Collide

I'm open, you're closed
Where I follow, you'll go
I worry I won't see your face
Light up again
Collide by Howie Day

Chapter 1 – Follow

You sigh as you stand in front of the mirror and practice your impassive face. You're sure that word of your break-up with Chase is all over the hospital. The nurses' furtive whispers whenever you turn your back are proof enough. You certainly didn't tell anyone, and you can't decide if you're upset enough to confront Chase about how the news got out or if you're still feeling too guilty to speak to him.

Guilty wins.

You go through your shifts for the next few days carefully and methodically. You ignore the nurses as they lean their heads together and look in your direction while they gossip. You avoid the OR suites completely, sending all your surgical cases upstairs with assorted interns. You pretend the Diagnostic floor doesn't exist.

You make it through nearly a week and begin to think that maybe you're going to be okay. If the nurses are still talking about you, perhaps you're hearing it less. You don't feel like you're struggling to make it through the day before you collapse and cry yourself to sleep.

You have just finished your final shift of the week. You aren't even on call this weekend. For the first time in days, you feel almost good. You make your way to the locker room to change out of your scrubs and are just tossing a hairbrush into a bag. And then you hear something.

"I can't understand why she'd do something so crazy," a voice says. You don't recognize the speaker.

"Oh isn't obvious?" a second voice snaps. You think you might recognize this voice as belonging to a nurse who works the ER swing shift. "She's still got a thing for House."

"That just doesn't make any sense," the first voice says. "They stayed here together."

"Did they?" swing-shift-nurse counters. "We don't know that. Maybe she stayed and he followed."

"You mean she stayed here on purpose? For House?" the first voice muses. "No. No, I don't think so. I mean, I'm not saying you're wrong; maybe she does still have a thing for him. But she and Dr. Chase were happy together."

"Or he was happy, and she was kidding herself," swing-shift-nurse says.

"Such a shame," the first voice says. You grip the door of your locker tightly and listen to their footsteps recede as they leave. You wait until you've heard the pneumatic door swing closed before clicking shut your locker and sitting down heavily on the bench behind you.

Are they right?

Are you crazy for leaving Chase?

Would it have been better to continue to play along like the happy couple?

You shake your head. No. Even if Chase would be happier now, in the long run he would only be more hurt when the truth came out. You don't love him the way he loves you. And that is not something you can fake. Or should.

You feel better. Not really, but you feel better about your decision. You are doing the right thing. You gather up your bag and jacket. You shrug both over your shoulders and stride purposefully from the locker room. Should you happen upon the two women you overheard, you don't want them any the wiser.

"It couldn't be for lack of other opportunities," swing-shift nurse says at the desk, making no effort to keep her conversation private. You straighten your shoulders as you walk past the desk, holding your head high and pretending you don't hear anything.

"Then why did she stay?" anonymous nurse asks. You can't help it; you turn your head to see who the anonymous nurse is. You regret it immediately. Because rather than the expanse of the lobby behind you your vision is completely eclipsed by a black blazer and a 'Cocoa Puffs' t-shirt. You don't look up; there is no need.

"You know," his deep voice drawls, "I've been wondering that very thing."

"Keep wondering," you say to the t-shirt and turn to escape.

He follows. Of course he follows. You can hear him thumping behind you and for a fleeting moment you consider running. You don't. Because that would be cruel. Because you'll only have to come back Monday. And because you're curious what might happen if he catches you.

His large hand easily encircles your forearm and you stop. You turn in his direction, but don't completely face him. You have been avoiding this very moment because you don't know what to say. He will be cryptic and insulting; you will be direct and hurt. It's your pattern, and it won't get you anywhere.

"I heard a rumor about you," he says quietly. You have to look now. He almost sounds serious. You know there have been a very few times in all the years you worked for him when he was actually serious and he sounded a lot like this.

"Don't believe everything you hear. Everybody lies, right?" You flash him a tight, bitter smirk and try to shake his arm loose. You can be tightlipped and glib now too. And it's one of the very few weapons you have in an arsenal against him.

"Yes, but gossip always has a foothold in truth," he replies. You cringe; why does he always have to be so damn logical?

"What do you want, House?"

"I want an answer."

You stare blankly. "What's the question?"

He rolls his eyes impatiently and ends by looking at his sneaker tops. You aren't going to make this easy for him. Not this time. Not like every other time before. You can't be the only one to give.

"The question," he says quietly, so quietly you unconsciously lean in to hear him better, "is why?"

"Why," you repeat.

"Why did you stay?" House asks. Finally, he asks. You take a deep breath to tell him to go to hell, but he isn't done asking. "Speculation runs between you staying for Chase and you staying for me. My sources tell me that you two are splitsville. But you're still here."

"Yeah."

"So…why?" He looks at you briefly, and then back down again, almost like he's afraid to catch your eyes.

You sigh. So this is it, you think, we're actually going to have this conversation. You're scared. You have wished this would happen so many times, but now that it is happening you don't know what to say.

You turn toward your car and he grabs your arm again. You look back in surprise.

"I need to know," he says, and drops your arm as if it burns his flesh.

"And if we're really going to talk about this, I need a drink big enough to scare my mother," you tell him. He raises an eyebrow at you, and you smirk in return.

You turn and walk into the parking lot. You are about three steps from your car when you realize that you can't hear him. You turn and shoot him a glance over your shoulder.

"You coming?" You turn back and dig your keys out of your jacket pocket. You unlock the door and slide behind the wheel.

And you wait to see if he will follow.

tbc ...