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Too Solid Flesh

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"What do you mean, he quit?" Cameron was the first to ask, eyes wide. House stared back at her, hoping against hope that once the news sank in she'd stop looking as though House had shoved her puppy out an airlock.

He mentally made a note to check if Cameron actually owned a puppy, because if he was going to get the stare he might as well get the satisfaction, and said, "I mean, Chase isn't working here any more."

Foreman was taking the news with more equanimity. "So... he's gotten himself reassigned? Left Babylon 5?"

"Yes to the latter, no to the former," House confirmed. "He's left Earthforce Medical Corps altogether."

Foreman raised an eyebrow at that. Cameron made another unhappy noise. "He didn't even say goodbye," she said.

It had been a pretty unpleasant few days, anyway. Chase's attendance had been spotty, and the day before he'd dropped by House's office out of uniform to announce that he was leaving Babylon 5 to "find himself" and not to wait for him to decide to come back, because he wouldn't.

Running away, House noted, seemed to be Chase's strong suit.

Maybe, Chase retorted, he just knew when to quit.

"I think he didn't want to face the thousand-to-one chance that one of you could do what I couldn't and talk him out of it," House said.

"You actually tried?" Foreman said, slightly incredulous.

House shrugged. "I hate interviewing."

It took him a week to find another compatible Xeno candidate. Compatible in this case meaning someone he didn't think he'd stuff into an airlock to keep Cameron's theoretical puppy company. (No on the puppy, it turned out, though she did have a robot fish in a magnetic suspension tank; no water. Its name was Mitchell.) Franklin wasn't happy until House agreed to personally interview her, in the interests of not bringing someone all the way out to Babylon 5 who House was going to scare away in less than a minute.

So House dialed up Sarah Chambers at three in the morning, her time. She blinked blearily into the com, hair askew, as he said, "I'm Doctor House. My boss won't pay for your ticket out here until you've actually talked to me. How would you handle a Minbari coughing up blood?"

She stared. "It's three in the morning."

"Want to wait until seven? She'll be dead by then."

Chambers blinked, then said, "Check the lungs for the most likely source, digestive tract next, and then the cardial-pulmonary flap tissues. Thin-wire cauterization if the bleed is in a sensitive area, clotting agents if it's not, call the ambassador's staff to inform them once she's stabilized and get ahold of any family." She hesitated, then added, "It could be anything from radiation to chemical to infectious, so we'd need to have more information in order to fully treat her, but with the Minbari they generally want to put their people under the care of their own doctors, so I've heard."

"Efficient, diplomatic, and correct," House graciously conceded. "Wanna do that in real life?"

Chambers rubbed at her eyes. "Do I have a few hours to get packed?"

Sarah Chambers was straight out of her residency. Dark-complexioned, black-haired, her professors had nothing but raves and she was willing to catch the next shuttle out. Less than a month after Chase's defection, House's team was back up to full strength.

Which was good, because when Security wheeled in the Centauri with a head injury, Medlab Three was already taxed with a dozen aliens with diagnostically uninteresting stab wounds, and House's team was being co-opted left and right.

House watched from his desk, flipping through non-emergency cases and scowling. Chambers was prepping surgery, and Foreman was reassuring the Centauri ambassador's aide, who was hovering much too close to the window.

"We've got him stabilized," Foreman said.

"There's so much blood," the Centauri said, eyes wide enough to reflect the ceiling lights.

"Scalp wounds bleed a lot," Foreman said. "Right now, time is critical. We have two choices--we can perform the operation here, or we can keep him stabilized and move him into custody of a Centauri medical team."

Vir, that was it. Vir Cotto. He turned away from the window, fanlike hair wobbling, and asked, "Isn't it dangerous to move him?"

Foreman nodded. "It's a delicate operation," he said. "I don't want to force your hand if you'd rather one of your own people do the work."

"But you can do it here."

"Yes."

Cotto nodded, the fringe of his hair wobbling. "Please. Save Kiron."

Foreman put his hand on the Centauri's shoulder. "I'll do my best."

"Is he one of your doctors?" asked a voice over House's right shoulder.

House turned and shot a look at the female Minbari who had approached him. "I thought Dr. Franklin had you on bed rest," he said.

Shal Mayan already looked better so soon after her stabbing, though she was still moving stiffly and the brand on her forehead still stood out in angry red. But she only smiled at his question. "I've been given his blessing for some small exercise," she said. "And I wanted to ask you a question."

"Well, in that case, yes, Foreman's one of 'my' doctors," he acknowledged. "Unfortunately, I had to let the pretty one go."

She stared at him for a moment, then nodded, acknowledging his answer while dismissing his snark. "He seems to have a way with patients," she observed. "While you steadfastly avoid them."

House raised his eyebrows. "Stab wounds and PPG burns. Personally interesting, diagnostically a snooze."

"I have heard a bit about your reputation. You don't like people."

"People don't like me."

Mayan nodded in the direction of his cane. "Does that have a story?" she asked, changing the subject.

"When I hit people with it, they tend to like me less," he said.

She refused to be brushed off, and stole a nearby chair to sit in and wait. When he tried to out-stare her, she said, "Dr. Franklin said you were also in the War."

Franklin, House concluded swiftly, was a traitorous ratbastard. "Yes," he said.

"Did the injury come from fighting?"

"Do Minbari doctors fight?" he snapped.

"There are doctors in the Warrior Caste," she replied, "who practice self-defense."

Now that was useful information. House tapped his cane against the floor, then said, "I was on the Passchendaele, in the late days of the war. Not that the name would mean anything to you," he added as an aside.

Mayan just looked up at him, expectant.

He sighed. "We were hit just off Beta colony. The center of the ship folded. I blacked out, but someone managed to seal me in a suit before the whole thing went. I woke up in a medical bay on Mars."

The next part still made him grit his teeth. "It took me another twenty-four hours to convince the doctor who was treating me that there was more to the pain than just trauma. By the time they found the infarction, too much muscle death had already taken place."

She sat and thought about that for a second, then asked, "Do you blame us for what happened?"

He rolled his eyes. "Might as well blame Jankowski for starting the war in the first place."

"But it was a Minbari ship that fired on you," she said. "The damage from the blast that caused the damage to your leg."

"That and the damage to the head of the doctor who misdiagnosed me," he said. That, for some reason, caused her to smile. "What?"

"You don't blame the Warriors who destroyed your ship," she said, "because they did their jobs well. Your anger is at incompetence, not what caused you the most suffering."

"That's a matter of opinion," he said.

She smiled again. "You humans. The more I speak to you, the more I am reassured that this," she tapped her forehead, "was an aberration."

"Yeah," House agreed. "Most people will just think you're a freak quietly. It's a rare person who has the guts to get violent about it."

"Thoughts can be argued with," she said.

He sniffed. "Harder when people have made up their minds already."

"Yes," Mayan agreed, looking at him in what was probably supposed to be a meaningful fashion.

He ignored her and turned back to the isolation chamber. Foreman had scrubbed up, and had joined Chambers in working on the unconscious Centauri. She monitored the wound on the patient's chest while Foreman got in place behind his head.

"That was good work, with Mr. Cotto, out there," House heard her say over the speaker.

"The Centauri are generally good people," Foreman replied. "Just like anyone, they want to be reassured that you know what you're doing."

"Blood pressure looks good," Chambers commented. "Ready when you are."

House felt his fingers start to ache, where he was gripping his cane. Without looking he forced himself to relax his grip, digits uncurling until the handle fit comfortably against his palm again.

Change. Harder than it sounded, most of the time.