I blame the delayed update on Jude Law and Wall-E... (Wallll-Eeee...)
House's hand was in mid-reach for the door when the diagnostician heard an all-too-familiar sigh from behind him. It was the noise a wombat makes when disturbed from its sleep, and it was the exact noise House had been hoping to avoid.
"Where are you going?" a bleary murmur asked.
House stopped, arm falling from where it was outstretched. Leisurely, he turned to face the surgeon. "Home. You see, some people, when they want solace, go to their own apartments." He shrugged, faking a laugh. "I know, it's a foreign concept to you, but normal people don't drop in on their ex-bosses and take up couch space."
Chase grabbed the clock off the desk. He sat a little straighter, his eyes going wide at the time. "How did it get so late?" he mumbled.
House tried and failed to ignore the panic sweeping across the blonde's expression. He forced his gaze from Chase, choosing instead to stare loathingly at a particular thread on the carpet. He waited until Chase spoke again, tone controlled, to look up.
"I… I guess I better get going, too." Chase stood and nodded with forced resolve. He looked around, apparently making sure he didn't leave anything behind, and took a few awkward steps closer to House. "Well?" he asked after a minute; he waved a hand toward the door. "Are we going?"
There was a pause, and suddenly House grinned. "We?"
"Are you going, so I can go out the door too?" Chase amended, but a flush undeniably began to spread across his face.
House feigned distress. "You aren't going to follow me home?" He let Chase inwardly squirm for a few seconds and then opened the door, limping down the hall. He tugged at the strap of his backpack to shift it across his shoulder—or at least, that's what he pretended to do. Hitching the backpack a little higher on his shoulder gave him a quick glance at the Aussie, to see if the surgeon was going to follow him.
And Chase was, it seemed. The blonde trailed him from the office to the elevator, but stopped abruptly as the doors slid open.
"Coming?" House asked, arranging himself in the corner of the elevator. He kept the doors parted with his cane.
A startled but hopeful flicker lit in Chase's eyes. "But… you don't like riding with anyone but Wilson."
"…if you know what I mean." House threw him a suggestive grin, jerking his head. "Just get in the elevator."
Tentatively, Chase obeyed, and this time he stood against the back wall of the elevator. He still stared courteously at the closed doors, even when House started twirling his cane.
Without warning, House stopped the cane and jabbed Chase in the side with the end of it. The blonde let out a pained hiss, his hand moving to cover the lower right part of his ribs. His eyes found House's as soon as he was sure no other jabs were coming, and his gaze held a surprising amount of venom.
"Diagnostic test," House said as the elevator doors opened. He stepped into the near-empty lobby, waiting until the Aussie hobbled out to start walking. "I wanted to see where your injuries were."
Chase let out a resentful chuckle. He rubbed his side, but had no problem keeping up with House's limp. "And so you stabbed me, once, in the ribs?"
"I noticed you had a bandage sticking out of your collar," he explained, "but it's obvious that your shoulder's fine."
The surgeon's breathe caught for a second as a sharp pain shot through his ribs; House jolted to a stop. He felt a wave of foreign emotion and realized he probably shouldn't have hit Chase, at least not as forcefully. But then Chase recovered and continued toward the door, and House scrambled to find neutrality again.
"So"—Chase winced—"you couldn't have just asked where my injury was?"
They were outside now, and the sky was clouded and drizzling. "You would've lied," House answered eventually. He faced the antipodean doctor, tone serious. "For example, if I said that the bandage on your wrist covered a bruise, you would agree with me." He pointed to the offending arm. "But if I said that that bruise was shaped suspiciously like a handprint, as if someone had grabbed you too hard, you'd—"
"No, it doesn't." Chase subconsciously put his hand in his pocket, hiding the bandage. "It's not even a bruise, House, it's a cut."
"You're lying!" He laughed, attitude somewhere between mockery and irony. "I saw it at the apartment, and there's no cut."
Chase stared down at the pavement.
"…And now, exit stage right." House walked briskly away from the silent blonde, his cane making the only noise in the parking lot. He looked up into the rainy sky and made a mental note to leave the motorcycle at the apartment for the next few days, pointedly keeping his mind away from Chase.
As soon as House revved the motorcycle to life, his eyes found their way to the entrance of PPTH. The glance would've only lasted a moment if his perusing gaze hadn't caught on Chase yet again, but sure enough, the Australian surgeon remained by the doors.
Something in the back of House's brilliant mind clicked, and as soon as the results of that realization tumbled through House's thoughts, he wished he could un-think them. It was one thing to leave a battered ex-employee on the sidewalk, but it was something entirely different to leave when House knew Chase didn't have any way to get home.
He could take a bus, obviously, but that shudder hours ago when Cameron said leave by yourself was proof enough that Chase wouldn't use public transportation. Honestly, Chase should've left with Cameron—it made the most sense. House could barely even remember why he let Chase stay. He should've harangued the wombat into leaving earlier…
House sighed, setting the black helmet in his lap. Damn, he needed to find a cure for that tearing feeling in his chest, especially if it reappeared every time he thought about Chase. This time, he knew it was an onset of guilt, and dearly hoped what he was about to do would make it go away.
And that's how he ended up circling the parking lot on his motorcycle, kicking the brake only as he pulled up beside Chase.
Chase's eyes were wide and very green when they wavered on House's. He took half a step back, jarred by the single word of greeting, trying to understand what House was doing in front of him.
Finding his voice at last, he asked, "What're you—"
"Get on the bike."
Chase barely managed to catch the helmet when it flew at him. The surgeon blinked, bewildered, mouth agape. "You… You're kidding."
House pushed the gas, rocking the bike forward an inch. The murmuring engine resounded off the pavement; House quirked an unconscious smile at the sound of it, and looked at Chase again. "Do I look like I'm kidding?"
"But I…" Chase scrutinized his face, still shaken. "You're…"
"Would you rather take a bus?"
Those were the magic words. Chase frowned but yanked on the helmet, swallowing nervously. "Is it safe, to—"
House cut him off by revving the engine. "Will you just get on the damn bike?"
He took a step closer but faltered, shifting his weight from one leg to the other.
"Five," House announced. "Four. Three." He squinted at Chase. "Two…"
Chase threw a leg over the motorcycle, flipping down the plastic visor of the helmet. "Just… don't crash."
"…One." House glimpsed over his shoulder. "And I won't crash. Now hold on, or you'll meet the pavement real fast."
Chase swallowed hard again and put his feet on the bike. House kicked up the stand and held the brake, reaching back to yank Chase's arms around himself.
"Not kidding. Hold on." He pushed the motorcycle forward with one foot and gave it gas, and within seconds they were out on the street, zooming away from PPTH.
House had been right: that annoying guilty feeling had long since gone away. But now there was a new emotion, a tingling warmth that tightened his chest almost pleasantly. He held no delusions about what was causing it—clearly, it was a reaction to the Australian whose arms were currently wrapped around him—although House was more than a little confused about how his body translated male ex-employee into such agreeable sparks of heat.
The tension that had built up all day had to be at fault. House never even got those sorts of feelings when Cameron was sitting behind him on the bike, just where Chase was now.
But they're not the same, a tiny voice reminded him. And it was right—Cameron's arms around his waist were tight, but only as much as necessary, and only in the most respectful way. Chase's grip had become tense and firm as soon as the bike started to move, and the clutching grasp didn't loosen at stoplights. Cameron had at least readjusted herself at every pause, clearing her throat and allowing House to make a few innuendos. Chase's taut forearms around House didn't move.
"I don't know where your apartment is," House pointed out, stopped at a red light. The bike rocked to one side as he turned around briefly. "It's over here somewhere, but…"
"Take a left at the next light."
Nodding, House faced forward again. But the light was still red, and an idea popped into his head. Subtly, he reached down to toy with Chase's cuff, starting to unbutton the bandaged wrist. The surgeon didn't notice. At least, not until House accidentally brushed his fingers against Chase's bare skin.
"What—" Chase quickly let go of House, leaning back to fix his cuff. "Don't—"
"I was curious," House chuckled.
"You're always curious!"
House shrugged, accelerating as soon as the light was green. Chase gave an irritated, startled gasp; his arms flew around House again and the diagnostician could feel the fingertips digging into his jacket. When House took a left, as Chase had instructed, the surgeon held on so tight that the older doctor laughed.
"Red building, on the right," Chase said. House nodded and pulled up beside the apartment complex, killing the engine at the curb.
Chase untangled himself and stumbled onto the sidewalk, crossing his arms across his chest. When he turned to face the diagnostician again, he realized that House had no intention of simply driving away. In fact, the man was already moving toward the apartment's main entrance, his blue eyes glimmering with amusement.
"Are you following me home?" Chase asked. He managed not to stammer, but he tripped through the door and ended up blushing anyway.
House merely laughed. "I'm curious."
After a silent elevator ride to the third floor and an anxious pause while Chase opened the door to his apartment, House finally broke the tension by pushing through the door first and flouncing onto the couch.
"Of course you can come in," Chase muttered with a sigh. But House heard him, and the blue-eyed glare told him that House knew Chase didn't mind the visitor. If the blonde was being honest, he was actually glad to have someone in the apartment.
"Want a beer?" Chase asked after a minute.
House, whose gaze had been roving the décor, suddenly looked at Chase in surprise. "Do you actually have decent beer? Or just Australian trash?"
"Australian trash," he chuckled, but he shuffled into the kitchen to get two bottles anyway.
House waited until Chase had disappeared and then made his way over to the phone. The red light blinked, tempting House, calling out for him to press the Messages button. That light became too enticing for House; he gave in, pressing the button.
"You have… nine… new messages," the machine said. "First new message…"
Cameron's voice was light over the phone. "Hey, are you running a little late? It's 6:30 now… Call me back. I love you!"
Chase appeared in the kitchen doorway with two bottles, his eyes wide. "Why are you—"
The machine interrupted him. "Next new message…"
"Hey again, it's me." Cameron's voice was a little edgy. "It's almost eight. I guess you're still working… Just, call me back when you get the chance. Bye, love you!"
"Next new message…"
"It's Alison again, and it's half past ten." The frequency of Cameron's voice became higher and more strained. "Your cellphone keeps going straight to voicemail. Please, call me back. I'm worried."
House guffawed as the machine announced another message. "Where was the I love you that time?" he wondered, snatching a beer from Chase. He took a sip and nodded in approval.
Chase took a swig of his own beer, more out of desperation than anything. He didn't want House listening to his messages, especially the ones Cameron left.
"Goooood morning," a new voice chuckled. "Carlisle here. It's a beautiful morning, 9:19 AM, and your girlfriend is psychotic!"
"Carlisle's another surgeon," Chase said by way of explanation while the man on the machine chuckled.
"Chase, seriously, get your ass into work. Doctor Cuddy even got dragged in by Alison. I'm not sure if your night was really awesome or really shitty, but either way, at least call in sick before playing hooky. And… your girl just stormed in the lounge doors again. I gotta run."
"Cameron really did go on a rampage," House smirked, taking another swallow of beer.
Chase could only shake his head and wait for the fifth message to start.
Cuddy's voice was unmistakable. "Chase, either come into work or buy Cameron a leash."
House started laughing.
"Next new message…"
"Hey Robert," Cameron's voice said. Inwardly, Chase groaned. "Please, please call me. I just called House at his apartment, but he just suggested you might be sleeping with the male nurse from pediatrics."
Chase choked on his beer. "What?" he coughed.
House rolled his eyes. "You can't tell from Cameron's frantic delivery, but that was said jokingly."
"Obviously, that's not true," Cameron continued via machine, "but if you could call and tell me what's actually going on… Please? I love you… Bye. Call me!"
"Can you turn it off?" Chase asked, coming towards the phone. Wielding his cane, House blocked his path; Chase didn't come closer.
The answering machine continued. "Robert Chase, this is the police department." The blonde froze, looking up at House with more fear than warranted. House made a note of that, and looked away. "We've just received a missing persons report for you, and have located your car in the parking garage at the intersection of Ninth and Harper. Messages concerning your disappearance will be left on all available phone numbers, including home, cell and work numbers. Please cooperate with our investigation and call the police department as soon as you receive this message. Thank you."
Chase's nerves seemed assuaged by the message, for some reason. He sank into the couch and rubbed his temples.
"Next new mes—"
"How do you have nine messages anyway?" House asked, but then Cameron's voice started up again. By this time, she was practically hysterical.
"Robert, it's me. I spoke to the police about you and they found your car. Your cellphone was inside of it, so I guess this is the only way to reach you." Her voice cracked as she finished the sentence. "I asked House about it and he said he didn't know anything, but he has to know something…"
Chase sat upright and spun on House. "Did you—"
"I didn't tell her anything."
"I don't know what idiotic thing House is making you do," Cameron seethed, "but I want you to call me! Okay? Please, Robert, call. Call House, even, just tell him to pass on the news!"
"Are you sure?" Chase asked, ignoring the machine for once. "You didn't tell her anything, at all?"
House shook his head, eyes on the carpet. "That's why she's freaking out."
"It's two in the afternoon," Cameron sighed through the machine. House was surprised the phone could even record this much whining. "I love you… I miss you… Please, Robert. Bye…"
"Next new message…"
"There's more?" House muttered.
"Hey Robert, you said you'd call me back when you got home." This message was from only a few hours ago. "It's almost ten… Leave a message on my cellphone once you get this, okay? I hope you aren't still with House… I talked to Cuddy, and she said House needed you for some reason. I don't know what's going on between you two, but make sure you're getting enough rest."
She paused, about to say more. But then she changed her mind and ended the message with a simple, "Bye, love you."
"End of messages." The answering machine beeped, clicked, and then stopped making noise altogether.
Everything was quiet for a minute. House didn't make any remarks; he only took another sip of his beer and stared at Chase, considering.
And then a high-pitched ring came from House's pocket. He set the beer on the table and fished out his cellphone, flipping it open, letting out a groan.
"Good evening, darling!" House said into the phone with insincere adoration. Chase tried not to laugh. "Do you miss me?"
"What did you just smoke, and where can I get some?" Kutner laughed, creating static. "We need you at the hospital. New patient—little girl in a play suddenly was rushed to the ER with her liver in the toilet."
"Was it a ballet?" House asked arbitrarily as he resumed drinking.
"I don't—hey Thirteen, was the kid in a ballet?" A quiet voice said something sarcastic in the background, and Kutner laughed. "Yeah, apparently. Can you come in?"
"Of course, sweetheart!" House feigned a giggle and snapped the phone shut.
"Late night patient?" Chase guessed.
"Clingy hooker." House shook his head, setting the beer on the table. "Terribly naughty, but busy during the day. She's the administrator of a hospital on the side."
Chase laughed, opening the door for House. "I see. Any relation to Cuddy?"
The diagnostician only smiled. But in the hallway, he stopped, turning to face Chase again. He looked up at the surgeon, a shadow falling over his eyes, creating two bright sparks of blue in the darkness. His tone became serious.
"You're not going to get mauled on the way to work again, are you?" His gaze fell to the ground. "Cameron'll burst into flames."
"She did seem to think it was your fault," Chase chuckled.
"And you won't reappear on my couch?"
"I'll try not to…" Chase let out another laugh. "Are you worrying about me, House?"
House's eyes scrutinized his ex-employee's face, watching as the humor behind the smile gradually turned into comprehension.
"Are you worrying…?" Chase asked when a few seconds had passed.
"No." House jerked his eyes to the ground again. "Cameron's the anxious one."
Another moment passed in silence; Chase sighed, rifling a hand through his hair. "All right," he nodded, swallowing. "Thanks, then. For the ride."
House nodded back. "You're welcome."
Another pause. This time, the surgeon smiled a little. "So, um." He raised a brow. "Are you going to the hospital now, or are you coming back inside the apar—"
"Are you okay?"
Chase took a mental stumble and forgot how to speak. He found that was a common symptom of House, especially when those blue eyes seemed to bore into his thoughts. "Wh…?"
"Are you okay?" he repeated, almost grudgingly. "Here, I mean. Alone."
Chase felt his mouth hanging open a little but didn't think to close it. "House…?"
"By yourself?" House frowned. "Yes or no question, Chase."
"Yeah," Chase said, unsure. He said it again, stronger: "Yeah. I'll be fine."
All at once, House's expression lost its severity. He gave a terse nod and swiveled toward the elevator, not even bothering to glance behind.
Are you worrying about me, House?
He slipped the helmet over his head, kicking up the stand on his motorcycle. "Unfortunately," he murmured to no one, "I think I am."
His phone started to ring, but House silenced it and started toward the hospital. His head felt murky all of a sudden, and not even in that satisfying diagnostically-relevant sort of way. He was confused, genuinely confused. The gravity which usually pulled him toward patients and cases felt weak compared to the super-magnet pulling him to Chase.
His conscience wanted to protect Chase, to go back and keep the demons at bay. At every stoplight and stop sign between Chase's apartment complex and PPTH, House considered making a U-turn and returning to the antipodean blonde. The notion of actually acting upon his conscience was absolutely insane, but that didn't stop unfamiliar feelings from clawing at the inside of his stomach, from making him shaky with apprehension.
As soon as he parked his motorcycle, he called Wilson. The oncologist picked up on the fourth ring with an irritated, "What's wrong now, House?"
House stopped in front of the main entrance, shaking his head.
"House?" Wilson's voice became concerned. "House, are you okay?"
"Don't ask me that," House barked, rubbing his forehead. "I'm fine."
"If you were fine, you wouldn't be calling me."
"What if I just need a consult?"
Wilson snorted. "Do you need a consult, House?"
He didn't answer.
"Evidently not." The teddybear oncologist sighed, and House could practically see him rubbing the back of his neck. "House, are you on anything other than Vicodin right now?"
Wilson tried again. "Are you… in danger?"
"Of being bored to death via phonecall? Yes."
"Hey, you called me. Are you… hungry?"
House actually chuckled at that. "Yes. But that's beside the point."
"Oh!" Wilson feigned shock. "There was a point to this call? Enlighten me!"
"I'm just…" He searched for the right word and came up short. "…a bit perplexed."
"Because you talked to Chase?" When House didn't reply immediately, Wilson made a triumphant humming noise. "You did, didn't you?"
"I didn't talk to him about what happened," House said truthfully.
"But you talked. And got confused." Wilson made another smug noise. "Are you starting to theorize, or are you just upset that you really do care about human beings?"
The door opened behind House and Thirteen appeared, looking rather disgruntled. "You're chatting?" she asked. "Unbelievable. We have a patient, House!"
"Go fix your patient," Wilson ordered. "And then we can talk."
"Patient, schmatient," House replied, but Thirteen grabbed the phone from him and hung up.
"Patient, schmatient is upstairs, jaundiced," she said, opening the door for him. "Chase can wait."
House froze, slightly startled. "That was Wilson," he corrected.
"But you were talking about Doctor Chase, weren't you?" Thirteen shrugged, leading toward the elevators. "You had the same look on your face as you did this afternoon, when I walked in on you two in the diagnostics office."
House jabbed the elevator button with the end of his cane and shot her a glare. "What look did I have on my face?"
Thirteen shrugged again, crossing her arms. "Curiosity, I guess. A little uncertainty." She looked up at him, eyes narrowed. "But mostly, it was as if you weren't quite in control—and as if you knew that, and were scared by it."
The elevator opened, filling the silence. Finally, House shook his head and spoke. "I'm not scared of Chase. That's ridiculous."
"I never said you were afraid of him," she sighed. "You actually seemed a little… engrossed in him. Maybe even somewhat attracted to him."
House threw her another look, but hearing that observation made his chest clench.
"And I think you're scared of feeling something like that," she continued as they left the elevator, "toward anyone."
"And I think we should end this conversation. Now." House opened the door to the office, where Taub and Kutner were pouring themselves coffee.
"Heads up," Foreman called, tossing the patient's file across the room.
House flipped it open a little too eagerly, paging through it in a sad attempt to ignore his conscience. Even while the team created a few preliminary diagnoses, the rogue voice in his ear reminded him that he could only bury himself in work for so long… and that once the case was solved, Chase would be back on his mind once more.
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