WARNINGS: moderately graphic medical ick

NOTES: AU, spinning off just after Airborne. This is very different from anything I've ever written fic-wise. It breaks most of my cardinal rules as an artist, and honestly I'm still not comfortable with that. I have in the past refrained from writing pure hurt/comfort fic, especially of a medical variety, because I feel like real medical conditions are often made a mockery of in an attempt to be dramatic. My goal here is to tell a correct story, and one which is filled with the utmost respect. I'll answer anything you ask me, and if there is interest will be posting additional information on my LJ, which is linked in my profile. Please feel free to friend me.

DISCLAIMER: House and its accessories are not mine. It is the property of David Shore et al. There are no sites to credit for research here; I can't say when or where I first learned these facts, only that I now know them like my address or phone number.

Chapter One: Acidity and Basicity

It begins innocently enough with an itch at the back of his throat, an ache in his limbs as he swings his legs over the side of the bed. His head pounds as he forces himself upright, but he chalks it up to too much pity drinking, and denied bitterness over the events of the past twenty four hours. His body has the nasty habit of reminding him just how many emotions he's deigned not to let himself feel by developing aches and pains.

It's raining outside, a spring morning thunderstorm, and for a moment he considers simply going back to bed, for once failing to be reliable in ways which no one will ever notice. But that seems unnecessary and immature to the rational part of his brain, giving in and actually becoming the person everyone else seems to see. He thinks about Cameron and the parking lot, and decides the last thing he wants now is to prove her right.

"Are you okay?" she asks, when he gets to work, and he wonders selfishly whether she's feeling guilty.

Chase gives her a look: I know you don't actually care. "I'm fine," he mutters.

And that's all it takes for House to know. "Did she get bored, or did you screw up and profess your love for her?"

For once House has it right, and that hurts worst of all. By noon the itch has turned into a full-fledged sore throat, and there's so much mucous in his head he can barely catch his breath long enough to participate in the differential.

Two weeks pass and he doesn't get better. It's like there's a creature at his core, stealing his energy and sapping his strength. Chase scalds his tongue on a cup of coffee he's tried to gulp down too fast and tries not to talk for the rest of the morning.

"Impatience got your tongue?" asks House, and everyone laughs. Chase looks at Cameron out of the corner of his eye and is almost disappointed not to see sympathy there.

He finds himself at the vending machine every break, buying candy bar after candy bar, but nothing ever gets better. Cameron's always talked about the magic of chocolate when things get bad; he wonders whether there's something wrong with him, or if she's just mistaken.

As always, no one says anything despite the fact that he's obviously sick. It's a relief coupled with bitterness as life goes on. The world moves around him while he stands stuck in a drug-induced haze, pining for clarity and wondering how House manages to function at all. Either they actually don't care, or he's finally managed to make his needs so invisible that no one can see at all.

By Monday of the third week, he doesn't bother to get out of bed. He spends the day staring at the phone, waiting for it to ring because he hasn't called in. Resentment is like poison building up in his veins, the feeling of being abandoned even though he's never really expected anyone to come through for him. Even Cameron, with her penchant for sick men, has not once asked what's wrong since that first day.

Chase catches sight of his own reflection in the dusty television screen (nobody's been here, no point in cleaning), and is suddenly terrified by his own appearance. He has the look of a wasting coma patient, dulled and withering, kept alive by something other than true will. He wonders for a moment whether he actually might be dying—garden variety flu doesn't last this long; he's never been particularly prone to illness. The suspicion's been there in his mind all along, but admitting fear is admitting need, and they haven't called. He pulls a carton of iced tea from the refrigerator with enough force that the shelf falls to the floor with a crash, and resolves once again not to say anything.

By the time it's gotten dark, his head is throbbing, and there aren't enough blankets in his apartment to warm him from the chills of fever. The phone seems to glare at him from the bedside table, mocking. It's ridiculous to expect anything of them, he knows; they're co-workers after all, not family. He thinks maybe he's angriest at them for that.

The sun wakes him just enough to stagger to the bathroom and back to bed. He's run out of fresh food, and canned food, and practically everything except water, but the fever is worse than ever and he doesn't think he can stand up long enough to go out for anything. Chase curls into a ball under the blankets, alternately nauseous and crushingly hungry. It takes him a long time to fall asleep, mind and heart racing, trapped in a body too weak to move.

When he wakes up again, something is dreadfully wrong. It's a nonspecific ache, pervading parts of his body that haven't ever seemed to have sensation before. It's as though his entire body has been consumed in nausea, from the hair on his scalp to his toenails. His blood seems to have been replaced with the leaden ice of anxiety, pulsing through his body in rhythm with the too-loud heartbeat that seems to be pounding in his ears.

For a long moment, Chase lies unable to move, certain that he's going to end up drowning in his own vomit for lack of the strength to even sit up. He takes a few experimental breaths, stomach roiling dangerously, bile like acid at the back of his throat, and finds suddenly that there seems to be a lack of air in the room. It's a battle between swallowing vomit and trying to force air into his lungs, suddenly desperate for oxygen. At last he lurches out of bed and onto his feet, buoyed by a fresh wave of panic and a heavy hand on his closet door.

The world seems terribly far away, like he's fallen into a splinter dimension where air is different, because it's suddenly gotten unbearably hard to move. The space between the doorway and the toilet seems to have stretched out, and he sinks clumsily to his knees, digging fisted fingers into the shag rug in front of the shower as a fresh wave of dizziness passes, the room spinning precariously around him. He has the sense of clawing his way along, inch by agonizing inch. Every impulse in his body screaming with discomfort. He can hear his own breaths echoing off the side of the tub, shallow and too fast, the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach worsening with each one.

The tiles on the bathroom wall are blurred as he finally makes it to the toilet. He's been sick before, but never like this, bile burning his throat and tongue, waves of retching so strong that spots of oxygen deprivation dance across his field of vision. For a moment the nausea subsides, and Chase blinks back tears; the wall doesn't come into focus. And then it's like Armageddon at his core, like every fiber of his being has become toxic, his body trying to expel itself in a futile attempt at nonexistent salvage.

He uses every remaining ounce of strength to lean over the toilet as his stomach heaves, more fluid than he's thought possible expelled into the bowl, pain like his head is splitting in two, and the shocking warmth of urine running down his legs. He has the fleeting thought that someone ought to call for an ambulance, but he can't move, and there is only the cool porcelain of the toilet bowl against his cheek as he lets his eyes fall closed.

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