Disclaimer: All rights to House MD belong to David Shore, Heel and Toe Films, and Bad Hat Harry Productions in association with NBC Universal Television Studio. I do not make any monetary profit from this fanfiction.
Dedication: This chapter is dedicated to Poeia and quack3790, for their constant encouragement and the occasional much-needed nudge in the right direction.
Chapter 15. The First Postcard
The man's silhouette rushed at him, closing fast at fifty, forty, thirty feet. Adrenaline surged through Chase as he lifted the 9mm Glock in a smooth, practiced motion and fired off a barrage of shots, the muted thunks of each explosion matching the recoil reverberating through his wrist and arm.
Releasing his pent-up breath, he slammed in another preloaded magazine, then reached with his free hand—only to have his arm blocked by a familiar flame-tattooed cane. The cane jabbed at a button in the stall, causing the silhouette to sail forward on its line. A long arm reached out and snatched the paper target, as Chase clicked the safety on the Glock and removed the magazine along with his earmuffs and shooting glasses.
"Not bad." House's voice dripped with sarcasm as he examined the target. "Nine shots total: four went wide, three straight to the cardio-thoracic region, two to the head. A nice, decisive way to put a nail in the coffin of primum non nocere; who the hell ever listens to Hippocrates nowadays, anyway? Except for those pesky doctors, of course—oh, wait."
Chase recognized that target practice was over for now, so he pointed the gun down toward one corner of the stall and unchambered the last round. Producing a black leather case from under the small shelf, he selected a few implements and started cleaning the handgun, not bothering to meet House's gaze. "Sneaking up on someone at a shooting range: that's a new level of reckless, even for you. What do you have planned for the afternoon—sticking a fork in a toaster?"
House was, as usual, unabashed. "Well, see, that's kind of why I'm here. I have this interesting little thing going on for the rest of the day—it's called work. So I dropped by to see if you have any interest in actually earning your paycheck, or is the thrill of disintegrating paper targets too seductive?"
"It's my lunch hour." Chase peered through the barrel of the gun, checking for residue. Satisfied, he placed it in its recessed spot in the case and snapped it closed. "I'm on my own time for the next twenty minutes; you can start docking me after that."
"Speaking of docking, that's a pretty impressive weapon you have there. A rental?"
"No." Chase didn't elaborate.
"Then I have to wonder how you got it. If I remember my New Jersey firearms laws correctly, it should take several weeks, if not months, for an alien to get clearance to purchase a gun. By alien, I mean my favorite Australian, of course, not My Favorite Martian."
"Didn't purchase it. Borrowed it from a friend." Chase zipped up his leather jacket and tried to move past House but was stopped by a strong grip on his arm. He met House's gaze with a carefully crafted expression of patient exasperation. "Nothing illegal about that, and before you ask: yes, I have a permit."
"So Foreman's an easier touch than I thought. No, don't try to deny it; you don't have that large a circle of friends, and when you factor in the ones who pack heat, that leaves just the Bro from the Hood."
Chase tried to jerk his arm from House's grasp, but the man refused to release him. "Interesting factoid for you, Chase: in the event of a violent crime, statistically the odds are in favor of the gun owner being shot by his own weapon."
The casual mask dropped, and Chase met his gaze with one that had gone distant and cold. "Statistically, there are worse ways to die."
They stood there for one, two, three heartbeats, caught in a staring contest that seemed juvenile at first, but—
House released Chase's arm and shifted his eyes away. "Go home, Chase."
"I thought you wanted me back at work."
"I changed my mind. We don't have a case, and I don't feel like—Go home and do whatever it is wombats do on their afternoons off." House's voice softened into weariness. "Just go home."
Chase stared down at his feet, ashamed of the fear that drove him to ask the next question. "Do you mean my place, or—?"
"I mean our place. Damn it, Chase, when are you going to—" House broke off, visibly controlling his temper as he tapped his cane angrily against the floor. "Forget it. I'll see you tonight." He left the stall abruptly, moving with his characteristic swiftness.
All the same, Chase waited another minute before paying for his session and heading out.
The old key turned easily in the lock, and the door swung open to admit Chase to House's apartment. Afternoon sunlight filtered through the blinds, casting shining stripes across the polished wood floor, before climbing up the piano bench to travel across the glossy surface of the baby grand piano tucked in its nook.
Despite everything, including being basically dismissed from his job for the day, Chase couldn't help feeling tension ease from his shoulders at the simple beauty and comfort of the flat. He still couldn't believe House owned a place this nice, even nicer than what he recalled from his two previous invasions. Of course, on those occasions—during the fiasco of House's faked brain cancer—terror at being discovered had kept him from taking more than a cursory glance around the premises. All the same, he'd been surprised to find that House lived in classier digs than the expected bachelor flat.
Setting his messenger bag quietly on the couch and shrugging off his jacket, he walked over to the mahogany bookshelves to run a reverent finger across the leather spines of countless books, obscure novels interspersed between medical tomes both modern and classic. Although the exact reasoning behind House's shelving system escaped him, he knew there had to be method in his madness—he'd personally witnessed House returning a novel inscribed in some indecipherable language (Urdu, perhaps?) to the exact spot from which Chase had removed it hours before.
A thump resounded from the back of the apartment, followed by distinct footsteps. Chase's head snapped up, and he backed away quickly, knocking against the hall closet door. Panicked, he gazed across the room at the messenger bag concealing his gun—unloaded and as unreachable to him in these few seconds as if it were across the galaxy. The footsteps stopped at the noise, then quickened, approaching the living room where Chase stood. Keeping his eye on the doorway, Chase pulled open the closet door, reaching desperately for something, anything to defend himself with, his hand closing convulsively around one of House's spare canes. Holding the cane up before him, he began retreating toward the front door, his heart in his throat as a man's shadow slid across the polished boards…
"Wilson!" Chase lowered the cane, seized with conflicting feelings of relief, anger, and shock.
"What are you doing here?" Both men spoke over each other at the same time.
Remembering that he was essentially a guest in Wilson's home, Chase answered first. "I…uh…House sent me home for the day."
Wilson raised his eyebrows but refrained from asking why. "Oh. I hadn't expected anyone to be here, so…" he trailed off, obviously uncomfortable.
"Did your department head send you home as well?" quipped Chase as he replaced the cane in the closet.
Wilson gave the joke no more than the half smile it deserved. "No…well, I guess the answer would be yes, in strict fact. I had some things to do…errands…" he trailed off at Chase's inquisitive look. "This is stupid. You're going to find out soon enough, so I might as well tell you. Would you mind following me?" He noticed Chase's slightly panicked glance towards Wilson's bedroom. "I'm not going to touch you, Robert."
"I know that." Chase flushed, embarrassed by his transparency.
"I wish you did." Wilson turned away and headed back to his bedroom.
The first thing that struck Chase was the sight of Wilson's normally neat-as-a-pin bedroom in disarray. The next was the fully packed suitcase on the bed.
"Are you going on a trip?"
"In a way. I'm leaving for a while, Robert. Don't worry—I've made enough casseroles and other dinners to last you and Greg for at least a week; they're stored in the freezer with a label for each day. Make sure that Greg doesn't steal your share or switch the dishes he doesn't like for doubles of the ones he does. The man has to eat green vegetables sometime, or he's going to lose his teeth from scurvy."
Chase frowned, seeing past Wilson's light, humorous tone. "So you're going to be gone for more than a week? How long?"
Wilson's smile faded. "For however long it takes."
"However long what takes?"
There was a studied pause. "Until you stop being afraid of me."
"Yes, you are." Wilson's tone softened. "Don't lie to me, Robert. Whatever else has changed between us, I'd like to think we can still be honest with one another. It doesn't take a world-class diagnostician to read the writing on this particular whiteboard. You jump whenever I enter the room; you flinch if I place a hand on your shoulder; you even startle if you walk into a room that I'm already sitting in—"
"It's not—I'm sorry. It's been a tough week for me; I'm sure House told you the details. I don't mean to…I'm just not used to having people—" Chase waved his hands in a helpless gesture, unable to find the right words.
"Care about you?
"Around. I'm not used to having people around me at all. I'm usually pretty solitary. So it's not you in particular—"
"But Greg doesn't make you uncomfortable, does he?" Wilson laughed wryly. "It's hard not to take it personally when you seem to relax only if he's in the room."
"He rescued me, Wilson. If not for him, they would've…I don't like to think about what they would've done. And he seems to have no expecta—" Chase stopped, realizing his mistake.
"But I do, right?" Wilson gripped Chase's shoulder, and Chase forced himself not to flinch away. "Robert, if I seem to have expectations, it's only because I want to help you. This memory loss is hard on us, too, you know. Every other time you've been assaulted, I've been there for you—holding you, comforting you—and it kills me now to have you shut me out!"
Chase wrenched violently out of Wilson's grasp. "What the hell are you talking about? What do you mean, every other time? This has never happened to me before!" He firmly pushed back the nagging whispers in his mind (seminary school, first year medical residency—but those times were different, because groping wasn't sexual assault, was it? Was it?). "Why do you keep saying that?" he shouted, inexplicable rage boiling over. "I'm not some perpetual victim, some thing that men play with, some bloody toy!"
"Of course you're not, Robert." Wilson's eyes were sadder than Chase had ever seen them as he held up his hands in a calming gesture. "I'm sorry for upsetting you. It's probably for the best that I leave now." He retrieved his suitcase from his bedroom and brushed past Chase as he headed toward the door. "I left Greg a note, so you won't have to explain anything to him—"
"Wait." Chase reached out and, gritting his teeth, grasped Wilson's arm. "This is wrong. I may not remember things the way you and House do, but the one thing I feel certain of is this is your home. I shouldn't be driving you out; I'm the one who should leave."
"No! Don't you dare compromise your safety by leaving this place! Don't you even think about it, do you hear me?"
Chase blinked at Wilson's sharp, authoritative tone, one he'd never heard directed at him outside of the hospital.
Wilson passed a hand over his face, wincing slightly. "I'm sorry. I keep forgetting—listen, I'm not ordering you; I'm asking. Please stay here with Greg, at least until things are resolved. It would…I'd feel a lot better knowing you were safe. Please do this, if not for yourself, then for me."
Not knowing what to say, Chase merely nodded dumbly, releasing Wilson's arm. With one last wry smile, Wilson walked through the door, leaving him standing alone.
Chase moved aimlessly through the apartment, finally settling on the piano bench, his thoughts spinning as chaotically as the dust motes in the shafts of sunlight. Finally, he got up, grabbing his leather jacket and penning a short note to House. This place that had seemed such a haven just a few minutes ago now felt oppressive, heavy with the presence of the two men whose lives he had disrupted along with his own.
He walked to the door, then looked back at his messenger bag on the couch, thinking about the weapon concealed within. Thinking about lifting it, aiming it, firing point blank…
Turning around, he walked out without another backward glance.
Chase slowly paged through the leaves of a geology text, his fingers skating over the diagrams and photos as his mind wandered from subject to subject, always returning stubbornly to the same place—what should I do, what should I do?—until he forced it away again.
The sun had long since set, its brilliant colors no longer staining the table at which he sat. Instead, there was only darkness and his own pale reflection staring back at him from the glass walls of the atrium. The few Princeton undergrads who had shared the library with him for the past few hours had gone, probably rushing to catch the last serving in their dorms or share a pizza in the coziness of their rooms.
He'd always loved the quiet, reflective peace of university libraries, the low murmur of students discussing some salient new fact, the occasional quickly-stifled burst of laughter. Princeton didn't have a medical school and thus no medical school library, but that didn't bother him. Medical school libraries were quieter, flavored with the intensity of med students desperately looking up source articles or studying for the boards. Chase preferred the more relaxed atmosphere of the undergraduate library, especially the atrium in the Firestone library, the high glass ceiling making it a particularly lovely place to linger.
However, it was becoming more apparent by the second that he'd find no answers here. Restless once again, he pushed back his chair, hitting into something soft.
"Oof!" said a girl's voice behind him.
Chase leapt up, grasping the arm of the brown-haired girl who now leaned against the offending piece of furniture. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! I had no idea you were behind me. Are you injured?"
"Nothing 'cept my dignity. Don't worry about it; my own damn fault." She grinned at him above her wire-rimmed glasses. "That's what I get for sneaking up on you. I wanted to see if that book was written in Braille…" she leaned around him, peering at the text on the table, "…nope, it's not. So since you don't seem to be legally blind, I can only guess that you're an alien." She waved her fingers in his confused face. "You've been reading that book with your fingertips for the past hour while staring out the window. So either you're a space alien with eyeballs in your digits, or you're not interested in geology at all."
Chase smiled ruefully. "You caught me out. No, not about being a space alien—the geology thing."
"Damn," she snapped her fingers in mock chagrin. "And here I was getting ready to net a huge payoff from the tabloids, get my student loans all taken care of. I don't suppose you could produce a couple of antennae from your head, pose for some pictures?"
He shook his head regretfully.
"Well, that's that. All the same, I'd like to take you out for a cuppa, welcome you to foreign shores and all that. I guess Melbourne is as alien as I'm likely to encounter around here."
Chase laughed, startled. "How did you know I'm from Melbourne?"
"Recognized the accent. I spent a year in Melbourne during undergrad; convinced my folks that I desperately needed some in-depth research into Australian geology. Luckily, they bought into it, and I had one of my best years ever, researching the geological strata of the beach and shoreline." She held her arms out, pantomiming a surfer. "I miss it like hell; can only imagine how you feel, stuck here in the flatlands of NJ."
"I'm surviving. But listen, I'll take you up on that cuppa, but only if you let me pay."
"Male chauvinism is not something that earns points with me," she said severely. "Unless, of course, it means you pay for everything; then I let my inner radical feminist take a quick nap. Let's go. Oh, by the way, the name's Beryl, Beryl Phillips, in case I get run over by a truck outside and the reporters want to know."
"I'll keep it in mind," said Chase gravely as he followed her out of the library. "Mine is Robert Chase, by the way."
"Far too normal," complained Beryl. "You need a pair of geologists as parents, who'll saddle you with the moniker of a second-rate gemstone. 'Course, as I always tell myself, it could've been worse: they could've named me Tourmaline or Feldspar or Quartz. In that case, though, I would've never made it alive out of junior high."
They ended up at a campus coffee shop a few blocks away, where they snagged a table while the barista harangued them cheerfully for choosing tea over espresso. Beryl was what Chase considered to be the typical American university girl: not classically beautiful but sturdily attractive with an open, cheerful face, a clever wit, and a way of setting you at ease.
They traded anecdotes about Melbourne, surfing, and their undergraduate days, as the evening business trickled away until they were one of only two couples left in the shop. Chase felt the familiar restlessness take hold of him once more, and resisted looking at his watch.
Beryl leaned back, her expression now serious. "So."
"So are you gonna tell me what's weighing so heavily on you, or do I have to take out the dental instruments and start pulling teeth? I warn you, you won't look as pretty with a few gaps in that pearly smile."
Chase tried to smile, but it failed to reach his eyes. "What makes you think something's wrong?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe the fact that you spent hours in the library fake-reading geology texts, when I know damn well you're not a student in the department, graduate or undergraduate. Maybe because you have the saddest smile I've seen in the past five years. Or maybe," she paused, choosing her words carefully, "maybe I have this funny way of sensing things."
"What things?" he asked, drawn in despite himself.
Beryl looked up at him, her eyes troubled. "I sense depression. I sense anger. I sense fear bordering on terror so intense, only your tremendous strength of will keeps you from going over the edge." Her voice dropped. "I sense that strength of will eroding by the hour."
Chase rocked back in his chair, shocked. "How can you—"
"I don't know." She shook her head. "I've never known why or how I feel these things. It's not like I talked it over with anyone; my parents barely acknowledge biology as a valid science, let alone," she wiggled her fingers near her head, "alien brainwaves. So mostly I keep it to myself. But once in a while, someone like you comes along, and…it's like preventing a car crash, you know? I can't not get involved."
"So there's a car crash in my future?" he joked weakly.
Beryl didn't smile back. "In a manner of speaking. Look," she leaned forward, "I don't want to scare you, but this can go either way, you know? The one thing I'll tell you for certain is that violence is never the answer."
Chase kept himself from flinching, but he'd bet good money Beryl was seeing the Glock in all its black malevolence as it forced its way to the forefront of his mind. A flush of shame crept across his face.
"Give me your hand," she ordered, her tone warm instead of judgmental. "Come on, don't be a baby."
He did as ordered, feeling the warmth of her grip spread through him. She sat still, looking at their linked hands as her thumb ran absently over his knuckles. Finally, she released him, turning her head aside and blinking rapidly.
For some reason (even though he didn't believe any of this, right?), his heart was beating fast. "So what do you see?" he blurted out.
She shook her head, still keeping her face turned away, then grabbed a napkin from the table and blew her nose. Chase realized, with a shiver of unreasonable dread, that she'd been crying.
"No, no," she said huskily, before clearing her throat. "I'm not foreseeing a steamroller in your future or anything like that, so don't freak out. It's more like I took a look at what's already happened to you." She finally met his gaze, her own eyes glistening. "You've been hurt badly, so badly," she whispered. "You've always coped, but now you're lost and you don't know what to do. Everything is…" she moved her hands in rapid, chaotic motions, '…so confusing, and you feel you're in the wrong place, that the world is wrong around you."
Chase leaned forward, all skepticism melting away in the face of her uncanny insight. "So what can I do?" and it was more a plea than a question.
Beryl looked at him helplessly. "I wish I had the answer; really I do, Robert. The most I can tell you—and I hope this doesn't mess you up even more—is that you're right. You are in the wrong place, and you are truly lost." She snorted in disgust. "Fat lot of help I am, right?"
"No, it's okay," he said, for some reason feeling the first glimmer of hope. "You have helped, more than you know. You see, half my problem is everyone's been telling me I'm crazy, the world is just as it's always been—and I was starting to doubt my own sanity. It means a lot to know that I can still trust myself."
"Yeah, you can, but here's the thing: I don't think you can fix things all on your own." She took his hand again. "I can tell you're not used to asking anyone for anything, but this time you have to. You have to swallow your pride or fear or whatever it is that drives you to be so solitary, and you have to ask for the help you need. Otherwise, you're going to be stuck in a universe of wrongness."
Chase was silent for a moment. "All right," he said at last. "All right, I'll do that." He stood up, and the barista moved out from behind the counter. He realized that he and Beryl were now the last people left in the coffee shop, and the barista had been waiting patiently to close up. Leaving a big tip to compensate for her trouble, he escorted Beryl from the shop. They stopped outside, inhaling the warm night air.
"I gotta get back," said Beryl apologetically. "My roomie is probably having fits, wondering where I am."
"Me too. Listen, I don't know how to thank you—"
"Don't worry about it. Maybe we'll run into each other some day again, Mr. Non-Geology-Student," she smirked, "and the only reward I'll need is seeing you with a genuine smile."
He squeezed her hand. "You're awfully good at this; you should think about changing your major."
"Oh, hell no!" said Beryl, scandalized. "I'd hate to do this as a job. I'm no ghost whisperer—just let me go back to my strata and magma, 'cause rocks are ever so much easier to deal with than people." She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. "Good luck, Doctor Chase," she said, and winked.
He laughed, startled and amused, and with one last wave, headed toward the large glass atrium of PPTH that loomed up ahead.
To his relief, the Diagnostics Department was dark, with no light peeping out from the blinds drawn around House's office. Chase used his key and let himself in, shrugging off his jacket with a sense of relief.
By all rights, he should be hurrying back to House's apartment to put the man's mind at ease (although House would vehemently deny being worried about him at all), but something drew him here instead. He knew he had to ask for help but dreaded confronting the keen blue stare that always managed to reduce him to a babbling schoolboy. It would be better if he gathered his thoughts here in private, maybe even write them down.
Maybe even email them before he lost his nerve.
Chase powered up the office computer, then wandered over to the coffeepot, hoping for one last cup he could heat in the microwave. To his surprise, the carafe was nearly full, an odd occurrence in this coffee-guzzling department—until he sniffed it and winced. It had the oversweet, overbuttery scent of Cameron's evil stash of flavored coffee, the one that screamed, BUTTERNUT CREAM! as it assaulted his sinuses. He quickly dumped it down the sink and started a new pot with the Columbian blend he'd bought with his own money.
No more stalling. He sighed and sat down at the corner computer, bringing up his hospital email account on the screen. Cracking his knuckles one last time, he began to write.
Okay, the easy part was over. Except…maybe "dear" was too personal? Could it be taken the wrong way? Should he address his boss as "Dr. House"—or was that too impersonal, since the man imagined them to be lovers? Should he quash that delusion, considering he was about to ask for help, or—?
"Sod it!" he muttered, and began typing again.
I hope this reaches you soon, so that you'll know I'm all right—not that I expect you to be worried or anything. In case you were wondering where I am, I'm at the Diagnostics computer, and I'll be returning to the apartment soon. The thing is, I want to talk to you and thought I might make better sense if I wrote it down instead of blurting things out in my usual way. It strikes me that we've been talking at each other a great deal, but neither one of us has been listening, and maybe this is the best way to make our meaning clear.
I'll get right to the point: I need your help. Not that you haven't helped me already; you literally saved my skin last week, for which I'm more grateful than I can express. But even before that incident, I was feeling disoriented, as if I were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That feeling has only intensified with each day that passes. What's worse is that my confusion seems to be causing unhappiness in everyone around me; you must know by now I'm the reason Wilson moved out of your place.
But I can't live a lie. I can't be this plaything you all claim I used to be. What's more, I know deep inside myself that I'm right: I don't belong here, I don't do sexual favors for all and sundry, and I'll only bring misery to myself and everyone else if they keep insisting I go against my character and upbringing.
I wish I had the perfect solution for all of us. In truth, I don't know what to do. But if you would try to believe me, even for a little while, I would do anything to prove myself. I'll take any number of psychological tests, talk to psych doctors and counselors, even take a lie detector test. I know I can't solve this on my own, so I'm asking humbly for your help.
I hope you'll at least think about it. Thanks for listening.
Chase leaned back and reread the letter for the third time. On each re-reading, it sounded more and more convoluted and confusing, so he reached out and clicked savagely on the Delete command.
Except that he missed and hit Send instead.
"Well, that's that," he sighed, echoing Beryl's earlier words, and got up to pour his last cup of coffee for the night.
House leaned back in his office chair and bounced his ball off the glass walls as he contemplated his problems. Number one, Wilson was standing him up tonight in favor of going to a retirement party for that decrepit old fart, Ferguson. Number two, he was hungry. Without Wilson to bully into picking up some sort of takeout, House was at a loss as to what he wanted to eat. Thai? Indian? Beef sandwiches? Number three…
He glared at the whiteboard through the glass. Damn Chase and his aggravating…Chaseness. The department was far too quiet nowadays, as Chase did his best to imitate a piece of office furniture. No more wacky assertions, no more outrageous acts, at least not since the Cuddy incident—and House would dearly love to know what had gone down between Chase and Foreman that night, since the arrogant neurologist now regarded his colleague with an expression that flickered between anger and guilt.
Whatever. The point was that Chase was no longer pulling his fair share of the diagnostic load. Oh, sure, he'd make the odd (insightful) suggestion, but let Foreman sneer or himself make a sarcastic remark, and Chase would fade into the background again, refusing to fight for his theories the way he used to. It was (worrying) aggravating. Add to that the permanent crease between Cameron's brows and the reproachful looks she'd send him whenever he mocked Chase, and he'd swear he was running a department full of woobie wusses, instead of the sharpest young minds in—forget that. They were definitely woobie wusses.
His computer warbled a mangled chime, making him miss his ball. House glowered. Who was idiot enough to send him an email this time of night? He pulled his hospital account onto the main screen, checking the listed messages. What the hell was THoPP anyway? Some kind of new porn site?
Opening the message, he frowned as he tried to make sense of it, even glancing involuntarily at the empty connecting office. Was this some weird Australian attempt at humor?
Then he read the message again. And again.
And jumped at his phone, frantically punching in four numbers.
"Wilson! Listen, you've got to come over here—No, I don't give a shit if you've already called a cab! Get your ass—oh, stop with the sanctimonious crap about Ferguson; man should've had the decency to die years ago. What's going on here is way more important. No, dickhead, it doesn't have to do with porn. It has to do with Chase.
"I think he's in trouble. That's right. Okay, see you in two."
To be continued
Translation: primum non nocere (Latin): First, do no harm. Commonly mistaken as part of the Hippocratic oath, this line is not in the oath itself but is one of the precepts of Hippocrates
Note: No excuses are sufficient for this extremely long gap between updates, so I'll simply say I'm sorry, and I hope to do better in future. Unfortunately, I'm unable to make promises, since the same real life pressures that caused this long delay still exist in my life. The one promise I'll make is that I will finish writing this fic, no matter how long it takes me.
Thanks for reading. I truly appreciate it.