In the states, House was starting to regret agreeing to Chase's brilliant plan. True, he'd planned on a bit of malingering in order to convince the powers that be to stay out of his department, but things were quickly getting out of hand. Foreman was still sulking at the perceived injustice of House's behavior, so much so that Cameron was getting suspicious. Cuddy was under mounting pressure from the board to appease Vogler and secure the hundred million. Even Wilson's support was starting to waver; Vogler had been asking a few too many questions about the Oncology department.
There'd been a chance to fix everything, or so everyone thought. After getting House to take on a Congressman as a patient, Vogler got the idea to make House give a speech at an event praising his pharmaceutical advancements. It was hard to get House to agree at all, but when Vogler mentioned that he would be glad to welcome Dr. Chase back 'provided Dr. Noel is successful, of course,' everything went to hell. Now, after being humiliated in front of his peers with House's cold hard facts about pharmaceutical politics, Vogler was demanding House's resignation.
Fortunately, Cuddy was holding him off. She stood by their deal; House's actions may have been inappropriate, but they were not in violation of the original agreement, or even out of character. Vogler shouldn't have asked him to speak without knowing what he was going to say.
Unfortunately, others were not so forgiving, particularly Wilson and Cameron. After the speech, Wilson chewed House out as never before, questioning their entire friendship. They hadn't spoken since, and House was facing the uncomfortable reality of being the lonely, miserable man with no friends that he pretended to be, only now without the safety net of his devoted sidekick. It didn't help matters that Cameron also had decided to take offense at House's apparent disregard. She surprised him with a letter of resignation, stating that she would remain only until Chase returned.
When Chase asked his father about the nurse's odd comment Rowan passed it off as concern that he might not be adjusting well to retired life. Chase was not eager to make waves in the tenuous peace he and his father had now so he let it go. The next few days were filled with nostalgic outings and day trips to visit old haunts and friends. Rowan accompanied Chase a couple of times, if he wasn't going anywhere far, but most of the time Chase was left to explore on his own.
A little over a week into his visit, Chase came back from the Museum of Contemporary Art laden with gifts of a bizarre and beautiful nature for the folks back home. He even brought home a book for his father about the newest exhibit. It was a hyperrealist sculptor named Ron Muek. Chase bought three copies of the book: one for his dad, one for himself, and one for House although he hadn't decided yet if he'd actually have the guts to offer his boss a present.
"Dad?" Chase called as he jogged up to his room to put his bags away. "Are you home? I brought you something."
He placed his packages on the full-size bed and started to repack them into his suitcase. There was room now, since he'd finally unpacked his clothes the other day. He'd buy a duffel bag later to hold his clothes so the gifts could be shipped undamaged in the sturdier luggage.
It felt strange though, finally filling the closet and drawers. After the divorce, Rowan announced that this was Robert's new bedroom, but with his mother's bitterness and his father's busy schedule Chase rarely got the chance to use it. Even after his mother's death, Chase boarded at his parochial school and only spent the occasional holiday with Rowan. Those were awkward visits, when they weren't cut short or cancelled altogether. They just confirmed Chase's feeling that he didn't quite fit into his father's life. Even 'his' bedroom was a bit too sophisticated for a teenage boy to be comfortable in. Although now as an adult Chase realized Rowan had made an honest effort. The fabrics were all green, which was Chase's favorite color, and the music stand in the corner was always dusted, even though it served no purpose when Chase wasn't there to use it.
To this day, Chase still played violin, piano, and even dabbled in guitar. Damned if he'd let anyone know it though; he knew House was also musically inclined and if Foreman ever found out…But Chase didn't want to think about Foreman. Instead he ran his fingers over the old crinkling sheet music still folded on the stand and remembered how Rowan used to make him play during the dinner parties his mother held before the drinking got too bad. Oh, that was embarrassing! And terrifying, because Chase knew how disappointed Rowan would have been if his son made a mistake in front of his peers. But, Chase thought, Rowan also must have been at least a little bit proud of him to take the risk. Chase had always performed perfectly, and then promptly fled to his room to bury his blushing face deep in his pillows.
"Dad?" Chase called out again with a smile on his face. "Did you hear me?"
He walked downstairs to Rowan's study, pressed one ear to the door, and knocked. There was no sound from the other side. Chase eased to door open and peeked inside. Empty. Maybe he was resting; he had been sleeping a lot. Probably out of boredom. Chase could not imagine his father adjusting well to retirement.
Chase carefully tiptoed back upstairs and through the halls toward his father's rooms. He opened the door slowly until he could make out Rowan's shape under the covers. He was snoring softly – wheezing, more like – and actually didn't sound very good.
"Dad," Chase whispered. He reached for his shoulder, perhaps to shake him, but pulled back. If Rowan was sick he probably needed the rest. Instead he tucked the blanket in a bit. He could go downstairs and see if his father's housekeeper was cooking this evening. If she weren't then Chase would put something together. Come to think of it though, his father hadn't been eating much these past few days. Perhaps he was taking something that upset his stomach. With that in mind, Chase slipped into the master bathroom to check the medicine cabinet. If Rowan was on something that didn't agree with food very well, something lighter for dinner was probably…
That label printed so neatly on the bottle sitting on the center shelf stopped Chase's musings as effectively as a fist to the solar plexus. He stepped back, started to close the cabinet door, but at the last moment he snatched the bottle up. It was a refill, already half empty. The pills inside were jumping about and when Chase realized it was because his wrists were trembling he dropped the bottle with a crash. He couldn't say how long he stood there, but suddenly he was being shaken and turned by the shoulders.
Robert? Robert? Chase could see very well that his father was speaking his name, but he couldn't hear him. It was as though someone was holding a conch shell to each of his ears. He shook his head and slammed his fists against his ears. Rowan pulled him out of the bathroom and sat him down in a large armchair beside the built-in bookshelves that lined a full wall of the bedroom.
They sat and waited until suddenly Chase realized he was once again aware of the ever-present rumbling of the air-conditioner and the ticking clocks scattered about the room. It was the first time his hearing had failed him so completely, intermittent though it was. He knew these attacks would only come on more frequently now, lasting longer and longer each time, until his hearing never came back at all.
"Robert?" Rowan murmured softly. He'd probably been doing that this w hole time, testing to see if his son's hearing had come back. He sighed and gripped his hands together with relief when his call caught Chase's attention. "Oh, good. Has it passed then?" Chase nodded. "You're not straining at all? Any ringing in either ear?" Chase shook his head. "Good, good. Well then, I suppose we'd better talk this out."
"Oh, you think so?" Chase guffawed. He stood up and started pacing in short uneven bursts. "Personally, I think last month might have been better! Don't tell me you didn't know! I saw the date on the bottle."
"I never intended to lie, Robert," Rowan said. He also rose to his feet and blocked Chase's path to make him still. "Not now, and not then either. Now be reasonable; given the circumstances it was hardly the right time…"
"The right time!" Chase interrupted. "When do you suppose the right time would have been? I've been here over a week and you haven't said a word! Were you just going to let me go back to America, maybe have a postcard waiting for me when I got there? Or maybe you were going to spring it on me before I could get on the plane. Is that what this whole thing was about?"
"Now, you stop right there!" Rowan shook his finger. "This was about you. You're the one who wouldn't face up to your own condition. You're the one who wouldn't take proper care of yourself. I have never been the one to needing my own son to trail along after me and holding me together." Chase stepped back, out of range, as though his father had struck him, or perhaps to stop himself from striking his father. Rowan sighed and scrubbed his palms over his face. "I'm sorry. That was…I didn't mean it. But I didn't trick you into coming home to take care of me either! All I wanted was to help you how I could, while I could. And I suppose I wanted to spend a little time with you as well. Is that really so unforgivable?"
Chase was staring at the floor, letting his floppy hair shield his eyes. It waved like the bristles in a carwash when he shook his head.
"Good," Rowan sighed. "Okay, good."
"But I'm going to anyway," Chase announced.
"Going to what?"
"Going to stay, of course, what do you think? That I'm going to jump on a plane and fly to other side of the globe knowing you might be dead by the time I get there?"
"Robert, don't be ridiculous," Rowan blustered. He took up Chase's pacing. "Look, the truth is I'm losing weight. I'm tired. My pain is up. I'll probably be in hospital by the time you're ready to go. You don't want to stay just for that."
"What are you going to do? Kick me out?" Chase challenged. "I'm not going anywhere."
"What about your job?" Rowan demanded. "Damned fellowship meant so much to you. Are you just going to throw it all away?"
"I'm not leaving," Chase said softly. And that was that.