Chapter 1

Clinic duty was never a good time for Dr. Gregory House. Some days he at least got a laugh out of it, but most of the time, it was just frustrating. But once in while, there was something a little special.

When House entered the exam room and saw the patient, he looked around the room a few times. This child could not be here alone.

"Hi, I'm Dr. House."

"Hi." the girl said, sitting up as straight as she could and trying to look older than her years. He light brown hair was hanging straight down her back, held back by a purple headband. Her brown eyes were a little wary, but she was trying to act mature.

"So what's the matter today, other than the fact that you should be here with an adult?"

"I don't need an adult. I'm eighteen."

"Oh, right. Actually, so am I."

She giggled.

"Well, that's about as funny as you being eighteen. How about you subtract about ten years?"

"Only seven!" she cried, then looked crestfallen as she realized that she'd given away her age.

He smiled. "That's better. So you're eleven. Where's your mom or dad?"

"Dead."

The one word answer startled him and at first he doubted her word, but the look in her eyes belied the truth of it.

"Okay. So you must have a guardian, someone who takes care of you?"

She looked down, then sighed. "My aunt."

"And where's auntie?"

"She'll be right back." the child said quickly. "She, um, had to go to the bathroom."

"Taking a long time there."

"She's not feeling good. She said you should take care of me since she might be awhile."

"Did she also tell you to lie about your age?"

"I didn't want to embarrass my aunt by telling you she was stuck in the bathroom. I just need you to look at my arm."

"What's your name?"

"I wrote it down."

"Yeah, but something tells me you didn't write down the right one. So why don't you tell me your real name?"

She sighed again. "It's Tiffany."

"Seriously?"

She nodded and he wondered about people who named their kids after expensive jewelry stores. But since these particular people were dead, he supposed they'd been punished enough for it.

"Okay, Tiffany, I need your last name, your address and your phone number."

"No. You're going to call my aunt, aren't you?"

"What's wrong with that?"

"'Cause I was playing football and now I've messed up my arm and I won't be able to dance."

House looked confused. "So are you worried because you won't be able to dance or because your aunt doesn't want you to play football or because you think you dance with your arm? Which might be cool, since most people dance with their feet."

"If my arm is broken, I won't be able to do the ballet. You can't do that with a cast on your arm."

"Are you upset that you won't be able to do it or that your aunt will be upset?"

She was silent. House assumed it was the latter, but he waited for her to speak.

"She's a dancer. She wants me to dance. Not play sports."

He wondered why this woman wouldn't let the child play sports. He knew what it was like to have interests and have no parental support for them.

"Well, much as I'd like to help you, without an adult present, I can't treat you. I can't touch you. I can't even look at your arm."

She looked like she was going to cry. He remembered being a kid and feeling helpless.

"I can talk to you, though, and find out what happened."

She hesitated, and he said, "Come on, K Mart, talk to me."

She looked at him sharply. "Why did you call me K Mart?"

"Well, if you're going to be named after a store, it may as well be one that you can actually afford to shop in."

She giggled, then shrugged her shoulders. "I was playing football at school with some other kids and I fell. I landed on my arm and it really, really hurts."

"When did this happen?"

"Yesterday."

He stared at her. "And you waited until now to tell someone?"

"I thought it would get better. And I didn't want my aunt to know."

"Yeah, we covered that part. You like football, K?"

"It's okay. I really like soccer and basketball. I used to play them all the time. But that was before…"

She trailed off and he understood that it was before her parents' death. He had a pretty good picture in his head right now of this aunt. Self-centered, trying to force the kid to follow her interests, completely ignoring the child's desires. He really wanted to tell this woman something.

"So, K, your phone number? The real one?" He held out the clipboard.

"Okay." She took it and the pen and scribbled down the number. He smiled at her and took the board from her.

"I'll be back when your aunt appears."

He left the room and handed the clipboard to the nurse, instructing her to call the child's aunt and to page him when she arrived.

Twenty minutes later, he was heading back to the exam room. He went in to see a tall, slim woman leaning over the child. When the girl saw him, she called out, "Hi, Dr. House."

The woman looked up and smiled at him. Chestnut brown hair tied back in a loose ponytail, green eyes flecked with gold and a killer body struck him right away.

"Hi, I'm Casey Landers, Tiffany's aunt. Thank you for contacting me."

"Right." he said, dismissing the woman, despite the body. "Alright, K Mart, let's take a look at that arm now."

Casey's smile faded. She was confused, but decided to see what was up.

House examined the arm. He felt it gingerly. Tiffany winced a bit, but didn't seem to be in great pain.

"I don't think it's broken. More likely a sprain or strain. I think it should be x-rayed just in case."

"Of course, doctor." Casey said.

"You okay with that, K?" he addressed the child.

"Will it hurt?"

"Nope."

"Okay."

"A nurse will be in to take you to X-ray. As soon as the results come back, I'll be back to let you know what's up."

Casey watched in confusion as he left the exam room. Then she shrugged and turned to her niece.

"What happened, Tif?"

"I'm sorry, Aunt Casey. I didn't mean to hurt my arm."

"Of course you didn't. But you could have told me."

"I'm sorry."

"Oh, honey, you don't need to be sorry. It's okay. I just want to make sure that you're alright."

"I guess I am. Dr. House was really nice and funny."

Casey smiled at her niece. "I'll be right back."

She left the exam room and looked quickly around. When she saw House going through patient folders on the desk, she approached him.

"Dr. House, I want to thank you for your patience with Tiffany. You were really wonderful with her."

There was a stunned silence in the clinic as the staff tried to understand the words that they had never heard in the same sentence before: House - patience - wonderful.

His blue eyes glared at her, but he just said, "Right." and turned away from her.

"Really, doctor. You don't understand how long it's been since she's connected with someone other than me. I can't tell you…"

"Well, maybe if you let her do what she wants to do, she'd have the chance to connect with other people."

"What are you talking about?"

"The kid likes sports. She doesn't want to dance in a show. Let her do what she wants to do and stop trying to impose your interests on her."

Casey was shocked. "You have no idea what went on with that child the past seven months."

"I know her parents died."

"Not just her parents. Her two brothers as well. All of them were killed by a drunk driver. She lost her entire family."

House was silent. He didn't usually feel compassion for people, but K Mart was a cool kid and that was a lousy thing to happen to her.

"So she gets stuck with you. And you decide that taking away everything she loves to do is the best way for her to get over it."

"No, I decided that since she was practically catatonic and didn't want to do anything or see anyone, that doing something was better than doing nothing."

He looked at her eyes blazing at him and got a sudden vision of her legs wrapped around his waist as he banged her senseless. He didn't know where that came from. He tried to shake the vision from his head, but it wasn't easy.

Casey was livid. How dare he? What did he know about Tiffany and what she had been through? It didn't help that she got a sudden vision of her legs wrapped around his waist as he made love to her. Where did that come from?

She tried to shake the vision as she continued. "I would love for her play soccer or anything. She's had no interest in anything. I decided to try putting on a show at her school and convinced her to be a part of it as a favor to me."

He looked down at his cane. Maybe he'd been wrong. Not that he would admit it to this woman.

"Well, she wants to play sports now. So talk to her and stop worrying about the dancing."

The nurse interrupted them. "Miss Landers? I'll be taking your niece to get the x-ray now."

Casey nodded and followed the nurse.

While Casey waited for her niece, she thought about the rude doctor. He was pretty scruffy looking, with the unshaved beard and the wrinkled clothes. But there was something about him. Maybe it was the blue eyes - man, were they ever blue! And the vision that she'd had while talking to him, even while he'd been so rude to her had thrown her. Maybe it was just sexual deprivation. It had been a while.

Still, she didn't know why he was so rude to her. Especially since he was very nice to Tiffany. She had told Casey that the doctor was really cool. Which also amazed Casey.

Once the films were back, House returned to the exam room once again.

"It's not broken. Not even sprained. Just a bad strain. We'll wrap it and it should be fine in a few days." He started placing the ace bandage around the child's arm.

Casey looked at her niece with relief, then said to House, "That's terrific. I was so afraid it was broken and she'd be out of commission for awhile."

"Yeah, I bet you were." he said sarcastically. "She won't be able to dance for a few days. No football, either K Mart, until it's healed."

"I promise, Dr. House." Tiffany said. "And I'm really sorry, Aunt Casey."

"Sweetie, I told you, it's okay."

House snorted. "Right. No chance to turn her into a carbon copy of you, huh."

"Oh, I could never be like Aunt Casey. She's a terrific dancer. And singer. She's on Broadway. Well, she was, until…" the child lowered her head, looking at the floor.

"I told you, Tif, I'm exactly where I want to be."

"You could have been in Chorus Line if it wasn't for me."

"That's enough of that." Casey turned to House. "Dr. House, is there anything I need to know to take care of her arm?"

House had watched the two as they discussed it. He wondered, then shrugged, it wasn't his problem. "The nurse will give you some instructions. Keep it real, K.

He left the room. Casey followed him.

"Dr. House?"

He turned to stare at her.

"I know that you don't seem to like me for some reason, but…"

"Forget it. I don't need to like you. The only thing I have to care about is treating the kid."

"And you did a great job with that. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate it."

"Sure." he started to turn away again, then returned his gaze to her. "Were you a success on Broadway?"

She shrugged. "I had a few pretty good roles. Mostly chorus and understudy work. But I was always working and it was …good."

"And yet you gave it up?"

"Tiffany needed me."

"Still, why give up a successful career?"

"She's family."

He snorted.

"Don't you have any family, doctor?"

"Not really."

"Oh, there has to be someone. Someone you can depend on. Someone you would risk your life for. They don't have to be related to you, they just have to live in your heart."

A picture of Wilson flashed in his mind, but he pushed it out. He didn't want to believe her words.

"It's what you do for family."

"It's what you do. Not me." he said, but he could tell she didn't believe him. And he knew he didn't believe him either.

Casey took a deep breath. "I realize you don't know much about Tiffany, but it's been really tough for her. And you are the first person she's connected with besides me since it happened."

He stared at her, trying to concentrate on her words and not the thought of what she would look like naked.

She swallowed, dismissing the thought of what his body looked like under the wrinkled clothes. "I was wondering if you would do me a favor?"

He'd be happy to 'do' her, but he didn't think that was what she was asking for. He waited for her to speak.

"Would you come for dinner? I know this is asking a lot, but she seems to really like you. And as I said, she hasn't connected with anyone."

"Why do you think she's connected with me?"

"Maybe she sees you as a father figure."

"Oh, God, if that's true, the kid is more screwed up than I thought."

"Please, Dr. House, it would mean a lot to her." she hesitated, wondering if she should say this, but she did anyway. "I'm sure your wife won't mind. In fact you could bring her."

He smiled. "Nicely done. Good way to fish for information. Don't worry, there's no wife. No fiancée or girlfriend, either. And I'm not gay."

She smiled back. "So you'll come for dinner?"

"Can you cook?"

"I can hold my own."

"Okay. When and where?"

"Tomorrow night?"

"If I don't have a dying patient, you're on."

She nodded and wrote down her address.

"See you then, Dr. House."

She smiled again and turned back to the exam room to collect her niece.

House watched her walk away, wondering what would be served for dinner. And he wasn't thinking about the food. He smiled as he limped away.