"What's his status?"
"Why don't you go up to the ICU and see for yourself?"
With the barest glance at her House limped past Cameron and settled himself at his desk.
"His breathing has settled on one hundred percent O2 by mask and we've started him on intravenous prednisolone to reduce the inflammation in his lungs."
"And the pH of the aspirates?"
"So chemical pneumonitis is off the menu then."
"The aspirates were positive for the metabolites of benzene."
"That explains the tissue damage then."
"How can you be so dismissive!" Cameron yelled, anger suddenly overwhelming her.
"You work with Chase every day of the year, but you couldn't care less, could you?"
"Well that's not true." House said. "Chase gets vacation time, same as you do."
"What do you want me to say?" House asked fiercely, avoiding Cameron's glare. "That I'm a heartless bastard? That I don't give a damn?" He turned away from her,
"Of course I care."
Cameron did not respond, but found herself watching House intently. A sense of guilt reared in her chest and she swallowed it back, irritated with herself for being so responsive to House's mercurial moods.
"What are you doing down here, anyway?" House snapped, "Shouldn't you be holding the wombat's hand and feeding him grapes?"
Cameron glowered at House, speechless. Anger blazing once again she turned from House, not wanting to even look at him. Without another word she left the room, leaving House, his face creased in an unsettled frown, behind her.
Several hours had passed and Chase's condition had shown slow but steady improvement. House, usually the last to know about the state of the patient, had this information first-hand having spent several hours ensconced in Chase's ICU room.
Numerous nurses had passed through the room and after their initial shock at seeing him, they had ignored House, and he them.
The room was in semi-darkness, but House was illuminated in the glare of his portable television: the exploits of the characters being played out in miniature on the small screen. He did not distinguish at first the faint voice from those arguing on the television, but after a moment realised that the sound lacked the tinny quality of those emitting from the screen.
"What are you doing here?"
House continued to stare at the lavishly made-up actors and actresses as they flounced about opulently decorated sets.
"The doctors' lounge over in OBGYN kind of smells. Those babies don't care who they puke or crap on."
Chase blinked back the fug that clouded his head, unsure as to whether or not he had truly regained consciousness. House? In his room? It seemed so unlikely. And yet the nasal over-enunciations of someone called Britney flitted to his ears and he knew, having never been a fan of the soaps to which House was so devoted, that he must be awake.
"What time is it?" Chase asked the question purely out of the perceived need to speak. Truth be told he little cared what time it was, besides which he wasn't even sure how many days had passed since the hitherto unappreciated functioning of his lungs had abandoned him.
"A little after three."
"In the morning?"
"As much as I enjoy sitting on moulded plastic furniture, there are far better things I could be doing at 3 o'clock in the morning than watching tv and keeping your sorry ass company." House looked up from the screen for the first time, and their eyes met briefly. "It's three, as in pm."
Chase blinked heavily. He could scarcely believe that behind the drawn blinds a bright, sunny day continued as normal. He felt exhausted, as if he had been awoken in the midst of an impenetrable slumber. Chase licked at his dry lips. Whilst his voice had returned, it felt strange: unnatural and unwelcome against his sore throat.
"Why – " His voice caught in his throat and he coughed, the slight action eliciting sharp pain throughout his chest. Dragging in a breath, he tried again.
"Why are you here… really?"
Chase had never thought himself one for deep and meaningful conversation, but overwhelmed by fatigue he felt that, if there was ever a time to speak freely, it was now.
House did not answer at once, his attention having returned instead to the tv screen. Chase wondered if he had been heard, but did not repeat the question.
"I think it's Cameron's time of the month."
Chase stared, taken aback by the blatant inappropriateness of this statement.
"She's been stalking around like a wounded deer. She seems to think I've been neglecting you."
Chase contemplated House, startled by the suggestion – slight as it was – that House felt in some way responsible for his welfare.
"I'm ok" He said finally, falling back on the dismissive response he so often used to deflect attention from himself.
"You're not ok," House said, rather harshly.
Chase regretted questioning House about his presence. If nothing else he felt he could rely on sarcasm and cynicism, but in the face of a caring – albeit idiosyncratically so – House, he felt unsettled.
House drew a deep breath, "You will be, but you're not ok at the moment."
"The benzene…" Chase began but his voice caught once again in his rough throat. He began to cough and this time could not stop. His body quaked as shuddering gasps racked through him, and tears sprang to his eyes.
He was not aware of House's approach, but the firm hand at the nape of his neck guided him to a more upright position. Slowly, the coughing subsided.
A beaker of water was placed to his lips and Chase drank gratefully; the cool liquid soothing his burning throat for a fleeting moment.
"Thank you." Chase choked, his heart hammering against his chest from the exertion. He squeezed his eyes closed, trying to regain his composure and after a minute he found that the pain in his lungs began to ease.
Settling back against the pillows Chase once again opened his eyes. He found himself facing
House's back as, limping, he returned to his chair.
"It came from the gas station next door to Jameson's place. You were exposed twice and drank contaminated water – it was only a matter of time until you showed symptoms." House hesitated.
"I shouldn't have put you in that position."
The conversation had long since departed anything with which he had shared with House in the past, and, feeling awkward, Chase changed the subject; trying to move it to something neutral, something comfortable.
"What happened to Stan Jameson?"
"I've turned him over to Wilson." House replied at once, he too appearing grateful for the return to the normality of discussions about patients. "The brain abscess is under control so he's looking into treatment options. The anaemia is pretty advanced though, so it's unlikely he'll survive."
"That's too bad." Chase replied, his voice weaker than before. He closed his eyes again, tiredness dragging his senses away from him. His breathing, though rasping, took on a rhythmic quality. His muscled, tense in pain during wakefulness, relaxed, and Robert Chase was lost once more to sleep.
Foreman and Cameron stood outside the ICU room, gazing in at the scene which, though anomalous, seemed simultaneously right.
Chase lay sleeping, his insentient body surrounded by machines that monitored his condition. Heart rate, blood pressure, respirations – all had returned to something resembling normal, and though it would be some time before the full effects of the toxins had left him, Chase's condition was nothing if not a remarkable improvement.
Likewise in terms of remarkability was the presence of Dr. House. He sat stiffly in the infamously uncomfortable plastic chair, his cane balanced across his lap. In one hand he held a small portable television, but from their vantage point both Cameron and Foreman could see that his attention was not placed on the screen.
Cameron smiled and Foreman shook his head in disbelief.
A dedicated sentinel, House sat watch over Chase, his attention unwavering.
A/N: Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed this story – it was my foray into writing the fantastic character of House (quite possibly the best character on tv). With any luck I pulled it off – if not… well, I tried :)
Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed.
P.S – just in case anyone's interested, I've got a couple more stories up on Fanfiction :)