Pairings: Cameron/OMC, past House/Chase
Warnings: Character death
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Except for the new(er) ducklings, I suppose
The More Things Change…
Rain was beating steadily against the windows of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital and the Head of Diagnostics was in the Immunology Department, hiding from the parents of a twelve-year-old boy with blinding headaches and a fever. The department head came out of her office and gave him an exasperated look. He just grinned at her.
"You're turning into House, you know," she told him. In a few months it would be ten years since she had married and become Alison McGregor: he was the only one who still called her Cameron. Even Foreman had switched to Alison after she got married.
"It's a dirty job," Chase shrugged, accent still strong despite more than twenty years on American soil; "But someone's got to do it."
(He dreamed about the funeral that night: Cuddy's teary, affectionate eulogy; Wilson's arm around his shoulders, Cameron sobbing into her fiancé's chest)
Over the past few years Chase had come to appreciate the simple joys of tormenting underlings. He strolled casually towards his office, moving as silently as possible for the amusement value of seeing his own little flock of ducklings scrambling to look like they were working. As he walked through the door he heard the distinctive sound of a game of tetris being swiftly shut down. A file was dislodged as the culprit - short, black, female, barely out of med school - hastened to grab a medical journal.
"Well isn't it nice to see you're all working hard," Chase said with a sharp-edged smile, and four faintly terrified sets of eyes stared back at him; "Saunders, pick that up."
She leapt to obey, almost puppy-like in her eagerness to please. Chase couldn't help but stare. Had he really been like that once? Had he really once been as innocent and seemingly clueless as this...and would any of them ever make the transition to the embittered boss?
(Would they ever stand speechless by a closed casket, stunned beyond tears by the unfairness of life?)
"We have a new patient," he announced, walking over to the whiteboard (Diagnostics always seemed to come last on the waiting list for new technology) to write up the symptoms as he listed them; "Female, sixteen years old: presenting with joint pains, acute abdominal pains, nausea, dizziness, fainting spells, low blood pressure - most of which, except from the second and third, are chronic. Differential diagnosis, boys and girls. Right answer gets a gold star."
"Infection?" Brannigan, a cocky pathologist with too much learning and too little experience, suggested; "It would explain the abdominal pains, and the low BP which would cause the dizziness and-"
"Doesn't explain the joint pains, and which part of 'chronic' confused you?" Chase dismissed the theory; "Next?"
"Rheumatoid arthritis?" Saunders offered hesitantly. Chase gave her a speculative look then nodded once.
"It's possible. Test her. Anyone else? Jackson, Parker, help us out here."
"Arthritis wouldn't cause nausea," Parker - English, a graduate of Oxford who thought that put him a cut above his colleagues - objected. Chase ignored him and raised an eyebrow at Jackson.
"Uh...Lupus?" he ventured, only to quail in the face of the look that earned him.
"It's never Lupus."
(Once, a few years ago now, Foreman had made a joke about half-expecting to see a cane when he looked at Chase. Cameron had glared and told him off for being insensitive until Chase could finally bring himself to look up from his beer and ask her to stop)
The three original ducklings still had lunch together whenever their schedules allowed. On this particular day Foreman, who had recently been diagnosed with diabetes and was still sulking about it, was staring gloomily at a salad. Chase rubbed his aching neck and looked up at Cameron: she smiled at him over her glasses, lines around her eyes from where she had squinted to see before admitting that she didn't just need reading glasses any more. "We're getting old," Chase said ruefully.
"It's not just us," Foreman shrugged; "I hear Cuddy's retiring next summer. And Wilson can't have long left either." Both had loudly bemoaned the approach of retirement age, although they were almost certainly secretly relived.
"Cuddy deserves a rest," Cameron declared. She elbowed Chase; "I swear I thought she was going to have an aneurysm when the man with syphilis tried to sue you." It had shell-shocked the hospital's legal team how swiftly the Dr House's Lawsuits fund had morphed into the Dr Chase's Lawsuits fund.
"Okay, that was not my fault," Chase said, pointing a plastic fork at her; "His wife had a right to know anyway." Cameron just shook her head.
"Any new cases?" Foreman asked.
"Kid with joint pains, nausea, low BP..." he trailed off, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling.
"You tested for arthritis?"
"Of course. Came back negative. I don't-"
"Duckling at eight o'clock," Cameron interrupted, staring at something over his shoulder. Chase didn't turn.
Saunders stopped beside his chair and cleared her throat awkwardly, clearly unnerved to be annoying no less than three department heads at their lunch. "Dr Foreman," she said; "Dr McGregor. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but-"
"Yes, yes, what is it?" Chase said; "Do we have the MRI scheduled yet?"
"No, not yet, but, uh..."
"Come on, spit it out," he pressed impatiently.
"Chase!" Cameron exclaimed.
"Cameron!" he replied in the exact same tone, expression mocking. He turned back to Saunders; "Well?"
"It's the patient..."
"I would assume so, or you wouldn't be interrupting my lunch. What about the patient?"
"She's pregnant," Saunders blurted; "She knew. I...I'd guess she didn't want her parents to know."
Chase pressed the heel of his hand against his face and muttered something into his palm. Foreman looked sharply at him; "Chase, if you just said what I think you did I'm going to have you committed," he threatened.
"Fine - I didn't," Chase retorted. He rose to his feet and headed for the door, waving a hand to indicate that Saunders should follow him.
"What did he say?" Cameron asked.
Foreman sighed. "'Why do people lie to me?'"
(Most of the time they didn't question those hauntingly familiar little idiosyncrasies. Perhaps they'd become so used to allowing for him in the wake of the accident that it had become habit)
"Well we can strike nausea off the list," Chase said, staring at the whiteboard; "Possibly the abdominal pains too. We need to know if there's an environmental cause...something they haven't told us about."
"We could ask," Brannigan offered.
"Everybody lies," Chase said it in the manner of one quoting a great truth; "The parents are staying at a hotel to be nearer the hospital. Parker, Brannigan...go to their house, have a look around."
"I'll go get the keys from them," Jackson offered.
"No you won't. They don't need to know about this."
Brannigan frowned and Parker opened his mouth, almost certainly to object from the look on his face, but Saunders grabbed his arm and shook her head sharply. Chase grinned. Saunders and Jackson were the smart ones: they already knew it was better not to argue. He went back through to his office and left the ducklings to bicker amongst themselves.
Parker and Brannigan came to him the next day to tell him they had been over every inch of the family home and found precisely nothing.
"Well we can rule out environmental factors then. Breaking and entering," Chase said fondly; "Only way to get the whole picture."
"I think I missed that class in med school," Brannigan said sarcastically.
"Well you obviously didn't have my teacher."
"And who was that then?" Parker sniffed, and Chase swore he was going to deck the little bastard if he heard one more subtle dig about how far superior an Oxbridge education was to any other.
"Gregory House," Chase replied, and had the satisfaction of seeing a momentary expression of complete surprise. Everyone had heard of Dr House: the new staff heard stories from the older ones which before long had grown to near-mythic proportions, and outwith the hospital he still had a reputation as a phenomenally gifted diagnostician. Even before the accident House had been a legend at PPTH. Afterwards, in an abrupt reversal of opinion, the board had proposed naming the new A&E building after him.
(Cuddy had put her foot down. He would have hated the idea, she said, and she wasn't going to do it anyway just because he wasn't there to object.)
He sent Parker and Jackson to harass the staff for a CAT scan, had Brannigan go over the MRI results again, and told Saunders to talk to the patient. When he was finally alone he went into a drawer and pulled out a photo, tattered and fading, that Cameron had taken many years ago. It was a typical scene from their early days in Diagnostics when they had no cases. Foreman was playing solitaire on the conference table, and losing if the expression on his face was anything to judge by. Wilson was, for no readily apparent reason, raiding their coffee supply rather than the Oncology Lounge's abundant one. Chase himself - God, did I ever look that young? - had his gaze fixed on the computer screen in a valiant attempt to ignore the yo-yo a bored House was dangling by his ear.
He liked that photo. He hadn't realised how good those days were until they were gone. But then wasn't that always the case?
He didn't regret getting fired, though. It had been the end of his apprenticeship - a final indication that he had learned all he needed to know. It had certainly been a relief to join in tormenting the new ducklings rather than being on the receiving end. And it had been nice to be able to interact with House as...if not quite an equal, then at least no longer a definite subordinate.
Acknowledgement as an equal, when it finally came, was more than worth waiting for. And on such a seemingly ordinary day, too: it was at a bar, if he recalled correctly, sort-of watching a basketball game on the TV above the pool table, not-really listening to House bitch about Wilson's impending fourth divorce from a woman whose name he couldn't have remembered if his life depended on it. There had been a substantial betting pool on how long the marriage would last, of course. One thing that never changed - there was always a betting pool on something at PPTH. Chase made a tidy sum, somewhere in the region of two hundred dollars.
(The day was good. The night was better. Sharp teeth and the taste of too much alcohol, curses and moans in the darkness. Pain becoming pleasure becoming perfection)
Two days later tests showed up a collagen deficiency in the patient and Parker paged him in a state of abject panic to say that she was haemhorraging. Chase tore down the stairs to her room, almost bowling over a startled intern on the way. On arrival he started snapping orders: barking at Saunders to get rid of the parents, sending Jackson running to fetch a gynacologist, demanding painkillers for the patient immediately.
"What the hell is happening?" Brannigan almost wailed: med school had not prepared him to handle a girl screaming in pain with blood soaking the sheets between her legs.
"It's Ehlers-Danlos," Chase snapped; "Collgen deficiency. The uterine walls can't handle the stretching, they've ruptured. The baby is killing her."
Painkillers brought her screaming down to a low, raw moan, and she went limp against the bed. "Wh-what's happening to me?" she whimpered.
"Listen to me," Chase said, and she latched onto a calm and commanding voice in the midst of chaos; "Your problem is that your tissues are weak and can't stretch properly. If you carry the baby to term, both of you will die. I need you to tell me how far along you are."
"Seven, eight months," she said weakly; "I'm not sure exactly."
Chase turned and spotted the gynacologist; "Is a c-section feasible?"
"I don't know, I'd have to examine-"
"Do it quickly then! She doesn't have long."
Many long, long hours later Chase made his way back to Diagnostics, dead on his feet. Foreman was waiting for him with a cup of steaming coffee: he blinked gratefully at it, too tired to even speak, and reached out.
"Wash up first," Foreman told him firmly, and only then did he look down and realise he was spattered with blood.
"How did it go?" he asked when Chase was suitably clean and clutching the coffee like it was the elixir of life.
"She made it," Chase mumbled between drinks; "The baby didn't."
(Everybody lies. They says things like 'it'll be okay' and 'it could be worse', and you let them lie because you want so desperately to believe...)
Chase couldn't summon the energy to go home that night. Instead he dozed intermittently at his desk and drank obscene amounts of coffee. The next morning he took out the photo, stared at it for a while, and then pinned it to the wall beside his desk.
When all his ducklings had arrived he waved them into his office and explained in bare, simple facts what had happened, and why they hadn't seen it before, and how one of them was going to have to explain to the family that their daughter had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and there was no treatment save for massive amounts of painkillers, and she was going to spend the rest of her life in pain. No-one planned to tell the parents how close they came to being grandparents.
He studied his ducklings. Brannigan was in a daze, and Parker looked like he might have been crying. Jackson seemed fine if you ignored the bags under his eyes that told of a sleepless night. Saunders was staring at the photograph, and after a long time her gaze shifted to Chase and she looked at him as if she'd never seem him before.
(What's gone is gone, and what-ifs help no-one. He's had that lesson rammed home enough times that he's learned it thoroughly. He just wishes it hadn't been necessary)
"What happened to him?" she asked later. Chase didn't have to ask who she meant. He replied flippantly, still raw pain buried deep beneath so many masks.
"He was on his way home one night, on his motorbike..."
("It was pouring, no-one should have been out on a bike in that sort of weather," Chase doesn't say. He doesn't add; "I offered him a ride home, but he turned me down." He doesn't tell her that House loved riding in the rain, that he said the thrill was worth getting soaked. He doesn't mention that he didn't press the point, or how much he wishes he had. He doesn't admit, even silently, that he still blames himself a little.)
"...he had an argument with an eighteen-wheeler. When you're on a bike, you're not going to win that sort of fight."
("I was there when he died in A&E," he doesn't confess; "Cameron cried. So did Cuddy...hell, even Wilson. But I didn't. I couldn't. I wanted to, but I couldn't." He can still rattle off the injuries, each one telling a story: this is where the bones splintered when he threw his arms up to protect his head, this is where the unforgiving concrete broke his ribs, this is where a broken rib punctured his right lung, this is where the force of impact dislocated his hip...)
"Some of the nurses still tell stories," she admitted; "Is it true that he got shot by a patient once? They said that you saved his life." There was a hint of hero-worship in her eyes, and Chase tried not to groan. He knew where that road led, he'd been down it himself, and on so many levels this time he was not interested.
"Stories get exaggerated," he told her; "Everybody lies, remember? I still owe him far more than he ever owed me."
"You respected him," Saunders said, not a question. There was the silence of too many answers which couldn't be given. After a while she stirred uncomfortably under the distant gaze of her boss.
"He taught me everything I know," is what Chase says eventually.
("I loved him," is what he doesn't)