Chase didn't immediately look up as House entered the room. Indeed, he didn't show any sign of having noticed his entrance at all. Instead, his gaze was focused unblinkingly on the three items before him.
House followed the stare, and there he saw, lined up in a row, an empty bottle of pills, a medical journal, and an uncapped bottle of vodka.
Before he could stop to think, House felt the anger rise up within him. Discarding his cane, which seemed suddenly like an unnecessary hindrance, House lunged for the man before him, knocking him out of his curled up position and pushing him backwards against the counter.
"You still want to die? It didn't make a difference? It didn't make a difference to know that someone would care, someone would help, someone would give a damn, try and make things better?" Chase's eyes were no longer dead. They were alive, and wide, and pleading. "I'll fucking do the job myself then! I'm the only reason you're not dead already, so this time I'll fucking make sure it gets done right!" Flecks of spit landed on Chase's face as hands wrapped around his neck and his eyes began to water as he tried to gasp in breaths that wouldn't come, spiking the pain in his chest that came from an already compromised respiratory system, the weight of a six foot man pressing down on a broken body, the weight of accusing words pressing down on a broken mind. Stars began to swim before his eyes, specks of light blurred by salty tears, words flew at him nonsensically, pain assaulted his body, then darkness, not welcoming, not relieving, but cold, reviling darkness.
House could feel the convulsions running along the neck of the man beneath his hands, sobs that couldn't escape, and then the body fell lifeless and still. That was when it registered. Chase had struggled against death. Whether it was reflex or choice, House couldn't be sure, but it was enough. The fury faded, and House leaned back, off the crushed body. There were tears on the young face. The anger was gone, and in its place, House was flooded with shame, and despair. House retrieved his cane, leaning back against the counter, and then pressed his fingers to Chase's neck, no longer looking at Chase's face. The pulse was still there, still strong. The choked gasp that Chase drew in convinced House that the man was still breathing, just a little oxygen deprived. Pulling himself to his feet, House glanced around. As he looked, it became evident that the shards covering the floor had once been a vodka bottle, certified by the pool of clear, pungent liquid that seeped into the grouting of the tiles. He hoped that all of the alcohol was on the floor, and none of it inside Chase. Looking at the neat row of objects that Chase had been sitting before, House recognised an empty bottle of Elavil, a still full bottle of vodka, and, looking a little closer, saw that the medical journal beside it was by one Rowan Chase.
Half dragging, half heaving Chase, House managed to get him out of the kitchen and finally onto the sofa. His leg burned, but guilt kept him going.
Consciousness came back to him slowly, in increments, and with it came pain, and fear, but also, oddly, a sense of life, a sense of happiness, that it took him a few moments to work out. He wasn't dead, and he was glad.
Chase opened his eyes, and found that he was on the sofa. He was confused only for a moment before he remembered the events that must have put him there. Looking up, he found that House was perched on his coffee table, cane across his lap, and head buried in hands.
"I wasn't going to kill myself you know. Not this time." Chase whispered. House glanced up, then handed Chase a glass of water, trying not to think of the bruises already forming on Chase's neck that he had left there with the same hands. Chase swallowed, then coughed. House waited until the glass was half empty before leaning back and again placing his head in his hands. Chase didn't know whether to take that as an invitation to go on, but he knew that for the first time in he couldn't remember how long, he felt the need to explain.
"I was just thinking. The Chase family vices. The vodka, my mum. Aged 42. The journal, my dad. Aged 59. And then there's the pills. Me. Yet to claim. The lives and deaths of the Chase family." House raised his head to meet Chase's eyes, an air of understanding now existing between them. Chase fell silent.
"Why the first time? You can't tell me you weren't trying to kill yourself then." House asked, his voice unusually soft.
Chase remained silent for a long time, until House thought he might have fallen asleep. Maybe he had never been awake at all, maybe it had been a hallucination conjured by a guilty, sleep deprived mind.
But then, "I can't really say why. I just… I wasn't me any more. There was no me." Chase paused, as if trying to think of a way to phrase his so far nonsensical explanation. "All the good bits, all the happy bits, they were gone. I only had the bitter bits, the angry bits, the despairing bits. I felt like I was already dead. I felt like I was already in hell. There wasn't a way out." He tried. It was only the slightest insight into what he really felt, the melted water on the top of the iceburg, but it was all that he could put into words. It seemed to be enough for House at that moment though.
"And now? What's changed?" House asked.
"I…I don't know. Maybe… maybe hope. Maybe it's just instinct. Maybe I'm fed up of dying." Hidden by his hands, House allowed himself a slight smile. He hadn't said the words, but Chase had admitted it. He didn't want to die anymore. Unmasking his face, House looked up.
"I won't take control anymore. It's time for you to take back control. But if you want to live, you'll stop running away." He told Chase. Chase lowered his eyes, and House wasn't quite sure what to make of the gesture.
"House?" House watched the way Chase fiddled with his hands. "Can I come stay with you? I mean, just for a few days. Just – I don't want to go back to the hospital. I'm fed up of being smothered with sympathy."
Perhaps House might normally have responded with a joke, a witty but hurtful comment.
"Fine." He answered instead. Taking his cane in his hand, he pulled himself to his feet and stood, then offered a hand out to Chase, who clutched his ribs before standing, reminding House of the damage he had caused the other man. But looking at it, perhaps what he had given Chase was more than what he had taken away. But then that was House's way.
"You can sleep on the couch this time," he informed Chase as he put his free arm around the waist of the other man and helped him towards the door. Chase smiled. It was true. He was fed up of being smothered with sympathy. And he didn't expect to get any from House.
House wouldn't offer any sympathy, but he couldn't deny that something had changed between the two of them. Or perhaps it was just that he had acknowledged to himself that he did give a shit. He wouldn't offer sympathy, but he would offer silent empathy.
"You've got to get him back to the hospital," Wilson argued over the wall that separated the two balconies. "You've got to get him psychiatric help. You can't just leave him there in your apartment all alone." House merely stared nonchalantly out at the sky view, peeling an orange that he had pilfered from Wilson's lunch tray. Wilson knew for a fact that House didn't like oranges. That was why he had chosen it.
House didn't turn his attention away from the orange. "The goodies are all locked away," he told Wilson in a voice that was meant to be assuring.
"But Chase isn't." Wilson commented. Realising the implications of what he'd said, Wilson hurried to go back on himself. "I don't mean in an institution. I mean… what if he runs again? It might take more to find him again." House glanced across at his friend, then answered simply, "he won't." Wilson refrained from sighing exasperatedly, knowing it was better to conceal such emotions from House. He started on a new tack.
"Chase needs psychological help. You must realise that." He tried.
"I listen when he talks." House responded, throwing the last of the peel in the bin. Wilson looked at him, his eyebrows raised, beyond his voluntary control.
"Because you're really known for inducing sanity in fellow human beings." He was unable to keep the incredulity from his voice. House merely glanced back up at him, his expression unreadable, before throwing the untouched orange into the bin on top of the peel. Catching Wilson's eye as he turned to head back in, he stated, "sour", before closing the door behind him.
House sat on one end of the couch, and Chase sat on the other. The remote was firmly glued to House's hand. A repeat of a '93 baseball game illuminated the room with garishly green light.
"What were you thinking?" House spoke out of the blue, but clearly, and didn't remove his gaze from the television. Chase didn't need to ask to know what House was talking about. It wasn't the first time House had asked the question, and each time he asked it, Chase tried to answer it, as much for himself as for anything else. It wasn't that the answers he had given previously were necessarily lies. They just weren't the whole truth, because Chase didn't know the whole truth yet.
For a number of minutes, the only sound that could be heard was the fuzzy cheer of the phantom crowd, mob mentality at its greatest. The question might have drifted off with the particles of air through which it was spoken, dissociating, fading into the distance so that its meaning was confused, unanswered, nothing but atoms.
"I won't say I wasn't thinking, because I was." The silence continued. Though the television continued to babble away in the background, the sound was empty, Chase couldn't hear it, and neither could House, as both minds focused on the gaping silence, silence into which words might drop and never find their way back out. "But there are different kinds of thoughts; there are idle thoughts, the ones that build up over time without necessarily ever really having any real thought put into them. They're controlled by circumstance, actions, not thoughts. They pervade your life, they block out everything else, until there's little room for any kind of other thought at all.
"But then sometimes, something will prompt you to think deeper. It's usually the little things. The way the tracks of a railway track gleam at night, the silence that envelopes you when you're by yourself, even if there are other people around you, but when you're alone with your thoughts, nothing can impinge upon you. And sometimes when you have a thought like that, some might even call it a revelation, your perspective changes. And it might not be life changing; it might only make you think of particular tree in a different way, or a person, or a place. The same way that if you visit a place that you knew well as a child, and you go back as an adult, it's completely incomparable, as if something real and dimensional has really shifted, when all it really is, is a change in your own mind. But the two realities are irreconcilable.
"Sometimes, of course, you think you're having a revelation when it's actually nothing of the sort, and they can be the most destructive thoughts of all, more so than idle thoughts.
"The only way that I can think to describe it is that… that day, it was the end of a period of idle thought. An unbreakable period, inescapable. It didn't make it any less real, those were the only thoughts I was capable of. It was the inevitable end. The only way that things could go at that moment. I wanted to die.
"But then someone threw a spanner in the works." Chase's lips twitched at the corners, an almost smile. "And sometime in the path between then and now, I seem to have had a revelation. I don't want to die anymore. Of course, it may yet turn out to have been a false revelation, and then… then who knows what will happen? But for the moment I'm Ok." Chase's voice had diminished to a whisper. He stared at his knees, suddenly realising what it was his mind had been trying to work out over the past few weeks in the many hours of solitude, and somehow, talking to House, without expecting an answer, without expecting any reaction beyond that that a rock might give, suddenly he felt part of the world again.
House remained silent. He hadn't known Chase been thinking quite so hard over the time that he had been staying on his couch. Half of him was tempted to scoff at Chase's attempt to explain reality, but even though he wasn't quite sure that the words made sense to him, with their almost childlike delivery, somewhere in there, there was a sentiment that captured his own imagination. He didn't believe that Chase was "Ok", not by most peoples' standards. But he knew that Chase had moved away from where he was.
House stood and limped into the kitchen, opening the cupboard and removing a number of bottles. House had taken Chase off the drip the day before (this time, Wilson had at least had official approval to take the drugs, much to his relief). Counting out the pills so quickly that he might have appeared callous to a lesser trained eye, House switched on the tap and poured a glass of water, then returned to the couch and stood before Chase.
"Time to take your happy pills." He stated as he thrust the hand containing the pills towards Chase. Chase didn't say anything, didn't even look at House as he took the pills and the glass of water from House, but the corners of his mouth once again twitched into something that resembled a smile.
"Go to sleep," House said as he retreated into his bedroom. Chase continued to stare at his knees for an unidentifiable period of time before he finally relented and laid down on the couch, but it wasn't the blank stare of days before. There was an air of wisdom to it, an understanding.
House shut the door carefully, then leaned his back against it. Withdrawing his pills from his pocket, he tipped some out onto his palm and contemplated them for a moment. "Time to take your happy pills", he whispered to himself. House looked intently at the plain brown covers on his bed, and thought back to the young man lying on the couch in the other room, and wondered if his own perception on the world hadn't shifted somewhat over the past few weeks. Not in a glaringly obvious, evangelical sort of way, but somewhere within him, in some part of his brain that for all his medical genius he couldn't quite put his finger on.
House crossed the distance to the bed, and lay down at exactly the same moment as Chase did.
Chase awoke on the now familiar couch bed, and yawned, stretching as he did so, revelling in the pain free movement. It was early; he had set his alarm. Outside, the sky was still dark, though the morning chorus had already begun, and the stars had faded as the first vestiges of light began to sweep over the rain soaked city. Beside the couch, House's sports bag was once again packed with Chase's clothes. Chase wriggled his toes under the warmth of the covers and pulled himself into a sitting position, feeling only a slight twinge from his ribs as he did so.
After a number of minutes, as the bird song began to die down, and the inky black sky was starting to turn to a washed out shade of grey, Chase swung his legs over the edge of the couch and began to get dressed.
Chase had been at House's apartment for two weeks. Whilst House wasn't often openly nice to him, Chase hadn't been treated like the House slave that he might have expected to be, once he was up and on his feet again. House had cared for Chase's medical needs silently, and when Chase had begun to talk, without explanation, without warning, House had listened, without requiring an explanation, without requiring a warning.
Chase pulled on the sneakers that he seemed to have adopted from House, and looked around the room, the essence of House.
A sudden clunking noise distracted Chase from his almost nostalgic musings. Chase contemplated running, but then realised, he didn't really need to. The door opened, and House appeared, looking even more dishevelled than normal in a washed out queen t and a pair of boxers that just revealed gouged flesh, if you peered closely enough.
"Going somewhere?" he questioned. Chase smiled a wan smile.
"I'll see you tomorrow at 8," he replied, lifting his bag over his shoulder and turning towards the door.
His hand over the handle, Chase hung his head and offered, "I'm not escaping." There was silence for a moment, and Chase didn't move, as if waiting for approval.
"Don't be late," said House, turning and heading towards the shower.
Chase smiled, a secret smile, a real smile, pushing the door open, stepping into the corridor, and pausing to say good morning as he passed the door man.
Placing his hand on the brass door knob of the oak door that led to the outside world, Chase twisted with a deliberate air. The door swung open and Chase smelled the clean air, the city cleansed by the rainfall. Everything was washed with the pure drops, still not quite clean, but then, when was anything ever clean? Chase stepped out into the morning light.
Thanks so much to everyone who has read and reviewed this story, and I'm sorry that I haven't got round to replying to everyone who I would have liked to. For anyone who has enjoyed it and hoped for more, I'm afraid that's it for the foreseeable future, but drop me a line to know what you thought!