This was originally written for the Fox Forum Friday night challenge--House meets someone online. I'm tagging it as an in-progress fic, although I might not update it as quickly as I'd like. As usual, I don't own House.

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House quietly let himself in his apartment late that night, no closer to solving the mystery that had ended up costing his patient's life. As was often the case at times like this, his mind refused to shut down, continuing to go over the symptoms and treatments as he scrounged through his refrigerator in search of Chinese leftovers and beer.

He finally found a two-night old container of General Tso's chicken and tossed it into the microwave with a heavy sigh. It was nights like this when he missed staying with Wilson. Even though House was more than happy to move back to his own apartment, the amenities that he had gotten used to during his time at Wilson's were sorely lacking here. House had neither time nor energy to bother most nights, falling back into his usual take out habit almost as soon as he had returned home. On the upside, he had discovered an excellent new Indian place that delivered. Things weren't all bad.

Once his leftovers were heated through, he popped open his beer and limped into the living room. After surfing through his cable line up and finding nothing of interest, he opened his laptop and started it up. A little mindless Internet surfing along with the food and the beer might be enough to wind him down enough to get some sleep tonight. At the very least, it might help take his mind off his failed case for a while.

His first stop was a well known medical website. House stopped there occasionally to peruse the forums, mostly for his own entertainment, but he would also throw in his two cents when someone was so far off the mark that he couldn't let it go.

House logged in and clicked on a couple of the forums, but nothing held his interest. Swine flu continued to be a hot topic here, but since its bark had so far proven to be worse than its bite, House felt no need to comment further than he already had.

He continued on to the doctors'-only section of the website. Usually those discussions were slightly more interesting, and House had found himself participating in more than a few online differentials over his time here.

The opening topic immediately caught his interest, and he clicked on the link to open the discussion. "Thirty-seven year old male presents with rash on abdomen, fever, and complaints of aching joints following treatment for illicit drug overdose. Patient has tested negative for infection, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Thoughts?"

House felt his mood lift as he mind started working over the case on the screen in front of him. He read over the responses while he finished off his beer, his food forgotten. Thoughts? Oh yes, House had a few, and he clicked on the opening post to share them with whoever this 'DRinDetroit' person was.

# # #

Doctor Brandon Fisher had just settled in in front of the desktop computer with his fast food dinner when he got the first message alert. He was reading through the discussion he had posted the night before regarding the patient that had shown up in his emergency room, oddly disappointed that his fellow physicians weren't coming up with anything better than he had.

The patient had initially come in due to a drug overdose, and at first he and his team had dismissed the rash as a side effect from whatever the drugs were cut with. When the patient suddenly developed a high fever and complained of aching joints, Fisher knew he was dealing with far more that a simple drug OD. He had admitted the patient and done all the standard blood tests, and ordered IV antibiotics to deal with what he was sure would come up as an infection.

That was three days ago, and the patient was still in the ICU. According to Fisher's close friend and colleague in the ICU, he was holding steady, but not improving. Fisher had taken the strange case to the Dean of Medicine, but there was little interest in curing a guy who, by all accounts, was just another junkie from the streets.

Frustrated by the lack of response, Fisher had turned to the Internet. Somebody, he figured, was bound to take an interest in the case.

There had been plenty of interest, alright. Unfortunately, there hadn't been a lot of helpful responses. Fisher was nearly ready to tell them all "Thanks, but no thanks." He clicked on the most recent message with a resigned sigh, from someone called 'NeverLupus'.

He read the message, pausing partway through his bite of burger. A smile crept over his face as he processed the explanation. Suddenly the whole damn thing made perfect sense, and he didn't know how he had missed it before.

Fisher quickly flipped open his phone and dialed the ICU directly. "Hi, Elise. It's Fisher. Who's the attending tonight?" There was a brief pause as the head nurse answered. "Great, can you patch me through?"

He waited impatiently until the other person picked up. "Burelli? Yeah, it's Fisher. I know what's wrong with our drug OD guy."

His excitement faded as he listened to the voice on the other end. "Really. When?" He twisted his mouth in disappointment. "Yeah, you're probably right. Thanks anyway."

Shit. Fisher thought with a twinge of sadness as he snapped his phone closed and tossed it on the desk. Maybe the patient was just another junkie scraped up off the streets of Detroit, and maybe they would have cured him only to send him back out to use and abuse another day, but he was also a human being. That alone had seemed like enough reason to push the matter. Apparently others felt differently.

He clicked the reply button just below the last message, the one from 'NeverLupus' and typed out a response. "The patient in question died in the ICU about an hour ago. Thank you to all who replied." Fisher then sent a quick e-mail to the moderator asking for the discussion to be closed.

Out of curiosity, he clicked on the profile for 'NeverLupus'. There was very little personal information, which wasn't uncommon here. No IM either, but there was an e-mail address. Fisher could recall seeing this user in other discussions, and he or she had been right more often than not.

He debated clicking the e-mail link for the longest time. Normally he wouldn't personally reply to a message, but someone with such an uncanny ability to think outside the box was someone Fisher wanted to talk to. Somehow he suspected that this 'NeverLupus' person had far more going on upstairs than just medical knowledge.

# # #

"The patient in question died in the ICU about an hour ago. Thank you to all who replied." A wave of disappointment washed over House as he read the most recent message from 'DRinDetroit'. Two failures in one night was almost more than House was willing to deal with. Granted, this wasn't his patient, but it still felt personal on some level.

He picked up his now cold container of Chinese and polished it off before rising to limp into the kitchen for another beer. Before he got too far with that plan, a chime went off on his computer indicating an incoming e-mail. House couldn't imagine who the hell would be e-mailing him. Anyone who insisted on contacting him either did so directly or through his work e-mail.

House decided it could wait until he got his second beer. When he returned, he clicked on his e-mail program. He didn't recognize the incoming e-mail address at first until he looked closer. Shaking his head, House opened the message.

"Thanks for your help tonight. Guess it was just too late to help the patient.

I wouldn't mind talking to you some more off the forum. You seem like an interesting person (I've learned through this Internet thing not to assume little things like someone's gender), and I'd like to see what you think of things other than medicine.

Hope to hear from you soon."

House was baffled. Someone was actively seeking him out? It didn't make sense. Still, the notion was interesting. He clicked on the tab to return to the forum, then clicked on the profile for 'DRinDetroit'.

Gender: Male
Age: 47
Location: Detroit
Other Information: Attending Physician, Emergency Department

Below was listed two different IMs, a Facebook link, and an e-mail address. House stared thoughtfully at the man's profile, debating how to handle things. Normally he would blow off any attempt that someone made to contact him. It had happened a few times since he had signed up for this forum, but this one seemed different somehow, almost like a meeting of equals.

What the hell? House finally decided to click on one of the IM links. Nolan would be pleased to see House at least making an attempt to connect with another member of the human race. Even if the guy turned out to be an idiot, House figured he couldn't be faulted for trying.

# # #

Fisher was playing some mindless online games in a fruitless attempt to wind down. He hadn't heard from 'NeverLupus' yet, and didn't really expect to. At least he had tried, and that was all he could do.

The gentle 'ping' of an incoming IM broke his concentration, and he quickly clicked over. He didn't recognize the name at first, and he almost ignored it until he realized who it might be.

Is this NeverLupus? He typed in.

Might be. Is this DRinDetroit?

Fisher smiled to himself. Yes, it is. Good to hear from you.

There was a long pause before a response finally came. Why did you e-mail me?

Fisher winced a little at that. You just seem interesting, and I wanted to talk to you privately. That's all.

Another long pause. Your screen name's lame, and you have way too much personal info up on your profile.

He chuckled to himself. That was probably true, and other friends had told him the same thing. So I guess I don't have to tell you much about myself. You, on the other hand...I kind of like your screen name. How did you come up with that?

This time the response was immediate. Because it's...NEVER LUPUS. Even when all the signs point to lupus, it never is.

Now Fisher was really curious. Before he could type out a question, 'NeverLupus' responded again. I run a diagnostics department at a teaching hospital in New Jersey. When other doctors can't figure out what's going on, they send them to me.

No wonder you get it right on the forum so often. Fisher typed back. You almost have an unfair advantage.

I have the advantage of not being an idiot. The other person answered. It helps.

Fisher laughed out loud at the unexpected reply. I imagine it would. So...can you at least tell me if you're male or female? Wouldn't want to assume like an idiot.

This time the pause was longer. Finally there was a response. Male, 50, single, NOT LOOKING.

Fisher wasn't sure if he was disappointed or not. At least this guy was somewhere around his age. That was a rare find online. Good to know. I just wanted to talk to you, that's all. It's good to meet someone over the age of eighteen online. Doesn't seem like there's much out here for us older guys, you know?

When the next pause stretched out to the point that Fisher was pretty sure the other man had signed off, he returned to his online games. It had been so long since he had talked to someone new in a social capacity that he had probably pushed too hard. Just as well, Fisher supposed. At least he had tried.

# # #

House stared at the computer screen at the last message from 'DRinDetroit', unsure of how to respond. It didn't seem like the other man was hitting on him, but the message still seemed odd. Maybe he was just reading too much into it. Even if he was being hit on, the guy was all the way in Detroit. The chances of him stalking House all the way to Jersey seemed pretty minimal.

He realized that he had left the other man hanging without a response, and he quickly started typing again. Sorry, not so good with this instant message thing.

No problem. The other man answered. Thought maybe I tried a little too hard.

Are you hitting on me? House typed.

No, no. 'DRinDetroit' replied, a little quicker than he should have, House thought. I'm not into that. A short pause. Wait, that didn't come out right. I meant that I just want to know more about you.

Why? House was puzzled and intrigued.

Because I'm curious. :D Not like you gave a lot of info to work with.

I gave you the basics. House answered. What more could you want to know?

A name would be nice. At least a first name.

The other man made a good point. No harm in giving out a first name. Greg. And you?

Brandon. Nice to meet you, Greg.

Same here. House didn't quite know what to say next. This was proving more difficult than any first date he'd ever been on. At least then he'd been able to see the face on the other side of the table. The Internet provided no such thing. For all House knew, the guy could be some creepy troll-like creature living in his mother's basement. One never knew.

Still there? Brandon typed to him. It's okay if you don't really want to talk to me. I'm a grown up...I can handle it. :)

I'm still here. House typed back. I'm always this awkward on the first date.

LOL. I never quite know how to act either. Not just on a date, but...just meeting someone for the first tine. It's a wonder humans ever get together at all.

House couldn't help but laugh, just a little. There was something oddly comforting about the fact that Brandon wasn't exactly having an easy time either. Unless, of course, the whole damn thing was just an act designed to break down House's defenses. So...why are you up so late, anyway? Thought you had a job to go to.

I work the night shift in the ER. Brandon answered. I've always been a night owl, so it kind of works for me. What about you?

Sleep issues and chronic pain. House was startled at how quickly the words flew from his fingertips. One causes the other, I think. Hard to say.

Sorry to hear that. Brandon typed back. Can I ask about the chronic pain?

You can. House answered cagily. Doesn't mean I'll answer.

That's fair. Brandon responded. Maybe we should talk about something else.

Good plan. House stopped typing to stretch out his fingers and take a long drink of his beer.

How about music? Brandon asked. That's always a nice, safe topic.

House chuckled a little before replying. Could turn into an all night topic. I hope you didn't plan on going anywhere.

I didn't. :) Brandon answered. You?

Nope. House typed back. I've got all night.

Excellent. Brandon typed in response. House was thinking the same thing, even if he didn't want to admit it. It was good to have someone else to talk to besides Wilson. This might turn out okay after all.

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You know what happens next. Read and review.