Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
Author's Notes: If I were Dr. House, I would have a fleet of Ducklings, Cuddys, and Wilsons to help me out with fics. Alas, House and all his "friends" are fictional, and were thus unavailable. I was, however, lucky enough to be aided by the invaluable leiadiana and jcshipper, who each supplied me with help and encouragement. Big hugs for each of you, you both were so wonderful! Also, this was written for finallytuesday's Get Chase Hugged fest - go check out that community, it has so many talented writers, but needs more!
Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.
"" "" ""
It begins, ironically, with a bang: The slip of her heel on the heat tiled floor, the unceremonious way her body follows her foolish foot, and finally, the muffled thud Lucy Chandra Dwyer's head makes as it connects with a floor that is hundreds of miles from Earth. Her common sense and her brilliant mind are both useless to her now. Her scream is dead on her tongue. Her body lies inconsequentially in the open, seeping shape of a fallen angel: It has done little but betray her in the past few years.
The cargo bay is somewhat dim, and Dwyer's body casts only a faint shadow. Space is home to a billion stars, but it is impossibly dark and the moon, the moon with her footprints on its lunar basalt skin, is the only thing to look at.
(It is hanging in the balance. Whatever lucky circumstance that hooked it into the inky sky in the first place is falling into irrelevance. I am it.)
She comes to: Nothing. A wide, gaping hole where her mind should be.
"" "" ""
Chase sees it as it is: He can go, or he can not go.
It's simple, really.
His Australia is All-At-Once time - the indigenous belief in a moment that has happened, is happening, and will happen. Past, present, future. Collide.
He doesn't, he shouldn't, want to go back. Chase is logical about this: There is old, rotting. Here is fresh. There is death.
"Were you about to make a call?" Cameron is interrupting suddenly. Comfortable. Striding into his kitchen.
Here is his heart.
"No," Chase answers quickly. Guilty. "Someone called me. Wrong number." He is a good liar. Practice makes perfect.
"Well," Cameron laughs nervously. She slings the loop of her purse over her shoulder. Oblivious. Thank you. "Ok then. Are you ready to go?"
Yes. No. Where?
"Yeah," Chase says, grabbing his wallet and tucking it into his pocket. He takes her hand. Relaxes.
Here. He can be here. He doesn't have to stretch and compromise the definition to fit happy here. It is a choice; he can opt to stay
Or, he can not.
He forgets to turn the lights off when they disappear through the front door, and the artificial glow waits for his return.
"" "" ""
She stands up, and the blood and the answers flow. She is 52. She is slightly arthritic. She is an astronaut - a famous one, if her memory isn't trying to compensate. Her name - though she can't remember what exactly it is - might even be a household one. She is on a space shuttle: Easy enough to distinguish from her surroundings. The feeling of walking on the moon kisses the bottoms of her heels.
More steps: Ouch. Her headache is duller now, but the pain isn't pulsing in a lone, isolated area anymore - it is a contagion in her mind. Nausea makes her unsteady on her feet.
Fifteen minutes, and she knows why she is in the…storage place to begin with. The minutes pass slowly and then another crucial detail: Her shuttle is landing in two hours.
She enters the forward fuselage. Her memory is granting no more wishes. We appreciate your patronage. Come back again tomorrow.
"Dwyer?" says a young man. Brown eyes. Doe on a street. Headlights. Roadkill, she finally thinks.
"Are you all right?" Persistent. Get off the street.
"I'm fine." She is short with him, but suddenly it's as though she has fire instead of blood and the sweat is steam rolling off her body. (Smolder.)
But she concentrates on the gift that her memory has held hostage: A name. But What Dwyer? That's her last name, right?
"Did you bring the breakfast?" asked a dark Indian girl - her name is Anne Akbar. Her identity is easy to recall. This confusion is so teasing, so flirty: Certain, irrelevant facts are given so willingly, but the essentials linger so far from her. So shallow. So immature.
"No," Dwyer says irritably. "I decided I wasn't hungry."
"But the rest of us were," replies Akbar hotly. That bitch. "I wanted fruit," she pouts. Dwyer's stomach turns over itself.
"Get it yourself," she tries to say. But she throws up instead.
It floats. This vomit. Brown and thin and liquid and not inside her anymore: On her. Face and nose and splayed across her mouth and for everyone to see. Confession: I'm sick. Old. Dangerous in my helplessness. Put me in a nice home please, and slip the nurse ten dollars on your yearly visit so she doesn't forget to change my diaper. I'm not having a stroke; it's just been a while since you've seen me. What I've become.
When she throws up again, she can remember to lean over. Over the sound of her own retching: "Alert NASA. We've got a sick crew member onboard."
"" "" ""
Cuddy doesn't know it yet, but she is being watched.
The stalker leans against a wall outside her office: A fortitude. Her blinds are closed, but he rocks at physics; if he turns his head at exactly the right angle, he estimates he can see down her shirt. She frowns: A benefactor on the phone. Money. Dollar bills with mouths and libidos and deep pockets.
Or him. She could be talking about him, cane and sex and genius and hot anger just beneath his skin.
Her frown sinks deeper into the thin wrinkles around her mouth, and her head is cradled in her hand. Her chest turns and he thinks that if he cocks his head just…like…that - there. The prize. A dark shadow between the palest parts of her body.
He watches as she fits the phone back on the receiver. Every part has a match. Everything fits together neatly. She closes her eyes and sighs. He waits for the moment: Relax, Lisa baby, I'm not here yet. You've got a few seconds before I ruin your day. Use them wisely: I'm not leaving.
CRACK! House precedes his entrance by slamming the round bottom of his cane into the doorframe: Thunder. She is not shaken.
"House, you just got a new case," she says, looking at him through her dark lashes; he thinks of clear blue skies hiding behind storm clouds.
"Perfect," House responds, making eye-contact with her. "I can't wait to work with the new team. Wilson already bet that I could make Horowitz cry after the first hour of actually using medicine, but I think Leonard has real sob potential."
She sits up straight. A gift of attention. "They won't be helping with this one - I'm calling in Chase, Cameron, and Foreman."
"Pretty as you are, Dr. Cuddy, I just don't think they would agree to a foursome with you after three satisfying years with me. You might stand a chance with the new lackeys; you should tap that while you can. It's only a matter of time before they learn who the real--"
She doesn't blink. "This case is too high-profile to be in the hands of the new guys," she interrupts calmly. "NASA called half an hour ago. They've got a sick astronaut. The shuttle will land at the Kennedy Space Center in about an hour and a half, then they're flying Dwyer - the astronaut - here to get treated by you." An errant curl gets tucked behind her ear. Don't you misbehave. "The media's already at LaGuardia waiting for her, and some reporters have been sneaking around here too. I know this is asking a lot, but please - try to not detonate this hospital's reputation."
He flips his cane in the air - whish - and catches it, one-handed. "Don't worry - everyone will be too distracted by your boobs to notice the crip chugging Vicodin in the corner. Besides," he says, leering at her. "You'll never get the Original Gangsta Ducklings back."
A smirk. "I already did half the job. Chase and Cameron are on their way."
"Even while unemployed," House sighs. "They can't resist sucking up to me."
"Whatever you want to tell yourself," Cuddy says, straightening up at her desk and House recognizes the symptoms: She is going back into administrative mode. Getting ready for Foreman. Step up; be a doctor. I'm wearing a low-cut shirt today.
"Now get out of here," she is saying, picking up her phone receiver. "I have another bridge of yours to resurrect."
"" "" ""
Back to the air.
"Dr. House," they keep saying. "He's a good doctor. You'll be fine. Just relax."
She wants to close her eyes, but when she does that, she sees a jagged meteor, flying closer and closer to Earth.
"" "" ""
In the first three seconds, his muscle cells burn off extra ATP. His phosphagen system starts pumping energy for ten seconds: Thank you, medical texts, you've taught me well. Now, the glycogen-lactic acid system takes over. His breathing rate increases - oxygen is the main ingredient of ATP. His clean, white sneakers (not like his, that first sign he can't forget) pound on hot pavement and it is aerobic respiration that continues to fuel Foreman until he hears a computerized version of 'When the Saints Go Marching In' begin to play.
He slows down and pants, his hands holding his knees: Another reminder that he is real, a symmetric, scientific masterpiece. His breathing begins to even. His cell phone is in his sweaty palm and the ID of the call is PPTH. He smirks.
He knew House would want to rehire him.
Foreman waits a few more minutes before calling back and sits on a bench with chipped paint. All the better to be calm and collected. A gift from the ghetto to humanity: May we present Eric Foreman, a champion of defying the odds! Far from a chameleon, this man refused to assimilate into a world of drugs and gangs. So why, clever audience, is he unable to resist morphing into his asshole boss?
A sigh. Don't think about it.
On the phone, Cuddy is talking about an astronaut and newbies and Dr. Foreman, I know you quit for a reason but I will pay you double your usual wage if you work on this case. (No,) and I didn't call to argue with you but this is a very high-profile case and will make it much easier to get hired and (I'm sorry I can't help you, Dr. Cuddy, but the I've got a lot of stuff to take care of and-)
And she loses her temper. Krakatoa, he thinks, just before she lets him have it: "Dr. Foreman, I appreciate that you don't want to end up like House. But right now, you're putting your pride ahead of the needs of a patient. Someone could die because of your stubbornness. Don't you think that's worse?"
His fingernails dig under the dark green paint chips and he remembers the Beautification project that spawned this bench's existence. Nothing gold can stay.
"" "" ""
She is stirring a mug of coffee and Chase is nibbling on a pen cap and Foreman is pacing and Cameron knows that old habits die so slowly. A week ago they were colleagues, but unemployment apparently begets yawning stretches of silence: Where have the three people who used to slip easily into conversation gone? And when, Cameron wonders, will they come back?
"So." It is Foreman who breaks the silence. "What job offers have you guys had to defer to be here?"
Chase sets down his pen abruptly. "None really, as of yet," he says, but he is nervous now: Cameron knows him, knows his habits. But before she has time to contemplate this development:
"What about you, Cameron?"
Chase opens his mouth and then closes it, but not quickly enough - Foreman notices that and Cameron's awkward little smile. "So," he says, smirking. "It's like that between you two?"
Cameron is saved from an obnoxious answer to an obnoxious question when the door suddenly swings open and there House is and now they're back to the way it used to be. With House enters a sudden buzz of energy and three doctors - all male. She guesses they must be the new the new them. She doesn't want to be here, but she is, and she's too much of a people-pleaser to resist easing back into their diagnostic sessions.
House doesn't look at any of them, but makes a beeline straight to the white board, pausing only to slide what must be a patient folder to Chase, who opens it and begins to read to himself.
"Well," House prompts, tapping his cane. "Are you going to share with the class or what?"
Chase practically jumps to attention; Cameron secretly thinks he's happy to see his former boss. "Fifty-nine year old female. Her aunt died of breast cancer but otherwise, no family history of cancer or heart problems." He glances up but does not back away from House's impatient glare. "Why is she being admitted in the first place?"
House cracks his knuckles irritably and a man with freckles and a shock of red hair answers for him. "Lucy Dwyer's an astronaut and apparently passed out shortly before landing. The other astronauts have reported that she came back disoriented, had a fever and a headache, and was vomiting. One guy said she was rather tetchy, but that was contested by someone else on the flight who said she was always kind of nasty. So irritability may or may not be a symptom." He announces this all very quickly.
"We should run a lumbar puncture," Foreman responds immediately. He is sitting up straight in his chair: Proud. Arrogant.
"You think its meningitis?" Cameron asks. She does not know why she is so surprised: An extreme ego breeds an extreme diagnosis.
"I think its textbook meningitis."
"None of the other astronauts have reported any symptoms," Chase argues.
"Not all people that are infected with meningitis will actually get the disease. Plus," Foreman continues, failing to mask his excitement. Back on the chain gang. "Aren't astronauts on oxygen tanks all the time or something? It's spread through respiratory secretions."
"Actually, they only wear the tanks when they're not in the shuttle - like if they have to repair equipment," a very young, very bald man says. "Or something," he adds, as though flippancy is compensation for opposition and intelligence. This backwards world.
"Still," Foreman insists. So happy to talk. His voice is his Midas. "There are plenty of explanations as to why the other crew members aren't sick. It may just be they're not showing symptoms yet."
"Fine," House says - he has been uncharacteristically silent throughout the entire session. "You and Cameron will perform an LP when she gets here."
"Are you kidding me? We need to do a blood panel first." Cameron practically yells it: Why is House testing them like this?
He almost nods. Almost approves. But then - the door opens again and Cuddy is there: "House, your patient just got here."
House gives Cameron one last look. "Okay, run a blood panel before the LP. Come on, get to it already!"
She follows Foreman and Chase out of the office, but not quickly enough to miss the gift, the irreplaceable gem, that House never meant for her to hear: "Now that," he says to the new fellows, "is how the differentials are supposed to run."