WARNINGS: Major character deaths. Possible spoilers for the end of the season. (Although it's really just a what-if scenario.)
All Fall Down
The night before the sky falls down, Chase dreams. In his mind, he's sitting naked on a bridge in a thunderstorm, watching the waters of the flooded river rise until he can't see the weathered wooden planks beneath his body.
There's a flash of lightning, momentarily blindingly bright, turning the world into a washed-out photograph. Thunder growls on the horizon, and when Chase can see again, his father is standing over him, knee-deep in water and surrounded by a crackle of electricity which frames his emaciated face against the cloud-darkened sky like a grotesque sort of halo.
"It's time," he says, the rumble of his voice shaking the bridge in a way that the thunder hasn't.
Chase draws his knees up to his chest, hugging his legs protectively. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to tell you."
There's another flash of lightning and more thunder off in the very far distance, and Chase wakes up with a soft gasp. There's the sound of rain pouring down outside, the first real storm of spring. Cameron is asleep on the other side of the bed, looking chaotically angelic. She's knocked her pillow to the floor in the night, blonde hair slightly snarled as it spills over her bare back.
Chase doesn't believe in prophetic dreams, and yet something about this one seems to linger in the air like the heavy earthen scent of rain. He gets up silently, tucking the covers up around Cameron's shoulders, and goes to the window to watch the trees whipping in the wind.
When Chase wakes up again, he's on the couch, and the previous night's magnificently ugly storm has tired itself out, faded to the kind of oppressively gray early morning drizzle that makes facing the day a special kind of torture.
"Why aren't you in bed?" Cameron asks, and Chase tears his eyes away from her living room window to see that she's sitting on the far arm of the couch. "It's not even six yet."
Chase sits up, frowning as he remembers. "Weird dream. Why're you up if it's so early? Thought you had the day off."
"Cuddy called," says Cameron softly. "Something—happened last night."
Chase sits up further, studying her as his eyes adjust to the room turned monochromatic in the dreary morning light. Her eyes are red, he realizes, face dulled by more than just the remnants of sleep.
"What happened?" Chase leans against the back of the couch and hooks an arm around her waist, pulling her into his lap. She lets him, though her body remains tense, like she's fighting some very far off battle.
"Wilson—took an overdose of morphine." Her voice is unexpressive, her gaze on the window now, like she's giving report to the fog outside. "He's dead. His brother was diagnosed with AIDS yesterday. They think that's what—That's why."
"What?" For a moment Chase just gapes at her, feeling as though the world has shifted itself from under his feet while he's slept, and he's only just now become aware of the bottomless chasm into which he's falling.
"On second thought, I think I will go in today," she says, not repeating anything. Cameron pushes herself off his lap and gets to her feet, leaving Chase feeling suddenly and oddly bereft. This is how she handles grief, he thinks, feeling as though he's truly seeing into the darkest corner of her soul for the first time. She copes by isolation, he knows, by cutting her losses and focusing on anything other than what's actually important.
"Allison," he starts softly, unsure of whether he ought to stop her. She and Wilson have become close over the past year, and though Chase feels instinctively that he needs her here today, he isn't selfish enough to take her defenses from her.
"Don't," she says simply, and retreats to the bedroom to get dressed.
There's another thunderstorm the day of the funeral, like the world is angry that this has happened. The funeral home is full to standing room only, one final testament to the hundreds of people whose lives Wilson has left a lasting mark upon. And yet, in the end, he was alone, with no one to notice when he'd crossed the line and let his own soul be eaten by the demons he's spent so many years fighting for others.
Chase is very nearly late, getting out of a long surgery with just enough time to change into his only appropriate suit and drive too quickly to the funeral home. Standing with his back against the wall near the door, he can see Cameron sitting in the front between Cuddy and Taub. She hasn't saved him a seat, and Chase thinks maybe it's just as well. They've barely spoken in the near-week since the night of his dream. He still can't make any sense of it, though he hasn't stopped hearing the ominous echo of his father's voice.
House is nowhere to be seen, absent since the night the world turned upside down, conspicuously painful like the other half of the void left by Wilson's death.
When House is finally found, it's another call in the middle of the night. But this time Chase isn't dreaming, isn't even asleep, sitting bleary-eyed on the couch and listening to the world's tragedies on the news while he waits for Cameron to come home, though it's hours past her shift. When the phone rings, it feels more surreal than any nightmare, the familiar sound of her voice seeming very far away and oddly jarring.
"You need to come in," she says simply. No greeting and no pretense.
"Where are you?" Chase asks, though he already knows the answer.
"Work," says Cameron. The epicenter of the collapse.
Cuddy is just leaving the nurses' station when Chase walks in, and she keeps her gaze averted, like maybe if none of them look at each other, they won't have to notice how broken things are.
It's nearly two in the morning now, the weird still witching hour in the ER between night and morning rushes, and the air in the room seems oppressive, saturated with exhaustion the color of old fluorescent lights.
"What happened?" asks Chase when he finds Cameron hunched over a computer.
"Room twenty," she says. Psych holding. She doesn't look up to meet his gaze either.
Chase doesn't turn in the direction of the windowless room yet, though he knows with utmost certainty that what he'll see on the security monitor is House's stooped silhouette.
"What happened?" he asks her first instead.
Cameron shrugs, her voice uncharacteristically flat, and she continues mindlessly typing patient stats into the computer as she speaks. "Police found him sleeping on a cardboard box outside Wilson's apartment. He's hallucinating. We're running a tox screen now. I'd bet it'll be positive for LSD." She bites her lip.
"He's brain damaged," Cameron interrupts brusquely. "Probably irreversible."
"No, I haven't confirmed it." Cameron turns to look at him at last, and her face is like a war mask of emotions. "That's not my job anymore."
Chase has seen half a dozen psych holding rooms throughout his career, but he hasn't had the opportunity to step inside of one, and especially not into one so devastatingly full of ghosts. The white walls are covered with dents and scratches, the marks of the hundreds of haunted souls who have occupied this space before. It is designed to feel empty, devoid of emotion and distraction, but tonight the air seems to crackle with regret.
House is huddled in the corner with his back to the wall, hugging knees drawn up to his chest. It's the first sign that something isn't right; on any other day, he would recoil in pain from the position. But he looks too far away now, eyes ablaze with agony from a source more profound than his leg.
"House," Chase says softly, feeling as though he's walking toward the edge of a precipice. House doesn't look up, turning his head in the wrong direction, following the echo of Chase's voice on the wall instead of the real sound. Taking a few more steps forward, Chase kneels, the tiles of the floor cold even through his pantlegs. "House, what did you do?"
"Doesn't make sense," House says at last, still not looking. The most striking change is his eyes, Chase thinks. It's as if the light has suddenly gone out, or is hidden very far underneath the weight of opportunities lost.
"You don't make sense," Chase retorts, surprising himself with the edge of anger in his voice. He promised himself before coming in here that he would keep things professional. Distant. Safe from transference. The idea seems to mock him now.
House gets to his feet with a jerky movement, turning his back to Chase and trailing his fingers along the pockmarked white wall as though writing with a marker, and speaking absently to himself. "It was raining. Rain indicates depression. Unless there was thunder, in which case—Too much electricity."
"House!" Chase interrupts loudly, control slipping away with every passing second. House stops abruptly and looks over his shoulder as though noticing Chase for the first time.
"What did you do?" Chase demands again, irrational feelings of anger and betrayal rushing up like bile in the back of his throat.
"Should've been lightning before the thunder," House mutters, turning back toward the wall already. "Doesn't make sense."
And that's when it breaks, the cracks left in the foundation by Wilson's death finally giving way, sending everything tumbling toward oblivion. Chase steps forward, closing the distance between them without a conscious thought, his hands coming to rest on hunched shoulders. When House turns again, Chase finds himself confronted by the specter of memory, but it isn't the sunken face of the father whose death he never bore witness to. Instead it's his mother's eyes, staring and vacant, and hurtful in their emptiness even through the void of decades past.
"You took something!" Chase spits at last, his fingers tightening involuntarily on House's shoulders. "You took something and now your brain's fucked! What did you do?"
"Chase!" The sharp crack of Cameron's voice from the doorway brings him tumbling back to awareness, and Chase realizes there are tears on his cheeks.
"You're going to hurt him," she says more quietly, then holds up the ring of keys in her hand. "You should go."
With a final, shuddering breath, Chase tears himself away and brushes past her into the night.
"Cameron's not speaking to me." Chase drops heavily into the booth opposite Foreman, feeling as tired as the wilted lettuce on the styrofoam cafeteria plate looks.
Foreman raises an eyebrow without actually looking up. "You think I care about this right now?"
Chase shrugs, knowing the answer, and knowing that this is the script they must maintain to keep some semblance of normalcy when everything is in the chaotic midst of change. "Heard you're leaving. Finally moving on to bigger and better things?"
"She's giving you the silent treatment, or she's not opening up to you the way you want?" Foreman asks, snapping back to their original topic with the speed of a boomerang.
"She's not talking to anyone," says Chase dejectedly, staring at Foreman's salad again. "Except about work. I know this is hard for her, but—"
"That's crap," Foreman interrupts predictably. "It's no harder for her than it is for you. She needs to know that it's hard for you too."
"Right." Chase snorts softly. "That makes perfect sense. She's ignoring me because she wants me to play confessional."
Straightening in the booth, Foreman picks up his drink as if to emphasize his point. "You're every bit as messed up as she is. That's why she loves you. And you've really got to find someone else to give you relationship advice." He spears some lettuce on his fork, and Chase knows the conversation is over.
Two weeks later, Chase goes to see House again. He's restrained this time, arms and legs bound to a bed in the psych ward. Word has spread through the hospital like wildfire; the insane genius now only insane. Foreman and the team have tried every treatment imaginable, yet House continues only to slip further away into the brain-damaged world he's created for himself.
"You came," he says groggily, as Chase pulls a chair up to the bedside. He knows immediately that the words aren't meant for him; the tone is all wrong.
"Who do you think I am?" Chase whispers, frowning.
Slowly, a smile spreads over House's features, grotesque like a death-mask. Chase feels a little sick at the display; the expression makes House almost unrecognizable, as if the remaining bits of his personality have been stripped away.
"What did you do?" Chase echoes the question from weeks ago, but there is no anger this time. Only crushing and unbearable sadness for yet another loss.
House laughs then, and the sound chills Chase to his core. House defined himself in intelligence and insight before, but now every light of cognition seems to have gone out. The sound of laughter is an homage to the unfairness in life, proof that House has found the shadow of happiness only in the utter loss of self.
"You're—you're not getting better," Chase says, testing the words on his own tongue. He's thought them too many times about the people he's loved, but never spoken them aloud before. "Is this what you wanted?"
House rolls his head slowly on the pillow, turning in Chase's direction, though he seems to be seeing straight through the reality that's in front of him.
"Were you—were you trying to kill yourself?" The words burn their way past the tightness in Chase's throat, chilling in their ring of truth as the realization suddenly strikes.
For the first time, there is the slightest glimmer of recognition in House's eyes, a ghost of the intensity of focus he once possessed. He turns his head further, and Chase catches his breath.
"It's time," House breathes hoarsely. "I came to tell you."
Memory hits like a punch to the gut, the dream swimming up ice cold in his viens, and Chase knows unequivocally what has to be done.
The syringe shakes violently in Chase's hand, and he thinks unbidden of the thousand ways House would have mocked him for it under any other circumstances. With one final look at dulled blue eyes, he slips the needle beneath House's skin, and thinks of Wilson and Amber as he slides the plunger until it won't move any further.
Wondering whether they've finally found what they've all been searching for, Chase sinks into the bedside chair, and listens with stinging closed eyes as House's breathing slows.
He has spent his life surrounded by death, but seldom been simply its witness.
Cameron is waiting in the recliner that faces the door when Chase makes his way back to his apartment at last. She's wearing mismatched socks and one of his sweatshirts, and obviously hasn't been to work though her shift started over an hour ago. Feeling raw, Chase swallows down the tears he hasn't yet allowed himself to shed, and wonders how much more of her emptiness he can face. But this time, mercifully, it doesn't come.
"Did you do it?" she asks softly, getting to her feet, and he realizes with a little shock that she's already heard that House is dead.
Chase nods once, wondering numbly how many people will have guessed by now, and what that will mean. At the moment it doesn't seem to matter, his current world already as futureless as the one House has just left.
"Thank you," Cameron whispers, then finally closes the distance between them before Chase has a chance to react. Her arms wrap around his waist, and he crumbles instinctively, turning his face into her shoulder as a harsh sob tears from his throat.
Cameron's hands fist into the back of his shirt, and together they stumble toward the couch, the final collapse in an interminable series of dominoes. Her tears are hot against his neck, and it seems an eternity before he can begin to breathe again.
Pulling away far enough to look into her eyes, Chase lays a hand tenderly against her cheek. "Are you leaving me too?" It's the question that's been haunting him for weeks.
"No," she murmurs, offering him the faintest hint of a smile before leaning in to brush her lips against his. "We're broken in all the same ways now. How could I be with anyone else?"
Outside, the rain turns to ice, one final finger of winter reaching into the heart of spring.