Rating: FRT
Pairings: House/Chase, Cameron/OMC
Warnings: Implied sexing
Disclaimer: I suppose I own Cameron's latest victim future husband. Nothing else though.

The title comes from TS Eliot's poem of the same name, best known for its closing lines:
This is the way the world ends; not with a bang, but with a whimper...

Please Note:- This fic is the prequel to 'The More Things Change'. You should read this first. It gains more emotional impact after you've read TMTC, but let yourself enjoy it as harmless fluff for a little while first.

The Hollow Men

Chase was exhausted. There had been a recent spate of foul weather, and the combination of slippery roads and poor visibility had caused so many accidents that the ICU was overrun. He wouldn't even have finished patching up one patient when another was rushed in; a never-ending conveyor belt of glass and blood and broken bones.

He finished stitching the lacerations in a young woman's arm and swiftly escaped from the premises before another one could be wheeled in. The Radiology Lounge was perfectly situated: near enough that he could get there without being seen, far enough that no-one would think to look for him. He fixed himself a cup of coffee - ah, god that's better - an curled up in a chair.

He allowed himself a twenty minute nap before yawning, stretching, and making his way back to ICU.

XxXxXxX

It was still raining as he made his way home, vicious crosswinds threatening to part the car's tyres from their already tenuous grip on the slick tarmac.

He would rather have liked the weather to improve, but it was for purely aesthetic reasons: all the rain was rather depressing. The weather changing wouldn't ease the burden on ICU much. Rain brought crashes and accidents, but so did fog and ice. Warmer weather and clear skies only ended in heatstroke, or sprains and breaks from whatever stupid outdoor activity the patients were involved in. There was no way to win.

It was still strange, the constant low-grade panic that permeated ICU. Chase had heard war described as long periods of boredom punctuated by short bursts of acute terror, and to him that description sounded rather reminiscent of his days with Diagnostics. Or any time spent in House's presence, really. He'd never known anyone else with such a gift for attracting the most bizarre kinds of trouble, or such a spectacular inability to take the easy way out.

Sometimes, however, his sense of timing was impeccable.

The motorbike parked right outside the apartment might have looked innocuous enough to anyone else, but Chase knew better. He sighed and mentally catalogued the contents of his refrigerator: milk, half an onion, some cheese that was almost certainly off... No, more likely he'd get to his apartment to find that his emergency cash had been raided and there was Chinese take-out waiting. It probably said a lot about his life that his somewhat deranged ex-boss had broken into his apartment and bought take-out with his money, and he felt little else but a vague sense of gratefulness that there would be hot food.

Once inside he climbed the stairs - the elevator was usually working, but it also reeked - and let himself into his apartment. The television was on: reruns of the Simpsons it sounded like. The tantalising scent of food hung in the air.

It turned out to be Indian rather than Chinese but Chase didn't mind. He snagged a portion of lamb korma and rice, and retrieved a can of coke from the kitchen before flopping down beside the interloper on his couch.

"You're late," House observed, eyes not leaving the television screen.
"Yeah," Chase agreed. He popped the can open and licked the spray off of his fingers. Complaining about the flood of patients in ICU was more likely to elicit mockery than sympathy, so he settled for shrugging and saying; "Been busy. Lot of crashes."
"It's terrible the way young people drive today, don't you think?" To his credit House managed to keep a straight face.
"Oh, and of course you're a perfect example of road safety."
"I drive perfectly well," House replied indignantly; "And don't start on about the bike either. I don't need you to mother me. That's Wilson's job."
"Speaking of which, is there a betting pool on when we'll be seeing wife number five yet?"
"Smart money's on inside three years. Foreman has a hundred riding on it being a nurse, and Cuddy's got two-fifty saying she won't even last as long as number four. Could get you in for fifty bucks."
"Alright then," Chase said. He looked thoughtfully at the ceiling; "Hundred and fifty says they'll date for less than six months before he pops the question."
"You're on." There was a hint of smugness in House's reply, not that it necessarily meant anything.

A movie came on afterwards, something with zombies and lots of gore. That was the closest thing to normal in his life: sprawled on the couch with a curry and a beer picking holes in the movie's pseudoscience; House casually commandeering most of the space and using his lap as a footrest as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it was. Chase couldn't really tell any more.

What had normal been, before? What had he done with his nights before House had so thoroughly insinuated himself into his life? Had he really come home to a cold, dark apartment - free of the strains of music he'd never heard before, free of the clothes and books and gadgets which weren't his that nevertheless were slowly taking over? It seemed unthinkable. For so long his life had revolved around the same person that to him it was just a fact, the way things were.

XxXxXxX

Chase woke up the next morning to the shrill sound of his alarm with a faint headache nagging at his temples, no feeling in his right arm, and House drooling gently onto his shoulder. He flailed blindly in the direction of the noise. Missed. Tried again and fell out of bed with a resounding thump.

He came quickly to his feet and killed the alarm, hoping his bout of gracelessness wouldn't be further material for mockery. He shouldn't have worried: House was still dead to the world, though in the intervening five seconds he'd somehow managed to take up the entire bed. The man could sleep through a tactical air strike.

The weather hadn't improved. Rain rattled off the steam-covered windows as he stepped out of the shower and wandered through to the kitchen, streamed down from the broken gutter that really did mean to get fixed some day. The wind howled outside. He was tempted to just go back to bed.

It took longer than usual to get to work: Chase drove a little under the speed limit, hoping to get there in one piece. ICU was already teeming when he arrived and the clinic was overflowing with coughing, sniffling bodies. Out of habit more than anything else he avoided the clinic: the duty nurses were not above snaring the unwary passing doctor to slave for them for a few hours.

It was also habit, as it was for all the ex-ducklings who hadn't gone to other hospitals or otherwise managed to get better jobs, to hang around Diagnostics when they had nothing better to do. Or when they had better things to do but couldn't be bothered (House rubbed off on people).

Of course it wasn't just familiarity. It was a good place to hide out from any inconvenient responsibilities, as most employees of PPTH avoided Diagnostics and its respective staff like the plague. And there was a long standing monthly bribe to the catering staff to make sure they got the good coffee. Chase set the kettle to boiling and sorted through the dishes to find his mug. "Fancy a coffee?" he asked Cameron, who was leafing through a magazine. She nodded. There were also two of the latest ducklings - he'd ceased bothering to learn their names - one making notes from a medical text, the other staring at the whiteboard with a confused and frustrated expression on his face. Chase glanced at the list of symptoms as he handed Cameron her coffee.

...Loss of vision, numbness, tingling in hands & feet, dizziness/fainting, high BP...

"Fun symptoms," Chase noted, sitting down and reaching for the newspaper. He frowned at it as he realised someone had already filled in the crossword.
"One of those cases." Cameron shrugged.
"You mean one of the ones where the patient has their heart set on dying no matter how you treat them?"
"Yes, one of those." She set the magazine aside and drummed her fingers on the table; "Where's House?"
Chase looked up at the clock - it wasn't even half past nine yet. "In bed, probably. Or raiding my fridge."
"Do you think he'll...?"
"I think he'll say no just to be difficult. And then turn up anyway." It wasn't hard to work out what she was talking about: she'd talked about little else for weeks, and the copy of 'Spring Bride' on the table would have been a big clue anyway. He grinned; "It's a wedding, Cameron: free food and plenty of booze. Of course he'll come."
"I just thought that-"
"If nothing else he'll show up just to make sure that you're whatshisname's problem now and you won't be after him any more."
"Hey!" She elbowed him; "Like you can talk."
"That," Chase said with an air of offended dignity, "Is completely different."
"Sure it is. Anyway. I've landed a nice man my own age, with no obvious vices or overly obnoxious personality traits. You can keep your snarky fifty-something addict."

Better body than any fifty-something addict has a right to, Chase thought with a certain amount of smugness. What he said, however, was: "Cameron, just...stop talking."
She grinned as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. "I'd probably better get back to work anyway."
"Me too," Chase said with a sigh, draining the last of his coffee. As they left he paused in the door and said to the lost ducklings; "By the way, have you considered ataxia-telangiectasia?"

Cameron watched them scramble to search through medical dictionaries as they walked away. "That patient had none of the symptoms for AT," she pointed out mildly; "And is about twenty years too old to have it anyway."
"True," Chase agreed; "But they weren't getting anywhere just staring at the symptoms. And AT isn't in the new dictionary they've been using for for some reason: they should have fun finding it."
She shook her head. "House really is rubbing off on you."
"You think?" He smirked.
"Oh, shut up."
"And it has a great name too. I like the 'giec' in there."
"Goodbye, Chase."

XxXxXxX

"Dr. Chase, there's a patient waiting for you in Exam Three," the young nurse said helpfully. Chase cursed silently and stared with longing at the front doors. So close and yet so far...it was eight at night, why was he still working.
"With you in a moment," he said brightly. Maybe he could make a break for it... no, his keys were in his jacket pocket and his jacket was at the check-in desk. Damn. "If you'll excuse me, there's someone I need to have a quick word with."

"On your way home?" he asked, walking out across the lobby.
"Yep." House nodded towards the doors; "Bike's parked right out front; disabled parking is a wonderful thing, don't you think?"
Chase stared at him. "The bike?" The weather had only worsened - the wind was shrieking like a vengeful ghost, and the torrent pouring from the sky brought the Niagra Falls to mind.
"Lovely weather for it."
"Come on, you can't take the bike out in this. I've just got one more patient then I'm done for the day. I'll give you a ride."
"I like your thinking," House said, leering at him; "But how about you save that for tonight."
"Fine." Chase rolled his eyes. "If you want to splatter yourself all over the road then fine. I'll be along in a while." He turned and headed back into the clinic.
"You bring the handcuffs, I'll bring the whipped cream," House called after him. Chase, far too used to it to care, ignored the odd looks they were getting from patients and staff members who hadn't needed to deal with House before.

He could take these things in his stride by now. And if there were still a few kinks in the arrangement...well, they had plenty of time to work them out.

End