A/N: post You-Don't-Want-To-Know (magician episode). After the new ducklings knock House out and do tests on him…
House was sitting in his office with a blanket pulled up to his chin, trying to doze.
When his office door creaked open he didn't even bother to open his eyes. "I said to go away, Wilson. I'm clotting. I'm fine."
When he realized the voice belonged to someone other than his best friend, House sat up a little straighter and made an effort to look healthy. He even opened his eyes, pushed the blanket down to his lap. "Chase, didn't I fire you? That means you don't-... What's wrong?" He hated to ask, hated to sound concerned, but it was obviously something. And by the look on Chase's face, something big.
"Your biopsy results came back."
"I know. The blood was clean, just like I said. And why are you following my case?"
"No - not that." Chase took a step forward and held out a few sheets of lab printouts. "When I heard people had stolen samples from you, I thought... just in case... I had a couple more tests done. On your liver."
House reached out and snatched the papers. He skimmed over them fast, took his time and read it again. When he was done he looked up, but Chase had turned his back, as though he thought House would prefer to make this discovery in private. "Chase. Thank you for telling me." When he realized what he'd said, he snorted with laughter (wincing at the little stabs of pain from all his biopsy sites). "And I'm glad you're not Wilson, or I'd owe you ten bucks."
Chase didn't face him. "You don't sound surprised."
"I guess... I'm not. I've been ignoring the warning signs, but they've been there. I spose I knew it was only a matter of time."
"But it's still so early... you realize it's not a death sentence yet, if you could just stop the Vicodin."
His voice was ragged, almost desperate, and House could hear that he didn't mean to lecture. "If I could stop the Vicodin, I would have done it a long time ago," he answered as patiently as he could. "You know it's the only thing that takes the edge off without making me too high to work. I can't take the pain, and I refuse to be useless. I'm not giving it up."
Chase turned to look him in the eyes when he said the word. "Then you're dying."
House's gaze dropped to the tests results. "Eventually." He exhaled slowly. After a moment he pulled himself together. "I want you to be my medical proxy."
Chase choked on nothing. "What?"
"Medical proxy," House repeated. "You know, the guy who's not supposed to cut off my leg while I'm sleeping?"
House shrugged. "You know medicine and you know me… and you won't disregard my wishes just because they might kill me." He put the paper down in his lap and looked at it one more time. "So," he asked into the silence, "Will you do it? You don't have to hold my hand - in fact, I'd prefer if you didn't. We'll stay out of each other's hair. All I ask is that you enforce my decisions and don't bitch to me about them."
The surge of pride that House had finally tapped him for something important faded quickly next to the horror of what he was going to have to do. It was going to be his mother all over again, sitting here watching as House slowly killed himself... Except this time he was going into it with his eyes wide open. "House, someday I'll be standing by your-" His voice caught and he coughed to clear it up. "-By your tombstone sobbing and wondering why the hell didn't I try and stop you when I had the chance." He pressed his lips together and inhaled slowly. "But if you want to trade a longer life for a more comfortable one, I understand it's none of my business. I'll do what you tell me."
Chase's voice held through the end and House did him the courtesy of not looking at him, but there was no way to contain the telltale hitch in his breath.
"Chase," House said flatly, staring at the floor. "I'm not going to-..." It was ridiculous, he knew, and he didn't bother to finish the sentence.
"Not what? Not going to cut back? Or not going to die?"
"I'm... sorry." People tried to make him feel guilty and ashamed about his pills all the time, but usually House just got angry. This was different. He didn't protest about being in pain, didn't pretend he thought his dosage was safe... couldn't even take his eyes from the carpet. Illogical and ridiculous as it was, he was, in that moment, sorry.
"No, I... didn't mean to yell at you. I know it's your choice to make." Long pause, during which Chase fought with himself and lost. "House...? Can I hug you?"
House's head snapped up and Chase braced for some scathing comment that would make him furious at himself for giving a damn in the first place...
But House was silent, and didn't look amused or mocking at all. He looked pained, almost... hurt. "Chase, come on, I thought you grew out of that," he said softly, close to begging. He'd been repeatedly organ-raped today, the other shoe had dropped at last and he felt so drained he didn't think he could take any more.
Chase stayed where he was and didn't look away. Lacking the strength to fight him just now, House stood and sighed, "Fine. Make it quick. And watch the biopsy sites." He even opened his arms a little (although it looked more like he was inviting a fight than initiating a hug.)
Cameron always complained that House didn't "cooperate" with hugs, that it was like hugging a piece of wood or a statue - all hard and angular, none of the give you'd expect from even the most reluctant of human beings. And, once upon a time, Chase had agreed with her.
Today, though, it was different. House was warm, solid... not nearly as tough and sinewy as his appearance suggested. Chase put one arm over his shoulder and the other around his ribs, fully expecting this to be one-sided because word on the street was that while very good friends of House were occasionally permitted to hug him, other than brief squeezes at Wilson's weddings he would never, ever hug anyone back.
So Chase was surprised, to say the least, when a hand pressed flat between his shoulderblades. He snuggled closer, held tighter, and realized he had crossed the line from tearing up to actually crying. He knew House would rake him over the coals for it, but couldn't help himself.
"Chase, I'm sorry." It was almost a whisper, oddly clogged. Chase wondered if he'd imagined it... it and the tiny, almost imperceptible circles House was rubbing into his back.
But then House drew in a long, slow breath that shuddered, and Chase knew he hadn't imagined it at all. Emotion - he'd actually caught House feeling an emotion and even handling it the way a normal person would. Being upset. Hugging. And, at long last, relaxing into it, with the ridiculous understatement: "I'm scared. This sucks."
Chase squeezed him as his shoulders dropped. "I know. I'm so sorry. And I'm sorry for... losing it on you," he murmured without letting go. "Just... the idea that one day... you're just going to, you know, not be here..."
Again that long, shuddery suck of air. "It's easier that way," House explained, almost gently. "For everybody."
When Chase realized what he meant, he jerked away so hard he almost fell backwards. "House! You're not-" He tried to sound a little calmer. "Don't you dare keep everything a secret until you just up and disappear one day! Please, promise me. Promise me that when things start going wrong you'll let me know. You've been important to me and it'll be hard enough to lose you and I can't do it that way."
"I don't want..."
"I won't fuss over you," Chase swore. "I barely even see you anymore, I won't tell anybody else, but I have to know. Please."
House's eyes traveled up and down his body, sizing him up. "All right," he decided at last. "When I get bad news, I'll keep you posted. Hopefully it'll be a while." He settled back into his chair and pulled on his blanket. "I come from a long line of alcoholics whose livers toughed it out for years longer than anyone thought possible, so..."
Chase dredged up the encouraging smile he needed. "I'm... glad to hear it, House. If you need anything, you know where to find me. Gnight."
"Night. Um. Thanks for the hug."
Ok, I think this is the last random one-shot for now. I'm getting back to the longer story (which I updated late last night, if you're wondering.) Let me know what you thought of this!