NOTES: Sorry this update took so long. I was very scared I wasn't going to get unstuck. Here's a very long chapter to make up for the wait. Also, Chapter Three of Numerary Logic is up. I picked a very bad day to update it, and I think a lot of people may have missed it due to some technical issues on the site.
Chapter Five: Desperate Measures
The pages are terribly, horribly, irrevocably out of order. Worse, some of them are missing. It's been nearly half an hour since Chase began the task of reassembling the old Lupus textbook, using several large document clips to capture the pages. He's moved the desk light from House's old office onto a corner of the glass conference table, not ready to deal with the harsh overhead lights. It's still fully dark out, and Chase wonders if this is what the room looked like when Cameron walked in to find House's body.
He feels a moment of guilt over leaving her asleep on his couch, but there are chills of adrenaline crawling over his skin, and he can't seem to sit still for longer than a few seconds. He thinks of dream-House, and it's crystal clear in the yellow lamp light what he has to do today. The door to one of the adjacent rooms opens and then slams, and Chase jumps, glancing out into the hall, half expecting to see one of his team members arriving already. He starts to breathe again as he catches sight of a doctor whose name he can't remember; the man is walking away down the hall, and that is what matters.
At last giving up, Chase grabs the box of trash bags he's brought from home. He shakes one out a little too violently, enjoying the feeling of it snapping in his fingers. As the sun starts to rise, the current of anxiety seems to coagulate and focus at his core, a kind of flighty energy that's been absent for so long he isn't sure it was ever there to begin with. Chase sweeps the pages off the table and into the bag, then puts it on the floor and crushes it with his foot until the paper is as compact as possible at the bottom. And then it's like a dam has broken in his mind; suddenly he's consumed by the overpowering need to eliminate every trace the years and despair have left on this place.
The bag in the main trash can gets stuck, the marker from the previous day falling out and landing in the middle of the carpet as Chase tries to tug the liner free. When at last it comes, it gives off an enormous puff of fowl-smelling air; obviously this bag has been left here long enough for something in it to spoil. Wrinkling his nose, Chase shoves the marker back inside it and ties off the top, then drags the bag outside the door and leaves it there. At least the janitorial staff won't have the excuse of being too intimidated to come inside and get the trash now.
Chase remembers suddenly coming in early and listening to music in this room, sometimes falling asleep at the table after late-night hours in the ICU, never going home between shifts. He makes a rapid round of the conference room's perimeter, picking books off the floor and lining them up along the shelves. He ends in House's old office, sweeping the debris from the top of the desk into the trash bag with the remains of the textbook. There are several boxes on the floor, which he stacks and takes out into the hall with the two bags. The knickknacks he leaves for the moment, and he's standing lost in fascination over them when Hartley arrives.
"What did you do?" she whispers from the doorframe, and Chase jumps, unnerved by her silent entrance.
"Cleaned up." My life, he adds silently.
Hartley peers around the room over the top of her wire-rimmed glasses; the lenses are thick, giving her dark eyes an overwhelming owlish look against the rest of her delicate features. She's carrying an oversized blue backpack, slung loosely over one shoulder and clutched in both arms against her chest, giving her the look of a timid schoolgirl.
"I guess you would want to do that," she says diplomatically, though she's obviously bothered by something.
"You're early," says Chase, glancing at his watch. He has the ridiculous feeling that she is the secret they're looking to find, and his chance to discover her is rapidly escaping with each passing moment.
Hartley nods and considers him again. It's like being put through intense scrutiny by a mouse; her gaze seems simultaneously unnerving and completely benign. "I'm always early. I wake up and think I'm late, so I rush to get here."
"You worry about being late?" asks Chase redundantly. He remembers how House was always late, and wonders where she got her sense of punctuality from.
"I worry about lots of things," Hartley states flatly, and Chase gets the sense that it isn't the kind of thing she tells most people. She opens her mouth like she's about to say something else, but just then all three men enter. Hartley darts past to the corner chair at the conference table, whipping it out and sitting in it like she's afraid someone will try to steal her seat. Chase swallows his frustration and watches as she places her backpack on the tabletop and unzips it, opens what looks like a book inside and peers down with her head halfway inside the pocket.
"Good morning," says Chase, taking a deep breath. The adrenaline is already beginning to fade a little, leaving him resigned to face a long and grinding day. He tells himself this is what Cameron would advise, but he isn't sure, and suddenly he regrets not waking her up to ask.
"Morning," says Thompsen distractedly. He pulls a bagel from his bag and inserts it into the toaster in the corner kitchenette like food is the most important order of business. Kander flashes an overenthusiastic and obviously fake smile; Cattrell doesn't respond at all.
"So," says Chase, struggling with how to begin. "We've had this case for two days now. There is absolutely no reason it should be taking that long. I sent you off yesterday with a battery of tests, none of which got done."
Kander starts to open his mouth, and Chase holds up a hand for silence, feeling ridiculous and theatrical. He reminds himself that this team doesn't know him; they have no reason to suspect his bluff.
"I don't particularly care why that is," Chase continues. "We're not leaving here today until this case gets solved."
Thompsen gets to his feet abruptly, his chair tumbling to the carpeted floor with a muffled crash. Chase wonders whether the gesture is part of a petty temper tantrum or just plain carelessness. Cattrell gives a long-suffering sigh, and Hartley ducks further inside her backpack.
"We're going to start by talking to the patient. Then we'll run all of the tests from yesterday." Thompsen is halfway out the door when Chase stops him. "And I'm coming with you."
The patient's name is Lucy Campbell according to the chart, and she is not happy. She's thin, blonde, and athletic, but there's something obviously wrong. Her arms seem to have lost muscle tone, skin too soft and loose. Her hair has lost its shine, and there are dark circles under her eyes. Chase thinks that she looks unnervingly like the dying woman in his dream, but he forces the thought aside.
"I'm not crazy," she says by way of greeting. "And I'm not sure why this is taking so long. I didn't even see a doctor yesterday."
"Sorry," mutters Chase. Getting yelled at by a patient right off the bat is not a part of his plan to gain control of the team.
"We're going through some staffing changes," Kander offers unhelpfully. "Things are a little crazy right now."
Lucy narrows her eyes. "You're telling me that with five doctors none of you had the time to come and see me yesterday? I can find another hospital if that's the case."
"No," says Chase quickly, "that won't be necessary. We just have a few questions to ask you and then we'll get right along with some tests."
Lucy scowls, but she looks too sick to really protest. Chase feels suddenly awkward standing with the team behind him, like he's leading a ragtag band of mercenaries into war. He steps reflexively to the side, and Kander moves closer to the patient's bed, unnecessarily examining her IV stand. Chase glances behind him to see Thompsen and Cattrell looking sideways at one another, and Hartley with her back pressed to the wall like she's waiting for enough cover to escape.
"Go ahead," Chase says to the team, ignoring Lucy's look of incredulity and motioning for them to ask the questions. He tells himself he won't be promoting independence if he does the job himself, though it's unnerving to give them any measure of trust again.
Kander takes the chart first. "Uh…it says here that you've just bought a house with your boyfriend?"
Lucy nods impatiently. "That's right."
"It also says that you originally thought birth control pills might be causing your nausea. Any chance you actually are pregnant?"
"No! I'm not getting married until this summer!" Lucy sounds disgusted, and she throws back her blanket in a grand gesture of disapproval. She seems like exactly the kind of girl Chase couldn't stand back in school, and he resists the urge to roll his eyes.
"But you live with your boyfriend," Thompsen jumps in. "And you were on birth control. That suggests there was a reason you needed it. A reason that might have gotten you pregnant if it failed."
"Test me," Lucy snaps. "I'm not pregnant."
"All right," says Kander, and notes it in her chart. "Have you been out of the country recently?"
Lucy shakes her head sullenly.
"Any new medications you didn't tell the clinic about?"
"No," she insists. "And I've already been through all of this. Five doctors and all you're doing is repeating the same questions?"
"We're just trying to be thorough," Chase says before motioning for Kander to continue.
"Any recent sickness besides the nausea, or history of acid reflux, ulcers?" Kander is going more quickly now, Chase notices, obviously unnerved by Lucy's increasingly short temper. He makes a mental note to address this flaw later.
An uneasy moment passes before she answers. "I've had some…stomach cramps, lately. I assumed they were a side effect of coming off birth control."
"Other than that?" Kander looks at her like she's a bomb that might explode.
"Nothing." Lucy glares daggers, directing her gaze at each one of them before falling theatrically back against her thin hospital pillow. Behind him, Chase hears Hartley gasp, and he turns to see her sidestep along the wall, as close to the door as possible. Thompsen snickers to himself, then flashes a brilliant smile at Lucy.
"All right," Chase interrupts before this can turn into any more of a fiasco. He envies House's old immunity from this kind of trouble; it would be so much easier to ignore this woman's frustration and simply force the answers out of her, but he knows there's no way he can pull it off. "Thanks. We're gonna get started on some tests and we'll let you know what we find."
Chase breezes in the door and stands next to the whiteboard, placing it like a shield between the team and himself as they take seats around the table. He has to resist the urge to pull a chair over; it's only early afternoon and already his limbs have the rubbery feeling previously associated with thirty hour shifts. "Let's review."
"Nothing, nothing, and more nothing," says Thompsen, stirring an eighth packet of sugar into the coffee he's snagged from the cafeteria on the way back. He doesn't look up as he speaks.
"And you know this…how?" Cattrell draws out each word, his voice so deep it's almost oily. "Since you didn't actually do any of the tests."
Thompsen shrugs. "Not my fault there weren't enough toys for all the children. I helped plenty."
"By standing around watching," mutters Cattrell.
"Maybe I saw something that you didn't."
"You just said you saw nothing." Cattrell gives a long-suffering sigh.
"And you think maybe you see something, so in seeing nothing he saw something that you didn't see." Hartley leans toward Thompsen, examining the surface of his coffee, and Chase wonders where her sudden courage has come from.
Thompsen glares at her, swatting the air in front of her face like he's trying to frighten away a pesky animal. "I don't need your help."
"Enough," says Chase. It takes an inordinate amount of energy to get his voice to work. It's not that he's afraid of them, he tells himself. He just can't be sure of the right action to take. For a moment his thoughts stray to Cameron, and he worries over whether she's gotten to work all right, because he hasn't heard from her all day. He uncaps the whiteboard marker, snapping the top neatly onto the back of it. "Go through the tests one at a time."
"You were there!" Thompsen protests.
"And you just pointed out that it's possible for different people to see different things. Go through the tests one at a time." Chase writes the date on the whiteboard and underlines it carefully, feeling better in the pretext of doing something useful.
"Uh, blood workup was normal," says Kander, grabbing the chart away from Cattrell, suddenly eager to please. "She's not pregnant."
"Cultures aren't back yet," Thompsen adds unhelpfully. "Maybe they'll show Kander's super stealth infection. That is, assuming it's not caused by invisible bacteria."
"Hey, you never know." Kander gives him a mirthless smile.
Thompsen snatches the file from Kander's outstretched hand. "Barium swallow shows no sign of blockage; CT was negative for gallstones." He gives a lopsided grin to the empty center of the room. "And we all strike out."
"No," says Cattrell smugly. "That just leaves my theory. Eating disorder. She seemed like the type."
"No way," Kander interrupts. "She was complaining that we hadn't come to see her sooner. Why would she care if she was doing it to herself?"
"To be contrary?" asks Cattrell.
"No, that's you," says Thompsen. Hartley laughs, the sound cutting and too loud. He looks at her derisively. "Shut up, Genius."
"Enough," says Chase again, feeling like he's trying to stop a runaway train. Authority has never come easily to him; it's even harder now that he's certain it's entirely undeserved.
"We'll have her assessed for an eating disorder." At least that will probably involve Cameron, he tells himself, but it feels like a defeat nonetheless. They are at a diagnostic impasse, and for the first time there's no one he trusts to ask for help. "Everyonestay here. I'm going to talk to the patient again. There has to be something we missed."