It was raining. Again. Dr. Greg House sighed in his boredom and grabbed for his headphones to get lost in the music at least for awhile.
The ever-dapper Dr. James Wilson popped his head in the door, his impish face alive with glee, grinning from ear to ear. "Guess who's back?" Not receiving a response he continued happily, "Five Words. Five Words is back!"
"Johnson released her to come back to work? Damned soon isn't it? It's only been three months since her last surgery."
Both men hung their heads, momentarily lost in an awful memory of a terrible morning they'd both, but most especially she, would rather like to forget… forever.
Wilson added, "Well, she can't go back to the floor, no more heavy lifting and the like, so the nursing department has assigned her to the clinic. She's there now, terrorizing the new batch of residents." Wilson grinned. "Wanna go watch?"
Looking for any distraction, but mostly to satisfy his insatiable curiosity, House grabbed his cane and followed Wilson to the clinic. In the elevator, House dropped his voice to a husky whisper and asked, "How is she?"
Wilson considered for a moment before responding. "She's thinner, paler and not as physically strong as she was, takes whirlpool therapy every evening. She doesn't smile as much, but still she brooks no fools."
House looked down and mumbled, "then we'd better just stand out of the way."
Wilson laughed, "you know we could never hide from her, she'd detect our scent in a heartbeat." House granted a thin smile.
Controlled pandemonium reigned in the Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital Free Clinic. Every chair in the waiting room and a great deal of floor space was being occupied by people waiting to see a doctor. Two women dressed in scrubs behind the main desk seemed to be orchestrating this mass confusion. Brenda, a tall and dark brunette beauty with sharply defined features and the well-honed look of, "Look buddy, I've heard it all before" on her face was trying to explain the difference between a paper cut and an acute hemorrhage to a patient who wasn't listening. Chloe, a much shorter, softer and older woman whose green eyes had been described as "kind" by those who were either incredibly stupid or incredibly lucky was entering information into the computer. She possessed golden brown hair with a small streak of grayish/white above her right ear and had repeatedly stated that she earned everyone of those hairs and wouldn't even consider coloring them! Like a well-choreographed ballet, these two women pulled files, called names, directed traffic, and attempted to keep the noise level down to a dull roar.
House and Wilson entered the Clinic and observed through the glass wall that a new resident was about to be handed his head. The poor man was attempting to program a piece of equipment so he could administer IV fluids to a patient in Room 3. Above the din were heard the five words for which the shorter of the two nurses had become famous:
"DON'T TOUCH THAT (then under her breath) you moron!" She hurried over to defend the machine placing both hands on it and turned her head to look at the resident. "Nurses good… Doctors bad! Say it with me… NooOOO!" The resident slid back a few paces. "Doctor…", she paused turning his name badge over so she could read it, "…Adams, if you need something for your patient, let us know and we'll handle it. You diagnose, we administer the treatment… got it?"
He answered a confused affirmative. She looked closely at him. "Aren't you the one who had his tie cut off by Dr. Cuddy back during the meningitis scare?"
Sheepishly he answered, "Yes, ma'am".
She took a step closer and whispered in his face, "I cut lower!" Eyes wide, he scurried away. She checked the chart he'd had in his hand and delegated the task to one of the staff nurses.
She resumed her place behind the desk, picking up the next of a hundred charts and looked up to call a name… "Spenser!" A small man with an altogether unhealthy pallor rose from his chair and approached the desk. She didn't like what she saw and escorted him to Room 1 herself. After asking the perfunctory questions, obtaining perfunctory measurements and filling out perfunctory paperwork, she turned to the man and said, "How long have you had that lump in your right breast?"
Startled beyond words, he stammered, "Are you the doctor?"
"No, sir, but he'll ask the same question. I'll ask him to step in right away."
Leaving the man in the examination room, she made a bee-line to where House and Wilson were, they thought, surreptitiously watching the scene. She jumped on pointe and threw her arms around House's neck and gave him a big smooch on the cheek, accompanied by, "Gregory, my beloved, how are you? Grouchy as ever?" Not waiting for an reply, which she knew she wouldn't get anyway, she turned to Wilson and gave him a warmer hug. House eyed her, his brow furrowing, as though something was amiss. "Jimmy, you have a patient in Exam Room One. Middle-aged male with a lump in the right breast." As she looked at the two men whom she had known for longer than she liked to think, she suddenly jabbed a finger into each of their chests and exclaimed, "Piano (House)! Guitar (Wilson)! Wednesday 7p.m. No excuses!"
Looking astounded, they both rolled their eyes. House bellowed, "Why did we come down here?"
She had turned to go back to the desk, but at House's outburst, turned back and replied, "You came down here for the same reason you always come around… to watch me walk away from you!" She spun on her heel and walked, albeit a little more slowly, back to the desk. Both men's heads tilted to the side as they watched her walk away. With a sigh and a start Wilson remembered the chart in his hand and not questioning, he began to read as he ambled over to the exam room.
Halfway there, he turned back to the desk. "Chloe, there's nothing in here about a lump."
Chloe looked up at him sadly. "I know, but he's got that malignant pallor, he's guarding his right chest with his arm… in fact he made me take his blood pressure in his left arm, and wouldn't make eye contact with me at all. Call it thirty years of intuition."
Wilson nodded, "but you'll still let me order tests and such, yes?"
She laughed, "you're the doctor!"
Dr. Lisa Cuddy sacheted out of her office over to House and took up a position beside him. "Catching the floor show?" she quipped.
House was intently studying Five Words. "Is she seeing the shrink?" he asked.
"Are you?" she shot back, matching his arched eyebrow with her own. "You know I can't tell you that even if I knew. All I do know is that Nursing thinks she ready to be here, so she's here."
House stroked his stubble for a moment. "It's odd, she didn't use that 'guvnah' line just now."
Cuddy looked at him, puzzled. "What 'guvnah' line?"
"Never mind" he replied.
Cuddy shrugged, "Maybe she forgot."
"No, Cuddy, Chloe Marzhal doesn't forget." He actually sounded worried.
Employing his height advantage, House snuck a peak at Cuddy's cleavage, so expertly displayed in a gray business suit and a pale blue blouse. "You know, I really need to get to know your kids better, they seem so well mannered." Before she could process and react, he was half way out of the clinic.
It seemed the siren would not stop screaming and her ears were on fire with the wailing. All she could see through the slits that had become her eyes was the ceiling of the ambulance and part of an occasional face staring impassively at her. Her mind was numb, her body beyond pain. The cervical collar around her neck, meant to protect her spinal cord had the effect of a locked closet to a claustrophobic. She tried hard to block it out, but the stray tear just couldn't be stopped. She was so cold.
Someone had found her lying on the near-frozen ground behind a dumpster near the loading dock of the central supply (now called materials management) department of the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. She was completely nude and covered in her own blood. Her face was beaten so savagely that she was unrecognizable.
Once in the emergency department, the din grew worse. It was as though sound itself had become sentient and was continuing the beating begun hours before. Bits of conversation, cries of alarm, whispers of gossip, all accosted her without mercy.
Detective Michael Tritter slammed through the ER doors and the hospital security team as though they weren't there. "Where is she? Is she conscious? Can she speak?" He hurried after the gurney as it made it's way to the first available trauma bay. He began to shout out orders. "Cover her hands! She may have scratched him! Look for any defensive wounds, or bite marks!"
One of the older ER physicians confronted Tritter and said, "Mind if we make sure she's still breathing first?"
Tritter backed up, chagrined. "Of course, doctor, I'm sorry, please proceed."
There was no identification, no purse, credit cards, cell phone, nothing to tell them who she was. She seemingly couldn't speak, although they could tell she was conscious. She had heard Tritter's voice, however, and began to motion with her hands toward him. One of the nurses who knew American Sign Language finally understood she was signing something in Tritter's direction. While the doctors hovered over her, assessing her physical systems one by one, the nurse interpreted the words the victim was slowly spelling out, letter by letter: M… Y… M… O… U… T… H.
"My mouth?" said the nurse. Tritter quickly approached her head and asked one the doctors to check her mouth.
"That's not where the problem is, sir, she's bleeding internally." Tritter insisted, and with a sigh, the doctor opened her mouth and found, to his surprise, that there was something there. He reached for a set of forceps and pulled it out.
The victim who they had named Jane Doe began to vomit and the ER crew immediately log-rolled her, back board and all onto her side so she wouldn't aspirate. One of the ER nurses deftly placed a nasogastric tube down her nose and into her stomach and after securing it to Jane's nose, attached the tube to suction. The suction container quickly filled with bloody fluid. She was returned to the supine position as the nurse suctioned out Jane's mouth and tried to calm her. What the nurse didn't know is that Jane Doe knew who she was and was so grateful to have her right there right then.
The ER staff stood stock still as they looked in horror on what had been pulled out of Jane's mouth… approximately an inch, inch and a half of a man's penis lay in Tritter's bloody gloved hand. One of the younger nursing students fainted. Tritter yelled to his team, "Get me an evidence bag!" He ran out of the room, trying hard to hold back his own retching.
Dr. Cuddy had been notified of the arrival of Jane Doe, because of where she had been found. Cuddy entered the ER to assess the ramifications. By this time, Jane Doe's face had been partially cleaned to aid in assessing the damage to her eyes. Her chest had been washed off and the staff were once again horrified by what they saw. The word W.H.O.R.E had been carved across both breasts and it appeared she'd been stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen and pelvis. This was just sick.
Suddenly, one of the nurses screamed, "Oh my God…" She was staring at the tattoo on Jane Doe's left upper arm. That tattoo was distinctive and no one had ever been able to get her to translate the Chinese characters. "It's CHLOE! Chloe Marzhal, the night charge nurse from three!" Chloe closed her eyes as the tears finally came in hot torrents down her face. Cuddy flipped open her cell phone to contact the hospital's legal team.
Upstairs, just as he was entering the final level of his beloved video game, House's beeper went off and he missed a point. "Damn it!" He looked down at his beeper which simply stared back at him, "ER NOW". Irritated beyond words, he wondered who was dead and who he was going to kill.
At the same moment in the cafeteria, Wilson's beeper gave him the same message. Concerned and a little confused, he left his breakfast and made his way to the ER.
To his dismay the first person House met upon his entrance into the ER was his favorite jack-booted Gestapo officer, Detective Tritter.
"What the hell are you doing here?" House demanded.
"Investigating a serial rapist/murderer, but that, sir, is none of your business". "I do understand they want you in there, however," Tritter nodded to the trauma bay.
"What's that in your hand?" House asked, overwhelmed with curiosity.
Tritter showed him, saying, "Unfortunately, it's not yours." House, mildly shaken, "humphfed" and continued on his way through the ER.
Cuddy stopped him before he could reach Chloe. Placing her hand on his chest, she said, "It's Chloe, Chloe Marzhal. Someone has beaten her nearly to death, and probably worse." House looked at Cuddy, then beyond her. Chloe looked so small on that cold table, all those people hovering around, inserting tubes, invading her with every medical device they could lay their hands on.
He was shocked and angry that someone could do something like this to someone he placed in his "Mine" category. Not that "Mine" meant he had any obligation to them, just that he was jealous of anyone he could remotely consider a friend. And Chloe was more than that, she was a teacher, a confidante, someone with whom he had a real camaraderie. Those five words she was famous for began with him. He recalled his fascination with the minutiae of the gadgets the nurses worked with every day and her frustration that he could disable the most complicated piece of biomedical equipment in a heartbeat seemingly just by looking at it. She'd slapped his hand more than once in her time. There were a few brief moments when she'd slapped more, and those moments were memorable, but he was cocky and she was a couple of years older than he, which was 'way too old, dude'. Nubile eighteen year olds was where it was at back then. Not that the world had changed that much.
Just at that moment, another round of shouts rang out as yet another patient was rolled into the ER from the ambulance bay. Tritter and House both whipped around as they heard a man bellowing "…the bitch bit my Johnson! The whore bit me!"
As Tritter headed in the new patient's direction, House, as was his wont, put two and two together and came up with a severe case of homicidal rage. He actually beat Tritter to the man by cutting through the trauma bay. His cane came down hard on the man's shins as he screamed, "What kind of sick son of a bitch are you?" The man began squealing and sobbing. Tritter dragged House away and slammed him up against the wall with his own cane at his neck.
"Listen to me and listen to me hard! This is none of your business! I'll take care of this guy, she's our only living witness and if, I say, IF this is the guy, she's given us the most valuable piece of evidence we've ever had. But we need her testimony! Now, go, do what you do best… KEEP HER ALIVE!"
The day was finally over. The last patient had been seen and sent on her way, the charts were filed, the lights were beginning to be shut off. "Brenda, honey," Chloe said in her barely noticeable southern accent, "I'm outta here."
"I'm right behind you, lady" Brenda replied and grabbed her purse. Brenda headed for the main entrance, but Chloe for the elevators.
"Enjoy!" Brenda said as she disappeared into the cool evening air.
Chloe entered the elevator and pressed the 'B' button. The physical therapy's whirlpool room was in the basement and that welcoming tub of bubbling hot water had become her best friend. Because the 'incident' had occurred on hospital property, her attorney had managed to negate her recent retirement, reinstating her as an employee and wrangle permission to use the whirlpool after hours. Now would be a good time. Her back was killing her.
The whirlpool room was deserted and only one light was on. If she could get away with lighting a candle and burning incense, she'd do it. Filling the tub with water, she wandered over to the changing room to put on her modest one-piece bathing suit. Chloe was never one for mirrors and she avoided them now like the plague. She'd even had the huge mirror in her bathroom removed and replaced with a smaller one, just big enough to check her hair in the mornings. Mind you, the plastic surgeons had done a wonderful job. If you didn't already know it, you'd never suspect she'd been mutilated. There was only one small scar left, beneath her left breast. All the rest had been seemingly erased. Why that one hadn't killed her she'd never know. Actually, she did know. His name was Dr. Robert Chase, and if it weren't for his quick thinking, she wouldn't be here bemoaning her existence. She still saw that word, though, scrawled across her body, loud and clear.
Sliding into the tub she flipped on the jets. God, that water felt good pounding against her. The ear buds were in place and she let the world slide away into the roaring of the water and the sound of the soulful violins.
Chloe never heard him enter the room. Just like that night nearly six months ago. She thought she was alone. With the doors locked, she thought she was safe. He gently touched her outstretched hand. She shrieked, splashing hot water in his direction, then leapt out of the tub in a graceful motion that neither of them ever thought she could manage. She grabbed for a towel and twisted it into the only weapon she could think of. "What the FUCK are you doing here?" she screamed as she finally recognized who it was.
House was thunderstruck at the abject terror on her face. "Chloe, I'm sorry, I didn't realize…" His voice trailed off into the roar of the whirlpool.
"Didn't realize… my ass!" she shouted as she stormed off into the changing room. He was truly chagrined, but at the same time gladdened that she still had fight left in her. He shut off the whirlpool and pulled the plug, dried his face on his sleeve, then stood there like a chastened schoolboy until she returned, dressed and composed.
"You have people who actually get paid to be aggravated by you, I'm not one of them! Why are you here and what do you want? I'm not even going to ask how you got through two locked doors." She paused, her heart beating wildly again, "Yes, yes I am going to ask how you got past two locked doors. I don't relish the thought that I am not safe, here or anywhere else!" She stood with her hands on her hips, demanding a reply.
He shifted his weight to his good leg and began his interrogation, side-stepping the question. "Chloe, you've changed. You didn't 'guvnah' me."
Her startlingly green eyes flew open wide and she spun around so he couldn't see her face. Chewing on her fist she commanded herself to be still. Totally still. This was the one person she couldn't fool, couldn't lie to, never had. Well, except for that one time, but he deserved that. He wasn't like the psychiatrists she was forced to consult by the hospital's legal team. She told them what they wanted to hear. Never the truth. This was different. Damn him!
Slowly turning to face him, she chose a spot just above his left ear to stare at. She couldn't look into those eyes. Not yet.
"I've changed, have I? Let's review: I was brutally raped, beaten to a pulp, mutilated and left for dead. Endured four surgeries, can no longer practice my chosen profession as I would like, and I'm nearly bankrupt. Yes, I believe that is number three on the NIMH list of 'Things That Change You', right after having an extremity bitten off by a great white shark and burning alive in your own home!"
He tried to speak, but she stopped him cold.
"You," she began again very slowly, finally able to tolerate his stare, "had the privilege and honor to see your attacker. You were able to look him in the eye, see his weapon, know what he was about to do. I was not given that opportunity."
He reached out to her in an uncharacteristic gesture, which he regretted immediately.
She slapped him away. "Don't touch me!"
House was appalled. She was in more pain than even she knew. And it all had to do with 'guvnah'. But what? What else had the monster done to her? He knew he had to talk to the one person who had all the answers. And he didn't want to.
"It's Goodpasture's Syndrome!" Chase shouted above the fray, slapping the white board. "All the signs and symptoms point to it, all the labs point to it, all the tests and studies confirm it! We've got to get him on a ventilator and continuous dialysis before we lose him!"
House had never seen his little Rabbit so animated. It took a lot to get Chase wound up and he was wound tight. Dr. Eric Foreman and Dr. Allison Cameron were struck dumb at the outburst.
House consulted his shoes, then looked at Chase. He was right. House's eyes got wide as he shouted, "Go!"
Chase jumped up and ran for the ICU, Foreman and Cameron close on his heels. House stopped Cameron at the door. "I need you to do something for me."
Cameron looked at him quizzically and suspiciously. "What would that be?"
House stated the obvious. "You're a woman and I need a woman's perspective." Cameron was completely confused.
House continued, "I need you find out the scuttlebutt amongst the nurses regarding Chloe Marzhal."
Cameron was stunned. "Chloe? My god, I remember…"
"Yeah, yeah, so do I," House cut her off. "I need to find out what's being said at the proverbial water cooler. Can you do that?"
She could see this had some urgency for him, so she acquiesced. "I'll see what I can do." She left the office and he watched her go.
House walked out to his office balcony to consult Wilson. Wilson was, as usual, sneaking a bite to eat, desperately trying to avoid House for at least one meal. Alas, it was not to be.
"I talked to Chloe yesterday," House actually ignored Wilson's invitation to a French fry. "She's not 'alright' and she shouldn't be here."
Wilson had had his own doubts. So much of 'the incident' had been hushed up by administration. What they did know was horrible enough, but even Cuddy wouldn't discuss it with him. "What makes you say that?" He asked, just to judge House's reaction and knowledge base. Somehow he always had the inside story. But not this time.
"I've got to find out what really happened. Something just isn't right about this." House was pulling at his lower lip, his brow furrowed in concentration.
"This is really odd. You actually want to know about someone else's problems? Isn't this something of a first? Are you going sentimental on me?" Wilson smiled, then realized he shouldn't have. "Seriously, have you considered Chloe's feelings?"
House deflected, "We've known Chloe for a long time. Did you know that she's the only nurse in the hospital that can read your handwriting on the first try? She actually gives lessons in 'Wilsonese'. It's been going on for years."
"What's wrong with my handwriting?" Wilson cried, defensively.
House left the balcony suddenly, disregarding Wilson. He was now determined to confront a hated adversary.
Wednesday nights at The Little Valley Nursing Home were special. For the residents and for Chloe. Year after year, she would round up people she knew who could play a musical instrument or carry a tune, and to their accompaniment would serenade her 'family'. Occasionally, she ended up singing 'a cappella', but that was rare. Her enthusiasm for the evening was contagious. Everyone thought this was Chloe's one soft spot and she rarely had to ask twice.
This evening was more special than usual. For too long, the residents had had to do without their weekly 'shindig', as they liked to call it. Tonight was Chloe's comeback.
"This antique is out of tune," whined House.
The upright piano in the dining room was old, but well-made and well-tended. Chloe knew all his excuses by heart. She also knew he loved that old piano. "Don't give me that crap, I just paid a guy handsomely to make sure it wasn't! So quit your belly-aching. We'll start with 'Someone To Watch Over Me'" then handed him a play list.
House groaned. "You are so sappy!"
"And you're a talentless hack!" she retorted. That was all the incentive he needed. He played his fingers over the keys, to see if the old girl would respond to him again. 'She'll do', he thought, then began in earnest. Wilson was late, so House just played whatever came to mind. The residents had taken their places and Chloe was just about to start without him when he finally showed up.
"I'm sorry I'm late! I forgot how to get here." Chloe rubbed the tiny speck of lipstick off his chin and replied, "Uh huh."
Chloe re-introduced House and Wilson to the assembled group for the benefit of those who didn't know, or couldn't remember. Then for the next hour she sang her heart out. Old tunes, older tunes, sad songs and finger snappers, she went through her repertoire. Her voice was untrained but pleasant, she couldn't read music, but that didn't seem to matter. Except to House. He was always complaining that she was behind the music. She didn't know what that meant and didn't care. Her heart was in it and the audience knew it. She moved through the little crowd and patted heads, kissed cheeks and generally made them smile. For awhile, she could pretend she was someone else, in another time and in a different place. She even allowed the 'boys' a couple of solos each. She loved to listen to them play, though she would never admit it to their faces.
It was interesting to note that House was not the first one out the door when the 'performance' ended. In fact, it was Wilson who skipped the handshakes and 'thank yous' and slipped away rather quickly. Chloe grinned to herself and wondered who 'she' was. She hugged House again and thanked him for coming then accompanied him out the door. He seemed to hang back as she got into her car and made his way rather slowly to his bike.
She put the key in the ignition and turned it. Nothing. Nothing at all. The car just wouldn't start. Granted, the car was getting on in years, but she'd just had it serviced! "Oh for pity's sake!" She gazed around the empty parking lot, got back out of the car and flipped open her cell phone, trying to remember the name of the cab company. She was totally automobile ignorant and didn't even try to look under the hood. Nothing under there ever made any sense to her anyway.
"Hey, lady, need a ride?"
Chloe turned and was startled to see that House was still there. "You're still here!" Having stated the obvious, she immediately regretted it.
"Well, yeah," he replied, "you know me, always ready to assist a damsel in distress."
"Or create one," she countered suspiciously.
He gave her his best 'Who Me?' look and she had to laugh. "If you think I'm getting on that crotch rocket, you're out of your mind. Thanks, but I'll call a cab."
"Cabs are expensive and you could be out here for an hour waiting. Come on, live a little. I promise I won't throw you off." His attempt at charming wasn't really coming off, but she was short on cash and if nothing else, she could just close her eyes pretend to be somewhere else. She had gotten good at that.
For a woman, riding on the back of a motorcycle is an intimate experience if you think about it. And she didn't want to think about it. A year ago, maybe. But now, it just made her nervous. Nervous made her stupid. She didn't like stupid.
"Oh, what the hell! Alright, 'Home, James.'" He handed her his helmet and for a brief second saw that same fear in her eyes. "No thanks…" she stammered, "I'll just enjoy the wind in my hair." She hoped she sounded convincing. He wasn't convinced. But he let it slide… for now.
She didn't need any coaching to hold on. Motorcycles scared her to death and here she was on the back of one with a certifiable maniac at the controls. He grinned at the death-grip she had on him and could feel her forehead on his spine. Fear is a great motivator, he thought.
The ride was actually pleasant and just before they arrived at her apartment building, she finally relaxed a bit. He insisted on accompanying her to her door and when they got there, she quickly turned to block his view. "Thank you, Gregory, I appreciate it… good night."
She knew there was something else on his mind and she waited for it. He traced the ridge of her nose with his finger from brow to tip and said, "Chloe, you don't have to be alone." She could have laughed, but he was trying.
She looked up at the ceiling, considering. Facing this mountain she'd confronted so many times, gazing into that clear blue lake. She made her decision.
"Gregory, I've been alone most of my adult life, domestication doesn't suit me. I was alone last night and the night before that. Last week, last month, six months ago, where were you? A woman gets herself half-killed and you disappear, only to show up again half a year later?" She'd nailed him and he knew it. He had to look away from her gaze. "That's what I thought," she whispered. "When the person becomes more interesting than the puzzle, come on back, you're always welcome. But for now, go fix whatever you did to my car and go home." She quietly closed the door.
He stood there for a moment and sighed. Finally, he moved away and headed for the elevator. Leaning her forehead against the cool door, she didn't lock it until she heard the bike roar to life outside.
Detective Tritter looked up to see who was blocking his light. 'Well, of all people,' he thought. "Dr. House, what can I do for you?" Yes, everybody lies, and here was the Master.
"I'm here about Chloe Marzhal. May I sit?" His leg was killing him and he hated being here, asking for information.
Motioning to the chair in front of his desk, Tritter replied, "Be my guest." He looked House over, assessing him as he assessed everyone who sat in that chair. House didn't seem strung out, he appeared calm, but rigid as was his usual demeanor. He was straight forward, no mincing around, this could be interesting. He waited for House's question.
"As one of Chloe's physicians…" House began.
Tritter cut him off. "You are not her physician of record, Dr. House."
House hated being interrupted and annoyingly replied, "I'm worried about her mental health. I think she's come back to work too soon and I need to know what really happened."
"You… you need to know." It was a simple statement of fact and Tritter liked his facts.
"Yes, I need to know." House shifted his weight in the chair.
"Dr. House, I cannot and will not discuss an ongoing case with you. Ms. Marzhal has a medical team including a psychiatrist, who, I am sure, have her best interests in mind and will see to her 'mental health.'" He watched House's reaction intently.
Actions do speak louder than words and House's mere presence here was an indication of how intensely he 'needed to know'. Tritter himself had had doubts about Chloe's testimonial abilities and had been discussing the case just that morning with the district attorney. She was going to need a lot of coaching and it was going to be difficult. She was strong, but she'd been through hell. And part of that hell was sitting in front of him. Of course, Tritter couldn't tell House that.
"Dr. House, what is it precisely you feel you need to know?" Tritter queried.
"I know the bare facts, I was there in the ER. She'd been brutalized. But there's something else, isn't there? You've arrested that guy who came in the same morning Chloe did and I understand there's a gag order covering anyone and everyone that had contact with Chloe after she left the ER. Right down to the transporters who wheeled her from department to department. No one is allowed to say anything about what they heard or saw. I can't even hack into her medical file to see what kind of surgery she required."
This was all the information Cameron was able to glean from the hospital grapevine. Staff had been herded together and threatened with everything from being demoted or fired to being jailed if they so much as talked to each other about the case.
"I'm shocked and appalled that you would even try to 'hack' into her files. A doctor of your standing." Tritter really was appalled, but knew House was a manipulative son of a bitch who would worry this thing to death before being deterred with a simple computer blocking program.
"Damn it, Tritter, she's in trouble and I want to help her!" House shouted. Everyone else in the room looked up to see if the detective needed assistance. He shook his head to the room and took a cold, calculated look at House.
"Dr. House, the only way you can 'help' Ms. Marzhal is to stand by her as a friend. A lot of disturbing information will come out at the trial and, well, she'll need her friends." Tritter stood up, dismissing House with a look. He picked up the file that had been on his desk and turned to leave. A small item dropped silently out of the file and landed face down on the desk. Tritter didn't seem to notice it.
House sat mesmerized by that little 'item'. Had Tritter dropped it purposefully? Was it some sort of clue for him? Was it even related to Chloe's case? He looked around the room at everyone who was ignoring him and slid his hand across the desk, flipping what turned out to be a Polaroid face up. What confronted him was odd… and terrible. He rose from the chair and hobbled out of the police station, his skin cold, his mind racing.
Back at his office, he jumped on the internet. He knew all the adult sites and began searching for the thing he'd seen in the photo. Finally, he found it. 'Oh God', he thought to himself. Chloe wasn't just brutalized, she had been tortured.
The thing he had seen was a black leather hood, complete with dental hardware.
Tritter had hoped House would take the hint and leave it alone. Although, somehow, he knew that wouldn't happen.
Foreman's voice cut through the air and, startled, House quickly shut down the website he'd been viewing.
"What the hell was that?" demanded Foreman.
"Research. What do you want?" House retorted.
"Yeah, right… okaaay… we have a new patient." Foreman knew his boss was weird, but even that website was over the top.
Foreman presented the details of the case and countered House's objections before he even made them. "Fine," groused House, "get the team together, we'll look into it."
For an hour and a half the four of them argued back and forth and made a mess of the white board. Wilson even wandered over for awhile, adding his two cents. Finally, House sent Cameron to re-interview the patient, Chase to the lab to 'eyeball' the blood work and Foreman to perform numerous new tests.
Once he rid himself of his team, he walked over to Wilson's office to share his suspicions.
"House! We're talking PTSD here. This is very thin ice. You need to back off and leave it alone!" Wilson wailed.
"If it's post-traumatic stress disorder, then she shouldn't be here caring for patients. She needs to be in some serious therapy." House replied.
"So she should stay home, staring at four walls, withdrawing further into herself, slowly going mad, relating to nothing and no one but the television set? Or would you prefer she be committed? Even if one of the clinic patients said or did something to set her off, at least she'd be here, surrounded by professionals. There are ways to deal with this without humiliating her any further!" Wilson contemplated a moment, "Besides, you don't really know if your hypothesis is correct!"
"No, I don't." That bothered him more than anything else. "It's just that something is nagging at me and I can't let it go. This has something to do with me, I just don't know what."
"Oh for crying out loud, House, not everything is about you!" Wilson shook his head, dismissing the thought.
House sighed, realizing he was going to have to spell it out for Wilson. "A long time ago, I caught Chloe watching some ridiculous British comedian on TV. It was the middle of the night, and the floor was quiet, so she was taking a break. I don't even remember why I was there at that God-awful hour, I just remember being pissed. However, she was laughing so hard, tears were rolling down her cheeks. She saw me standing in the doorway, and as she wiped away the tears, she said, ''ello guvnah, give us a kiss, then!' in an horrendous Cockney accent, I might add, and started laughing all over again. I rolled my eyes and began to walk away. That's when she called after me, 'You don't know what you're missing!' in a sing-song sort of voice, still laughing." House paused for a moment.
Wilson was confused, he sort of remembered hearing that once or twice. "So?"
House continued, "She was trying to prove to me that I had no sense of silliness about me. Duh. Ever since then, whenever she saw me she would repeat those two lines. Almost every single time. It became something of an inside joke, a familiar dig. I expected it from her, was always trying to come up with some retort, but decided to just leave it, let her have her fun."
"Wait a minute," Wilson interrupted. "When we were in the clinic, I don't remember her saying anything like that!"
"Exactly," House continued. "In fact, she hugged me. She called me her beloved. She kissed me on the cheek! She had never touched me before like that in public… ever. And at the nursing home, after you had already left, she hugged me again! It's as if she's trying to tell me something. I'm just not getting it."
House limped back to his office. His computer was blinking at him. It seems he had an email. He thought about leaving it for Cameron, but, what the hell, he had nothing else to do right now.
The subject of the email was 'Guvnah'. He froze for a moment, then opened it. A very brief note appeared. "Thought you'd like to know what your best girl was really like." This was not funny. There was an attachment. The hospital's email security was pretty good he knew, so he opened it. What he saw made him want to vomit.
He picked up his desk phone and dialed Tritter's number. Surprisingly, the detective was at his desk and answered. "I've received something I think you may need to see." Was all House said. Tritter arranged to meet him within the hour. House's next call was to Cuddy. He informed her that the police were going to be crawling all over her email system. She was not happy and let him know it.
Several months passed and Chloe's alleged attacker's trial date was approaching.
"You want to do what?"
Cuddy was absolutely incredulous. She looked around her office, then back at House. "Who are you and what have you done with House?" She demanded. "You hate clinic duty, now you want more hours? Are you high?"
His agenda was simple. He wanted to hover around Chloe. Watch her, study her, protect her. Why, he had no idea. Somehow this was his fault. He wanted to know why. "Yes, or no?" He replied.
Cuddy threw up her hands in defeat, "Fine with me! You know where the sign up book is! And try to behave yourself!" She thought it odd he didn't snipe back as he left her office.
After the second week of seeing House in the clinic on a daily basis, Chloe, who was already suspicious, confronted him.
"Gregory, what are you up to?" She slid into a chair across the table from him in the cafeteria.
"Trying to eat lunch," was his mouth-filled reply.
"Don't you have anything better to do than clinic duty?" she pressed.
"We had two patients, but they got better." House wiped his mouth with a napkin and took a drink. She seemed stable, even-tempered (for her); nothing had happened in the past two weeks that would lead anyone to suspect that anything was amiss.
"Answer the question, Gregory."
She didn't know about the email. Tritter & Co. had done exactly what House (and anyone else who watches TV drama) predicted they would do. For six days the police and an FBI electronic communications expert pored over every network server the hospital had, trying to track down the source of the email. They found a few hospital employees who were downloading things they shouldn't, but, it seems, the email did not originate inside the hospital. The FBI was better equipped to track down 'anonymous' postings and they took over that aspect of the case.
"I'm a big girl now, and I don't need a babysitter watching after… Oh my God! Anthony!" Chloe stood up suddenly and threw her arms around a tall, strapping young man in Marine dress blues. Tears came to her eyes. "I had no idea you were stateside! It's so good to see you!" She hugged him close again. "When did you get here? How long can you stay? Oh, Anthony!" She hugged him again.
Composing herself, she turned to House to make the introductions. "Wait, Mom, I think I can guess who this is." His voice was deep and pleasant, like his mother's. House began to rise, but was stopped by Anthony. "No need, sir." The young Marine held out his hand, looked House right in the eye and said, "You must be Dr. House. Lt. Anthony Marzhal, sir, at your service."
Although put off by the branch of service, House was impressed with the young man and shook Anthony's hand. Firm, dry, strong… good. He seemed to love his mother and that was good, too. His mother… her son. How could he have missed this? Anthony was a good-looking young man, he had to admit. Tall, trim, amazing hazel eyes and a smile that could take your breath away, not to mention dimples to die for. Not that House cared, he was just trying to figure out who 'Dad' was. He had never heard of Chloe's being married or otherwise entangled. This was a mystery.
Chloe put her arm around her son's waist and they began their exit from the cafeteria. After all, since he was here, she had to show him off to the 'girls'. She had always kept her private life private, but her son was just too good to keep to herself any longer. Just before leaving the table, Chloe turned to House and said, "See? I don't need a babysitter, I've got a Marine." She was truly happy. Smiling, she left House to his sandwich. He was stung for a moment, then began pondering why the good lieutenant was here, now. Who had arranged for his return? How much did he know about the upcoming trial? Would he be allowed to stay through the whole ordeal?
House left the table and hurried off to Wilson's office with the news. "Tony?" Wilson cried, "Tony's back in the states? That's great for Chloe!"
"You knew about him?" demanded House. "Of course and if you paid attention to other people, you would have known too. Chloe's a very private person, and she never made a big fuss about Tony." Wilson was looking at House's blank face, then rolled his eyes. "Chloe met a guy twenty-some years ago. They dated for awhile, she got pregnant, he demanded an abortion, she refused, he left her. Chloe raised Tony by herself. She was thrilled when he received an appointment to the Naval Academy out of high school and he is now a Marine pilot. I was one of the people who wrote a letter of recommendation for him. I think she did a damned fine job."
Flabbergasted, House asked, "He deployed in Iraq?" To which Wilson nodded an affirmative. "How'd he manage to get out of that to come home? Most Marines would die before admitting they had to take care of their mother."
Wilson cocked his head, "Most Marines YOU know."
House was fascinated by the expert testimony. It was long, drawn out and took up three days. He followed closely the science that was being pain-stakingly presented to the jury by the prosecution. Each witness was a first-class act and made the complicated technical and scientific information relatively easy to understand. Each time the defense objected or tried to show the incompetence of the witness, the prosecution countered and shut them down.
Here was the story so far:
For seven years, someone had been terrorizing women up and down the eastern seaboard. Raping, torturing and finally mutilating and murdering them. All the victims were nurses and all the victims had been having affairs with doctors in the hospitals where they worked. Each doctor received an emailed photo of the victims with a note attached: 'Thought you'd like to know what your best girl was really like.'
Tedious and immensely thorough evidence-gathering had been going on for years. The problem was, the offender wasn't in the system and he struck in multiple jurisdictions. It wasn't until three years ago that the FBI was finally called in to coordinate the effort. They had traced the emails and found that they had been scheduled to be automatically generated at a specific time interval after each attack. And it wasn't until Chloe that they finally had some DNA to work with. They could track all but one case back to the man who now sat at the defense table. Chloe's testimony would be crucial to putting a face to all the victims and putting this guy away forever.
Wilson joined House in court on the day Chloe was to testify. The bailiff called for her and her son escorted her into the courtroom. She was dressed in a simple black dress with a single strand of pearls around her neck and simple matching pearl earrings. As though she were going to a funeral. House searched his memory for the last time he'd seen her legs. She never wore dresses. He couldn't remember a single time. Except that night in the ER. She was pale and drawn and refused to look at the defendant, choosing instead to concentrate on the faces of the jury.
Anthony took a seat next to Wilson and House, watching his mother intently.
The prosecutor began gently. "Ms. Marzhal, would you tell us what you remember about the night of February 26th last year?"
Chloe closed her eyes for a moment then glanced around the courtroom. Anthony nodded to her as did Wilson. She really wished House weren't there at all. "The third floor at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital is divided into two parts. One part is the Psychiatric Wing and the other is a General Medical/Surgical Overflow floor. I am… I mean… I was the night charge nurse of the latter and therefore required to come in a little early to receive report from the off-going charge nurse and prepare patient assignments for the nurses who were scheduled to work that night. On that particular night, I had taken a bus to work because my car was in the shop. One of the bus stops is at the back of the hospital and I walked into the building through a little-used entranceway." She paused for a moment and sipped from a glass of water provided for her.
"Not many people occupy that part of the hospital, and at that hour, no one was visible."
The prosecution interrupted, "What hour was that, Ms. Marzhal?"
Chloe blinked. "About six-twenty in the evening or thereabouts. I was thinking I had plenty of time to get to the floor by six-thirty." The prosecution thanked Chloe and asked her to proceed. "I was waiting for the elevator when I felt a blow to the base of my neck and a severe burning sensation. When I awoke…" This is where it began to be very difficult. She really didn't want to be talking about this experience in front of so many people, especially not in front of her son.
She looked pleadingly at the judge who put her hand over her microphone, nodded and said, "Go on, dear."
Chloe chose a spot on the banister just in front of the jury box to stare at. With a sigh, she continued, "When I awoke, I couldn't see anything. I could open my eyes, but it was totally dark. I realized that something was covering them and I attempted to shake it off. That's when I came to understand that my arms were being held above my head. I tried using the sides of my arms to scrape away the blindfold, but then it occurred to me that whatever was covering my eyes was also covering the rest of my face. I couldn't remove it. I… I felt around at whatever it was that was holding my arms and found that I had been shackled. I could pull myself up to a kneeling position, but something was gripping at my knees and ankles. I couldn't pull them away from the surface I was… 'attached' to. I came to the sickening conclusion that I was restrained somehow." Chloe stopped, placing her hand to her mouth, visibly trembling.
"My mouth was open and it tasted like something metallic was preventing me from closing it. No one knew where I was, only where I was supposed to be. Security wouldn't find my abandoned car in the parking lot, because it wasn't there. Everyone would assume I was a 'no-show'. That's when I panicked. I began to fight against the restraints and scream, but I could barely swallow, much less vocalize anything. That's when I heard a strange and almost mechanical voice behind me."
The prosecutor asked, "What did this voice say, Ms. Marzhal?"
The defense attorney stood and exclaimed, "Your honor I renew my objection to this line of inquiry in that it is highly inflammatory!"
The judge banged her gavel on her desk and replied, "Noted and overruled… again… sit down! Ms. Marzhal, continue, please."
Chloe swallowed hard, closed her eyes and began, "It said, 'Well now, 'ello guvnah, give us a kiss then!''"
Chloe paused again, holding her right hand up to her eyes, trying not to see the horror in House's face. Anthony's was like stone and Wilson was desperately trying to hold down his breakfast. "I tried once again to scream, and once again could make only guttural noises. The voice continued, 'Let's see just what it is the guvnah sees in you, shall we?' It was then that I knew I was in terrible trouble. Whoever this person was, he were going to hurt me."
House could stand it no longer. He leapt to his feet, pointing at the defendant, and bellowed, "You idiot! You utterly moronic fool!" The courtroom exploded into sound and the judge demanded that House be removed from the proceedings. It took two burly bailiffs to remove one crippled doctor from the courtroom. The last thing Chloe saw of him that day was a mouthed "I'm sorry" as he was dragged away.
"Come on, baby, everybody's doing it! It's no crime and no shame anymore! You wanna be with me, dontcha?"
He always said that. 'Everybody's doing it'. No matter what they were talking about. Casual cocaine use, casual sex, casual abortion. "No, Trevor, not everyone is doing it, I'm certainly not. I'm not going to destroy a life just because of my own stupidity."
Trevor gave up. "Suit yourself, baby, but you can't prove it's mine and I'm outta here." He was right. This was 1979 and it would be damned hard to prove paternity.
Chloe had moved to eastern Virginia to be with the man she thought she loved. He was scheduled to be transferred there soon and she had gone ahead to set up house. It was in Norfolk that she realized she was pregnant. She went to an abortion clinic to have the test done, because they would do it for free. They tried hard to convince her to kill her child. Just like he did. She'd done a lot of stupid things in her time, but this was the dumbest. She watched him go and sighed. Picking up the phone she dialed her mother's number. She had graduated third in her class at nursing school just the year before and had very little money and no support system. She decided to see if she could just go home.
After talking to her Mom, her Dad got on the phone and stated simply, "Come on home." Dad was a man of few words, in fact she rarely heard him speak more than a sentence or two at a time. That one little phrase was priceless.
She moved in with her parents. They helped her a lot during her pregnancy, especially financially. At that time, hospitals didn't want to hire pregnant nurses, because they knew they would lose them within months. She couldn't find a job anywhere. Depressing would be a good word to describe this time.
About two weeks before her due date, she spent a sleepless night experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions. These were contractions that didn't hurt (thank goodness), but heralded oncoming labor. The next day around noon, the contractions started in earnest. She put off going to the hospital as long as she could when her dad finally spoke up and said, "Let's go." They went.
Four and a half hours later, much to the surprise of the nurses at the hospital, Chloe delivered a healthy beautiful baby boy. Her first words were, "Thank God he's got his father's nose." She was finally given some Demerol and she fell into a velvet slumber. Three days later she went home with her little bundle. Child safety seats were just becoming the vogue and the law and it was so strange to see this little blob of blankets strapped into such a huge conveyance.
Day care centers were beginning to pop up here and there and private babysitters were the norm. Her dad didn't want the baby in day care, so it was decided that when the time came he or she would stay at home. Chloe was lucky to find a perfect work schedule in the Radiology department, a part of which eventually branched off into the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at PPTH. Working 12n-8p, she knew she'd be able to take care of the baby and work full time, too.
Her dad fell in love with little Anthony. And Anthony would follow her dad around everywhere. Grandpa was the fun guy, Grandma was the cookie lady and Mom was the boss. So it was until Chloe was able to find a place of her own and take care of the child herself. She worked in the Cath Lab until Anthony was about sixteen years old. That's when she decided she wanted to go back to working the floor. Night shift was really the only option, and Anthony was old enough to be a 'latchkey' kid. Monday through Friday, depending on her schedule, she would call him around 6:30 in the morning and wake him up. He would get himself ready for school and usually be gone by the time she got home. She'd sleep until he came home, then she'd get up and fix supper and get ready for work. It was doable and there didn't seem to be any problems. Anthony had never given her any trouble and she was immensely grateful for that. He was a quiet boy, a fair student and enjoyed karate instead of basketball which is what everyone else wanted him to do, because of his height. Early on, she knew he'd be a tall boy, just like all the other men in her family.
Sailors, marines and army grunts ran in her family as well and her Dad regaled Anthony with his own tales of adventure during World War II. They made application to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO because Anthony wanted to fly. To everyone's great surprise and joy, he received an appointment to the former.
While Anthony was still in high school, Chloe's Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was referred to Dr. James Wilson at PPTH. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy and had seemingly recovered. Six weeks before his graduation from the Naval Academy, his beloved Grandma died peacefully in her sleep. It was determined that the cancer had returned a short time earlier, but she had never told anyone. Chloe, her Dad and, of course, Anthony were devastated. He had so wanted to see the pride in her eyes at his graduation. As the Blue Angels roared overhead that day and he threw his cap in the air with the hundreds of others, a silent tear slid down his cheek at her memory.
He was a man now, and more than that, a Marine. Chloe had to let him go.
"House was dragged into court again?" An incredulous Cameron was giving a confused look to Foreman.
"No, actually, he was dragged out!" He continued, "Seems he created some kind of scene and the judge threw him out on his arse."
Chase chuckled, "I'd like to have seen that."
"Seen what?" demanded House. How could a man that big and that crippled sneak up on people the way he did?
"Nothing, not a thing, boss."
"Why aren't you seeing our new patient?" House was more than his usual cranky self as he helped himself to the coffee.
Foreman spoke up, "We have a new patient?"
"Is there an echo in here, or is it just me?" Foreman walked over to House and grabbed the file out of his hand. "It's another one of Wilson's 'cousins'" House explained. "Differential Diagnosis, People!"
"Mind if we read the file first?" Foreman was getting better at ignoring House. "Sounds like an infection."
"Except there's no elevated white blood cell count," stated House.
"Could be auto-immune," offered Cameron.
"Lupus," chimed in Chase with a dopey grin.
House rolled his eyes. "Why do I pay you people?"
Again, they wrestled with all the different possibilities and gobbled up all the space on the whiteboard. Again, House sent them away on errands of mercy.
The ducklings (for so they were named by the staff of PPTH for the way they followed around after their boss) walked down the hall together for a bit before splitting up to their various tasks.
Cameron queried, "What's eating House today?"
Foreman looked up at the ceiling, "What eats House every day. It's always something!"
Cameron told her colleagues how House had had her gathering 'intel' some time back and that it involved one of the nurses in the hospital. The same nurse that was involved with the trial that House had been thrown out of just the day before.
"House invented nurses, has no respect for them, but now he's interested in one? That's novel, even for him." Chase replied. "She must be a looker."
Cameron patiently explained that she was one of the 'more experienced' nurses in the hospital and that she and House went way back.
"Good lord," Chase cried, "has that man slept with every woman in this place?"
Cameron shot him a look. "No, he hasn't!" Foreman laughed out loud at Chase as they watched Cameron storm off.
They went their separate ways.
Cameron began by hunting down Wilson in the cafeteria. She was curious about his 'cousin'. They chatted for awhile, then Cameron asked about court the day before. "It was awful, Allison. First Chloe had to endure what she did, then she had to tell a room full of strangers what happened. It's like watching her get raped all over again. She was on that stand all day. By the end of it, I thought she would collapse. It was brutal what he did to her. Thank God her son was there."
"I understand House got into some trouble." She stated, trying to sound casual.
"Oh yes, Mr. Congeniality had to show himself once again." Wilson shook his head. "I mean, I understand he somehow feels responsible for this, but I wish for once he could have kept his mouth shut. What the defense wants most in this case is sympathy for the defendant. If someone is attacking him before he's even convicted, it's a gift! Of course, House just doesn't see it that way."
"Explain to me why House thinks he's responsible for her misfortune?" Cameron queried.
"It's a long story, Allison, suffice it to say, this nut case has been doing this for a long time to nurses who were having affairs with doctors they worked with. Only in this case, he was wrong. The guy got his wires crossed. If he hadn't overheard something Chloe said to House, this might never have happened. So, since the world revolves around House, he blames himself. What I would like to know is when and where this guy overheard Chloe. He must have been an employee or a long-term patient."
Cameron was aghast, "Oh my God, someone inside the hospital? What a frightening prospect."
Wilson sighed, "Indeed. The hospital is already gearing up for safety classes for female employees. They are scared to death they're going to get sued. Which is ridiculous. If Chloe was going to sue the hospital, she would have done it by now, and in spades."
This time, Chloe brought with her a crisp, cold Riesling to the whirlpool room. If anyone deserved it, she did. The case would drag on for another couple of weeks, but her part was finally over. The worst part was the defense attorney badgering her over and over about her 'relationship' with House. Trying to blame the whole thing on her. The proverbial 'she asked for it' defense. He even went so far as to suggest that she had attacked the defendant! Well, of course she attacked him. Once he finally tore off that damned hood and unshackled her.
He thought she'd be docile by then. Even with a dislocated shoulder, she managed to take a chunk out of his ass, as it were. Two hundred pounds per square inch were there for a reason. That's when most of the damage to her face occurred. She didn't care if he beat her to death, that dick was staying in her mouth or she would swallow it. One way or the other, the cops were going to find it.
Her body was numb and so was her soul. The United States Marine Corps had graciously allowed Anthony to stay with her until after she testified. But then they wanted him back. She had seen him off that morning. God, she loved that boy. And she always missed him when he was gone.
She sipped her wine, listened to her eclectic collection of music and let her cares melt away with the bubbling water. She barely reacted when he came in and pulled over a chair next to the bath. He'd been visiting her there, in the whirlpool room in the basement of the hospital two or three times a week. It was comical, really. Sometimes they would talk until they were hoarse, sometimes they said nothing at all. "Want some?" she offered House the bottle.
"Too tame for me." He replied.
"Suit yourself." She closed her eyes and tried to experience nothingness.
Chloe cut him off. "Gregory if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, this is not your fault. You are not responsible for the actions of someone you don't even know. Get over it, please! I cannot tolerate you like this. Enough is enough!"
House waited for her to finish her tirade then quietly said, "I was going to say you told me once I'd be welcome if I ever found the person more interesting than the puzzle."
She eyed him suspiciously, "I've become interesting?" She allowed the wine to put words in her mouth, but allowed him to continue.
"I didn't even know you had a son. He's a fine young man, by the way."
She smiled, "Yes, yes he is, thank you."
House looked at her intently, touched her hand ever so gently and asked, "Chloe what are you thinking right now, right this very minute?" The danger of 'in vino veritas' flitted through her mind, but she raised her head and looked at him anyway. "How much I'd like to feel normal again. How much I'd like for people to stop looking at my crotch every time I enter a room. How much… how much I'd like not to be a freak. Do you know how much reconstructive surgery I've endured? There are parts of me now I wasn't born with and parts of me that I was born with that are gone forever. Everyday I come down here and wash a little more of him off me. I'm praying that some day soon, he'll be gone. Grammatically fractured as it is, that's what I'm thinking right now, right this very minute." His face spoke volumes, always had, but she'd never forced him to verbalize and wouldn't start now.
House opened his mouth then closed it again. Hell, why were things like this so damned difficult? Out with it, man! "Chloe, I'd like to help you feel normal again."
Simple, straightforward, probably the sweetest thing she'd ever heard anyone say to her. Or maybe it was the wine, either way, she smiled. He stripped down to his briefs and slid into the tub behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist. His scent was intoxicating. She eventually relaxed and laid her head on his shoulder. She offered him one of her ear buds and they listened to her music. He learned more about her that way then he ever could by asking questions. They remained that way for what seemed like hours.
The next morning, his arms were still wrapped around her.
Chloe didn't seem to need the whirlpool much these days. She was, if not happy, at least content. The trial had ended as it should, with a conviction and a substantial prison sentence. Six weeks after walking in to prison, the bastard was carried out, having been found castrated and bludgeoned to death in the laundry. Justice, that.
A semblance of normality had returned. She was once again able to banter and joke and terrorize the doctors to her heart's content. Her friendly, but perpetual turf war could continue. House had returned to his habit of avoiding clinic duty any way he could.
It was February again and raw. She was absorbed in her tasks when she looked up to see the two men entering the clinic. She smiled until she recognized the Chaplain's insignia on the shorter man's uniform. This could mean only one thing, and she didn't want to hear it. At the moment, House was arguing rather loudly with Cuddy in her office. He just happened to look over his shoulder when he, too noticed them. Knowing that Marines in pairs was not a good omen, he ceased his diatribe and limped out to the clinic lobby.
Time stopped. Sound fled away. She could see their mouths moving, but they weren't speaking. At least not to her. They handed her a telegram. Their faces seemed sincere, the younger man was near tears. They both gave her a fine salute and left the clinic as quietly as they had come.
She looked down at the telegram. It was raining. Huge drops were splashing against the paper. How very odd. 'The President of the United States of America regrets to inform you…' She looked around. Where the hell is that screaming coming from?
House quickly turned her to him and buried her face in his chest. He held her fast while she beat his back furiously with her closed fists. Muffled screams seemed to go on forever. She made a mess of his shirt. Not that it mattered. The other nurses rallied around them and they all managed to get Chloe into Cuddy's office. "Get me some diazepam!" Shouted Cuddy. Brenda had already anticipated that request and handed her a syringe full of the sedative. Finally Chloe went limp. They made her as comfortable as possible on Cuddy's couch.
"For the love of God, what more can this woman endure?" cried Cuddy.
House stroked Chloe's forehead. "You'd be surprised what you can endure," he said quietly.
Chloe met the plane at the Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, D. C. three days later. The coffins were off-loaded before the passengers were allowed to deplane. Everyone with a window seat watched the sad scene and was glad it wasn't their son or daughter.
Slowly, the motorcade inched its way to the once proud home of General Robert E. Lee now known as Arlington Cemetery. It was cold and gray and once again she was numb. The pipers played 'Amazing Grace' beautifully. The speeches were fine, the rifle volleys were perfect, the bugler sounded his sad call from a distance, the Blue Angels thundered overhead in their famous missing man formation.
Then came the part Chloe dreaded. The most beautiful Marine she had ever laid eyes on, besides Anthony, knelt down on one knee in front of her and offered up the precisely folded flag that had draped her only child's coffin. She touched his cheek with her gloved hand and whispered, "Your mother would be so proud of you right now, remember that, son." He bowed his head, stood to attention and saluted her. Chloe pressed the triangular bundle to her bosom and wept uncontrollably.
Chloe had applied for an easily received bereavement leave from the hospital. When she returned, she was a different person. Still particular and task-oriented, but somber. Her heart just wasn't in it any more.
House, Wilson, the ducklings and even Cuddy were keeping close tabs on Chloe and one or the other of them had tried to be with her since her return from the funeral.
"Damn it, Gregory! You won't allow anyone, much less me inside your head, what makes you think you deserve to insert yourself into my misery?"
Being a very private person, it was exasperating to explain to people that there was no such thing as closure and why couldn't they just leave her to grieve in her own way? Why did everyone assume that she wanted to air her loss or share her story? Why had everyone become therapists all of a sudden? Even Cuddy wanted to have a memorial service in the hospital chapel. Chloe didn't object, but didn't attend, either. Go through that again? Not likely.
When her shift was over, she went to the basement for the first time in weeks. Under her arm was a small kit bag.
The two men had just missed her and began a search. They couldn't find her anywhere. That's when House remembered the whirlpool.
She filled the tub as usual and changed clothes. But she did not turn on the jets. Instead of ear buds, she slipped her iPod into a small speaker system and turned up the volume.
The two doctors hurried downstairs as fast as they could. Something was terribly wrong. They could both feel it.
Slipping into the steaming water, she opened the kit bag, pulling out the tape first and tearing off a couple of strips, attaching them loosely to the edge of the tub.
House tried the door and found it locked. They could see her inside and he could hear the strains of Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings. The perfect music for a… Oh Christ! He pulled out his key and tried again. He couldn't open it. The lock was a different color. It had been changed.
Next she found the 18 gauge arterial needle. Locating her left radial artery she expertly inserted the needle and threaded the cannula. It vibrated with her pulse.
House was furious and wild-eyed. Frightened, Wilson grabbed the phone on the wall and called security. "Get somebody down to Whirlpool with a Master Key! Yes, damn it, this is an emergency, a life and death emergency!"
Yes, it hurt like hell, but it wasn't as bad as she'd expected. She taped the cannula in place so it wouldn't dislodge.
He hung up, then called the emergency operator. "Code Blue… Whirlpool Room in the basement!" The overhead speaker system crackled to life and Code Team Members from various parts of the hospital descended to the basement.
The tub filled with silky red liquid as Chloe removed the needle from the cannula. It looked like billowing smoke she thought. She closed her eyes and laid her head back.
Upstairs, Foreman's beeper went off. "4 UN O NEG WHRLPL RM 10MIN AGO" Foreman relayed the message and the ducklings jumped up and ran.
She was holding Anthony's tiny body close to her. She could smell his sweet baby breath and cooed his favorite lullaby in his ear. I'm coming son, wait for me.
Wilson watched in horror as Chloe's head drifted to the side, coming to rest on her shoulder. "We're not going to make it, House," he whispered.
Just before losing consciousness, Chloe crossed herself… Remember, O Most Blessed Virgin Mary…
The entire crowd stormed into the room as the security officer finally unlocked the door. Chloe was lifted out of the tub. House grabbed her gushing wrist and clamped down tight. He didn't remove the cannula because he didn't want to lose the only line they were likely to get, but he didn't want her to lose anymore blood, either. A gurney appeared at the same time the four units of packed red blood cells arrived.
"Just shove it in!" cried House. Foreman used all his strength to compress the blood bags and force the packed cells through the tubing and into the arterial line, one after another.
"Someone try to get an IV and start LR wide open!"
"Raise her feet!"
"Cover her, she's icy!"
"Get her to the ER!"
"Heart rhythm is really weak."
"I can barely find a pulse."
They crashed into the ER just as Chloe's heart stopped beating. Every member of the staff fell into their places and performed the required steps to pull her back from the abyss. But it was of no use. Finally, Chase and Wilson hauled House away from Chloe.
"House, she's gone! It's been thirty-five minutes. She's not… she's not coming back." The cardiac monitor confirmed it. Flat line. They could detect no blood pressure, no respirations, no corneal reflex, her pupils were dilated and fixed. She was gone.
House stood helplessly as the nurses cleaned Chloe and pulled a sheet over her, folding it back just under her arms, gently draping one arm over the other. One of the nurses retrieved a chair and placed it quietly next to the gurney. Then she retreated.
He approached and looked down at this person who had been a tower of strength all her life. He did know what he had missed, what he would miss and he regretted it. Seating himself in the chair, he took her hand tenderly into his and placed her palm against his cheek. "I'm so sorry, Chloe." He began to sob bitterly.
No one and nothing could ease his burden of grief and guilt at that moment.
No one even tried.