DISCLAIMER: House, M.D. is the property of David Shore and NBC Universal Studios. This work was created purely for enjoyment. No money was made, and no infringement was intended.
RATING: T (for language, adult themes)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This follows "House Training" and explores the conversation Foreman might have had with Chase had he agreed to go and get drunk. No slash. Enjoy!
A BALM IN GILEAD
Foreman had called Chase after his mother's birthday celebration had ended. He didn't know why he had done it exactly. He hadn't thought he'd wanted company, and when he'd heard the familiar Australian accent slur a salutation on his cell phone he'd almost hung up before even speaking. But he hadn't. And about thirty minutes later, he found himself stepping inside one of the bars not far from the hospital.
It was late, after ten o'clock, and he was exhausted. He hadn't slept in two days, but it felt like forever. His body ached and his eyes felt as though a thousand grains of sand were trapped beneath the lids. No matter how much he rubbed them, he couldn't rid himself of the itch. Nor could he wipe away the tears that always threatened. He should have been home at his apartment, collapsed in his bed and sleeping away his misery. But he wasn't. He felt sick, and he lingered at the door, considering again the wisdom in what he was about to do. It wasn't too late to turn back, to forget this stupid idea and seek some reprieve in solitude. But he didn't. Everything seemed this way to him now: a series of "buts" and "yets", and these things inevitably led to "should haves". Regret was so bitter a pill to swallow, and he was gagging.
He spotted Chase in a booth near the back of the bar, the shaggy blond hair unmistakable. Sighing, he made his way through the nearly empty tables to reach his colleague. Then, without a word, he slid into the booth across from the other doctor. Chase looked up as he did so, his normally clear expression for once unreadable. "Hey," he said softly. His eyes were vacant, and he was nursing a beer, his hands cupped around the base of the brown bottle. He looked down after a moment, his thumbs drawing mindless circles on the label of the drink. Even as seemingly despondent as he was, he still fidgeted.
They sat silently. He didn't know what to say to Chase really; they were hardly friends. Sure, they were usually civil to each other at work, but they rarely spoke about things other than patients, House, and hospital matters. The man sitting across from him was really a stranger, and he suddenly realized that bothered him. They'd worked closely together for nearly three years, and they hardly knew anything about each other. And the quiet was not satisfying. Foreman tried to convince himself that it was enough, because he wasn't certain he even wanted to talk. When Chase had offered that they get drunk to put this mess behind them earlier that day, he'd brushed it aside. What the hell would that solve, anyway? But here they were regardless, and he wasn't sure why or what to say.
But Chase didn't push him. He didn't realize that until quite a few minutes of dark brooding had passed. He chanced looking up from his folded hands to glance at his colleague. Chase hadn't moved, hadn't even drank his beer. The bottle looked full. His eyes were glazed and distant. He wondered what cause the Aussie had to seem so bothered. He wondered why he even cared.
Eventually a waitress came around and took Foreman's order. The silence persisted as she returned with his beer. He didn't drink his, either. He considered this for a moment, staring morosely at the beverage. He could get good and drunk, but that wouldn't fill the void in his heart. That wouldn't make the pain or the guilt disappear. That wouldn't make the anger or grief abate. It would only numb the sharp edges of these emotions, and even that was temporary. Chase was a damn idiot for thinking otherwise.
The quiet was heavy, suffocating even, but neither of the two doctors felt compelled or bothered enough to break it. The sounds of the bar were loud in the emptiness, deafening even. The clinking of glasses. The low hum of chatter. It seemed surreal, fake, and terribly monotonous. A distant buzz of sound and a blur of dim sights. One long, arduous moment bleeding into the next. Endless. Not endless. A woman had died, and he had killed her. "What are we doing here?" He surprised himself by speaking. He had surprised Chase, too, for the other man looked at him oddly. Then he shrugged. "You said come and get drunk, but we're not drinking. So maybe we should talk, then, but we're not doing that either."
Chase's eyes narrowed. "Do you want to talk?" he asked. "If you want to, I'll listen."
Foreman grunted ruefully, his lips twisting into a shadow of a smile. "No," he answered. Still, that wasn't entirely true. He wanted to talk. He wanted to hear something from somebody that would alleviate the ache that tightened his chest and made his throat raw. He wanted absolution, despite House's intimation that such shallow things were best sought in booze or confession and despite their boss' belief that he had done nothing that required atonement. Moreover, Chase was certainly in no position to grant him any forgiveness. So what was the point? Still, he was speaking again before he even thought to because most of all he wanted hope that this would mean something and that one day he would come to terms with it. "Will it stop hurting?"
He hadn't been clear as to what he was referring, but Chase understood. Of all of them, the Aussie was the only one, perhaps, who truly could. Chase's face fell sadly, and he shook his head. "It will hurt less and less," he eventually said, "until you can sometimes forget that it bothers you at all. But it never stops. And you never forgive yourself, even if everyone else forgives you and even if you convince yourself that life goes on." That wasn't what he wanted to hear, even though he knew Chase was being completely honest. "You killed someone. House would say that we all make mistakes, and that ours just mean much more than most. But that doesn't make it easier or make it right."
So there would be no end to this. At least, not a simple or clean solution, no cure that would remedy this disease that he felt festering in his heart. Foreman had irrationally believed otherwise, but hearing Chase speak of the lasting scars upon his heart blasted away his foolish hope that he could somehow be completely and easily healed. The hurt was black and putrid, washing his soul in such foul muck that he felt wholly tainted, and when he opened his mouth it simply spilled from him. "I tried to tell myself that I didn't do this because of who she was. But I can't. I dismissed her because I didn't want to admit to myself that we were the same. That's why I wanted to believe she was an addict or that she made herself sick. She was destroying herself because she was stupid, too stupid to get out. I've spent so much time trying to make myself not be like her that I made myself hate everything I was."
Chase didn't comment. He hadn't expected him to. Shameful tears flooded Foreman's eyes, but he angrily held them back. He didn't want Chase to see him hurt. He didn't want Chase to see him cry. That he could be this weak, this vulnerable. Not Chase. "I wanted to go home today. I thought… my mother would remind me of what I'd left behind. And I thought she understood that, but she doesn't. She doesn't understand anything anymore." He chanced looking up, and at spotting Chase's confused eyes, he explained. "AD."
The other doctor's face softened, and his eyes filled with sympathy. "I'm sorry," he murmured quietly after a brief pause. "I know what it's like to watch someone you care about disappear."
It was strange, and it made him feel even guiltier. He didn't think he had ever expressed his condolences when Chase's father had died. Of course, the Aussie had hid the fact from them for weeks after it had happened for reasons that seemed completely stupid. He tried to rationalize his coldness that way; it wasn't that he hadn't cared. He'd just never had a chance to tell Chase that he'd been sorry for his father's loss. But he knew that wasn't true. And he didn't understand what his companion meant by what he had said. How could Chase know how it felt to witness his mother's mind slip away moment by moment? She'd been beautiful, kind, and wise before the disease had wretched her from him. Now she was only a shell, a ghost of what she had been, and it hurt too much to face her when she hardly remembered him. He didn't know how Chase could comprehend how much such an experience could torture a person, but as he gazed upon the Aussie's sorrowful, regretful expression, he knew beyond a doubt that he understood all too well. The two of them had more in common than they had thought. It was sad that it had taken the death of their patient to show them that.
They were quiet again. Quiet and contemplative, each suffering with personal demons. But neither was willing to submit to the battery their pasts would level upon them, and they returned to their conversation. "You gonna be okay?" Chase asked finally.
Foreman shrugged again. He didn't know. No, that wasn't true. He would be okay. Given enough time, the pain would dull, just as Chase said it would. He would forget Lupe and the terrible mistake he'd made. The sights and sounds of that long, horrible night he had spent at her bedside would lose their sharp vividness, and as they did they would trouble him less. The crushing emotions would fade into the contours of his memories, and he would come to whatever peace he could. He would get over it and go back to work because he loved what he did and he was damn proud of what he was and he wouldn't sacrifice that because of one tough case and his mother's slide from sanity. He was both what he had been and what he had made himself to be. And, in time, he would learn to accept that.
But right now, it hurt too damn much to think that far into the future. "You said you talk to God when you want answers." He sighed softly, foolishly wishing that in this at least he would find some relief. "Does it make you feel better?"
Chase didn't answer immediately as if sensing his fledgling hope and trying to decide whether or not what he had to say could crush it. "Sometimes."
That wasn't overly reassuring. It wasn't what his father would admit. His father was a man of unwavering faith, and thus for him there was always meaning, peace, and courage to be had. Chase wasn't that strong, and neither was he, and they both knew it. "And when it doesn't?"
Chase considered that a moment, and then the corner of his mouth lifted in a wan grin. He raised his beer bottle in a meager toast, tipping it to his comrade. "Cheers," he said softly.
He smiled himself, weakly and tiredly and without a bit of joy, and gave a humorless chuckle. "Yeah," he said, clinking his bottle to Chase's. Then he swallowed a mouthful of beer. It burned as it slid down his throat, and it tasted sour and bitter. He wanted to care, but he didn't. He couldn't. He wallowed in it, wallowed and yearned for something more, but there would be no healing, no peace or panacea. No soothing balm to ease his torn heart.
Not tonight at least, and, in some ways, not ever.
But then Chase smiled. It was a genuine smile, and a rare one. Not the wistful sort he often gave Cameron or the placating sort he offered their boss or the tried and suffering sort he wore after a particularly difficult case in order to ward away any concern that he did, in fact and in the face of all evidence to the contrary, give a damn. This was a real one, with no strings attached or hidden emotions or agendas. Inexplicably Foreman felt comforted to have received it.
"My father was a real piece of work," Chase said finally, spinning his beer bottle rhythmically between his hands. "Despite what you think, he never gave me much. Yeah, there was money, but that doesn't buy what you really need when you're a kid." Foreman felt the tiniest bit ashamed then for all the times he'd ribbed Chase about his rich family in the past. It was no secret that it bothered him that his colleague came from wealth and opportunity while he himself had scrambled to make everything he had and was today. But he had suspected for some time that Chase really hadn't had the easy and affluent life he'd always imagined, even if he wouldn't outwardly admit it. Money wasn't worth a happy childhood filled with loving parents. "After he left and my mum died, we hardly spoke. But he did come the day I graduated from university. I hadn't seen him in years. I was leaving for medical school in a few weeks, and I guess he thought he should at least congratulate me on following in his footsteps." Chase paused, his eyes glazed in memory. "That day he gave me the only thing I ever thought was worth anything." The Aussie focused on him. "He told me, 'You will make mistakes that will hurt people, maybe even kill people. If you can't live with that, you can't be a doctor.' He said I had to love myself less than I love medicine.'" Chase gave a short, remorseful laugh. "I always thought he was just being a sanctimonious prick." Foreman smiled at that as well. "He never loved anything more than medicine, not me or my mum or our family. And I swore to myself that I would never be like that, that I would never care about medicine more than anything else."
Foreman watched the bottle of beer spinning slowly between Chase's hands. "But I realized… He was right. He was trying to tell me to expect moments like these. Sometimes you have to just take the pain and live with it, because you have to go back tomorrow and do it again and try not to screw up the next time." It was the same thing that House had said, only it meant more, seemed more real and appropriate, coming from Chase. "So I say a prayer for the ones I lose, whether by my mistakes or by fate, and I hope that God forgives me when the time comes for doing my job at the expense of my soul."
"And you believe He will?" he asked.
Chase shrugged. "I don't know what I believe anymore," he admitted again as though ashamed of his inability to give a good answer.
"Damn it." Foreman had to laugh in bitter frustration, the inevitability of it all tightening inside him like a screw turned into wood that wouldn't give. Though he knew it was impossible, he still wanted to feel better. He was selfish, and he wanted relief at any cost and from anybody. He couldn't imagine or remember hurting more than he did right then. "You're supposed to tell me that I'll get through this. You're supposed to tell me it wasn't my fault! Lie to me! Tell me there's a reason this happened and that my mistake was not really a mistake but just God's will or something. Tell me I'll feel better tomorrow if I get plastered and go home and sleep it off. Tell me something!"
Chase shook his head helplessly, hurt glimmering in his eyes. "What do you want me to say? That what's done is done? That what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? That time heals all ills? That's a load of crap, and we both know it. But I'll say it, if you want to hear it. If that's what you want." He knew Chase would.
The tears were burning again. "Tell me this won't hurt tomorrow."
Chase faltered. He couldn't even do that. "It will."
"Then you're doing a piss-poor job at making me feel better!"
Perhaps that had been the wrong thing to say. His vicious, desperate words echoed in the silence, shattering any connection they might have felt to one another. This was all another mistake. That seemed to be all he could manage lately, screwing up one thing after another. Damaging things and people. He was a goddamned fool.
But Chase smiled again after a minute, that same, warm grin that felt true even if it was a bit weaker. "No," he argued, "I'm not."
The anger faded, and when it did, he was surprised to find that pain was somehow lessened. It wasn't quite as sharp, as hot, as vengeful. It was still there, and it would be for a long time. But for the moment, it just seemed better. House had offered him numbers. His mother had offered him empty comfort that had hurt more than it had helped. Chase had offered him some measure of understanding, and that was somehow exactly what he had needed.
They didn't say anything else to each other, sitting in silence and drinking. Foreman savored the simplicity and security of that and wondered what would happen tomorrow. He'd go back to work, and everything would seem normal and unchanged. There would be another case. He would still be a doctor, and there would be people who needed him. People who would die without him. People who would die because of him. Chase was right. If he couldn't accept that, live with it, swallow its poison and its sweetness at once and be happy with it, he truly would be no different than Lupe. He'd be running from his bad decisions, all of them, rather than swearing a silent but steadfast oath to not make them again. That, perhaps, was too lofty and impossible an ideal. But he supposed, when all was said and done, when he had cried and grieved and hated himself, and after he had sought an unattainable atonement and suffered his ritualistic and self-constructed penance, that goal was all he could expect to achieve. Some belief that next time would be different, even though that was as shallow as meaningless cold statistics and empty hugs meant for children long grown and a moment of friendly connection with a co-worker he hardly knew and barely liked. And all of the goddamn platitudes. What was done was done. He would be stronger when he survived this. Time would help heal his aching heart and shattered confidence. It was a load of trite rubbish, but quite often things just were.
And maybe, in time, he could learn to accept that, too.