to the large walk-in closet. "If it's with Dr. Wilson, I wouldn't worry about it. House always gets forgiven eventually."

"Yeah. Like he gets away with clinic hours," Cameron responded wryly. She put away the last of the bottled items on the countertop and made her way back to the entrance, empty-handed. "There's nothing here. We should check the kitchen."

"Already looked," Chase replied, exiting the closet. "There might be something in the library though." He started to make his way down the hall.

"This place has a library?"

"Well, yeah. They all do." Her colleague blinked, as if it were obvious.

"Sorry." Cameron rolled her eyes defensively. "I didn't grow up in big, lavish mansions."

"Probably better that way. Nice not to know what you're missing." Chase glanced up at the tall, tiered ceilings with a wistful look on his face, and almost immediately, Cameron regretted her sharp words earlier. It was obvious her colleague still missed his home back in Melbourne after all these years. Ever since Chase's father had passed away, the other man spoke little of his past or even the wealthy inheritance he would no doubt be receiving at the end of his fellowship. Perhaps it was a result of realizing you were an orphan, alone in this world.

Cameron smiled apologetically over at her colleague. "An Olympic-size bathroom and lots of cleaning. I can live without that."

Chase chuckled, and smiled back at her. "Actually...if you've got money for a washroom that large, you tend to have enough for a cleaning service, as well." Stepping up, he pulled a book off the library shelf, which sent a flurry of dust flying in every direction.

"Obviously, it hasn't touched the library in several years." Cameron wrinkled her nose. She walked over to the other side of the room, where an extensive wall-to-wall bookshelf stood, and began scanning its contents. Nothing that looked foreign yet...although plenty of rare novels that must have cost a hefty sum to both locate and acquire. This shelf in particular seemed dedicated to botanical books. "Perennial Gardening: A Guide to Modern Horticulture." Cameron blinked, and put the volume back. "She really loves her plants."

"Rich people are also frequently cheap." Across the room, Chase was busily studying the spine of a completely different book. "The Poisoned Chocolates Case?" He paused in bemusement. "Guess she also loves her mysteries."

"I wonder if there's any Sherlock Holmes around here..." Cameron mused idly aloud. There were few fiction authors she liked more than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with his elegant writing and clever, intricate plotlines. If any of his work was kept here, it was bound to be a classic, something well-worn and leatherbound and hefty...kind of like...

"The Life and Death of Mozart." She blinked. Alright, so perhaps not that hefty. "This thing's well over 800 pages."

Chase peered at it from over her shoulder. "It's like medical school all over again."

Reaching the end of his bookcase search, he wandered over to the marble sculpture on the center table, where a few odd manuscripts were stacked. Looked like Laudenbaum took a stab at writing herself, though most of what lay here were sketches and notes on the proper tools for gardening. Nothing that would suggest foreign travel...unless her research brought her out of the country, but it was unlikely someone like Michael would accompany her to a place like -

His thoughts were interrupted by a rather sudden observation from Cameron.

"...These body postures can't be right! You could...break a leg or twist your spine getting into that position."

Chase glanced up, eyes widening. "What are you - ?"

Cameron flipped the cover over for him to see. "Tibetan yoga." She laughed at her colleague's shocked expression. "What, you think she'd leave the Kama Sutra lying around?"

Chase shook his head, not sure whether to be amused or relieved. "You never know what her husband might've been into." Impatiently, he tossed down the papers on the table. "There isn't anything useful here. We should look somewhere else."

"I'll take the office." Cameron started over to the corner enclave.

"I'll be in the next room." Turning, Chase wandered through a side door and into what looked to be a slightly modernized version of the old, Victorian sewing room, its walls painted an ivory white. There were several chairs arranged around a wooden coffee table, and a cabinet stood by the entrance holding many colors of thread. In the corner, a small, glass enclosure opened up into a garden. Chase looked at it, puzzled. "There's a greenhouse connected here. Odd." He started rummaging through the papers lying on the center table.

"Maybe she keeps some plants that can't stand the outdoors."

"I meant it's next to the sewing room. I've never seen it done this way before." He kept flipping, ignoring the weathered, personal letters to pick up a crisply opened envelope sitting atop the stack. Its contents spilled out into his hand.

"Ah hah!"

Cameron poked her head through the door at the sound, eyebrows raised in a silent question.

"Found something."


"Two plane tickets to Laos." Chase held the tickets up triumphantly between his fingers. "Booked about three months ago."

Slowly, House lowered the magazine in his hands (/Cosmopolitan/ - the centerfold was priceless this month) and refocused his eyes on the thin pieces of paper shoved beneath his nose. Blinked.

"They fly first class?"

The other man rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Melioidosis. It fits. Respiratory symptoms, flu-like illness, even the meningitis complication."

"Plus, it would explain why he recovered temporarily when we gave him the penicillin," Cameron added helpfully.

House considered the various symptoms for a bit, then shrugged. "Perfect. Start him on 40 mg IV ceftazidime." He got up from his position at his desk, and began limping toward the door.

"Shouldn't we get a definitive diagnosis first?" Cameron turned to eye her boss.

"Treatment's faster," House replied without looking back. "Wouldn't want our golden boy to die before those cultures grow out."

Suddenly, he paused at the exit.

"Where's Foreman?"


Foreman had just made his way through a dozen different drawers of spices, several layers of herbal leaves, a dumpster filled with ginseng root, and one nasty snarl of a traffic jam to arrive finally, thankfully, intact at the entrance of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Of course, the first thing he managed to do was nearly run over his two fellow colleagues.

"Whoa, there." Chase slowed and turned around with Cameron. "Where've you been?"

Foreman sighed irritably. "Did you miss the part where House sent me to dig around in ginseng?"

Chase sniffed at the other's coat, which now carried the sharp, pungent smell of Korean herbs, and wrinkled his nose. "He never said to bring any back."

"I thought they'd help with the healing," Foreman replied dryly. He pointedly changed the subject. "How's the patient?"

"We found two plane tickets to Laos in his employer's sewing room. House said to test for meliodosis," Cameron replied.

Foreman looked mildly interested. "A lot more than what I found."

"Which was?"

"Absolutely nothing," he said sarcastically. "Whatever they threw into their drinking potion isn't the cause of this."

"Well." Chase shrugged. "His father should be pleased."

They continued down the hallway toward the patient rooms, where the IV treatment had just been started.

"So, what crazy idea did House come up with from the tickets?" Foreman asked.

"He thinks that...Michael and Laudenbaum are closer than employee and employer, and she took him on a trip there over the summer for illicit purposes." Cameron rolled her eyes disbelievingly at another one of her boss's cynical theories.

"More than he'd ever do for us," Chase muttered ironically.

"As if, any two people who care for each other must be sleeping together."

"Yeah, try telling House that." Foreman chuckled. "Of course...if you spend that much money on your employee, there's got to be something going on."

"Well, does it really matter if they're having sex or not? They're both old enough to make that decision." For someone who usually took pleasure in gossiping about patients, Chase seemed unusually defensive.

"They're friends!" Cameron threw her hands up in exasperation. "She's a nice lady, he's an honest kid. Probably thinks of him as a son, or nephew, or something."

"You could be right," Foreman acceded. "Maybe we've got ourselves a rare normal patient for once." An abrupt beeping sounded almost before he could finish his sentence.

Chase glanced down at his pager. Immediately, his expression turned serious.

"Something's wrong."

Without wasting a moment, they all rushed quickly down the halls to the ICU, where Michael's room was located. The curtains had been pushed back. Inside, two figures moved around in great agitation. Upon entering, the first sound to greet them was the frantic beep of the life-monitoring equipment, plummeting rapidly.

"He just started...coughing, and then we couldn't get him to stop..." Laudenbaum looked up at them wide-eyed, fear etched across her face. At the bed, the patient's father was clinging desperately to his son, as if by sheer force of will, he could reverse the tide of the swiftly debilitating illness.

"Michael! Michael, can you speak?"

He received no response.

Chase placed his stethoscope on the boy's chest and listened for a few seconds, then looked up. "He's going into respiratory arrest. Call the code!"

Foreman went immediately for the phones.

"There's fluid in his lungs," Cameron observed, her eyebrows wrinkling at the sight of the alveoli on the CG display. That was definitely not due to melioidosis.

"No time for a thoracostomy." Her colleague glanced at the respiration monitor. "His O2 stats are dropping too fast, we've got to intubate."

Seconds later, the crash cart arrived. Chase instantly snatched up a laryngoscope from the top drawer. He inserted the blade into the mouth of the patient, who by now had fallen unconscious, then reached for the ventilation tube held out for him by the nurse. Several moments passed as he worked the device down Michael's throat.

"He's stabilizing." Foreman braced the boy's head on the bed, casting a concerned eye at the BP monitors. "Blood pressure's holding steady."

Cameron breathed a sigh of relief.

Stepping back, Chase brushed aside a stray lock of his hair and turned to face his other two colleagues. They both looked grim.

Whatever this was, it had only gotten worse with the treatment.


The blinds were shut in the conference room, closing out the night. Chase sat leaning forward, elbows planted on the table and chin resting on his interlaced fingers. "Patient's deteriorating fast," he said, stating the obvious for lack of a better introduction. "His temperature's spiked up to one-oh-two, pulse ninety-seven, BP one-twenty over seventy, RR sixteen. We had to put him back on the ventilator."

"Antibiotics clearly aren't doing anything." Cameron started to stand up to refill her coffee, but sat back down when she saw the pot was empty.

House leaned against the edge of the table, studying the whiteboard. "Or they're doing something, just not what we want them to."

"You think it's the ceftazidime?" Foreman asked skeptically from where he was perched on the chair's backrest, foot on the seat.

"No." House furrowed his eyebrows and tilted his head, as though there was a secret message behind the whiteboard that would be revealed if he stared a certain way. Like those Magic Eye things. "What do his O2 stats show?"

Chase dropped his hands onto the table, fingers still interlocked. "PaO2 less than seventy." He stifled a yawn. "It's not looking good."

"If we don't do something soon, the kid's going to end up in another respiratory arrest," Foreman said, giving his watch a brief glance as if he were expecting the patient to stop breathing any minute. "With the condition he's in, he might not make it through this time."

"Of course we have to do something, but what?" Cameron pushed her empty coffee mug aside. "None of his symptoms are matching up to anything specific. The flu, ARDS, and meningitis all rolled into one?"

Chase glanced back at Cameron. "Who says meningitis is a complication? It could be something entirely separate."

"He developed it while he was here," Foreman replied. "Besides, there's almost no way for him to have contracted it outside, either."

Cameron hesitated. "We could go back to the TB differential. Meningitis can result from TB, and now that we know he's been to Laos-"

"BCG vaccination," Foreman said. "He got it before he took his trip. They both did."

"BCG can only give between seventy and eighty percent protection," Chase pointed out.

"It's not like he was diving into the jungles with the village people." Foreman shifted slightly. "He stayed in a five star resort in a made-for-tourist area. Chances of him contracting it are extremely slim. Urine shows no abnormalities common to TB, either."

House, who by now had moved onto actually sitting on the table rather than just leaning against it, spoke up suddenly as he leaned some of his weight onto his cane. "What if the disease...came to the patient instead of the other way around?"

Foreman looked up, shook his head. "It's nothing from Korea. The shopkeepers live just upstairs. They're there twenty-four seven and both are healthy as ever. Patient says he shopped there before, too, always buys the same stuff. It's not the herbs."

House considered a moment before turning to look at Chase. "And the mansion?"

Chase shrugged. "You mean, aside from the plane tickets?"

"Dust, books, and fancy marble floors," Cameron said. "Nothing out of the ordinary."

"Well, except for the architecture," Chase added. "She's got a greenhouse connected to the sewing room."

House narrowed his eye, standing up suddenly. "Why didn't you mention this earlier?"

Chase looked surprised at the sudden focus on what was supposed to be an offhand remark. "I...didn't think it was relevant."

"Yeah, I tell you to check for evidence of exotic diseases, and you don't think a hidden garden is relevant." House was clearly irritated. "Did she keep anything unusual in it? Pesticides, fertilizer, anything with foreign labels on it."

"She might've, I didn't exactly explore the place-"

"Did you notice anything at all?"

"Plants?" Chase replied, his initial fluster morphing into irritation at being put on the spot. "It's a greenhouse. She probably had a couple bags of fertilizer, but I doubt she'd go through the trouble of importing foreign stuff. We already checked all the pesticides for toxins," he added defensively.

"I didn't ask what you checked, I asked what was in the greenhouse." House threw out an arm, clearly annoyed. "What kind of plants were they?"

"I don't know, I'm not a botanist." Chase shot a glance at Cameron, who seemed equally lost on the subject, before looking back at House. "They were /plants/," he said at last, lamely. "Green, leafy." He demonstrated the leafiness with a wave of his hand. "With lots of soil."


House turned suddenly without a word, limping quickly out of the conference room. The glass door barely had time to swing shut before Foreman, who was closest to it, yanked it open again to follow, not bothering to hold it for the others. Cameron managed to slip through the rapidly closing gap with no trouble, leaving Chase to fend for himself. He gave the door an annoyed tug, catching up to his two teammates in time to hear House's voice echo through the corridors.

"You idiot!"

Laudenbaum spun around, her fur coat draped over her left arm.

House waved his cane in her direction. "You told me he only worked on the gardens outside."

"Why...yes." The woman replied slowly, confused. "I don't keep any plots indoors."

"Yeah. Right. And that greenhouse you built in your sewing room was just there to set off the wallpaper."

"What do you mean?" Her heels clicked as she took a step back.

"The /greenhouse/." House was losing his patience. "You know, the one you kept hidden away so your garden buddies wouldn't find it? Did you keep any Brazilian plants in it?"

She shook her head emphatically. "No, never."

House stared up exasperatedly at the heavens before turning his gaze back on her. "Anything from South America, Honduras, the Great Lakes..."

"Michael doesn't work with the flowers in there. He hardly ever - " Laudenbaum abruptly stopped. "Oh, my." A slow look of understanding spread across her face, as memory dawned upon her. House waited for the inevitable light bulb. "That one time, he wanted to transplant a...a gift from an old friend of mine into the courtyard outside. Said it was better for the African orchid to spread its roots outside. I'd kept it in the greenhouse till then." She glanced up, worried. "Do you think that's what made him ill?"

And...the lady asks if fermented soil from the deepest jungles of Africa could possibly carry disease. House resisted the urge to commit violent acts with his cane.

"Your boy has blastomycosis. Usually endemic to the Mississippi and Ohio river basins, but also known to frequent certain parts of Africa." House paced around unevenly with the aid of his cane. "Now, normally, this fungus resides in the soil until a great, big wind comes sweeping through to blow the spores into the air. Which, wouldn't have been a problem...if you had planted it outside." He gestured with one hand. "Air is dry, weather cold, breeze would've diluted it into harmless bits. However." Abruptly, House stopped in front of the patient door. "In the moist, wet atmosphere of the greenhouse, the spores thrived. And when garden boy over there decided to poke his fingers in the dirt for the first time...well, we all know how much little green fungi just love human flesh."

"So all of this was caused by..." She paused, appearing incredulous at the words she was about to say next. "By some soil I bought several years ago?"

"There's a reason why customs won't allow illegal imports from third world countries." House turned back to his three staffers, who had by now caught up to his tirade. "Start him on Amphotericin B, and he should be fine by morning."


"Solved another case?"

"Yup. And avoided a day's clinic duty too."

Wilson smiled weakly, hands shoved in pockets, and went to stand beside his friend. "I get the feeling you're prouder of the latter accomplishment."

He followed House's gaze through the window of the patient ward, where Michael was sharing a private moment with his benefactress and friend. The boy had sprung right back after only a day's treatment, already demanding to be let out so he could finish his DND session despite a still-present (but receding) cough. Wilson chuckled inwardly at the scene beyond the glass. Kids would be kids. Something humorous must have been said, because the boy suddenly screwed up his face into an exaggerated parody of what could only be House's "pondering" expression (the scrunched up eyebrows always gave it away), which elicited a laugh from the other woman. As he watched, Laudenbaum leaned in to give Michael a peck on the cheek, a warm gesture that brought a smile to both their lips.

Wilson sighed and lowered his gaze. These were the happy endings. Another case solved, another disaster averted, another couple reunited from the brink of death. He imagined there must be something about that last experience that brought two people together. Crisis, mortality, or perhaps fate. He'd seen it several times before, a bright shine in the eyes of his patients as they learned their fears were unfounded or the tumor was receding or the operation had been a success...then proceeded to move on with their lives, new energy buoying a lover's devotion, while he watched vicariously from the back.

As for the rest, they passed away, inevitably, in his care.

"So...he did more than fix her garden, huh?" Wilson asked, if only to break the silence.

House responded with a predictable snipe. "If by fixing her garden, you mean - "

Wilson cleared his throat loudly. "Yes, I...get it." Pulling up a chair, he sat down and let his thoughts drift aloud, knowing full well where this would get him with House, but for once, not particularly caring. "Well. There are some people who feel that age gaps don't matter. That love is a matter of the heart, something which attracts fellow souls together - not actual physical bodies."

He waited masochistically for the first shot to be fired.

...Only to be caught off-guard by the simple question that followed next.

"Do you?"

Wilson glanced up in surprise, sure he'd heard the last words wrong. But no. There was House, looking over at him expectantly, novel curiosity etched all across his features.

"Are you asking me...personally? Or in regards to other people?" He tilted his head thoughtfully, giving both the question and his friend's purpose in asking it some serious consideration. "I think...that it isn't something I can decide on unless I get there myself. As for others, if they both believe in it enough..." Wilson shrugged. "Anything can work."

"Belief is the origin of faith," House replied derisively. "You have enough of it, you can get people to do anything for you. Lie, cheat, steal." He let his eyes drift over the scene beyond the window again. "Even risk their own lives just to continue living in that fake bubble of comfort."

"Everybody has a bubble of comfort." Wilson shook his head and looked over at his companion. "Even if it's something others would find...miserable."

There was a second when their eyes met, a brief flicker in the other's cynical gaze before House turned away and muttered lowly at the floor, "Misery is hubris." He tilted his head in the direction of the patient. "Those two, on the other hand...they've got the blind faith market all but cornered. You don't balk at a failing marriage unless you're up to your ears in sand."

"You mean, if you're up to your ears in a different pile of sand than your partner." Wilson sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "It's not living in a bubble of denial that's the problem, it's living in two separate ones."

"Maybe they should make bubbles with doors then."

Wilson snorted wryly. "Yes, well, unfortunately, the whole concept of a bubble is that it eventually pops. Rudely and abruptly."

"Slow, agonizing disintegration would be far more preferable."

It took James several seconds to register the sarcasm in that last line, whether real or imagined, and he wondered momentarily if there was some truth to the statement after all. Three marriages, twenty years of his life, and every time the final break came, it still came from her end. Oh, no doubt there was tension, that was obvious enough. The long hours, subtle signs, his...infidelity - those markers he could see from a mile away. But actual divorce? Wilson had to laugh at his own naiveté. Sudden shock wouldn't describe the half of it. If there ever was a way to ease the transition from being married to sitting in a courtroom, eyes fixed on the cheap panel wall, dusty and old, as you listened to your private life stripped bare for all the public to see, he would take it in a heartbeat. Added pain was worth the slow dissolution of denial.

After all, if anyone knew about long, drawn out psychological pain, it was Gregory House.

"...There are things, though, that can make a temporary bubble in isolation."

Wilson turned to meet his friend's gaze of heavy significance. "Are you suggesting what I think you are?"

House's lips quirked into a smile.

"Gotta finish that drinking game somehow."
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