Now that I've reached the end of this story, I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who was kind enough to send such supportive feedback. I hope you will all be happy with the ending. Have a wonderful holiday season!
Epilogue: Six Weeks Later
Chase released a loud yawn as he signed out of the clinic and quickly walked away, eager to reach the elevator before anyone could stop him.
"Chase! Chase, wait!"
Chase turned around cautiously, relieved when he saw Cameron running toward him instead of Cuddy coming to inquire why House had once again failed to complete his own shift. "Hey," he greeted casually as he held the door open for her.
"So, how was it?" Cameron asked anxiously.
"What do you mean?"
"You know, your first day back. This is a big deal. You've been gone for over a month recuperating."
Chase smirked. "I'd be lying if I didn't admit five hours in the clinic has me ready for another month off, but it was kind of nice to start getting back in the swing of things. I've had my fill of daytime TV."
"I can't stand those soaps or chat shows either. How are you holding up? Maybe Foreman or I should have taken the clinic hours instead. You look a little worn out," Cameron worried as she glanced at the dark circles forming beneath his eyes.
"It's all right, really. I am tired, but it's nothing I can't handle. And we both know it's to be expected."
"Well, in that case," Cameron said with a seductive grin, "I think we should celebrate your return if you feel up to it with dinner. And then go back to my place and have dessert."
"I can't, Cameron, I'm sorry I have other plans," Chase told her as the elevator stopped and they exited.
"Oh," Cameron replied, failing to hide her disappointment. "Did you meet a girl while you were gone?"
"I am meeting a girl tonight, but it's not what you think. I'm visiting Audrey."
"Chase, Audrey's been gone for weeks now."
"I know, but that doesn't mean I can't visit her. I know doctors are supposed to put up certain boundaries, but this is different," he explained as they returned to House's office to gather their belongings.
"Of course it is."
"Hey, guys," Foreman said as they entered. "You two headin' out for the night?"
Cameron nodded. "Yeah, I'm ready to go home."
"Well, have a good night," Foreman told them casually, pausing when he reached the door. "Hey, Chase?"
"Yeah?" Chase replied over his shoulder as he slipped on his jacket.
"A lady from the gift shop downstairs brought up some flowers she said you wanted. They're on the table."
Chase cast a quick glance at the roses in the corner. "Oh, thanks."
"Yes?" he asked reluctantly.
"Glad you're back," Foreman said, quickly patting his shoulder as he walked out the door.
Chase smiled slightly as he glanced at the handprint on his sleeve. Although he knew Foreman still may not consider him a friend or even like him personally, he was proud to see he had at least earned the respect of his co-worker.
"Chase, this arrangement is beautiful," Cameron commented as she observed the arrangement of white roses on the table, gingerly touching the petals. "Why did you pick white?"
"The lady at the shop said white meant innocence, Audrey had lost so much, this seemed like the only way to give some back even if it is too late."
"It's very thoughtful. You know, you made the right decision."
Chase swallowed roughly as Cameron rubbed his back. "Yeah, I guess I did. But right or wrong, I hope and pray that I never have to do something like that again."
"Chase, are you sure you're doing okay?" Cameron asked as she stared up at him intensely. "You seem kind of…."
"Kind of what?"
"I don't know. Just kind of different."
"I suppose that's because I am."
"What do you mean?" she inquired lightly. "A month isn't really that long."
"I'm not different because of the time I was away. I'm different because of what happened during that time."
"I don't understand."
"I didn't expect you to. In fact, I'm glad you can't because it took nearly dying for me to get here."
Cameron grinned slightly. "Oh, now I get it. Colors are brighter, smells are sweeter?"
"No, not really. Look, I know you're skeptical. I don't blame you. I was, too, every time I heard a patient talk about it. I don't have any desire to try new things or see every country in the world before it's too late like some people tell us they want to."
"Then what is it that you want?"
"I want to matter. I want my life and the things in it to matter."
"What are you talking about? Chase, for Pete's sake- you're a doctor, you help save lives. Can anything matter more than that?"
"It's deeper than that. Before I got sick, I was focusing on the wrong things, things that don't really matter when you're on your deathbed. Always trying to please House and practically begging for his approval, I've been so focused on getting ahead that I don't even have a personal life anymore."
"That's nonsense. You and I have personal lives."
"No, we have sex," Chase told her plainly. "You said it yourself- we're just two young, healthy co-workers having great sex."
"So, that's what this is about. Did your near death experience renew your spirituality? Do you feel too guilty to have sex out of wedlock now?"
"No. Honestly, I can't be a part of the arrangement you created for us anymore, but for different reasons. I know you don't care about me-"
"That's not true!" Cameron interrupted. "When you were sick I-"
"Wait, just wait," Chase insisted, lifting his hand to silence her. "I know you cared, but you have never cared about me the way I have about you. Through most of my life, no one has," he whispered as he remembered the numerous second chances he had given his father, the nights of his childhood he spent caring for his mother and even the friendship he had given Dr. House that was never returned. "The next time I make love to someone, I want to know they care about me as much as I care about them. I think I deserve that, something real."
"Wow," Cameron muttered, dumbfounded.
Chase sighed. "I suppose I sound like a sappy fool."
"Not too badly. I'm not going to lie, I'm going to miss sneaking off to release some steam together. But things change."
"Yes…Yes, they do. I guess I better get going before it gets even later," Chase murmured as he gathered Audrey's roses, pausing when Dr. House limped into the room, waving a handful of money. "W-where did you get all that?" he asked.
Cameron groaned. "Please tell me you didn't rob a donation box again."
"I didn't rob it, it said 'for the handicapped' and it went to the handicapped," House said, nodding to his cane.
"Then where did you get it?"
House smiled smugly as he continued counting the green bills. "Just collecting on a few bets some of my co-workers were pathetic enough to make on their fellow staff members. And speaking of which, Cameron, you owe me twenty for Wilson, and Foreman owes me twenty for Chase. To think some people were actually dumb enough to think I couldn't save Chase and believe someone as metro as Wilson wouldn't resort to Botox after a teenager mistook him for her father. You should see him. The man's face is so stiff he can't even eat applesauce without drooling!"
"You made bets regarding my life?!" Chase gasped, shaking his head.
"Yep. And don't look so disgusted, you should be pleased; I was rooting for you and believed you could beat that virus. Foreman thought you were going to bite the dust, go scowl at him."
"Well," Cameron sighed, handing House a twenty dollar bill as she followed Chase out the door, "I guess some things never change."
"Yes, they do," Chase whispered with a slight grin. "House believed in me."
"May I help you, sir? You look a little lost."
Chase spun around and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw a petite employee staring up at him through her slanted purple glasses. "Uh, yeah, I am a bit lost," he admitted, glancing at the outrageous paintings and sculptures around him. "I haven't been in a museum in years. I'm looking for a teen art exhibit. For Audrey Meadows work, actually."
The woman nodded and waved him over. "It's right over here. Many people have been looking at her work, she's a rare talent. Pity there isn't more to show."
"Yeah," Chase echoed sadly as he turned the corner and saw a portion of the wall filled with beautifully painted landscapes and sketched portraits. He sighed as he glanced over Audrey's exquisite work, angry that so much of her time that should been dedicated to improving her gift had been spent being a caregiver to someone who never properly cared for her.
A smile instantly graced Chase's lips as he heard the soft, gentle voice he knew he would never forget. He quickly spun around and watched as Audrey walked toward him slowly, but steadily.
As she came closer he could see the signs of illness that still remained that could not be hidden by her make-up, perfectly curled hair or formal evening gown. But despite Audrey's thin frame, extremely pale skin or the dark circles lying beneath her eyes- for the first time, a glow of youth surrounded her. In the gray eyes that had been laden with sadness and desperation there was now a glimmer of hope and excitement.
"Dr. Chase!" she nearly squealed when she reached him and wrapped her arms around him. "It's so good to see you."
"Likewise," Chase replied as he returned the hug, lifting her a few inches from the ground.
"Thank you so much for coming."
"My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me. You look lovely."
"Thank you," she said shyly. "You look great, too. Are you doing okay?"
"I'm the one who should be asking that."
"Typical Dr. Chase- you just can't stop being a physician even for a few minutes to just be normal."
"I'm working on it," Chase told her sincerely. "Oh, these are for you," he added as he handed her the white roses. "Congratulations. I hear this is a big night for you. Your work is the best here."
Audrey blushed as she sniffed the flowers and flashed a grateful grin.
"Audrey! Audrey!" a panicked voice called through the crowd as a small Latin woman shifted through, pushing a wheelchair. "Audrey, there you are!" she said in obvious relief. "Oh, and Dr. Chase, I'm so glad you came! Maybe you can convince her to stay off her feet you know how important it is for her to take it easy."
"Hello, Ms. Nex," Chase greeted Audrey's employer, touched by her motherly tone as she fussed over his former patient.
"Gloria," Audrey sighed, "I'm doing all right, really. When I saw Dr. Chase I just wanted to walk over and say 'hello' and let him see how much better I'm doing. You're worrying too much."
"I most certainly am not, young lady! You gave me the scare of a life time and I cannot go through something like that again. Dr. Chase, does she look flushed to you?" she worried as she pressed her hand to Audrey's forehead.
"I'm fine," Audrey insisted as she turned to Chase. "Please tell her I'm okay."
Chase cleared his throat awkwardly as he glanced at Audrey, noticing the redness taking over her pale cheeks and the multiple deep breaths she was suddenly drawing in. "I think it is a little warm in here and a bit of fresh air wouldn't hurt. I could use some myself."
"All right, I'll walk outside for a few minutes with you. Just let me get your gift."
"Gift?" Chase whispered, utterly surprised. "You got me a gift?"
Audrey nodded. "Yeah, it's in the other room."
"I'll go get it. You go on out, sweetie, I know you're in good hands," Gloria volunteered as she gently squeezed Chase's shoulder. "I just can't thank you enough for everything you did for Audrey. I didn't realize how lonely I had been until she came to live with me after she was released from the hospital. I don't know if my heart could have ever recovered if I lost her."
"I was just doing my job," Chase muttered as Gloria walked away and he took the handles of the wheelchair.
"But you don't have a job to do tonight," Audrey reminded him. "Please don't make me use that thing. Tonight's the first time since I was in the hospital that I've been able to try to have a normal day and leave the house for something other than a check-up."
"All right," Chase relented easily as he offered her his arm, "but don't push it."
Audrey wrapped her arm around his and slowly walked out of the museum. "So, have you had any normal days yet?"
"Today was my first day back at the hospital. But I was stuck in the clinic, and I'm not sure you can call any day 'normal' after that. But things look like they're going better on your end. How are things going now that you're living with Gloria?"
"Wonderfully," Audrey answered as she stepped outside, taking a few deep breaths of the cool night air. "Things have changed so much in such a short time. I can't believe she opened her home to me. She turned her basement into an apartment for me and won't even let me work for her in the future again unless she really needs help. It's almost…like having a mother. She's taken care of me, even when I was a psycho."
Chase gently lowered her onto an empty bench and sat down beside her. "You weren't psycho you just had a personality change and severe depression from the strong drugs you needed to get better."
"Yeah, I guess…I thought I was a monster, but according to Gloria, it was the first time she saw me act like a real teenager. Did you have any Jekyll and Hyde moments?"
"No, I was spared. But I am anemic now like you, though not as severely, and taking steroids to keep my platelet count up. And I have to keep an inhaler handy until my lungs are one-hundred again. But eventually it will probably tamper off for me, I fared a lot better than you."
"I can't complain," Audrey said with a wan grin, "I'm alive. I know my lungs will probably never be as strong as they were and I'll probably always need a few breathing treatments, but being able to breathe on my own is an amazing feeling."
"I'm glad you're happy, but I still feel a bit guilty. I bounced back so much faster, I didn't need by-pass or a platelet transfusion."
"Don't feel guilty. That's not anything to be guilty about. Trust me, I know."
Chase lifted his brow in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Sometimes I feel guilty," Audrey admitted somberly.
"What could you possibly have to be guilty about?"
"My mom's death. Normally when a person loses their mother- they're devastated and their life is a mess. I've just been numb and kind of glad she passed when I was too sick to have to deal with it all, so the state took over and handled it for me."
Chase sat silently a moment, remembering how little he had felt when his father passed away. He hadn't even bothered returning to Australia for the funeral; almost feeling like his father hadn't wanted him there when he hadn't even told him about his cancer diagnosis. "It's understandable, Audrey. Anyone would feel that way."
"It's not just that. Now, without her, my life is better than it really ever has been since Gloria took me in. How could I not feel guilty?"
"Audrey, you have had a really rough life, and for better or worse, you nearly lost your own life a few weeks ago. Don't waste your energy on guilt. You deserve a second chance at a wonderful life and happiness."
"Is that why you didn't give up on me?" Audrey asked in a whisper as she tilted her head to face him.
"You know about that?"
"Gloria told me. She said most of the other doctors thought it was time to let me go, but you wouldn't give up. You fought for me."
Chase sighed as he recalled the memory. "You had been fighting for too long on your own, someone needed to fight for you. I just stepped in until you were strong enough to take over. You've seen the bad in life, now it's time to see the good."
"That goes both ways."
"Yes," Chase muttered, knowing part of the reason he never wanted to let go of Audrey was because he felt like he would be giving up on his own hope of starting over.
"So what are you going to do with your new lease on life?"
"Get a life for starters," he replied with a good-natured chuckle. "Something more than rounds at the hospital by day and frozen pizzas at night."
"Have you made any progress?"
"Well, I'm not quite as alone now. I have a room mate. Steve. He's...um…a rat."
"You know that's really pathetic, right?"
Chase grinned, thankful to hear Audrey sounding like a normal teenager. "Yeah, I know. But I always wanted a pet when I was a kid, but I was never allowed. And I figured since I already beat Hanta Virus a rat would be kind of fitting."
"Or kind of creepy," Audrey suggested, shuddering. "Isn't it crazy that it took nearly dying for us to start really living?"
"Yes. The only thing crazier is that you know that at eighteen. You're just a kid."
"Yeah," Audrey said with a beaming smile, "for the first time, I really feel like I am just a kid. Sometimes, when I find myself just thinking about school, college or my artwork instead paying bills or saving my mom, I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm awake."
"Don't worry it's real and probably about to get even better. Some people remember their college years as the best of their life."
"Yeah, I know some people like that who are anxious to get away from home and do some heavy partying. But I'm not one of them. It's been so long since I looked forward to going home… I want to cherish my time with Gloria. I'm going to enroll in a local school with a great art program so I can try to break into illustration when I graduate."
"That sounds like a great plan."
"You really think so? Most people think I'm crazy when I mention studying art."
Chase smiled sadly as he remembered when his father mocked his love of music. "Obviously those people haven't seen your work. But if you do decide to change your mind, I still insist you're already smart enough to be a shrink."
Audrey rolled her eyes. "If that were true Gloria wouldn't be sending me to one."
"It's not anything to be embarrassed about," Chase assured her, knowing that he himself could benefit from a little therapy if he weren't so stubborn.
"I'm not embarrassed. It just feels weird to be talking about things I fought to keep a secret for so long."
"I understand completely."
"Sometimes it feels like a lost cause," Audrey sighed. "That it really doesn't matter how many sessions I have, I'll never be able to have a normal life."
"Is anyone really normal?" Chase asked with a weak chuckle. "I used to dream of being normal as a kid, but after becoming an adult I met a lot of other people who were pretty screwed up, too, even from functional families. And then once I started working in the clinic…I knew normal didn't exist."
"Okay, in that case…I guess I might have a shot at a decent life after all," she muttered, smiling as Gloria stepped outside and walked toward them.
"Here you are, sweetie," Gloria said as she handed Audrey a small, guitar-like shaped case. "Come inside soon, all right? It's a little nippy out here and lots of people inside would love to meet you."
Audrey nodded and kissed her cheek. "I will. Thank you." She smiled slightly as she turned to Chase and pressed the case into his hands. "Well, I guess it's pretty obvious what I got you. I hope you like it."
"A violin?" Chase whispered breathlessly as he ran his palms over the familiar shape of the worn black case. "You got me a violin?"
"Yeah, I know it might seem a little dorky. But you said you used to love playing."
"Yes, but I haven't in years. I'd probably make people's ears bleed now if I tried. Why did you do this?"
"Like I said, Gloria's making me see a shrink and at my session she told me that even if I try to forget my past, it will never really go away, but I could move on. And it might be easier if I thought of one good thing from my past to take with me. So, I picked up my artwork again and started trying to become the professional artist my dad thought I could be. I thought playing the violin again might help you."
Audrey swallowed roughly and twisted her hands together nervously as Chase stared at the gift in silence. "Did I just sound totally cheesy?"
"N-no," Chase stammered as he regained his voice. "This is a beautiful gift. It's the most beautiful and thoughtful gift I have ever received. But I can't accept it."
"Even a used violin costs an absurd amount of money."
"They do?" Audrey replied awkwardly. "I didn't buy it. I traded a painting for it with the music teacher at my school. Did he get a bad deal?"
"No. Violins are worth a lot of money, but I have a feeling your artwork is worth even more," Chase said sincerely.
"Well, he told me it was all ready to go when he dropped it off tonight. All tuned up or whatever it is you do with a violin."
"Thank you. I promise you I am going to play it, maybe it will help."
"Well….I guess I better get back in now," Audrey said reluctantly as she slowly pulled herself to her feet. "Thank you again for coming."
"My pleasure. Can you make it on your own?" Chase asked as he stood with her.
She nodded. "Yeah, I can manage. It feels weird saying goodbye to you, I know doctors and patients are not suppose to cross certain lines, but it feels like you were so much more. You were almost…like a big brother, Dr. Chase."
Chase smirked as he recalled the countless jokes House had made. At the time, the words 'big brother' had been an embarrassment, but now hearing Audrey say them, they felt like an honor. "Maybe we shouldn't say goodbye. I think it would be okay if we kept in touch. But you're going to have to drop that formal 'Dr. Chase' stuff. My name's Robert."
Audrey wrinkled her nose. "Robert? That's as formal as Dr. Chase. Don't you have any nicknames? You know, like Robbie?"
Chase smiled slightly as he suddenly remembered his mother's voice whenever she used the special nickname, like an angel whispering in his ear. "Yeah, special people call me 'Robbie'. I can live with that."
"Okay, then, Robbie," Audrey said as she hugged him goodbye.
Chase returned the embrace and pressed a light kiss to her forehead, surprised when he heard her murmur. "Thank you for saving my life."
"You're thanking the wrong person," Chase told her as he gently pulled away. "Dr. House saved your life."
"No, he didn't. I know it's because of Dr. House that I'm still breathing and have a pulse, he helped save my body. But you're the one who really saved my life."
Chase watched Audrey as she walked back inside, left speechless from her kindness and sincerity as he gingerly began to open the violin case. Dozens of memories flooded his mind as he stared at the violin, lightly brushing his fingertips over the wood and strings. But one memory in particular stood out as he remembered his mother always asking him to play her favorite hymn 'Amazing Grace', the song he had wanted to play for her one final time as a special farewell at her funeral.
With a deep breath, Chase lifted the violin and bow and took the formal position he had been taught so many years ago as he tucked the instrument between his jaw and collarbone. He gulped as he saw people passing by staring at him awkwardly and felt the bow trembling in his right hand. But despite it all, he closed his eyes and began to play.
He had spent too many years trying to please people- his father, House, even his co-workers. It didn't matter if the people on the street hated his music or if he made mistakes, he wasn't playing for them- he was playing for himself and hoping his mother could hear him.
As his nerves calmed and he heard the simple, yet haunting melody lift into the night air, he opened his eyes and saw Audrey smiling back at him through the glass inside the museum, reminding him of the first time he had seen her standing idly in the doorway at the clinic. Even before he heard about the despair and sorrow that was shadowing her life, he had been connected to her because he had seen his own reflection in her eyes- the same sadness and loneliness he felt that was impossible to hide. Now as he played freely, he hoped he would once again see the spirit shining in Audrey's eyes- now filled with excitement and hope in his own when he looked in the mirror.
When Chase finished playing the hymn, he slipped the violin back into the case, saying goodbye to his mother and his broken past and hello to the bright, new future ahead of him.