Disclaimer: Joss and ME own Buffy. David Shore, etc., own House. I own nothing except the words.
Cameron tried to concentrate on the file in front of her, but not even a sigh and a roll of her eyes had stopped Chase and Foreman from loudly discussing something that was completely irrelevant to the case. She hated employing such tactics, but they did sometimes work. Not this time, though.
"It's the same girl," Foreman said. "There's no way it's not."
"Except that she's older than Melinda was, she's acting completely differently, and her mother is nowhere in sight," Chase said. He also seemed to be trying to read the patient's file, but he kept answering Foreman.
"She looks exactly the same," Foreman said.
"She's got a different name," Chase said.
Cameron took off her glasses and put them down on her file. Sometimes that worked, too. She could have said some things about how good-looking the patient was, even in his current state, but she didn't, because she was professional. "She's not the patient," she said. "The patient's name is Alexander Harris. Why don't we focus on him?"
"We have a patient?" House said, swinging the door wide as he entered and tossing his backpack onto the desk. Their desk, not his. "I don't remember taking a patient. Do you think I have amnesia? I'm asking, because, y'know, amnesia."
"Twenty-four-year-old male, has been asleep for two days straight, no one can wake him up," Foreman said.
"Asleep?" House said. "You mean in a coma."
"No coma," Chase said. "He cycles through REM and NREM normally, and flinches in response to both pain and light. He just won't wake up."
"Then you're not trying hard enough."
"It's not just us," Chase said. "The ER tried -"
"I was joking," House said. "I'm sure you did your best. Did Cameron whisper sweet nothings in his ear?"
Cameron rolled her eyes again. "Yes, because I'm sure that would work better than the standard protocol. Or playing a GameBoy in his ear."
"Besides, if his nubile young girlfriend couldn't wake him up, I don't think Cameron could," Foreman said.
"Nubile? This case is sounding a bit more interesting," House said.
"She's not his girlfriend," Cameron said. "She said that quite distinctly."
"The lady doth protest too much?" House said.
"Nah," Chase said. "She's acting more like a sister."
"Girlfriend," Foreman said. "They're not related, and no twenty-four-year-old male visits a girl at college just because she's like a sister to him."
"And you would know," House said. Cameron and Chase both looked at Foreman, but he just shrugged, genuinely not knowing what House was getting at. After all this time, Cameron could always tell. "Still don't see why I should take this case."
Cameron stared at him. "We can't wake him up, and he's not in a coma."
"Didn't we have this one last year?" House said. "Has he been sleeping with someone who's been in Africa lately?"
"Actually, he's just come back from Africa," Chase said.
"See? Boring," House said. "African sleeping sickness. Good, I can go home."
"It's not African trypanosomiasis," Chase said. "That's the first thing we tested for. The ER even tested for it. And it was negative both times."
"Huh," House said. He looked like he might pick up the file, but then he didn't. "You sure he's not in a coma?"
"We're sure," Cameron said.
"Oh," Chase said, "and the not-girlfriend is a dead ringer for Melinda."
"Who?" House said.
"Tick girl," Foreman said.
"Oh ho," House said, picking up the file. "And she's in college, so this time she's legal."
Cameron tried to look shocked, but she didn't think she succeeded. At least he took the case.
Cameron checked the patient's vitals as soon as she entered the room, but she wasn't surprised that House didn't even glance at them.
"Wow," he said to the girl sitting in the chair beside the bed. "Did you know you're the spitting image of someone too stupid to check if her ice cream sundae had peanuts in it when she was deathly allergic to them?"
"Is that the girl with the heart transplant?" the girl said. "We've already been through this. My name isn't Melinda, it's Dawn, and I've never had a heart transplant. You can check."
"I already am," House said, ogling her not-really-very-low-cut shirt.
Dawn just glared at him. "Do you think you could pay attention to Xander?" she said. "He's the one who's sick, not me."
"We are, Dawn," Cameron said, moving over to stand next to her. Maybe their combined glares would tone House down. "Dr. House is the best diagnostician in...several states. He'll figure out what's wrong with Xander."
"That's so sweet," House said, making a face at her.
"I guessed," Dawn said. "Anyone who's that rude and gets away with it has to be the best at something. I've seen it before," she added. "I go to Princeton."
"Ha," House said. "So, you're in college, and a man five years older than you visits you and stays in your dorm room. What are you two into? Drugs? Sex? Group sex? Group sex with drugs?"
Dawn glared at him. "Nothing like that," she said. "Xander's one of my sister's best friends. He just flew in from Africa, and we were going to drive to Cleveland to see her. It seemed silly for him to get a hotel room when we'd probably be up all night talking, anyway."
"Oh, I'm sure he was up all night," House said.
"House," Cameron said, but then she noticed that he was staring at the monitors and had sounded distracted. In spite of himself, he was interested.
"He just fell asleep in the middle of a sentence?" House asked.
"No," Dawn said, sounding exasperated. "I already explained this. The jet lag got to him, and we knew we would be driving the next day, so he got out his blanket and neck support and went to sleep. He never woke up, and I tried..." She reached out and grabbed Xander's hand, hard. "He has to wake up. Why can't you do something?"
"We're going to," House said and walked out of the room.
"We will need authorization from his next-of-kin if we need to do any invasive procedures," Foreman said. "I'm assuming that's not you."
"No," Dawn said. "But I'm not sure who it is."
"You're...not sure," Chase said.
"Well, we haven't heard from his parents since...well, for a long time," Dawn said. "I'm guessing it's Willow or maybe Giles as head of the Council, but I don't know. I called both of them, and...and Buffy's on her way - she'll know."
"Oh-kay," Chase said, exchanging glances with Foreman.
Cameron could tell Dawn was feeling frazzled, and they needed her to hold it together. She reached out and put a hand on the girl's shoulder.
"Dawn, who are these people?" she asked.
"Oh," Dawn said. "Right. Buffy's my sister, and she should be here soon. She had to fly - there's no way we'd have trusted her driving a car for that long. Giles is the head of the...company they work for, and he's in England. I don't know if he'll come over or not, but if he's Xander's next-of-kin, I guess he'll have to. And Willow's -"
"Right here," a voice said from the doorway, and Cameron turned to see two young women entering the room. One was an intense-looking brunette, who looked like she expected the world to conform to her every whim, but the other was a red-head who had an even bigger presence, though for no reason she could explain. The red-head walked quickly over to Xander's bedside and picked up the hand Dawn wasn't holding.
"I'm Willow Rosenberg," she said. "What do you need?"
"I'm Dr. Cameron, and these are Drs. Chase and Foreman," Cameron said, thinking about reaching out her hand for Willow to shake but deciding that the young woman wasn't about to let go of Xander's hand. "Are you his next-of-kin? Dawn wasn't sure, and we need -"
"Of course," Willow said. She pulled the next-of-kin authorization out of her pocket and held it out to Cameron. "Whatever you need."
Cameron glanced at it and saw that it was in order. "Thank you," she said, exchanging glances with Chase and Foreman. "Now we can get started." She patted Dawn on the shoulder and then headed for the door, but the brunette stopped her.
"We really mean whatever you need," she said. "I'm Kennedy Sonocci. Do anything at all necessary to get Xander better. Money is no object."
Cameron stared at her for a moment, then said, "Thank you," because Kennedy seemed to expect it. Kennedy held her gaze, and then finally allowed her to leave.
After she shut the door behind them, Chase whistled.
"Who is this guy? Even I've heard of the Sonoccis." Cameron and Foreman both shrugged, and Chase added, "Well, at least House will be happy. He can do any test he wants, and Cuddy can't say a word."
Dawn finally let herself collapse once the door closed. She'd known she couldn't fall apart when she was the only one there for Xander, but now Willow would make everything right.
"Good one on the next-of-kin," Kennedy said to Willow, ignoring Dawn's tears. Dawn wasn't sure if she was glad of that or not.
"Wait," she said, looking up at Willow through watery eyes. "You're not his next-of-kin?"
"No, Giles is, ever since we couldn't find Xander's parents after Sunnydale," Willow said, pulling over a chair and sitting down without letting go of Xander's hand. Dawn was sure that no one outside the room realized that she hadn't used her hands to do it. "But he's in the middle of the Gryptic demon rising and couldn't get here in time."
"Then what did you show Dr. Cameron?"
Willow held out the piece of paper, and Dawn saw it was a poster for a band in Rio.
"Huh," she said.
Willow looked back at Xander. "What have the doctors said so far?"
"Not much," Dawn said, feeling her panic rise again. "The first thing they tested for was African sleeping sickness, but it's not that. And they said that if it had been, and we couldn't wake him up, he'd be in a coma by now."
"He's not?" Willow said. "I thought not being able to wake someone up was the definition of a coma. I mean, he is asleep, right? It's not another catatonic thing?"
"No, he's definitely asleep, and that's apparently the problem," Dawn said. "Sleep is different from a coma, or a vegetative state, or catatonia. And this is just sleep." She looked first at Willow, then at Kennedy, who was standing back a little. "They'll be able to fix this, right? He's...he's..."
"He'll be fine," Kennedy said. "I looked this Dr. House up as soon as you called, while Willow was preparing the teleport spell. He's basically the best diagnostician around; he'll figure this out. Of course, it also seemed like he's basically the biggest ass around."
"I noticed," Dawn said, but she felt a little better and looked back at Willow. Willow looked confused.
"He's just asleep?" she said. She put her hand on Xander's forehead, and he turned a little towards her and made small smacking sounds with his mouth.
"Yeah," Dawn said, smiling a little as she watched them, in spite of everything that was happening. "Snoring and everything. That's why it took me awhile to figure out something was wrong - what?"
Willow had put her head in her hands. "What if this isn't medical?" she said, sounding muffled.
Dawn gasped. "What do you mean? We can't wake him up - you can't tell me that's not normal - oh."
Kennedy turned and made sure the door was shut, then closed the blinds. "You mean it's magical? And he's in a hospital?"
"Oh, no," Dawn said, and put her head down on her arms on the bed. "Oh, no, no, no. I'm so sorry; it's all my fault."
"No, Dawnie," Willow said. "You couldn't have known. I'd have thought it was African sleeping sickness, too; who wouldn't? Besides, we don't know yet."
"Can you tell?" Kennedy said. "Do a spell?"
"Don't need to," Willow said. She held her hands out over Xander's heart and closed her eyes. "Just need to concentrate."
Dawn and Kennedy watched her for several minutes, as her expression got more and more confused. Finally, she opened her eyes again and dropped her hands.
"Well, it's magical...but it isn't," she said.
"You know that makes no sense, right?" Kennedy said.
Willow nodded. "It's weird. There's magic there, but no signature. It's like...whatever did this has left the building. Like it's using his energy, or something, just to keep doing whatever it's doing, but it's stopped doing it. Maybe. I'm not sure." She threw up her hands. "The most important thing I ever need to do with magic, and I'm useless."
"You're not useless," Kennedy said, putting her hand on Willow's shoulder. "At least now we know it's magical, not medical -"
"No, we don't," Willow said. "I mean, maybe magic was used, but now it's medical. Maybe the magic set off a disease or something physical in him. Maybe magic can't solve this. Maybe -"
"Breathe," Dawn said, reaching a hand out to stop the flow of words. "Maybe a lot of things. Maybe the annoying Dr. House will figure out what's wrong. But on the off chance that he can't, maybe we should try to figure out the magic side, huh?"
"Differential diagnosis, people," House said as soon as the three of them entered the room. He was sitting at the table, his leg stretched out in front of him, and he handed the whiteboard marker to Cameron as she walked passed him. Trying not to look surprised, she took it and stood next to the whiteboard. "The only symptom we have is excessive sleep, so...go."
"Narcolepsy," Foreman said while sitting down in his usual spot at the table.
"You're not even trying," House said. "Did you not understand the point of the 'Did he fall asleep in the middle of a sentence?' question?"
"Cerebral edema," Chase said. "He already lost his eye awhile back; maybe he gets into fights a lot."
"More likely to cause coma than sleep," Cameron said, opening Xander's file. "And there's no mention here about any recent head trauma -"
"That just means he didn't tell Dawn about it," Chase said.
"Yes, but the ER already examined his skull and found nothing," Cameron said.
"Do it again," House said. "MRI and CAT scan, too. What else?"
"Epstein-Barr," Cameron said.
"No fever," Chase said. "And his cervical lymph nodes were normal."
"Hypersomnia," Foreman said.
"That's like saying ideopathic somnolence," House said. "It's not a diagnosis, it's giving up. Give me something real."
"Kleine-Levin syndrome," Cameron said.
"He doesn't look like he's been eating his own body weight every day," House said.
"No, but he's been in Africa - maybe he couldn't get as much food as he wanted there," Cameron said.
"Good point, but unless you can explain to me how someone with Kleine-Levin spends the night in a college dorm room with that girl and doesn't jump her...well, test for it - you will, anyway. Next?"
"Paget's disease," Chase said.
"I like it," House said. "But his bones looked normal."
"Looked, but we didn't actually examine them," Chase said. "It could be an odd presentation."
"Long shot, but do it," House said.
"Von Economo disease," Foreman said.
"Ecephalitis lethargica?" House said. "It would look more like a coma, and it'll show up on the brain scans, anyway. That's a lot of tests, isn't it? Whatever will Cuddy say?" He looked thrilled, which surprised Cameron not at all.
"Not a problem," Chase said. "Everything's being taken care of by the Sonoccis. After you left, one of them came in and told us to do whatever we want, money no object."
House whistled. "Financed by the Sonoccis, spending the night with a sexy college nymphet...if he weren't asleep, this guy would be in clover."
"This is everything," Dawn said, putting down Xander's sleeping bag, then dumping the bag he had brought from Africa onto the floor beside Willow. In her opinion, it was far too small a bag to contain everything one needed to trek across Africa, but she supposed Xander knew better than she did about that, considering he'd been the one actually doing the trekking. At least Willow wouldn't have much to test for magical residue.
Willow immediately picked up the sleeping bag, put it on the bed beside Xander, held her hands out over it, and closed her eyes.
"It's not this," she said after a few moments of silence. Kennedy grabbed it and put it in a corner, which was when Dawn realized that Faith was in the room, propped up against the wall in that same corner.
"Hey, Faith," she said, trying not to sound suprised. Faith and Xander had worked together finding Slayers in the US for a couple of months before Xander had requested to go to Africa. Dawn had never heard the whole story - or even half of the story, she suspected - but she did know that it had been Xander's choice to go, and that Faith had decided not to go with him.
Faith just nodded at her, so Dawn turned back to Willow, who'd started checking each item from Xander's bag. She got more and more frustrated as she did so, and at the end closed her eyes, put both hands on Xander's leg, took a few deep breaths, and shook her head.
"Are you sure this is everything?" she asked after a few moments.
"I'm sure," Dawn said. "He really didn't bring much."
"Well," Willow said, opening her eyes. "The only thing that has any magical residue at all is this...this...what is this?" She held a wooden block out towards Dawn.
"That's his neck support," Dawn said. "I tried to lend him a pillow, but he wouldn't take it - he said he got used to this in Africa, and now it feels more comfortable than a pillow. And he sure fell asleep fast."
"Hmm," Willow said, pulling it back towards her and hefting it in her hands. "There's definitely something magical going on here, but it feels..." She was quiet for a long time, and the rest of them let her think, not wanted to distrupt any thoughts she might be having about saving Xander. Before she said anything else, the door opened again, and Dr. Cameron came in, followed by Dr. Chase.
"We need to borrow Xander," Dr. Chase said.
"What for?" Dawn said, then felt herself turn red when he smiled at her.
"We need to run some tests," he said.
"What tests?" Kennedy said. "What do you think is wrong with him?"
"We're going to do an MRI and CAT scan," Dr. Cameron said, "and we need to draw some blood."
"So you have no idea what's wrong with him," Kennedy said, her hands on her hips.
"We have a few ideas," Dr. Cameron said, looking slightly embarrassed.
"That's why we need to do the tests," Dr. Chase said. He didn't look embarrassed at all, just slightly amused.
"Let them do their jobs, Kennedy," Faith said from her corner. Dawn saw Dr. Cameron jump at that, and felt better about not noticing Faith when she first came into the room.
"Can we come with him?" Dawn said, not liking the idea of Xander all alone in this hospital. What if he woke up inside the MRI tube or something?
"Uh...one or two of you, maybe," Dr. Chase said, looking around at all of them.
"Faith, why don't you and Dawn go," Willow said, and Dawn looked at her in surprise. "Kennedy and I will stay here and...stay here." She was still clutching the neck support to her, almost as though she were afraid to let it go.
Faith shrugged, as though she didn't care one way or the other, but as the two doctors wheeled Xander's bed out of the room, she almost reached out to touch him, then jerked her hand back as though burned. Dawn followed after them, wondering even more why Xander had gone to Africa in the first place.
Dawn and Faith watched from inside the instrument room while Drs. Chase and Cameron examined Xander's head before getting him ready for the MRI.
"That must have been scary, not being able to wake him up," Faith said.
Dawn looked over at her to see that she hadn't taken her gaze off of Xander.
"Yeah," she said. "But I thought it was African sleeping sickness, so I didn't really start to panic until it wasn't that."
"Who wouldn't?" Faith said. "Seriously, who in their right mind goes to a place with so many weird diseases? If it's not sleeping sickness, it's malaria or dengue fever Or Ebola. Screw that."
Dawn had to giggle, but she had to speak up for Xander, too. "Are you saying he's not in his right mind?"
Faith looked at her seriously. She'd always taken her seriously, which was one reason Dawn had always liked her so much, even when she knew she shouldn't.
"Xander hasn't been in his right mind since Sunnydale," she said. "But he swore to me that he wasn't going to Africa as a fancy way to off himself." She sighed. "And I believed him."
"You don't anymore?" Dawn said, but before Faith could answer, the doctors came back into the instrument room.
"No bruising, no swelling," Dr. Chase said.
Faith looked at him like she thought he was insane. "You thought blunt force trauma made him oversleep?" she said, making Dawn want to laugh. If anyone would know from blunt force trauma, it would be Faith.
Dr. Chase shrugged. "It was a long shot, but we had to check."
Dr. Cameron was typing rapidly, getting the MRI going. "You look more calm now that your sister is here, Dawn," she said.
Dawn and Faith both twitched.
"Oh, Faith's not my sister," Dawn said. "Buffy's my sister. She's shorter and...blonder."
"We're different in many, many ways," Faith said.
Dawn nudged her with her elbow. "Yeah," she said. "You can drive."
Dr. Chase turned around and studied them both, which made Dawn catch her breath. He really was gorgeous, if more than a little bit too old for her. Though the accent almost made her not care how old he was.
"So, what's this guy's story?" he asked. "How'd he get four total hotties so worried about him they'd drop everything and come running?"
His smile told Dawn that he was trying to make conversation to make them more comfortable, and also that he really wanted to know. She exchanged a glance with Faith, then shrugged.
"Xander is the nicest, funniest, most supportive big brother you could possibly want," she said. "And I don't care if we're not really related, he's my big brother. Willow feels the same way, only more so, and he saved Kennedy's life once, so..." Plus, Kenneday would follow Willow anywhere, but she didn't say that to Dr. Chase.
"And you?" Dr. Chase said to Faith.
Faith leaned against the wall and crossed her arms over her chest. "We're more complicated," she said. Then, she shrugged. "But Xander's the type of guy you drop everything for, no matter what your relationship is. Because he'd do it for you."
Dr. Chase snorted. "Do me a favor. Don't say that to our boss."
"No head trauma, negative for Kleine-Levin, negative for Paget's and Von Economo," House said. "Are we sure this guy's really asleep? Maybe he just doesn't want to go to Cleveland."
"Who would?" Wilson said. He was sitting at the head of the table, eating a salad. Cameron wasn't surprised; she'd noticed that whenever House's leg was especially painful, Wilson would appear at differential diagnoses.
"That many babes show up in your hospital room and you don't wake up, you're really asleep," Chase said.
"Well, you would," House said. "But we don't know much about this guy...which is strange, isn't it? It's not just that we don't have a real medical history. All these girls around, we should know his childhood pets' names and who popped his cherry."
"Faith," Chase said.
Everyone turned and stared at him.
"Faith popped his cherry?" House said. "He lost his virginity to religion?"
Chase laughed. "Faith's the fourth girl. She was there when we did the MRI."
"But she didn't say anything about...about that," Cameron said. She knew she'd been busy with the MRI, but she would have noticed that.
"She said her relationship with him was complicated," Chase said. "I just got that vibe."
"There's a vibe that tells you who popped people's cherries?" House said. "You really are multi-talented."
"Thanks, I think," Chase said.
"It doesn't matter," Foreman said. "Unless that happened recently, which I doubt. We need to focus on what could cause excessive sleep in a healthy young male, not act like we're sorority sisters."
"Hey," Cameron said.
"It could be Minimata disease," Foreman said. "We should check his blood for mercury."
"He was in Africa, not Japan," Chase said.
"Yeah, because pollution only occurs in first-world countries," Foreman said.
"He'd be sicker if it were Minimata," Chase said. "He's asleep, not sick. Plus, it's usually congenital and chronic, and this is sudden onset and acute."
"It really is strange," House said. He had his leg propped up on a chair and was absent-mindedly massaging his thigh. "His only symptom is that he won't wake up."
"We don't know that," Foreman said. "He can't tell us about any other symptoms, because he's asleep."
"It's like a fairy tale," Chase said.
"I take it back about the multi-talented," House said. "Unless you want to kiss him to wake him up; I could collect admission from half of the nursing staff to see that."
Cameron was trying to ignore them. She held the MRI results to the light. "There's nothing in the reticular formation that would cause excessive sleep, and there should be," she said, feeling extremely frustrated. "No lesions, no swelling, no scarring, even...nothing."
"If it's not in his brain, it must be something systemic," Wilson said, and Cameron could have kissed him, she was so grateful he was paying attention to the medicine.
"Lyme disease can cause sleep disturbances," she said.
"No bulls-eye rash," House said.
"It doesn't always present with the rash," Cameron said.
"True, but hello, Africa," House said. "The one thing he really can't have is Lyme disease."
"He wasn't in Africa his whole life," Cameron said. "He could have had it before, not treated it completely, and it's reemerged."
"It's not in his file," Chase said, paging through it.
"Just because Dawn didn't know he had it, doesn't mean he didn't," Cameron said.
"No, but Lyme disease wasn't very common in California when he was living there," House said. Then he completely shocked Cameron by actually picking up the file. "Does anyone else think this is a rather thin file? It's almost as though he barely existed until a few years ago. And what was he doing in Africa, anyway? All those hot babes waiting for him here, and he's over there?"
"I think that had something to do with Faith, too," Chase said.
"Thank you, Dr. Phil," House said.
"Dawn said he was with Doctors without Borders," Cameron said.
"He's a doctor?" Wilson said. "He's a bit young."
"Says the boy-wonder oncologist," House said, and Wilson made a face at him.
"No, he's in construction, I think," Cameron said, paging through her notes. "I think he built things for them."
"MS," Foreman said suddenly.
Cameron shook the MRI a little. "No plaques," she said. Foreman always suggested MS.
"Well, then, what do you think it is?" Foreman said.
Cameron sighed. "I have no idea."
House looked around at all of them. "This guy is going to be the next Rip van Winkle if we can't figure this out." No one said anything. "All right, there's nothing else you can do now. Go home, get some sleep...just not too much." He got up and limped into his office.
When Cameron left, she saw that he was still there, poring over his medical books.
When Dawn and Faith followed the orderly pushing Xander's bed back to his room, Buffy was there, sitting in the chair next to where the bed would go. She jumped up when they entered the room, and looked like she wanted to help the orderly maneuver the bed into place, but Faith stopped her. Buffy pouted, which Dawn thought was so not attractive, no matter what her current boyfriend said. Dawn knew she really didn't like feeling helpless, but this was one time her Slayer strength would not be an asset. They didn't want Xander to go flying through the window, after all. Dawn went over to her and gave her a hug; Buffy hung on almost tightly enough to make it hard for Dawn to breathe.
Once the orderly left, and Kennedy again closed the door and shut the blinds, Willow turned to Dawn and Faith.
"What did the MRI show?" she asked.
"Nothing," Faith said, slouching against the wall with one foot propped against it. "The doc said there was nothing to show why he won't wake up."
Willow sighed. "It was the neck support," she said. "There was a spell on it designed to put him into this perpetual sleep as soon as he fell asleep."
"So whoever did it must have seen him the day he left Africa," Faith said.
Willow shook her head. "There was a condition set on the spell," she said. "He could have slept on it just fine forever if the condition wasn't met."
"What was the condition?" Dawn asked. She couldn't think of anything special that had happened that night before Xander fell asleep.
"I don't know that yet," Willow said. "I have a couple more...uh, tests to do, and if they don't work, I'll call Giles. But I do know one thing - there was no ill intent towards Xander involved in this."
"But that makes the kind of sense that's not," Buffy said, sounding as though she'd said it before. "Someone who isn't evil put Xander into an enchanted sleep? This really sounds more like Malificent, not Glinda."
Willow shrugged. "I know, Buffy, I know. But there are certain...residues that I can read, and once I was looking for it specifically, it was really easy to tell that this was a good witch, not a bad witch. Or at least, the intent of the spell was good. She wasn't trying to hurt Xander."
"She?" Faith said.
"Yeah," Willow said. "That was easy to tell, too. It's almost as though she wanted me to know."
"Weird," Dawn said. "Did she leave a calling card, too?"
Kennedy laughed, but Willow just shook her head. "If only. She also didn't leave any instructions on how to get him out of it."
That sobered everybody. "Will you be able to figure it out?" Dawn asked.
"Eventually," Willow said. "Probably. I hope."
"Then we need to clear out and let you work," Faith said.
"I'm not leaving," Buffy said. "I just got here."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Fine, B, you stay here and watch over him, or whatever makes you happy. Will, what do you need to do your thing?"
"Just somewhere I can have some uninterrupted time with the neck support," Willow said. "I guess Kennedy and I should get a hotel room."
"Already done," Faith said, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a key. She handed it to Willow. "You guys take my room, and I'll head back with Dawn to her dorm for some shut-eye. And you will sleep, Dawn; you're dead on your feet."
Dawn stared at her. "Are you sure? The last person who slept on my floor..." She trailed off and waved a hand at Xander, who was snoring again.
Faith snorted. "I ain't had any African witches wanting to give me a good night's sleep," she said. "No good witch spells for me."
Dawn watched Faith dig into the Mega Slam breakfast she'd ordered and felt slightly sick.
"How can you eat like that?" she asked.
"Slayer metabolism," Faith said, slathering butter on a piece of toast.
"So not what I meant," Dawn said.
"I never pass up a chance to eat," Faith said, and Dawn knew that was the end of that conversation. She poked at her own, much smaller, breakfast for a few minutes, listening to the bustle around them and thinking. Faith had been quiet since they'd left the hospital the night before, but Dawn had been exhausted and only thinking of her bed until she'd gotten an almost embarrassing ten hours of sleep. She'd wanted to head straight back to Xander when she woke up, but Faith had insisted on grabbing breakfast first.
"Back at the hospital, you said that Xander told you he wasn't going to Africa to...to off himself," she said. "And you said that you'd believed him...now you don't?"
Faith put down her fork and looked at Dawn. "It's not that I don't believe him now," she said. "It's just...it's hard to watch someone you care about in as much pain as Xander was. You want to help, even when you know you can't." After Dawn just stared at her for a few moments, she shrugged. "I had to sit through a lot of therapy sessions in prison."
Dawn thought about reaching out and patting Faith's hand, but decided that they didn't do that. "He seemed a lot better...before he fell asleep, I mean. Much more like himself than...than after Sunnydale."
"He could have just been putting on an everything's-all-right Xander face," Faith said. "He does that a lot." She went back to her food, but Dawn could tell she really wanted to know what Dawn thought.
"I can tell the difference by now," Dawn said. "He really, really did seem better."
Faith sighed. "Good," she said.
Dawn studied her. "Can I ask you a question?"
Faith quirked an eyebrow at her, but said, "Sure."
"Did you and Xander ever talk about...you know...the year with the Mayor?"
Faith snorted. "You mean when I tried to kill him? 'Course. When Giles first asked us to work together, I knew I couldn't put it off any more. Hardest thing I've ever had to do, though, and that includes turning myself in in the first place."
"Really?" Dawn said.
"Yeah," Faith said. She stared down at her plate, which by this time had just a few smears left on it. "Promise not to laugh?"
"Promise," Dawn said, almost in shock. Faith cared about what she thought?
"One of my favorite fantasies in prison was what would have happened if I'd taken Xander up on his offer," Faith said. "Friendship. Real friendship. You have no idea, Dawn, what that would have meant to me then, if I'd let myself believe in it."
"Would have?" Dawn asked.
Faith jumped up, throwing a few bills down on the table. "C'mon, let's get back to Xander."
But right before she reached the door, Dawn caught up to her and put a hand on her arm. "Why didn't you go to Africa with him?" she asked.
Faith gave her a small, bleak smile. "He didn't want me to," she said.
Cameron opened the door to the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital's front lobby and enjoyed the bustle that went on around her as she made her way towards the elevators. She knew she shouldn't revel in the way the crowd parted a little for her purposeful walk and the nurses nodded at her respectfully, but she couldn't help herself. Okay, maybe in this instance the nurses' nods were more pitying than respectful...she punched the up button on the elevator, then looked back around behind her, to see Dr. Cuddy striding towards her.
"Here we go," she muttered under her breath, though she made sure to do it before Dr. Cuddy was in hearing distance.
"Has House completely lost his mind?" Dr. Cuddy said before she'd even come to a complete stop.
"How is this day different from any other day?" Cameron asked. Dr. Cuddy quirked an eyebrow at her, but Cameron just rolled her eyes. She'd been through medical school, did Dr. Cuddy think she'd never been to a Sedar? "What's he done now?"
"You don't - of course you don't know," Dr. Cuddy said. "You just got in. He's decided that your patient has African sleeping sickness."
"What?" Cameron said. The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. They both got on, and Dr. Cuddy jabbed her finger at the floor button hard enough to break a nail. "African sleeping sickness is something we know he doesn't have."
"That's why I asked if House lost his mind," Dr. Cuddy said, studying her fingernail. "This one makes no sense. He usually makes sense, in his own twisted way." She looked up at Cameron, and Cameron could see the anguish in her eyes. Cameron could understand. If House wasn't the brilliant diagnostician Dr. Cuddy thought he was, what did that say about how much she'd protected him over the years?
"Well, the African sleeping sickness parasite could hide in the brain stem and be undetectable on our tests," she said, more to make Dr. Cuddy feel better than anything else.
"But?" Dr. Cuddy said.
Cameron sighed. "But if it were hiding there, the disease would most likely have progressed enough that he'd be in a coma. Is he in a coma?"
"No, he's still just asleep. Nothing's changed." The elevator doors opened, and they headed towards Xander's room. Before they got there, Dr. Cuddy put a hand on Cameron's arm to stop her. "If he's truly lost it, I need to know," she said.
Cameron stared at her. "You're not coming in?"
"Oh, I'm coming in, all right," Dr. Cuddy said. She studied Cameron for a few moments, then said, "I may need a second opinion." Then she let go of Cameron's arm and walked towards the door, which opened on a scene of arrested chaos.
Willow and Kennedy stood on the far side of Xander's bed, Willow clutching a wooden block to her chest. Kennedy almost quivered, half-leaning across Xander. Foreman and Chase were backed up against the wall at the foot of the bed, looking like they wanted to be anywhere in the world but here. And House and Buffy faced off against each other on this side of the bed, House towering over the blonde woman, both of them standing stock still. It took Cameron several moments to realized that House had a syringe in his hand, because Buffy was holding his wrist so still that neither one of them was moving at all.
"What is going on here?" Dr. Cuddy said.
Chase, Foreman, Willow, Kennedy, and Buffy all looked at her. House didn't; he kept staring at Buffy.
"Dr. House here," Buffy said, her voice dripping with contempt, "thinks Xander has African sleeping sickness. But when we asked him why he thought that, when we'd been told it had already been ruled out, he just said that it was the only possible answer. He wants to give Xander medicine to treat something he doesn't have."
"Dr. House," Dr. Cuddy said, obviously trying to sound reasonable. "Do you really think the parasites are hiding in the brain stem and not showing up on the tests?"
"It's the only possible answer," House said. He still didn't take his eyes off Buffy. "When you've eliminated the impossible, whatever's left, however improbable, must be true."
Willow flinched for some reason, but Dr. Cuddy just snorted. "Don't quote Sherlock Holmes at me," she said. "He's not in a coma, and his condition hasn't changed one bit since he was admitted. Find another explanation. However improbable."
"There isn't one," House said. He finally looked at Dr. Cuddy, and Cameron almost took a step backwards at his expression. She'd never seen him looking so defeated before. He must have tried to drop the hand holding the syringe, because he started, then looked back at Buffy. She studied him for a few moments, then lowered his arm and crossed her own over her chest. House looked at his arm, then backed up against the wall. "We've been over and over the differential diagnosis. There's nothing to explain his symptoms...symptom. The only explanation is that this is a highly unusual presentation of African trypanomiasis, and since we can't test for it, the only way to prove it is to treat."
"But the treatment for African sleeping sickness is highly dangerous," Dr. Cuddy said.
"Which is why we won't let him do it," Buffy said. She turned her glare on Dr. Cuddy. "Come up with another explanation. If he can't do it, find someone who can."
"If Dr. House can't do it, no one can," Dr. Cuddy said.
"What's going on?" Dawn said from behind Cameron. Cameron turned around to see both Dawn and Faith standing there. She moved aside so they could enter the room.
"Dr. House was just leaving," Buffy said. "So he can use his huge brain to figure out what's wrong with Xander."
"I thought that's what he was doing," Dawn said.
"He's going to get it right this time," Buffy said.
"I did get it right," House muttered. He took a breath, then turned towards the door. Cameron and Dr. Cuddy, took a step backwards to leave room for him. Suddenly, he turned back and lunged for Xander.
Buffy and Faith both got to him before he took one step. Buffy's hand was back on his wrist, holding it completely still. And Faith had both hands on House's upper arms, holding him upright. It looked almost comical, because of how much smaller Faith was than House, but Cameron didn't doubt that House couldn't move.
"House," Dr. Cuddy said, and Cameron could tell she was just moments away from calling security. Not that it was needed; House obviously wasn't getting anywhere near Xander any time soon.
Buffy nodded to Faith, who let go of House's arms. Buffy then walked House towards the door, allowing for his limp but not letting go of his wrist.
"Come back when you have a real answer," she said when they were outside the room, then let go. House gave her a long glare, but then headed off down the corridor. Foreman and Chase followed as quickly as they could.
"I am so sorry about all of this," Dr. Cuddy said. "I will personally oversee Xander's case from now on -"
"If he doesn't come up with something new and reasonable, he doesn't get near Xander again," Buffy said. "You can," she added, turning to Cameron. "If you need to do tests or whatever. But not him."
"All right," Dr. Cuddy said. "We'll do it that way."
Buffy wasn't even listening. She'd gone back into the room and was focused completely on Xander. All of the young women were. Dr. Cuddy raised her eyebrows at Cameron, then turned and headed for House's office. Cameron looked once more at the odd tablaux around Xander's bed, and then followed. This case wouldn't be solved by thinking about how oddly strong Buffy and Faith both were. She needed to focus on the medicine.
Once the doctors were all gone, Faith said, "Is that man insane?"
Dawn and Kennedy both said, "Yes," but Buffy just shrugged. "He's intense, but he really thought he was right. He wasn't, of course, but we can't blame him for that."
"Yes, we damn well can," Faith said.
"It doesn't matter," Willow said. "We were just waiting for you two when he came in. I know what happened."
But then she didn't say anything for a few moments.
"Well?" Faith said, a split second before Dawn could. "Can we fix it?"
Willow sighed. "It's a classic - the classic - I can't believe I didn't see it before. I mean, he's asleep. It's not rocket science."
"Will?" Buffy said. "Could you translate for the people who slept through the classics?"
"Do not tell me it's love," Dawn said.
"Love?" Faith said. "The trigger to wake him up is fucking love?"
"Hopefully without the fucking," Kennedy said.
Faith waved her off. "You really mean true love, Sleeping Beauty, waking up with a kiss, all that shit?"
"Well," Willow said. "Sleeping Beauty wasn't originally about...anyway, it'll most likely mean a kiss, but I don't know what type of love. True love does make the most sense, and if the spell had been cast by an American or - or even European witch, I'd have said it definitely had to be true love. But this was cast by an African practitioner of some kind, and we don't know what her mythos is. If it's the most common...there could still be a trick of some sort."
"We also don't know what Xander said to her before she did this," Faith said.
"What do you mean?" Buffy said, glaring at Faith.
"Don't get your panties in a twist, B," Faith said. "I don't mean this is Xander's fault. But if he'd known this shaman for at all long, it might have come out that he has daddy issues."
"If it's a father's love, we'll need to get Giles here," Willow said. She frowned. "Shamans are Native American, not African."
"Whatever," Faith said.
Dawn groaned. "Why don't we try with what we have here and see if anything works?" she said. "I love Xander like a brother." She felt tears pricking the corners of her eyes and blinked them away. "Hey, Willow, what was the condition, anyway?"
"What?" Buffy said. She was staring at Xander.
"You know, the condition that Xander had to fulfill before he fell into this stupid enchanted sleep."
"Oh," Willow said, perking up. "It was ingenious, really. The spell wouldn't be triggered until he felt safe with someone who loved him. I have no idea how she did that, but I wish I could talk to her about it."
"So do I," Dawn muttered. She knew she wouldn't be forgiving this African witch anytime soon.
"So maybe you're right, Dawn, maybe it's your kiss that will wake him up," Faith said.
Willow shook her head. "There's still no way to know that."
Everyone looked at each other, then down at Xander. Both Buffy and Faith, of all people, were blushing.
"I'm not sure I do love Xander," Kennedy said, looking sad. "I mean, I like him, and he saved my life, but...but I've never kissed a guy I wasn't related to before, so what the hell." She bent over Xander and gave him a soft peck on the lips.
"I'll go next," Dawn said. She gazed down at Xander, hoping, not for the first time in her life, that her love would be enough. "Please wake up," she said and kissed him.
Buffy, Willow, and Faith stared at Xander, who was sleeping quietly, not even snoring for once, then Willow shrugged.
"I can't remember a time when I didn't love Xander," she said. "He's always been my best friend, but it's more than that. Without Xander, I would have ended the world. I wouldn't be me anymore. Without Xander, I'm not me." She looked up at Kennedy, who smiled at her. "I just hope that's enough." She bent over and whispered something to Xander that even Dawn, still standing right there, couldn't hear. Then she kissed him.
Nothing happened, except that Xander started snoring softly.
Buffy took a deep breath. "Me, too," she said. "Everything Willow said, except I can remember a time when I didn't love Xander, and I don't like looking back on that time."
Dawn moved out of the way so Buffy could stand near Xander's head. Buffy smoothed some of his hair away from his eyes and kissed him.
Everyone held their breath, but nothing happened.
They all looked at Faith.
"I sure as shit ain't making no speech," Faith said. Dawn giggled in spite of herself.
Buffy moved away so Faith could take her place. Faith looked down at Xander for a moment, then put one hand on either side of his head. Her kiss wasn't the brief peck the others had given Xander; it was soft, but lingering.
And even before it was over, Dawn could tell that Xander was awake.
"Dawnie," Xander said, sounding a bit muffled. "I don't think -"
Then he opened his eyes.
"You're not Dawn," he said. Faith was still bent over him, and Dawn could see she looked utterly shocked.
"Faith?" Xander said. "What are you...what's going on?"
Faith stood bolt upright and almost sprinted out of the room. The rest of them just stared at each other, not sure what had just happened. Or how to explain it to Xander.
Cameron saw House and Wilson standing propped against the nurses' station, staring at Xander's room. She hesitated to interrupt them, but she knew House was beating himself up about this one. She walked over to stand next to him.
"He's going to be fine," she said. "There don't seem to be any lingering adverse effects from the prolonged sleep -"
"I know," House said. He didn't look at her.
"He's remarkably healthy for having been traveling mostly by himself around Africa for the past few months," Cameron said. She needed to get through to him. "He's going to be fine."
"I heard you the first time," House said, and Wilson rolled his eyes at her, but she didn't care. Xander was fine, but House wasn't.
"Spontaneous remission -" she started.
"Oh, don't give me that spontaneous remission crap," House said. "Wilson doesn't even believe in spontaneous remission, and he's an oncologist."
"Well," Wilson said, but House didn't let him finish.
"That man," he said, pointing at Xander's room with his cane, "wouldn't wake up for no reason that we could tell, and then woke up all on his own, and we have no idea why. And they won't let me do any more tests."
"Can you blame them?" Wilson said. "He's all better."
"He is not all better," House said. He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "At least I don't think he is. But since they won't let me test him, how can I tell? This could happen again the next time he's in Africa, and I won't be there to figure it out. All he'll have is Dr. Sebastian Charles telling him it's TB."
Cameron deliberately ignored that. "I don't think he's going back to Africa," she said. "I doubt any of them will let him." She watched as Buffy, Willow, and Dawn fussed around Xander, making sure they had everything they'd brought with them to the hospital. Xander was sitting on the edge of the bed, laughing and letting them.
"And another thing," House said. "Those girls are ridiculously strong."
Cameron looked sharply at him, then at the three fussing around Xander, then back at House. Wilson sighed.
"Ridiculously strong?" Cameron said. She had noticed the day before, but she'd put it down to adrenaline. Which must be what it was. Anything else was impossible.
"Look how tiny she is," House said. "Yet I couldn't move when she held my wrist. Do not tell me that's normal."
"I suppose you want to run tests on Buffy, too," Wilson said. "You know, according to Cuddy this is still a hospital. I think we're supposed to treat sick people."
"Not just Buffy," House said. "Faith, too." He pointed with his cane to where Faith was standing, where she could see into Xander's room, but the people inside would have to really look for her to see her.
"You know their names?" Cameron said, staring at him.
"What kind of name is Buffy, anyway?" Wilson said. "Do you think her mother was clairvoyant and knew she'd be little, blonde, and perky?"
House just shook his head, not allowing himself to be distracted. "There is something strange going on here," he said. "And I will figure it out." He started down the hall towards the elevator.
"Do you...do you want me to gather the team?" Cameron called after him.
House didn't even turn back around. "No point," he said. "He's all better, right?" He kept walking down the hall, slumped over his cane.
Cameron looked at Wilson, who sighed again and unpropped himself.
"It's going to be a long night," he said, then followed House.
Cameron stayed where she was. Someone should be there when Xander checked out, after all. And Wilson was wrong, anyway. It wasn't just going to be a long night, it was going to be a long few weeks, until something new and interesting came along to take House's mind off of this failure.
Dawn left Xander's room and headed straight to where Faith stood. She'd known she was there the whole time, and she suspected that everyone else had, too. Xander sure had.
"How is he?" Faith said as soon as Dawn got close.
"He's fine," Dawn said, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms over her chest. "Good witch, remember? The doctors say - wait, let me get it right - there are no lingering adverse effects from the prolonged sleep, and he should make a complete recovery." She'd tried to say it in Dr. Chase's cute Australian accent, but she didn't know if she'd managed it. Faith probably wouldn't have noticed, anyway. She wasn't even looking at Dawn. "They're not admitting that there's not a thing wrong with him anymore."
"Are they sure?" Faith said, still looking at Xander.
"Willow's sure," Dawn said. "And, yeah, they really don't want to admit it, because they can't explain it, but the doctors are, too. At least, Dr. Cameron and Dr. Chase are, and they're the ones I'd trust."
Faith nodded. "Then everything's fine, and I can go back to -"
"Faith, don't be an idiot," Dawn said. "You can't just walk away from this."
"Yeah, I can," Faith said. She looked down at the floor, then turned away. Dawn let her get a few steps down the hallway before stopping her. She'd hadn't really believed that Faith would really go through with leaving, but Faith always was stubborn.
"He's asking for you," she called.
Faith stopped, but didn't turn around. Dawn walked up to her and stood in front of her. Faith didn't look at her.
"Do not throw this away," Dawn said. "Whatever it is, do not throw it away. Not again."
Faith finally looked at her, and Dawn put on her best resolve face, and she'd learned from the best. Faith took a deep breath, then turned and walked towards Xander's room.
Xander's face lit up in the biggest smile Dawn had ever seen when she entered the room, and Dawn smiled, too. Everything really was going to be fine.
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Legal Disclaimer: The authors published here make no claims on the ownership of Dr. Gregory House and the other fictional residents of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Like the television show House (and quite possibly Dr. Wilson's pocket protector), they are the property of NBC/Universal, David Shore and undoubtedly other individuals of whom I am only peripherally aware. The fan fiction authors published here receive no monetary benefit from their work and intend no copyright infringement nor slight to the actual owners. We love the characters and we love the show, otherwise we wouldn't be here.