Disclaimers, etc., in Chapter 1
House looked up from his portable television as his three assistants walked into his office.
“Results?” he asked.
Foreman shook his head. “No results.”
“No results?” House asked, sitting up. “Did you not run the tests?”
“Oh we ran the tests. Checked the machines out, hooked ‘em up to Sandra, put her on the treadmill and started her running. Never really got her heart rate up.”
House eyed them oddly. “Why didn’t you?”
“We couldn’t,” Cameron told him.
“We were unsuccessful at increasing the patient’s heart rate significantly.” Chase was obviously frustrated. It was rare that he spoke so formally. “Look, we had her running on the treadmill on the highest setting for twenty minutes, and the girl barely broke a sweat. She was hardly exerting any effort. It was… I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Did you print up a report?” House asked, leaning back in his chair.
“Sure, for all the good it’ll do.” Foreman handed over the folder. “The girl’s a freak.”
There was a knock on the glass door behind them. The doctors turned to the side and saw a young redheaded woman standing outside House’s office.
“Another one of your little chippies?” House was looking pointedly at Chase.
“What? Me, no. She’s one of Sandra’s friends,” Chase said. “Group of them were visiting her when I went to take her in for the test.”
House waved the girl in.
“Hi,” the young woman said cheerily.
“Hello,” said House. “And who might you be?”
“My name’s Willow,” she said, stepping up through the group right in front of the desk. “You’re Doctor House, right?”
“So you can read door signs. Well done.”
Willow smiled at him. Her smile was radiant, cheerful, endearing. House wondered what she was hiding.
“So, you’re probably wondering about Sandra’s test results.”
“What test results?” House asked.
“The ones in that folder on your desk,” Willow said. “The ones that are telling you that, physically, she’s far advanced from any other person you’ve ever met or had the pleasure of poking or prodding. Also the ones that are not on your desk, that show her elevated white count, but perfect cholesterol, perfect blood sugar, blood oxygen, and a body mass index that is, by any standard, unfair. The ones that show you her broken arm healed in a week, when she should be in a cast for six more, minimum with the kind of break she had. Those test results.”
Everybody in the room stared at her, leaning away as if she had an unpleasant body odor. They were all very surprised.
“Well you’re wrong about one thing,” House said after a moment’s silence. He picked up another folder. “Those other results are on my desk.”
“That folder says Rodrigo Sanchez,” Willow said.
House glanced at the tab. “So it does. Who are you?”
“I told you, my name’s Willow.”
“Yes,” House said, “but who in the hell *are* you?”
Willow smiled at him. “My associates and I work for what you might call an interested party. Sandra is, within the next few hours, going to have her parents check her out of this hospital.”
House opened his mouth to protest, but Willow held up a finger. “Against medical advice or not,” she said. Willow reached into her pocket, pulled out a business card and handed it to him. “I’ve read your file, Dr. House. You’re very good at what you do, when you decide to be. If you ever get bored here, or if you ever want to find out for real what happened here, give us a call. We could use a good doctor.”
House took the card and glanced at it. “Cleveland School for Gifted Girls?” He looked up at her. “What possible use could you have for a doctor of my pay grade?”
Willow winked at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
* * * * *
House leaned against the pillar by the nurses’ station as he watched Sandra and her new friends pack up her things. The guy with the eye patch was helping to load her things – books, magazines, iPod – making nice with the parents, shaking hands and cracking jokes and all around being a comfort. A blonde, a brunette and that girl Willow were all sitting around Sandra’s bed, laughing, telling stories and making some odd gestures.
The interesting thing was, any time Sandra’s parents made to check on their daughter, eye patch guy drew their attention again. House wondered if he was doing that because the girls wanted time to themselves or because they were saying something that the parents didn’t need to hear. House’s eyes narrowed.
Eye patch guy handed the box off to Sandra’s father, who smiled, thanked him and shook his hand. Sandra’s mom did much the same, adding a kiss on the cheek. Eye patch guy nodded at them, turned to the group of girls for a moment then left the room. And approached House.
“Excuse me,” he said, smiling. “Can you tell me where the bathroom is?”
“Yes,” House said. “But only if you tell me…” he paused and chose his next words carefully. “Only if you tell me who you are, and why the Watchers are as young as the four of you. And why you’re operating out of Cleveland. And how exactly you lost your eye.”
Eye patch guy blinked at him and stood up straighter. He looked House over for a moment, raised his eyebrow and held up one finger. “Xander Harris,” he said. He pointed over his shoulder and held up another finger. “We’re not really Watchers. Blonde girl was the Slayer, me and the redhead got involved because we’re friends. Brunette was called when another Slayer died.”
“That’s impossible,” House interrupted.
“Not with CPR,” Xander said. “Blonde girl died, I resuscitated her, she killed the guy who killed her. Second Slayer was called, she died, brunette girl was called.”
He held up a third finger. “There’s a Hellmouth there.” He held up a fourth finger. “Evil bastard with a thumb.”
“How is Sandra a Slayer if there are already two in the room? Don’t tell me the brunette died, too.”
Xander smiled. “We changed the game,” he said. “There’s lots of them now. So answer a couple for me.”
House raised an eyebrow at him.
“If you knew she was a Slayer, why’d you run all those tests? And who the hell are you?”
“I didn’t know she was a Slayer until we ran the tests. And as for your second question…” House looked over Xander’s shoulder and made eye contact with the redhead. He looked back at Xander and winked. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” He pointed down the hallway. “Third door on the left.”
“Hey,” Xander said as House turned. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I can get a decent cup of coffee in here, would you?”
“In a hospital?” House asked, looking at Xander disbelievingly.
“Ah,” Xander said. “Right.”
House turned and stalked – as well as he could – back toward the elevators, smiling.
* * * * *
Two days later
Xander squinted at the stray ray sunlight as it streamed into the motel window through the almost-shut curtains. He looked out over the sliver of Jersey wilderness outside, trying to ignore the smokestacks and just concentrate on the beauty of nature.
“Go back to sleep,” Buffy muttered. Xander glanced over his shoulder to the other bed. Buffy’s face was still firmly planted into the pillow, her arm dangling over the side of the bed. Her eyes were shut tight.
“How did you –”
“Your breathing changes,” she said, opening her eyes and glaring at him. “Everyone’s does.” She squeezed her eyes shut again and thrust herself back into the pillow.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’ll try to –”
There was a knock at the door.
“I got it,” Xander whispered. Buffy grunted.
Xander padded over and opened the door. Coffee was immediately thrust into his hands as a petite redhead marched into the room.
“Time to get up, kiddies,” she said, much to perkily for the hour of – Xander checked the clock. Okay, so maybe she wasn’t too perky for 11 am, but dammit, he wasn’t ready for it.
Xander grunted his thanks for the coffee and sat at the small table.
“Come on, Buffy, get up,” Willow said. She moved over to the window and pulled the curtains apart, allowing the daylight to invade the pleasant darkness. She did not, however, duck the pillow that was hurled at her head. Xander couldn’t help laughing at the hollow ‘bongggg’ that rang out when Willow’s head hit the window.
“Ow,” Willow said, frowning and rubbing her forehead.
“I think somebody’s tired.” Xander commented. The caffeine was starting to kick in.
“I think somebody’s on the rag,” said Willow.
Xander blinked, set the coffee down, grabbed a change of clothes and headed into the bathroom to take a shower.
“That was mean,” Buffy mumbled. She turned over in her bed and looked at Willow, who was grinning.
Willow shrugged and sat down in Xander’s vacated chair. “It was fun, though.”
Buffy stretched her arms above her head, yawning loudly as she did so. “So why the wake up call?”
“Giles called,” she said. “We’re finally heading to Maryland.”
“Maryland?” Buffy asked.
“Yeah, you remember,” said Willow. “Robin called when we were in Colorado, then we got distracted by Riley, then here…”
“Well, anyway. We get to go recruit some Christian girl.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Haven’t most of the girls we’ve recruited been ‘some Christian girl’?”
Willow shrugged. “Giles said that specifically. I wonder if he was warning me to be tactful.”
“Xander used to go to church, didn’t he?” Buffy asked.
Willow nodded. “Pretty much until he was 12.”
Buffy shrugged. “Well, I’ve never been very good with religious types. The last time I was in church, the guy I was talking to draped himself over a cross and started burning because he loved me. And then before that, I asked a nun about the abjuring of men. And then before that, I was in a Faith suit fighting Faith in a Buffy suit.”
“Got it, church issues,” said Willow. “As for me, well… you remember Tara’s family.”
Buffy nodded. “So ask me what I’m thinking.”
“What are you thinking?” Willow asked.
“I say we let the lovebirds –”
“I heard that!” Faith yelled from the adjoining room.
“Let the lovebirds,” Buffy continued, “do the religious thing, and you and I hop back to Cleveland and see what’s up.”
“I like that idea,” Willow said. She stood, walked over to the bathroom and opened the door.
“Jesus, Will. What?”
“You and Faith are going to Maryland, me and Buffy are going to Cleveland.”
“And this couldn’t wait until I was out of the shower why?”
Willow grinned. “You’re so cute when you’re naked.”
She shut the door and returned to her seat. Buffy shot her an odd look.
“What?” Willow asked.
Buffy shook her head. “You are a very odd lesbian.”
Willow grinned. “So the Maryland thing. You really want to skip out on that?”
“Yeah,” Buffy said. “Religion creepy. I even told Giles that.”
Xander stepped out of the bathroom wearing clean clothes and a towel around his head. “So, what’s in Maryland?”
“Girl named Hilary Faye,” said Willow, handing Xander a folder.
Xander opened it and glanced at the first page. “American Eagle Christian High School?”
Buffy shrugged, a wry smile crossing her lips. “Maybe you can find some Faith.”
Xander rolled his eye.
“That’s not funny,” Faith yelled.
“Yeah,” said Willow, trying – and failing – not to smile. “In times like these, Faith can be a little… hard to… come by.”
Xander blinked. Buffy raised an eyebrow at the Wicca.
Faith appeared in the door of the room, wearing tight black jeans and a dark blue t-shirt. “Okay,” she said. “That was kind of funny.”