"House, M.D." is owned by David Shore and FOX TV.
This story takes place as a continuation of the season one episode "Babies and Bathwater". Inspired by the request: Chase angst. (Guilt is good--I'm remembering "Damned If You Do".) Would like element of penance.
An Act of Contrition
The champagne from their impromptu party isn't enough by itself to account for the sense of euphoria he feels. Robert Chase hikes the strap of his backpack over his shoulder as he prepares to leave for the night.
Vogler is gone, thank You, God. It's too bad about Cameron, but she had her own reasons for leaving that have nothing to do with Edward Vogler. I know House is going to make things difficult for a while, but there's nothing he can do to equal Vogler's brand of Hell. I'm safe now.
Passing House's office, he sees his boss standing in front of a lightboard. "Chase. Get in here." House's voice carries to him, and he comes to a halt.
I just wasn't expecting to have to face it quite this soon. Oh, really? he mocks himself as he gives the glass door a reluctant push. Did you think House was going to forget that you went behind his back to cover your own arse? You betrayed him, and you don't even have thirty pieces of silver to show for it.
"I've got a question for you," House says, still studying the MRI film. "And this time, I want an adult answer. How do I work with you?"
The man remembers the details of patients he treated when you were still in the sandbox, did you honestly think he was going to blank out that you smarted off at him? This time, House does have a choice.
Chase feels oily sweat slick his skin and his Adam's apple bobs. Guilt chokes the words he wants to utter. Saying he's sorrying is pathetically inadequate, but what else is there? House's blue eyes sear him with the intensity of his gaze, and Chase glances downward, focusing on the faded gray-black of the tee showing above House's partially unbuttoned shirt.
"What, no snappy comebacks? Apologies? Contrition?"
The last word triggers old instinct. An act of contrition... Without conscious decision, Chase drops to his knees. He almost genuflects, but he catches that reflex in time. A shard from a prayer he hasn't said in years flits through his mind: O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee... House would no doubt be flattered by his promotion to deity.
A hand rests atop his head; for a moment, it's exactly like receiving a blessing...but this is House: it isn't going to be that easy. The fingers twine into his hair and wrench his head back. House smiles down at him. "That's a nice look for you," House murmurs, malice twitching the corners of his lips upward. "You'll have to do it more often."
"You'd have to keep me around for that," Chase points out, then shuts up. Mouthing off to House is one of the reasons he's in this muddle.
"If you'll cooperate." House releases him, limping to the corner with the controls for the blinds. In a moment, no one in the corridor or the conference room can see them.
The young intensivist feels his stomach lurch. What has he let himself in for? Slipping the backpack from his shoulder, he watches with apprehension as House makes his way to the corduroy-cushioned Eames chair in the other corner. House puts his feet up on the matching foot stool, resting his cane against the wall.
"Come here," House orders him, and when Chase automatically starts to stand, growls, "No. On your knees..." as if he's disgusted at having to explain something so basic.
Shuffling across the carpet gives Chase a moment to consider what he's doing. Whatever House is going to ask is payback for ratting him out to Vogler, and Chase knows he's earned it. He endured plenty of unpleasant punishments in seminary; a few of them even drew blood. He doesn't think House will go that far, but if he does, he does.
House gives an elaborate stretch. "It's been a long day," he says. "I've been running around all day long...in a manner of speaking," he adds with a smirk. "You know what would be really great right now?"
I can think of a lot of things that would be really great right now. And I'm pretty sure whatever you're about to ask me to do isn't on my list. Chase is a statue, saying nothing. He doesn't raise his eyes past House's knees.
"A foot massage!" House proclaims. "Dr. Chase, if you would do the honors..."
It's meant to humiliate him, he knows, but compared to what the former chairman of the board threatened him with, it's a petty enough task. Hell, I can do this. It's no big deal. Vogler would've destroyed my life and not thought twice about it. Had me deported, had my license revoked...he had the connections to do it. Compared to that, playing House's bitch to keep my job is nothing...what else does he have in mind?
Chase unties the lacing on the left shoe and eases it off. He's even more careful with the other trainer, mindful that the foot is attached to his bad leg, and causing House pain will only heighten his malevolence. It's true that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. Keeping a straight face when confronted with stomach-turning sights and smells is second nature. Nevertheless, it takes real effort for him to peel the clammy socks from House's feet. The skin on House's feet is bluish ivory, imprinted with ribbed lines from his socks. Toes---long and prehensile-looking---appear not to have had their nails clipped in the last couple of months. Bastard needs a pedicure. Wouldn't be any more demeaning than what he's asking now.
For just a moment, Chase allows himself to imagine painting House's toenails the same color he saw recently on one of his teenage clinic patients: pearlized lime metallic. The amusing notion is quashed when House tells him to wipe that grin off his face and get on with it. He pats the nearby cane. "And no tickling, or Foreman gets a chance to play neurologist with your brains."
Chase dismisses the lime fancy and takes House's left foot in both of his hands. Ideally, House ought to be lying on his stomach---Chase picked up a fair bit about therapeutic massage from a long-ago roommate who was an exercise physiologist---but he'll manage somehow. First, he flexes the ankle gently to loosen the tendons, then he begins relaxing the heel.
Chase keeps his attention solely on what he's doing. His thumbs press into the high arch, moving in a circular pattern. House doesn't say anything, which is a relief. Chase works his way to the outer edge of the foot, always starting at the heel and kneading toward the toes. He repeats the treatment, this time with his knuckles instead of his fingertips, and is rewarded to feel the foot flex against his hands, like a cat asking to be petted.
I don't have to do this, I choose to do it, he tells himself. House only thinks he has the upper hand. He thinks my job is the only thing I was worried about. The worst House will do is fire me, and I can probably manage to avoid that by playing to his ego. Really, this isn't so bad... There's so much crud between House's toes that Chase wishes he could scour them for ten minutes with surgical soap. Not an option.
As that thought crosses his mind, it's forcefully intercepted by an image from his boyhood and a sense of vertigo so strong that for a moment, Chase is disoriented. For a moment, he's back in Brother Matthew's theology class, and they're discussing the Last Supper...specifically Jesus washing the feet of His disciples...Chase wills his face to remain neutral as he begins manipulating the littlest toe, grasping it at the base and rotating it clockwise, then counterclockwise, then squeezing the length of it toward the toe. House wants to humiliate me, but that's not going to happen. Because if He could do that, I can do this.
By the time he's given House's right foot a thorough going-over, Chase is calm and unstressed. It's become a meditation of sorts, this exercise in humility. Then his heart sinks. The right foot is going to be more difficult. Bound to be. And even if I do a bang-up job, he's got a built-in excuse. He can claim I'm bothering his leg, and it's not like I can call him a liar.
Contrition. From the Latin, ground to pieces. A metaphor for being crushed by guilt, one of his instructors told him. House wants to crush my ego. Perfectly understandable. He's been tinkering with its destruction for the last couple of years, and I've survived that. I can get through this, too. I brought it upon myself. Mindful of House's damaged thigh, Chase is careful not to pull or twist the leg. Stretching the tendon is done with immaculate precision.
House hisses an indrawn breath, making the young intensivist flinch, but the older man doesn't say anything. Chase resumes his ministrations. His right leg doesn't get used as fully as the other one, so Chase gives the ankle extra attention. It's stiffer than the left one.
I already know how he likes his coffee. He's used to having me wait on him. So now I get to wait on him hand and foot. Wrong...wrong attitude. Contrition, remember? He takes a deep breath and allows a familiar prayer to flow through him. Not the act of contrition, but what's commonly called the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi...
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness...he may never forgive me, Judas that I am...that where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that where there is error, I may bring truth...the truth is, I don't know if I can forgive myself...you could've handled the situation better, Robert...that where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that where there is despair, I may bring hope...I can't take credit for that, Cuddy's the one who brought us hope, she's the one with real guts here. She saved us all. Saved Wilson, saved House, saved me...
Blinking, he's surprised to feel tears coursing down his cheeks. Focus, damn it. Let House think he's gotten to you, it'll make him feel superior, and he needs that right now. A hundred million dollars. Jesus wept. Bring hope, hope...what comes next...?
His hands work the arch from the underside of the talus to the beginning of the first metatarsal bone. ...That where there are shadows, I may bring light; that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. The glow from the champagne has worn off, and with it his brief joy at the news of Vogler's departure has gone. The light---and shadows---remain. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; to understand, than to be understood; to love, than to be loved.
If there's anyone who needs comfort, love and understanding, it's House. He's got one friend, maybe one and a half, if you count Cuddy---he's in constant pain, and he's miserable on so many levels it's mind-blowing. And what scares me is, I look at him and I can see myself in twenty years. Chase exhales, begins plying toes individually. ...For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. Forget yourself. This isn't about you, this is about House...
More tears. This is absurd, he can't be weeping for House, can he? He can handle tears from guilt, from exhaustion, from the humiliation of what he's been made to do...but this isn't caused by any of those. Because, he realizes, he doesn't feel humiliated. Yes, he's tired from the emotional rollercoaster they've all been on lately, and his own remorse is going to dog him for quite a while...and he is crying for House, who carries a weight of guilt and pain and isolation and, as far as Chase knows, no joy or hope to make his burden lighter.
He's reached the final stage of rubbing the whole foot, when House arches, his foot pushing back against the pressure of Chase's grip. Out of the corner of his eye, Chase sees the other man's hands clenched on the armrests, then there's a sound like bone-crack and House groans and sags into the chair, limp. He's popped his hip joint.
Concerned, Chase scans his boss's face for the first time since this began, and almost immediately looks away. It's too intimate; he wishes he hadn't seen it. In those few heartbeats, he witnessed transformation from pain to relief, and such naked vulnerability in that moment that he's shaken. The foot he's still holding has become a dead weight, and Chase brings it to rest on the corduroy with minimum impact.
House doesn't say anything, but he's breathing deeply. Not from pain---Chase knows how that presents---but as if he couldn't before. And now he can.
Chase is grateful. Thank You for allowing me to be an instrument of Your peace, he prays. In another spontaneous action, he bends forward, kisses the top of each pale foot as if it bore visible stigmata. He leans back, palms resting on his thighs, waiting for another command. He refuses to look at House's face, although he supposes House is staring at him for the unexpected gesture.
"There's a gym bag," House tells him after a long silence. "Under the credenza by the window. Put those socks in there and get me a fresh pair." He complies.
This is the first time he's ever put anyone else's socks on, but he acquits himself without comment. He gets the trainers back on, and laces them hesitantly. Too loose and House may stumble, too tight and it'll undo the good of the massage. "Is that too tight?" His voice is hoarse and sounds out of breath.
"A little tighter. That's good."
That wasn't praise. Don't mistake it for a compliment. House's face...that was the compliment.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" he asks when both shoes have been replaced.
"Don't think this makes us even," House advises him. "This barely scratches the surface. But that's all for now."
"May I rise?"
"Yes. Get out of here, cry-baby. I'll see you tomorrow." House invests 'tomorrow' with special venom.
"Thank you," Chase says, meaning it, although not the way House probably interprets it. He stands up, a bit stiffly, and rescues his backpack. "Good night, Dr. House."
When his tired fingers make contact with the bar of the office door, it discharges a spark from the friction of knees on carpet. Chase blinks. The world seems to come into crisper focus, and he steps into the corridor with a sense of unreality. There is a wider world than House's office, and he rediscovers it with a vague astonishment.
Wilson's departing his office, and surveys him curiously as the door settles into place behind him. Just what I need. Cross-examination on what I've been doing with House. "Long day, huh?" Chase says, knowing how inane that is. And damn it, his voice still sounds ragged.
"Are you all right?" Wilson gets close enough to see his face, and when he draws a sharp breath, Chase knows he's busted. "Oh, God. What did he---?"
"It's nothing. Really." The oncologist is regarding him with concern, and Chase curses his timing, although it would've been more awkward for him to be caught on his knees with House. "Please, Dr. Wilson. Don't make an issue of this."
"House can't take his mistakes out on you---"
"Don't. Please. Look, I'm ashamed of myself." Chase makes eye contact with Wilson; after avoiding House's gaze during his penance, this feels unbearably personal. "You stood up to him, House stood up to him, Cuddy did---I caved. I feel like a worm. That's not House's mistake, it's mine."
Wilson rests a hand on his shoulder, clear brown eyes flicking toward House's door. "Okay, Chase. Go easy on yourself." He smiles, and there's warmth and genuine friendliness in that look. Chase smiles back, not having to force it. He's glad Wilson is back; Vogler didn't screw him over permanently, either. "Things will get back to normal around here soon enough. If you need someone to talk to, I'm here."
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
He's the most caring, open person I've ever met, Chase thinks as Wilson pulls the office door open and goes inside. Too bad it hasn't rubbed off on House.
Chase doesn't want to encounter either of them again this evening, so he gets to the elevator at a fast pace, and makes good his escape. The enclosed space puts him in mind of a confessional, albeit a rather well-lit one, and he reviews the act of contrition once more. O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest my sins above every other evil because they displease Thee, my God, Who, in Thy infinite wisdom, art so deserving of all my love and I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace never more to offend Thee and to amend my life. "Amen." he breathes as the elevator doors open, and departs the cubicle in a state of grace.