NOTE – REPOST – Such an idiot, I was, and I deleted the whole thing by mistake – along with my lovely 125 reviews!

If you liked this before then please let me know. I was so proud of my 125 reviews and it was really annoying and frustrating to lose everything!

Title - Chaos

Rating - at present, I guess – won't always be

Pairing – Will be House/Chase (although friendship/slash I don't know, yet)

Disclaimer – Not mine. Never mine. Never will be. Wish they were.

Summary - – House lives in chaos. He also thrives in it. My own little AU version of "Help Me", the season finale so spoilers for that. Liberties taken, obviously - the only parts I'm really using are Cuddy's jarring news and the collapse-incident itself…

Could end up epic length...haven't got a clue, actually...

PARTS 1 – 3

House saw a rock fall once, a stone avalanche, caving down the side of a mountain-side. He was fifteen. He'd been on a sightseeing trip in Canada in a train-car and he'd been close enough to feel the rumble beneath his feet as the earth moved.

He'd seen a tree fall, uprooted, tumbling down into the deep abyss and he'd watched open-eyed and elated as it made its descent. Some of the other kids had found it chilling, screaming and crying. They'd feared for their lives, but House had just watched in awe as nature had her way with the world. Perilous. Petrifying.

"We're all gonna die," he heard, admidst the screams, the cries, the tears of these boys that pretended to be men but were children, in this moment.

The boy beside him clung to him as if House, alone, could safe him.

"Greg," the boy choked, "we're gonna fall."

"So be it," he whispered under his breath, offering no comfort as he stared into the chasm beneath them.

It had been such a rush, that danger, that terror of seeing the drop edging closer and closer. He had watched with morbid interest as he imagined what it would be like to fall with the stones.

It would be a theme for his life.

He didn't know it then, but that moment defined him; still defines him.

(*)

House's favourite painting is apocalyptic.

Chaos, painted in oil.

The canvass is large and foreboding. Busy. Disorganized. The sky is red and black. It's falling, falling down onto a world without order; a world of destruction and fire, of Hell and Fury. A world of severed limbs hang loosely from broken bodies, their faces full of pain, their mouths twisted in silent screams.

He likes it because it's hopeless. He likes it because it's real; because life isn't all Monet; isn't daffodils and lilies and soft, smiling faces…

"Cruelty," he says, "is in the nature of man. We're all out for ourselves. We're a herd of selfish bastards all waiting to trample each other to death, my beautiful ones."

Chase frowned at him when he heard those words, months ago, told him that he was cynical, to which House responded with a simple "Vogler."

"You see," he continued, "even our angel-faced Brit has a demonic side. We're all just carnivores, here."

"Spoken by a man who has never lived or loved," Thirteen had added, as if her words added weight to the argument.

House had smiled; called her an innocent girl and told her to repeat the sentiment when she was forty when she'd actually lived a little before biting his lip in mock apology with regard to the fact that she most likely wouldn't live at all.

"You see? Cruelty. It's the measure of a man. It's how nature intended us to be."

Life is chaos.

Life is chaos and we're all in nature's hands.

(*)

To many, this collapse is apocalyptic; a tragedy, small in scale but large in impact. All around there is grey. Grey smoke, rising from cracks in the ground. Grey rubble and debris spreading over spaces in the Earth that used to be green. House wonders momentarily how long it will be before flowers grow there again, how long before nature would forgive man for creating the very monstrosity that fell.

It's a war-zone, here, Ground Zero for many. 100 involved, ten confirmed dead already. Survivors were shipped off in white vans with flashing lights, their Chariots of Salvation conveying them to a half-life, for awhile, on drips and machines and, if they're lucky, for a second chance at full-life once their man-made recoveries were complete.

They'd thank God.

House would thank Princeton Plainsboro.

There's a man in black with his eyes closed, his lips mouthing a silent prayer for a man who cannot hear him. The cross around his neck gives him away as a priest. The total lack of dirt on his body tells House that he wasn't involved in the collapse yet flocked to it, like all of those God-givers do.

They think they can make a difference.

They think they can grant absolution.

"He's dead," House tells the priest, whose eyes are filled with tears for those he did not know. It's a concept that is alien to House, crying for strangers, wasting bodily fluids on those that don't know your name. "Save your prayers for someone who could use them."

"I was performing the Last Rites."

"You're too late for that. You think God gave a damn when he let the damn thing fall?"

He shakes his head.

"That's what bothers me about the whole religion thing. It's so…selective."

Because God is responsible for miracles…but he sits back and does nothing when there's tragedy.

(*)

His own tragedy isn't caused by God. No, he did this all by himself.

For a second, House flatlines.

The words, they strike him harder than any of this strikes him, delivered in spent exhaustion by a woman whose life he makes a misery.

"I'm getting married," she says, as she tries to make him understand. "I don't love you, House."

He doesn't hear past her telling him to move on; move on, because she has. Because everyone has.

Move on…

All he hears is the screaming. The pain. The chaos all around him.

(*)

She's assisting Taub when he speaks to her again, pressing down hard on a hopeless wound that'll never heal. Taub tries his best to talk the patient round but they call all see she's fading.

"She's hopeless," House says, matter-of-factly, "but there's someone underneath the building that could use some help."

Taub doesn't speak, doesn't respond. He whispers to the young woman that she should concentrate on his voice; that she'll be fine and that she's doing great.

"House…"

Cuddy's voice. Softer than before but no less…tired.

"I heard something down there. Movement. There's someone down there."

She sighs. Her blue eyes look dull and empty.

She's tired, and House knows it.

"There's nobody down there, House. They've checked twice over. There's no movement. No sound. Nobody is alive down there."

"You're wrong," House glares, and for a moment there is silence; silence which suggests those two words stretch across more than her assertion that there is nobody breathing in that dank, dark place.

She pauses. Stops breathing, for a moment.

He's daring her and she knows it; daring her to plead with him to stay; defiantly forcing her to care.

"Don't go down there," she repeats, but there's nothing in her face that gives him what he wants. She won't feed him. She won't feed…that.

In a sense, it's like telling a small child not to touch; telling a man with vertigo not to look down. He crawled into a black space the moment he realised he'd lost her for good. What difference would that be?

How desperate she looks…

How desperate she looks when she tells him "Don't do this now. This isn't the time or the place…"

"What would it matter if the building fell on me, now?"

He holds off on saying "The world already has," but she's already gone, her black ponytail still and motionless, caked with the dirt of the night.

He hates watching her leave. How many times has he been left behind, feeling like the sky is falling, just like in that painting? He watches her go and for a moment he's falling down that chasm, back when he was young, but he pushes that feeling aside to prove a point.

He claws his way back up.

"You're wrong," he shouts out after her…but, she doesn't hear him.

He looks up to Thirteen's vivid eyes, her hands covered in blood, her face full of disbelief. She looks tired. They all look tired.

"Don't," she says, but that's all she says.

House doesn't know what she's forbidding him to do; doesn't care.

"Back to your needlework," he replies, his voice cold but his face distracted. "Might as well make the most of it before your hands shake so much you can't even fasten your own bra."

(*)

He crawls into that space, that space that's too small, too tight, too claustrophobic. The walls are warm around him. Stable for now, they give the illusion of safety, like crawling back up into the womb or something equally metaphorical.

House likes to be encased; enclosed. Before his leg became mangled and twisted he'd sleep curled up so tightly his arms and legs would be dead by morning. He'd awaken slowly, relishing in the feeling of pins and needles bringing his limbs back to life as he unravelled himself from his chosen position.

These days, he just feels like he's unravelling.

"Is anybody down here?"

He wonders why they'd be more likely to answer now than when he was out there in the wide, open world; why they'd respond to him now that he's risking his life to prove himself right.

"Come out, come out wherever you are."

His voice doesn't echo. It's muffled, stifled by grime and dirt. It mattresses the sound, cushions it, deadens it. There are no acoustics in a tight, underground tomb. He hears nothing, not a scratch, not a breath, not a movement.

"Damn it, don't make me admit that I was wrong. I don't do wrong. I'm infallible. Like God. And, unlike God, I'm actually down here to help you."

It's a dare. The tone of his voice is challenging, a word often used to describe him in gentle terms. This is a game to him, like anything else, and House doesn't like to lose. Not in front of them. Not in front of her.

Especially not in front of her…

He's about to admit defeat when he sees it as the dust clears, as he drags that useless leg of his behind him a few extra yards until he finds a little space.

He sees something. Something bright. Something…moving.

"Bingo," he says, as if he's won, but he hasn't.

He hasn't won at all.

(*)

There's a strip of luminous yellow, bright against black. It glares as the torchlight bounces from it. House knows, then, knows before he re-directs the light because he's mocked this garment before just as he's mocked this man before.

He recognises the sneakers, white, black, red, flashes back to the "potato, potahto" argument which raged on daily as to whether they're sneakers or trainers because Brits have such a ridiculous grasp of the English language.

He almost wishes for the correction, the exasperated sigh, the voice that tells him "I'm Australian."

There are no words.

He realises, now, that he hasn't seen him; that he could account for all of his other employees (Taub, speaking so softly to dying patients…Thirteen, stitching up little girls whilst their frantic mothers looked on…) but not this one. He was too busy in chaos to even notice he was missing.

"Don't move," he says, as if the other man could. It's obvious already that he's trapped; trapped beneath fallen rock, stone, cement, paving stones.

He can feel his own heart beating in his chest. It's fast, too fast.

He tries to catch his breath, to calm himself, but the sight before him terrifies him.

He knows that the leg is badly broken because that straight, yellow line is bent at a right-angle, twisted around a twisted limb. His eyes glance around, scouring for further injury. He sees a thin metal bar, supportive iron, perhaps, disappearing into an arm that doesn't move, just hangs limply from a trembling body.

There's blood painting that grey shirt red and there are those colours, again, those colours that tone that damn painting.

House hears a gasp for breath and it stills him, momentarily. So pained, it is, choked and desperate.

"God, Chase…"

A name, spoken like a prayer; a whispered word. A word devoid of the usual malevolence in which House addresses him, replaced with something akin to shock. Fear.

Terror, even, because cruelty is the nature of man…but, sometimes, so is this.

In torchlight Chase looks paper-thin. He's paled by dirt and dust covering him like a second-skin. His breathing is shallow and rapid; trembling, like the walls around him and it's worrying how unstable they look, he AND the walls. His eyes, normally so vivid, look dull, almost dead.

His tears have left tracks on his cheeks, have wiped away the dust and the blood. That image, more than anything, strikes House like a fist and he's reeling, reeling fast until he pulls himself in.

"What did you do, come down here to hibernate? Too lazy to dig your own burrow so you thought you'd just move into this one? And, here was me thinking Koalas hibernated up trees. What were you thinking?"

Chase doesn't respond. Can't. He can't see but for the bright light shining in his face; can't hear but for the screaming sound of ringing in his ears. He can't speak because the pain gags him as effective as a hand across his mouth pressing down, down.

Instead, he chokes, wordless, soundless, sightless.

Blind. Deaf. Dumb.

"Trying to play hero, were you? I bet you heard a cat. A dog. A racoon, even. You come down here chasing rabbits?"

Again, no response. Just a whimper. A rattle. House imagines him down here when it all first fell, eyes closed just like that priest up there, mouthing a plaintive prayer that would go unheard by that great big empty space in the sky.

Sad to think, really.

Sad, or pathetic.

"Jesus Christ, Chase," says the Atheist, cursing the son of an entity he doesn't believe in as he edges towards a Fatherless child.

Suddenly, what's going on out there doesn't matter.

She doesn't matter, either.

Nothing does…only this, here.

Only him.

Part 2

His skin is clammy and cold; tacky, in a sense, to touch. His eyes, they're glassy and overly bright.

His pulse is thready, respiration shallow.

He's virtually non-responsive when House reaches him, doesn't shy away from touch but doesn't acknowledge it either.

Depending on his mood, in normal circumstances, he will either sit still and allow himself to be touched or will pull away, sensitive to the point of anger, petulant to the point of adolescent…

Sometimes, he will allow House to ruffle his hair; to bounce that red and white ball from the back of his head. Other times he will turn and glare; will tell House that he's not some lapdog that'll take anything from him.

Sometimes, House catches him touching the arm of the person he's talking to, gently coaxing, prompting, exposed as opposed to protected but that's rare…that's rare…

"Broken leg, broken ribs…"

He presses a stethoscope against an injured body, cold metal against damp skin…

"…lungs sound good. No sign of pneumothorax. You're lucky."

House reels off injuries as if they're items on a shopping list, a detachment cultured by years of not giving a damn.

"Looking at that lump on your head I'd say possible skull fracture. Your pupils aren't fixed. You're glazed and distant. Definite concussion. What do you think?"

No response. No acknowledgment. House believes it proves his point that there is, indeed, a fracture; that there may well be a brain injury lurking beneath.

"Come on, Chase. Where's that British humour? You've got to give me something."

The boy gives him nothing. House isn't quite sure what he was expecting but it wasn't this silence, this eerie nothingness.

He touches Chase's fingers, the ones attached to that captive arm. They respond to the touch by curling inwards, a good sign. House tries to concentrate on the things he can deal with; the injuries he can treat.

He tries to deal with the things he can do, rather than the things he can't.

It's the arm that's causing the problem. House touches that metal rod, the rod that's impaling Chase to the ground and it elicits the first true physical response from him, though perhaps its more reflex and instinct than conscious movement. He winces. Then, he chokes. His eyes roll suddenly back until a sharp slap to the side of his face brings him back to the world.

"Wake up. No sleeping. You're on the job. Pretty boys like you don't need beauty sleep."

It feels like a hammer blow. Chase's lips move but no sound comes out. This pale, this grey, this soundless…it's like a silent movie, down here.

"Seriously, am I that boring?" House asks, again no longer expecting a witty comeback, no longer requiring one. "You're my captive audience, Chase. The least you can do is appreciate me."

The rod's gone in just above the elbow. There's an entry wound and an exit wound. House can only imagine the pain, every tiny vibration sending it up through his shoulders, every attempted movement making white-waves behind his eyes. It's gone through him as if he were nothing more than chicken meat at a barbecue; as if his flesh were no stronger than that.

He can feel a pulse in the wrist, though.

"Blood flow to the hand doesn't seem compromised," he says. "We're not going to cut it off, just yet."

It's is lodged into the ground. Looking upwards, it appears to be supporting a large part of this fallen debris. To move it would cause the sky to fall, in a sense. To try to jerk it free would ensure both of their deaths. If House were to 'meet his maker' he'd be happy if it were with Chase, could hide behind the biblical kid like he used to hide behind his older, taller friends trying to get into nightclubs underage.

"Well," he mutters, under his breath, "neither of us are dying tonight so there'll be no need for gatecrashing."

Chase's teeth begin to chatter as his body starts to tremble more fiercely. He's in a cold sweat, looks alabaster-pale in this dim, dim light. He needs fluids, drugs, oxygen, though he doubts that would be allowed down here for fear of a gaseous explosion.

"You're in shock," House says, stating the obvious, as he removes his jacket and places it over his stricken employee before the shock hits him further. Harder.

"You need help. Even a guy as special as me can't do this alone."

Because, if he stays much longer they could both be trapped. Forgotten. Abandoned. Sealed up as if in some Medieval punishment gone bad.

The only saving grace is that Chase doesn't appear lucid. House checked him over quietly as he assessed his physical state. Responds to pain. To light. Doesn't respond to verbal commands. He totted up his Glasgow Coma Scale and it's pretty conclusive that Chase would be oblivious to his absence, at this point in time.

Still, it's hard to leave him.

"Nice talking to you, kid. As enlightening as ever."

He will emerge from this underground womb a victorious butterfly, having found a lost lamb amongst the insanity. He will stare into Cuddy's face and ask her, "Did his life mean so little to you that you wouldn't even send anyone down there to help him?"

He will glare at Lucas and tell him "You're marrying a heartless wench."

He will receive the hero's accolades, the platitudes of graciousness as they carry this broken boy out, damaged but living, from the tomb they wanted to leave him in…

He will look into Chase's eyes and tell him "Nobody gave a damn but me."

He moves. Then, he feels the Earth move as the instability of this place shows itself and it begins to crumble, a familiar feeling, reminiscent of his life, these days. It's not sulphur that rains down but rubble, gathering in his eyes and turning him ash-grey.

"You have got to be kidding," House growls but his voice does not carry over the angry rumble of this protesting place that tries to expel them from its very core or crush them in the process.

"Chase, are you still with me?"

Chase can't see any more, can only feel the sensation of rocks hitting his head.

He's blanketed.

Sensory deprivation.

He screams, the first sound he's made since House has been down here, the first sound that indicates he's capable of sound at all.

Then the rumbling stops, as if silenced by his plaintive wails, shamed by his terror.

House turns. The ash has cleared, now. Chase's mind is clearer and he's staring into eyes that can see him, finally, and they're not dead but pleading.

He's still screaming, be it from pain, fear, House doesn't know but he makes a mental note of his sudden increase in brain activity; thinks that perhaps the kid would notice him gone, after all.

"Stop yelling, Chase," House warns, because the sound unnerves him and he doesn't know what to do; because he's scared that it's going to make matters worse, for him or for Chase he doesn't know. "Man up. You scream like a girl. There's not enough oxygen down here for amateur dramatics."

It gets through to him. The noise abates, leaving behind only remnants of sound. Chase can't catch his breath. There is only a whimpering sound that escapes him, now.

His eyes are so bright and so wet they make him look like a five year old child.

He grasps for House with his good arm, so beside himself he can't even gather the co-ordination to do that right. It bothers House. It bothers him, to be needed this much.

"Chase," House whispers, "please."

Blue eyes bear into Chase, imploring him to be calm. If he were more alert he'd see hidden signs in those eyes; panic, behind the demanding intensity.

"This place is unsteady," House warns, softly. "You're a clever kid. You know all about vibrations in unstable structures."

The only thing Chase knows, in this moment, is pain. The only thing he's known for the past hour is solitude and a desperate need for escape.

The only thing he wants is not to be alone.

It takes a lot to gather himself to accomplish the feat of talking but he manages, somehow, draws the strength from God knows where.

His words are childlike. Desperate.

They're the words of a man who fears for his very life; who does not want to be alone should the final curtain fall upon him in a haze of dust and grime.

"Don't…leave…."

Don't leave.

Don't go.

"Please…"

The desperation makes House want to do the opposite of staying. The intense need makes him want to run to the other end of the Earth, just like he wanted to run away from that kid on the train-car.

"I'm sorry," he says, "but I have to. You need help. I need supplies. I can't patch you up with a First Aid kit."

"D-don't…"

"Places to be, kid. People to see."

"Dark…"

"Oh, now, come on. You're telling me you're afraid of the dark? I'll be back. Just…sit tight. Be a good boy. And, if you see mommy or daddy down here in the dark, just…pinch yourself. Alright?"

"House, please…"

It's mournful. It's broken. It's a young man begging not to be abandoned again; pleading not to be left in the dark, in the unknown.

House looks down. His eyes flicker.

It's too much.

"Sorry," he whispers under his breath.

Human nature; it's often cruel, but it's cruel to be kind.

If House looked back now he'd see human nature at its basest; its most raw, Chase's arm reaching out towards him as if the world had been taken in this moment; as if his one lasting salvation was slipping out of his fragile grasp.

Perhaps it would change House, in a way.

Perhaps it would open his eyes.

Part 3

The ascent is treacherous.

The journey up, it's laden with danger, with jagged edges that cut into his skin; that leave him bleeding and raw. House dares this cavern to beat him, challenges it to take him down knowing that it never will.

He glances back. Quietly, he tells it to contain Chase; to keep him safe at least until he returns so the kid doesn't die alone. This abandonment is paved with good intention, House tells himself, as the image of his broken, bleeding, scared little wombat is ingrained on his mind like a subliminal image that Keeps. On. Playing.

House, please. Don't leave.

Not leaving. In children's terms, this is a so-called act of love. House is sure he read that, somewhere.

He wonders how many acts of love Chase felt, growing up, whether they were as few and far between as the acts that House, himself, felt.

Then, he tries not to think about that at all.

He holds a white handkerchief in front of him, emerging with it held aloft to ward off the dust. It looks like a white flag. It resembles surrender. He struggles out of that thin opening, a difficult birth, a such, and ever the mother-to-be, Cuddy rushes to his side with a swiftness that sends a pang through House's chest.

His mind tells him she doesn't care but his heart? Well. He stopped listening to his heart years ago when he realised that every human being is meant to be alone.

She looks frantic. Angry, even.

"House, what were you doing down there? You could have got yourself killed. Don't we have enough to worry about without you wandering off like a disobedient toddler?"

She's stern. Overbearing.

"Look at you. Can you not listen to simple instructions? There are patients that need you. God knows we're desperate for all the help we can get."

She says it like she means it but there are still tears in her eyes. This is the kind of mother she'd be; strict but glistening. Solid yet soft, her real emotions always showing in the blueness set back against black, black lashes.

House knows that Rachel will walk all over her; that Lucas will roll around on the floor and play Barbie and Ken but the child will lack discipline.

He imagines ten years from now; Cuddy, the downtrodden. Lucas, the man-child with a penchant for Xbox and no time for his wife and child.

"Just…get out. Get out, before you lose the use of your other leg."

She holds out her hand. He doesn't take it, pushes her aside as he drags himself to the surface. He's no longer drowning on dust but the expression on his face shows that he's still submerged down there.

"You don't want my help? Fine. Just…don't be a hindrance, House. This is not the time and place."

Listen to her, all high and mighty, all big and tough and forceful and strong.

Look at her, so over him.

Four words stop her dead in her tracks.

He calls her back. Calls her out as he brushes dust from his hair; as he lets those pieces of grey dust fall back to the Earth where they belong.

"Chase is down there," he says, and the tone of his voice suggests he's blaming her for it. It's defiant. It's accusatory. "If I don't get back down there in the next few minutes then you're going to be an employee down. Now, you can either assist me or you can go to Hell but you won't stop me from saving myself the job of re-interviewing on Monday morning."

She turns to look at him, expects this to be a joke, a House speciality. It wouldn't be the first time he's used one of his team to strike the fear of God into her chest.

She looks into his eyes.

She sees no humour, no joke, no malice – only determination.

"Chase…"

"You know him, Cuddy. Blond hair, nice mouth – prettier than you. He was here an hour ago. I take it you sent him off to find someone to patch up? Guess he thought he'd be the hero and look underneath the ground."

She swallows hard. The lump in her throat feels like a boulder. The scratch in her chest is akin to swallowing the gravel that surrounds her.

"Whilst you were busy patching up hopeless cases with the rest of the idiots I was having a nice, one-sided conversation with our resident Aussie. I told him I wouldn't be long so, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to get back to him before he dies of shock."

The last words are spat out, rather than spoken.

He's making this personal but he doesn't know why.

"There are people that can go down there, House. People that aren't you. It's their job to rescue people from unstable buildings. You don't have to…"

His expression is maverick. Definitive.

He cuts her off before she absolves him of his responsibility.

"When did I ever duck out of a physical challenge, Cuddy? Go mollycoddle someone else."

(*)

The man's name is Jeff. He's thirty-nine years old and House is enamoured with the fact that his uniform includes a bright yellow, metal plated helmet, of sorts. He estimates the guy weighs about 200lbs; that he could bench-press House until it was Housed that cried off with exhaustion.

House carries a backpack that's full to the brim and Jeff carries a drill, amongst other things; instruments of his trade designed to release whilst House's are designed to relieve.

"How far down is he?" Jeff asks, as he touches the walls for stability.

"Oh, not too much further. Guess he gave up when the walls started to cave in on him. And, to think I trained him to be tough and resilient."

Jeff thinks that House's sarcasm masks his fear but he's an emergency technician, nothing more, and he chooses not to psychoanalyse for fear of making things more tense than they already are.

It's Jeff that reaches Chase first, a ghost of a man in a death-trap.

It's Jeff that holds a hand out to Chase when his eyes fill with panic; when he begins to hyperventilate because this isn't House, because he wanted House, because House is the only one who can help him and, damn it, House is the only one he needs, right now.

"It's okay," Jeff reassures, "It's alright. I'm here to help. We're here to get you out of here."

We. He said 'we'. Chase focuses on the we and tries to make sense of it through all of this pain. He focuses on the pronoun and tries to make it mean something.

"Just calm down. You're going to pass out. Deep breaths, come on. In. Out. In. Out."

He said this to his wife when she was giving birth to Aidan. Lamaze class. Calming techniques and ways to relieve pain.

Jeff is good at his job…but, he's not good at this.

"Hou…H….House…" Chase tries to say, but he can't get his words out for choking on them. They're stillborn in the air, just as his composure is.

"Save the hysterics, Robbie, I'm here."

The voice. That voice. That voice is like the voice of God, to Chase, and as it edges closer it's like a prayer has been answered.

"You need to focus on your breathing, Chase. I can't give you oxygen down here. It's too unstable. Since I don't know the extent of your head injury I can't afford to have you passing out."

Chase doesn't care what House is saying; doesn't hear.

All he hears is that voice…that voice that came back.

All he hears is that man that didn't leave.

"Knew…knew you wouldn't…go."

"What can I say? You Aussies are so up on your boomerangs. They go away but they always come back."

Softer, then, atypically so.

"I wouldn't leave you."

He looks worse, to House. Clammier. Paler. Sicker. The only saving grace is that he's more alert, more able to tell House what hurts, where it hurts, what he needs, what will help.

"Can you…get me out? P-please?"

"Jeff, here, is a master of all things construction and disaster. He's going to free your arm and I'm going to work my magic on you."

Chase tries to smile. There is blood on his teeth and House tries his best to ignore it.

"Gonna…turn me into…W-Wilson?"

"Oh, hush. Why would I do that? If there is any man I'd hate to be stuck in an underground tomb with it's Wilson. Too whiny. Too much to say for himself. I'd much prefer you. You're easier to play with."

"Thanks."

He's trying to lighten the tone, trying to keep Chase with him by making things as normal as possible.

He's trying to keep him calm by minimising the situation; by playing down its severity.

When Chase closes his eyes House smile fades for a moment, though, allowed for one split second to face reality out of his vision.

It fades even further when Chase opens his eyes.

"House," he whispers, as if it's the first time he's seen him. "I didn't know you were down here too, House."

"Yeah," House replies, his eyes grave and his thoughts running away with him. "Coincidence that I bumped into you, huh?"

Memory loss. Confusion. Disorientation.

All signs point to a brain injury that cannot be controlled in such dire circumstances.

"A-am I okay?" Chase asks, weakly. "Are…you okay?"

"We're great. Hunky dory. In fact, you and me will pull on our glad-rags and head out for some Margueritas once we're out of here. How does that sound?"

The smile is giddy. Dazed.

It's worryingly thin.

"Sounds great, House. Just great."

The truth is, Chase is fading fast, losing blood, perhaps bleeding internally. His body's in shock, perhaps damaged to the point of critical and there's no diagnostic tools in this Hell-hole to be able to tell if that's the case or not.

House looks to Jeff, whose face holds no joy and whose eyes hold no promise and he's pleading for something good; for something positive, just to put an end to the wretchedness of this God-forsaken day.

"I don't know, man," Jeff says, quietly, as he places a hand on the violent red beam that impales Chase to this very spot.

House bites his lip, all jokes aside, and warns him "You'd better find out, then."

PARTS 4-6

Picture a fire. A fire, burning somewhere in the quiet of a forest. Hot, white-hot, it increases by a thousand degrees each second that passes. Picture it engulfing you, burning you from the outside-in, a reverse napalm. A weapon of mass destruction.

Picture the house as human emotion; the desperate twist of a relationship.

The fire wouldn't touch House.

House has always been the King of his world, the master of his own universe. Up there, people bend to his will. They give to him freely whilst he takes without reservation.

Down here it's a different playground. There's room for little movement, scope for no error.

Picture the warmth of early Summer in Melbourne, on the beach, on the seafront. Thousands of tourists come here to paint themselves golden but this is home to you. You're golden already, always have been. It's no novelty to you, the sun, but there's sand between your toes and the sea's turning it dusky brown. Camel-coloured. You like the way the sea laps away at your feet.

"Mmmm," Chase murmurs, aloud, "my feet feel all wet."

Wet. Wet and warm. The dust and the dirt, that's the sand between his toes.

Behind his closed eyes he feels the splash of the ocean around his ankles. The reality is that his leg is broken; that the dancing nerves he feels in that stricken foot is transforming itself in his equally stricken brain.

"Surf's good today, House."

"I'm sure it is. Unfortunately, since we're stuck underground with only big Jeff for company it's unlikely we're going to be catching any waves any time soon."

Just like that he shatters the illusion but Chase doesn't flinch.

He just lets his mind wander.

He just lets his head create a world less painful where the sun is high in the sky and these sensations he is feeling is nothing more than the heat of the sun burning down on him.

There's a rumble up ahead, a motion in the brickwork. House freezes. Chase murmurs something about air pressure; thunder.

His lucidity is flickering.

On, off. On, off.

"Doesn't sound too healthy," Jeff states, as he takes his measurements, as he makes his estimations. He doesn't sound particularly worried, which helps, but this is still untrodden territory for House.

"Real rumbling in the bowels, that was."

"Yeah, because the building's full of bad gas," House replies. "It's eaten something bad. I wouldn't recommend the sushi, Jeff, it'll have you sounding just like this God damn building."

"Hey, man, I was just making light."

"Yeah? Well…go make light with your tape measure and your drill saw and get us the Hell out of here."

He knows that Jeff is doing his best. He knows the estimation has to be exact.

He knows the man's looking for alternatives; easy escape routes that will keep them all safe and alive but it's tough.

It's tough being down here with no guarantees; with a patient that's not right; not stable.

House's hands are shaking so badly he doesn't know if he's capable of inserting this hollow needle into Chase's veins, a sharp tongued snake that will drip life into him in a place where the sun doesn't reach.

He tells Chase it's vodka; that it's better all round if he's drunk and stupid because everyone knows that pain means nothing to an intoxicated mind.

"I should make it a stipulation of your employment that you lighten the Hell up at least once a week, Chase. Don't you ever want to drown yourself in Cosmos like normal pretty boys your age?"

"More of a 7-Up man myself," Chase murmurs. "Learned that from Mum. Vodka never did her any favours."

He's smiling when he says it, weak and fragile in voice, quiet and strained. It's as telling as he's ever been. Honest. Open. While some might see it as a man in agony simly lacking the will and the power to keep his own secrets, House sees it as another symptom. Pressure in his brain, perhaps, causing him to act out of the norm.

He tests the water, sees how far he can push him.

Sees if he'll break into a thousand pieces, a puzzle that House has always wanted to crack.

"Your dad ever get drunk?"

"Dad? Nah. Too busy fucking one of his interns to have time to let himself go."

A quick response. No time for processing what is said and what is unsaid.

House pushes it a little further. Deeper. He wants to see just how lacking in inhibitions this knock to the head has made the boy.

"He ever beat your mother?"

There's not even a beat. Not even a pause for thought. Sadness, though, in his voice. In his tone.

"He never even looked at her." Then softer, quieter. "Hitting her would've meant giving a damn."

The shaking has stopped, now, nerves abated. House looks down at his fingers then back at his 'patient'. His breathing has slowed a little, his eyes closed.

He's resting his head against a steel ledge and his face is pained and confused. House wonders if he knows, now, what he's said; if his brain has caught up to the fact that his mouth ran away with him without reservation.

"Chase?"

He doesn't respond and House allows him this moment to gather himself. To return to the norm.

He inserts the needle into Chase's free hand, effectively immobilising him, binding him. He flinches a little but is brave, doesn't cry out, though his nerve endings seem to close to the skin and he's as brittle as bone china.

The sensation, to Chase, is familiar as the needle is set in place; as it's taped securely, the thin, clear tubing looped back on itself as Chase loops back, too.

His thoughts fade.

His mind, it wanders.

He's ten years old. He's lying alone in a hospital bed propped up by pillows that make his neck hurt, so feverish that his hair sticks to the back of his neck, soft-blond against tanned skin turned pale.

His eyes are overly bright against the dim colour of his complexion and he blinks back tears, not wanting to appear childlike; wanting to be a man, like they always tell him to be, but he's not a man. He's not a man but a ten year old boy and he's so sick that they won't let him go home.

His mother sits beside him but her mind is elsewhere. She stares out of the window as if she's waiting for something to come and take her.

He gasps in pain as another ripple enters his stomach; as another wave makes is way up to his throat. He gags to stop himself from vomiting.

He doesn't cry out for mother, for father. Mother wouldn't listen anyway and Father is never around.

She doesn't even hold his hand when they insert the needle into his vein; when they fix a drip and don't even tell him what it's for.

She just tells him to be quiet, because that's all she ever wanted. For him to be quiet.

Father just wanted him to be perfect.

He closes his eyes. He chokes on the memory, for a short while.

He mouths the word "Dad" but no sound escapes his lips.

Back then, it wouldn't have mattered if he'd shouted it from the rooftops. He wouldn't have came; wouldn't have cared.

House adjusts the drip. The flow. He pushes enough painkiller through the plastic opening to make him comfortable whilst he sets the leg.

He knows it won't be enough.

The bubbles lick away at Chase's insides and when he swallows it's a rush. Intoxication. His body sways a little but all he can do is curl over and smile. A hand moves to steady him. It's warm. That's enough.

His father's hands were never warm…but House's hands are.

"Idiot," House whispers. "I'd make a terrible father. I'd steal all of your birthday money. I'd get you a computer instead of a car. I'd hit on your girlfriends."

House would make a terrible father…but, already he's better than the father Chase had and lost.

Under the pretense of securing the tape securing the IV tube his hand lingers on Chase's. It's momentary, lasts but a split second.

It's nothing. Means nothing.

To Jeff, an outside observer, it almost looks like he's comforting him.

Part 5

He takes out a 'bit' for Chase's mouth as if he were a horse; as if this were some 17th Century operation in a time when there was no better. It seems brutal; sado-masochistic. House knows of Chase's dabble with 'the other side', has heard it in hints and give-aways that he's not totally sure are the truth. He's spent long periods of time wondering whether Chase is all he seems to be or whether he drops these hints to appear interesting. Tough, even.

He's not so tough. He looks frightened. Awoken from his paternal daydream he's met with a reality no less nightmareish; more physically painful than mentally.

House's eyes don't look like his father's. There's light in them, for one thing.

There's concern.

He actually gives a damn.

"I want you to bite down on this," House says. "Number 1, it'll shut you up so I don't have to hear your Daddy issues. Number 2, this is going to hurt like nothing you've ever imagined and I don't want you to bite off your tongue."

He pauses, momentarily, before adding " – although, that would be a more permanent solution to the silence thing."

He tries to keep things as normal as possible, remembers an old saying about dogs in thunderstorms. Don't pamper them, they say, because then they'll know that something's wrong.

Don't change your behaviour because that will unsettle them even more.

"We'll free your arm once we've fixed the leg. You'll have a scar but you know what they say about chicks and scars. They don't say the same thing about cripples, I'm afraid."

"No," Chase says, frantic and desperate as House places a hand on his ankle, the ankle he can no longer feel, that is no longer part of his leg. The pulse is weakening to the foot and it's only a matter of time before it ceases completely; before the tissue begins to die away, no longer realising it's part of a living body.

"I see my crutch as a status symbol," House says, as he nods his head towards his constant companion; his shoulder to lean on. "You're not cool enough to pull it off, Chase, so don't even think about it."

"I'm not ready."

"Well, make yourself ready. We don't have time for this."

Small voice, lost somewhere inside of him, though his terror echoes from these dungeon walls.

"I don't want you to."

"Chase, I'd love to umm and ahh and bite my lip in indecision but you're going to lose your foot if I don't do something about it now. I know that'll do wonders in your quest to win back your ex but I can't see you surfing with a hook for a limb."

Quieter still. Meek, almost. Choked, definitely. "You don't understand."

"Trust me, Chase, I understand fine. I know pain. Why else do you think I swallow these little candy drops every hour and a half? It's certainly not to keep my weight down, although the nausea does help maintain my svelte figure."

He pushes Chase backwards, holding him in place with one hand. It's forceful. It's demanding. Chase eyes him defiantly but the sentiment doesn't last.

"Listen to me."

The look fades.

The painkiller can only do so much and this moment of lucidity is born from trepidation. It's the edgy nerves of one expected to jump over the edge of a deep abyss, facing his fear as he goes. Every time House moves, Chase flinches.

"Just…make it fast. Please."

He nods, giving permission. House knows this may well be his last moment of lucidity before they make the agonising decision over whether or not they need to remove his arm. Jeff kept citing structural instability and the possibility of total collapse. House uncharacteristically told him to get a second opinion, would cut a person's head open on a whim but not Chase. He couldn't do that to Chase.

He has to do this, though.

He doesn't prepare him, simply acts, knowing above all things that pulling off a band aid is best done quickly; without warning. Chase doesn't scream. He doesn't cry out, bites down instead, his cries held prisoner behind gritted teeth. The crunch of bone reminds House of a train with its brakes pulled tight, grinding along the tracks. It grates on his nerves, cotton wool pressed hard down between his fingers, nails down a chalkboard.

Chase reaches for him blindly in this dimly little, cavernous place.

House, nauseated himself by the act he's just performed, reaches back.

"Not much longer," he says softly, quietly.

He brushes the hair from Chase's forehead under the illusion of checking for fever or delirium. It's amazing how many acts of affection could be construed as necessary acts of medical intervention.

"Soft," Chase murmurs.

"Your skin? Your hair? No. Dry as a a bone."

"No, you."

You, Chase is saying. Soft.

"You're soft. Pretend to be…tough….hard…but you're not."

A strong accusation.

House pulls his hand back at the suggestion of something other than indifference, clutches it to his hand as if he's been burned.

Part 6

Consciousness flickering, Chase forgets himself, sometimes, forgets his place in the world and what world he is in. Everything that he is seems to be locked inside. His 'inner voice' seems disembodied as well as disembowelled.

"I'm tired," he keeps saying, over and over, because he feels as if he hasn't slept in six months and if his head were on properly he'd realise he's right.

Ever since Dibala. Ever since he took a man's life he's been suffering, deservedly, he might add.

He wonders if this is his punishment from God.

House keeps poking at him, asking him questions that he doesn't know the answers to; answers which are swimming around disjointed, trapped behind blood in his swelling brain.

That's the danger, the fact that his head is injured, the fact that he's seriously concussed and there's no way of telling the damage in a place like this.

"Listen to me," House tells him, "Answer me. This is important. Tell me the last thing you remember before coming down here."

Chase moans aloud. His brain misfires. He doesn't know the answer. He doesn't know why he's down here and he doesn't know why House is here, either.

He doesn't know where 'here' is and he doesn't know what year it is. Why should he know that? Why is that as important as this man says it is? Why is it important that he know what's outside; that he knows how it is that he came to be here in the first place?

"Stop messing around," House warns, "This could save your life."

Knowing the name of his mother could save his life? How?

At times, he doesn't know House, doesn't remember him, but then the name swims back through the haze and he wonders how on Earth he could forget such a man.

A good man. A genius.

The only man he'd trust with his life, he's always said, if his life turned out to be in danger.

The hand on his jaw shocks him. House forces him to look. Twenty-thousand shards of glass pass through Chase's head and he wants to scream but doesn't.

"Focus, Chase. Answer the question."

"Why?"

"I need to assess your head injury. It's just you and me alone down here until they can figure out how to get you out of here and if you want to keep your fucking arm then you'd better start co-operating with me."

If the head injury's proving critical it'll be a necessity. Lose the arm to save his life. Disfigure him to preserve him. He doesn't want to so that, will drill a hole in his skull here and now to relieve the God damned pressure if it means keeping him in one piece.

He doesn't want to do any of that…not to Chase…not to someone he gives a crap about…

Chase doesn't want to talk. He just wants to make this easier.

"H-heard a noise," he says, softly, but it's difficult for him to speak, right now. The combination of painkillers and pain itself leave him swimming in treacle. Everything is slow, so slow. So suffocating. "Thought there was a…a kid… down here."

He heard a scream. A cry.

He thought it came from beneath the ground.

"So, you thought you'd play Superman and save the day? That's not like you. You're usually such a self-serving asshole."

"Would've…done it…if it were you down here, too."

House knows that Chase can be selfless. He just wants to get a rise out of him because he knows that anger keeps him focused; that a strong emotion might help him to stay with it.

"What was the last thing you did before you left your house this morning?"

"Wh-what?"

It seems like such a ridiculous question but it'll establish memory or lack thereof. House has already noted down the look of disorientation; the confusion with which those blue-green eyes look at him at times as if he's never seen him before.

He finds himself relieved every time the recognition returns. It doesn't matter to Chase what side of House looms over him tonight. There are many sides to the man and he would cling to each one equally. Gentle or hard. Rough or smooth. Angel or devil, God or the Antichrist, soul or evil spirit, it doesn't matter. Tonight, Chase just wants his hand held, his breathing to be something meaningful rather than simply a death rattle.

"House," he whispers, as if he's remembered again.

"Come on, Chase, you know why I'm asking these questions. Just answer me so we can move on."

What did he do before he left his house this morning? He tries to think back. He tries to take himself back to that time but he finds it difficult. He clutches, grasps desperately for something familiar; for something that sounds right but there's nothing there.

There's nothing there.

"You don't know, do you?" House says, softly. "You don't remember."

"I'm sorry…"

He feels like he's done something wrong. He feels like a small child, having disappointed his father by forgetting the answer to the scientific query posed to him.

He wants to cry.

He feels like he's been dropped from such a great height that it's shattered him; that he's worthless to anybody, now that he can't answer simple questions.

"I'm sorry," he repeats, but he's nothing to be sorry about. Tears prick his eyes. That's too much for House. He touches Chase's shoulder because he sees, now, just how devastating it is for Chase to get something wrong; to not be able to answer something that's put to him.

He looks backwards, back at the hole from which he crawled and yells out loud that they don't have much time.

The kid's fading out…and he's not going to let him die in an unmarked open grave with only a careless bastard to hold his hand.

(*)

Her hair looks grey. She's aged twenty years in the past half hour. On a day she's supposed to be happy, gleeful and on top of the world she somehow finds herself beneath it.

Jeff told her their best bet was to amputate; release Chase without compromising the fragile structure of the building. Chase, himself, is a fragile structure. She knows that herself. Would she be compromising him by ordering House to go ahead with the removal of his limb?

"He's not listening," Jeff told her, quietly. "I've seen situations like this before. It's my job, ma'am. He needs to stop trying to play God and save the kid's life."

She knows it's true. Every fibre of her being aches for House; aches for his skewed sense of principle. As she crawls down this squalid little dungeon-hole she feels for him, too.

He doesn't want Chase to suffer like he does.

He doesn't want a young man who's lost so much already to lose a part of himself.

It's difficult for her to move, down here. She wonders how on Earth House pushed himself through these dusty boundaries with only one leg worthwhile but his determination knows no bounds, never has.

He knows no bounds.

Her heart stops when she finds them; House, with his back pressed against he unstable wall. Chase, trapped by his own sense of valour.

House looks wasted. Exhausted. Chase looks…lost. Young. The IV hangs from a rusty nail sticking out from fallen stone. His leg is straight, now, padded out with tight bandages and an inflatable immobiliser that's dirty already.

"How is he?" Cuddy whispers, and her voice indicates a certain culpability for his current predicament, as if it's her fault, somehow.

House allows it to stay in place.

He wonders if he's punishing her for the fact that she doesn't love him or the fact that she loves a man-child like Lucas who can never satisfy her in the way that he knows he could.

He stares at her.

"He's great. In fact, he's thinking of sending out for pizza and calling in the removal guys to bring all of his stuff down here. He likes the ambiance. He's thinking of moving in."

"House, I'm serious. This is serious."

"You think I don't know that?"

He rarely gets angry like this. Chase flinches but his eyes don't open.

When his father yelled the world would stop, would tremble. His mother cowered against the wall as he screamed in her face, demanding, accusing but never touching, never touching…

Young Chase would close his eyes tightly, so tightly, covers his ears with his tiny hands and pretends that he's somewhere else. Narnia, perhaps. He'd hide in his wardrobe hoping that one day a door would open and he would be led into a world of talking lions and magical, magical things.

The shouting was bad…but, what was worse was the silence that came after when his father left.

His mother wouldn't cower against the wall. She'd simply drink until she passed out.

Chase, living in a world of silence, longed for the shouting again…shouting that at least told him that the world was still alive; that it hadn't ceased in light of everything.

Cuddy doesn't cower. She doesn't tremble.

Her voice is soft but firm when she tells him "You have to amputate. You're going to kill him."

"He doesn't want that. Said he'd rather die. Thought I'd give him the choice I never had."

He makes it personal. Now, she flinches.

"Does he want to die down here? His head…House, you have to be reasonable. He could be bleeding into his brain. He could be…"

"…I can relieve the pressure. Buy him some time."

"He needs more than you can give him."

"He needs his body in one piece, Cuddy. Don't you think people have taken enough from him?"

She doesn't know what he means, hasn't been here. She hasn't heard a small boy's voice crying out for a father that never came, hasn't heard the unbridled stories of verbal abuse, of inferiority, of the agonising fear of being the disappointment he was always led to believe he would be…

She doesn't know of the wife that told him point-blank that she left him because he was broken; didn't think him valuable enough to stand by, to put back together…

She doesn't know.

Neither did House, until now.

"Too many people have given up on the poor bastard. I'm not going to be one of them."

She sighs.

She knew this would be difficult.

"There risk's too great, House. They've tried to find a solution but there is none. There's no way of removing that rod without risking a further collapse. It could kill anyone that's underneath it. He could die, House. He could die, and so could whoever else happens to be down here."

"And, that's certain?"

Again, she sighs.

"No, but…"

"So, it's not certain? There's a possibility that won't happen?"

"Certain enough that they won't risk their lives testing their calculations. This is the end of the road. There's no time to buy him, House. We have to get him out of here now."

It's Chase that has the last word. Words.

His eyes open.

He speaks so weakly he can barely be heard but his sentiment is lucid. Definite.

"Rather die," he whispers, chokes, "than lose my arm. He's right."

It's a stupid sentiment but he means it. He'd lose his life. His career. His career is his life, is all he has. Without it, he's nothing.

He'd have…nothing.

"Chase," Cuddy tries, "you're in a lot of pain. You're concussed. You have a head injury. You're confused. You don't know what you're saying."

"I know…exactly what I'm saying…Cuddy. It's my…my…r-right."

It's his choice. He has a right to choose.

House's eyes burn into Cuddy's when he provides his own solution.

"I'll do it myself. They say there's a risk."

"A huge risk…"

House doesn't smile but his eyes light up. "I like risks."

He'll risk his life, has done it before. He'll put himself in danger for the sake of a patient; his patient. If he dies trying then so be it.

"You're crazy. You'll kill yourself AND you'll kill him."

"Life fast," he says, "die young. Leave a beautiful corpse. If I die trying then at least I'll be remembered for that."

He looks up; looks up at the red metal embedded and trapped by the grey stone.

"All it takes is a delicate touch," he says, thoughtfully.

It's not something he's renowned for. He's no surgeon, after all.

He'll chip away at this stone as if it's bone; as if it's calcium build up within a weakened body and if it all falls down upon him….so be it.

So be it.

PARTS 7-10

"You need to go gently. Chip at it as if you're carving a face in stone, not as if you're trying to hack down a tree. Try to keep the balance right. It's important that you don't take off too much at any one time. Keep it steady. Keep it tight."

The disembodied voice floats from above and behind. House would liken it to the voice of God if it were not so thoroughly annoying.

"There's nothing worse than a back seat driver," Chase mutters quietly, trying his best to be still.

"Yeah, nothing worse than an annoying, gnat-like voice down your ear saying it's drugs, it's alcohol when you're trying to get a patient's background."

It's hard to tell whether or not the sound that Chase makes is a laugh or a protest. His speech deteriorated around fifteen minutes ago, through no fault of his own. With the possibility of growing pressure in his brain House was forced to sedate him, not enough to put him to sleep but enough to keep him dull, limp and careless. He was too stressed, too upset. He was moving around too much and with no way of monitoring the ICP it was best just to keep him calm. Every so often he allows his glazed eyes to look up at House's 'handiwork' but he's not afraid. Not any more. He's effectively detached from the situation, watching from behind screens. It's as if this is happening to somebody else.

House taps the rock elegantly, delicately. The stone crumbles but doesn't threaten to fall.

"Are you feeling anything? Pain? Pins and needles?" The metal must be vibrating through him. House can't imagine how uncomfortable it must feel.

"Can't feel anything," Chase replies. His words fall into each other, boyishly drunk. "Good drugs."

"Yeah, don't get used to them."

He seems more lucid since the medication was administered. House has noticed how he refuses to look at his arm as if to ignore it is to not feel it. The metal that impales him is pressing on a nerve. The truth is, the limb doesn't belong to him in this moment. It doesn't feel a part of him.

"Remember to just…not move. I know it's hard for you. If your hands aren't twisting your hair your fingers are twisting pencils in your mouth."

"…oral fixation…"

"Too much information, Chase. I'm your boss, not your lover."

"Out of your league."

"Oh, I forgot. Don't worry, you're not my type. I like my blondes to have a bit more up front, if you know what I mean."

It's a nice little exchange. Quippy. Light-hearted. They both need that.

The voice from above returns. It's muffled. Loud, but fuzzy, as if the owner of that deep, rumbling voice is speaking from beneath blankets.

"Remember, Dr House. Don't use the drill unless you have to. It'll shake the whole foundations."

"I'm not a complete moron," he yells back. "If you've got something to say at least make it useful."

"We're trying to provide guidance if you insist on going through with this."

"I don't need you stating the obvious. You're ruining my concentration."

He feels a vibration from his own raised voice. Trembles. Quakes. Seizures in the building. Cuddy had mentioned seizures as a possible life-threatening danger. With the need for a steady hand and the least amount of movement in the supporting beam as possible then the need for Chase to be still was imperative. The sedative reduced the risk of seizure, the lowering of his blood pressure perhaps reducing the build up inside of his skull. So far there'd been no sign of impending fits but House isn't stupid; knows the unpredictability of head injury.

He's glad that Chase seems relatively stable but the delicacy of the 'operation' he's performing, at present, is beginning to wear him down. There is sweat dripping down his forehead. The dust is settling where his skin is clammy. He looks filthy. Feels filthier. He doesn't know if it's the heat or the stress but he can't see straight.

"You okay?" Chase asks, somehow sensing the discomfort.

"I'm fine. Worry about yourself," House replies, wondering if the feeling is that of guilt when he realises that Chase is concerned about ihim/i.

How wrong could his opinion of his own employee be?

It's the lack of concentration that makes him lose it momentarily, makes him hammer a little too hard. He knew the danger. He knew the risk. It seems cruel when the debris lands on Chase, misses House completely. It's not enough to hurt him but it's enough to shock him. House freezes. Panics. This is too much. This is too serious.

He wonders if this is beyond even him.

He hears rumbling at ground level, knows they're up there planning his funeral, knows Cuddy's wringing her hands and telling the world how she told him this would happen.

"Fuck," he says, rarely swears like that, rarely says such things but then as soon as the ceiling began to fall it ceases.

Still stable.

Still holding.

Mirroring Chase, in a lot of ways…

House breathes. Breathes deep. His leg aches and his head hurts and his muscles ache with the tension but they're alive.

They're both alive.

"It's stopped. Chase, listen to me. You're okay."

Chase whimpers, cries out. House realises how much he wants to live; how terrified he is of this fragile grip on life. He's heavy with drugs but still scared out of his mind, previous detachment gone when he feels his mortality wearing so thin.

He looks…desperate.

"Please," he whispers, under his breath, "Please, God, don't let it fall."

Please, God, help us. Save us.

It helps, somehow, this uttering of urgency, this pleading, aching, begging pulse that runs through Chase, that's omitted from his every slurred, whispered word.

There's so much life in him, even this close to death.

Look at him now, House thinks. He's just a boy.

"It's not time for God yet, Chase," he says, "at least give me a chance before you start turning to the big guy."

"Scared," Chase admits, letting go of all his bravado and bleeding out those words like a raw wound. "Scared of…d-death. Scared I'll go to Hell for what I did."

House takes a deep breath. He pulls that hammer back into his hands and holds it there tightly.

Is he that haunted, House thinks? Is he that damaged?

The pressure is tight in his chest. Firm. Hard.

He always worked better under pressure…

"Don't worry about that yet. That's not going to happen."

He'll give him many more years to atone for his perceived sins. He'll play God, here and now, because it's in his power to do so.

He bites his lip. He fixes his eyes in concentration.

He looks for weak point in the tumour; a good place to resume.

Part 8

After awhile Chase calms down. It's as if he can see the end; as if he has suddenly realised that House is with him and that House will save him. House will clutch him to his chest. House will set him free.

He becomes quiet and contemplative when focused, flighty and 'open' when not.

House learns a lot about the cogs and mechanisms that make up Robert Chase when those inhibitions desert him completely and for a full ten minute period he simply talks, talks about anything, talks about nothing, fills himself out into a three-dimensional character that's so much more than the wan, agreeable 'pretty boy' that only interested House when he was breaking down.

He learns that Chase played the violin in an orchestra at school; how he has his old friend tucked away underneath the floorboards of his bed at home because he never wanted his wife to share that part of him; because he wanted that little piece of art to be 'just his'.

He learns that Chase likes to cook, how 'Ally' used to love his oven-baked lasagne, how he'd often surprise her with candlelit meals for no reason other than that it was Tuesday. He works late on Tuesdays now because it kills him returning to the empty shell of his marriage; hurts him to know that she's somewhere else whilst he's still lost and confused and wondering whether that time spent on lockdown recently meant more to him than it did to her. He forgot her name during the story, twice referring to her as 'Anne' but House chose not to pull him up on it.

He just continues to chip away as Chase chips away at him, this forced intimacy both suffocating and liberating at once.

House listens. Takes everything but gives nothing. House feels he has nothing to give, nothing to offer this boy that would make him feel anything less than indifferent to him.

"Sorry," Chase murmurs, "M'rambling…"

"You're keeping me awake," House replies because he doesn't want Chase to stop. "I like you better when you're not so boring…"

His words are inaudible at times, so weak was his voice. House makes a mental note of all the times Chase cannot find words, names, cannot string a proper sentence together but mostly he just listens; listens to the unrestrained ramblings of a possibly-dying man and for once Chase is not a puzzle to him.

Chase is not a pawn to be poked and prodded and moved at will.

He sighs.

"Wanted to be a teacher. Or a musician. I only came into this because of my Dad," he says, softly. "I only ever wanted him to see that I'd become something in spite of him, not because of him."

"Your dad was an asshole."

"Yeah," Chase whispers, "but, I loved him."

It's poignant. It's provoking. It's jarring. It's a young man admitting so openly that he still loves a father that never loved him back; that the line between love and hatred was so thin and so ill defined that he never quite managed to breach it.

"You crave love," House says. "You're needy."

"Yeah. But, aren't you?"

It's a breakthrough, in a lot of ways, a break through in precisely the moment that House breaks through. The space around that beam is clear and the ceiling, the rock, the stone…it hasn't moved.

Chase blinks slowly. Carefully.

He smiles sadly. They say that a person who feels close to death often thinks of those that have gone before.

"I wonder if he loved me at all."

For a second, for a tiny second, House thinks that this could be it. This could be the end or it could be the beginning and he's torn; torn between letting this boy die without his father's love or letting him pass on underneath an illusion.

He knows the human thing would be to tell Chase that his father loved him; that he was proud of him, in his own quiet way. The human thing would be to tell him that Daddy just didn't know how to express himself and that Chase was the apple of his eye.

Even now, House can't bring himself to lie. Again, there's the cruelty of humanity and, though House is well aware of the old adage that 'everybody lies' he simply can't bring himself to.

"Your father was an asshole," he repeats, "and you'll live a better life without him."

It's like ripping a band-aid, pulling it clean from the skin and leaving behind a gasp and a sharp pain but nothing lingering.

Chase becomes quiet.

House almost feels guilty for that.

"I'm through," he tells Chase, hoping above all things that he's still 'with' him. "The moment of truth."

"The sky hasn't fallen."

"No. Not yet."

House knows that the minute he has Chase lean forward could be the minute it all falls down. He knows the second he has the boy emerge from this restrained position could be his own last moments on Earth.

"Is there anything you want to say?" House asks, just in case, and the only thing Chase says is "I trust you."

It hurts, a little, hearing those words. It hurts in the same way that love hurts, deep in the chest, riling, teasing because love is expectation and responsibility and it's painful and it bleeds so fully.

House nods.

"I need you to lean forward slowly. I'll try to support the metal as much as I can. If it's pressing on a nerve then moving might release it. I won't lie to you, Chase. This could end badly."

"I'm ready. Are you?"

He's ready. There's a thick wooden plank that House will try to replace the beam with once Chase is free; something to provide stability. Something to bear the weight.

He looks at Chase and thinks that nobody could replace him.

"After three. One. Two. Three."

House stares death in the face. They say a man's whole life flashes before him in moments such as these but all he sees is Chase, no time for himself, no thought for anything other than what he needs to do.

He stares into the abyss and he sees only life and youth.

They roll forward and the earthquake doesn't happen. Heaven doesn't tumble down upon them. Chase howls with the pain of movement, pressure in his ribs, his head, his arm, his leg. The beam remains in place because it might be the only thing that's keeping him from bleeding to death and as he curls over onto himself House has to wrench himself around to prod up that thick, wooden plank like a prosthetic replacing an amputated limb and he's thankful, thankful in this moment that it's a metaphorical limb and not his intensivist's.

"Stay still," he warns, "I don't want you going into shock."

Chase's teeth shatter as if he's cold but it's nerves, raw and exposed and it's only now, only in this moment of adrenaline-provoked madness that House notices how his own pulse is like a throbbing drum in his temples; how his own hands are shaking as if the Earth is turning and trembling.

He crouches down next to Chase and he places his hand on the back of his neck.

"You still with me?" he asks. Chase tries to catch his breath, tries to focus his thoughts. He tries to move past the massive empty space in his head as he says "Yeah."

Now that he's free House can't help but focus on how critical his condition most likely is and in the back of his mind there are so many thoughts, so many thoughts that he wishes weren't there but which spur him into action. He has to move fast. There isn't much time. The hard part is over…but, there are always aftershocks. They might remove the tumour but there's always a risk of infection that leaves the body dead as a doornail even though they've destroyed the root of its evil.

"We need to get you onto the stretcher," House says, "then, those cowards up there can actually do their job."

His legs are weak but his arms are strong. Chase isn't big. At times he borders on slight depending on his mood and habits; depending on his level of stress. Stress makes him more beautiful, it seems, cuts the marble of his cheekbones higher, the curve of his shoulder blades more defined. He leans forward, hindered by metal.

He calls himself part-man part-robot and when he laughs it makes his ribs hurt.

"Come on," House warns, "your right leg's fucked but I'm living proof that people can still raise Hell with one leg."

"One arm," Chase chokes, by way of counter-argument, but he does try to manoeuvre himself the best that he can even as disabled as he is. House lowers him down onto the stretcher that awaits. He covers him with a dirty blanket and for a moment he wonders if this is what it might've been like to have had a son, a child, a little boy whose legs he would cover at night, whose comfort he would ensure by fluffing pillows and reading bedtime stories.

This is no fairytale, though. Instead of kissing Chase's forehead and telling him to go to sleep he warns him not to.

"No passing out, now. No giving in."

Because it's so easy to give in once the danger has seemingly passed. It's so easy to become complacent.

"If you so much as drop off I'll make it Hell for you."

"Okay, okay…"

His words are gritted and pained but he's smiling. God, he's smiling.

"A little help down here?" House calls up, knowing full well that a man of his own much-maligned disability can't do this alone.

They descend, knowing he's carried out the hard part. It's hard not to resent them for that.

As they emerge from the tunnel Chase comments upon the light he sees shining up ahead. He tells him there's no God up there; that the euphemism for death isn't lost upon him. Chase looks worse up here. His skin is pallid, like tapestry paper. The swelling on his head shines underneath the spotlight where the skin is pulled tight.

House stares at Cuddy when he sees her tear-stained face; her overwhelming sorrow and sadness and love, if that's the word. He looks her right in the eye and asks "Did I make the Earth move for you for once?"

He doesn't want to know who called Cameron; who asked her to attend upon her 'dying' soon-to-be ex-husband like some guardian angel from the past but she's there taking centre-stage. She's there in her long black coat and her knitted gloves with her blond hair dancing around her like a halo. He looks at her. Glares at her. She has tears in her eyes and House thinks she's nothing more than a little girl dressed in adult's body.

He's thankful that Chase seems out of it, now that the oxygen mask has been placed over his face, because the last thing he needs is a confusing reunion with a woman who never wanted to put him back together again when he was as fragile as that fallen building behind them.

"Chase," she calls out, but House's eyes are enough to hold her back. It's painful. It's physical. His stare, it's implicitly threatening and she finds herself caught in her tracks. He knows Chase will be attractive to her, now; knows that he won't be able to resist her Siren's song as she cries at his bedside, strokes his head and kisses his pain away.

He says but two words to the weeping widow.

"Stay away."

"I don't want him to be alone," she chokes, her voice thick with emotion, but House's blue eyes burn like the centre of a flame when he reminds her that he's been alone for months so what difference would it make?

"You only want him now that he's broken," House says, bitterly. "The irony is, he's been broken for months. You just didn't care to stick around to help him through that. I won't let you use him, now, just so you can feel good about yourself."

His words cut deep.

"I care about him," she whispers, but her voice is lost in the moment.

"We're ready," the medics say, finally, interrupting the moment before the tension created a further explosion or collapse.

House doesn't know whether or not it's superiority, perhaps victory he feels when Chase's eyes move from Cameron to House himself and instead of calling for the woman he loves to stay with him he calls for his boss.

Part 9

The ambulance feels tight. Claustrophobic. Insular, almost.

It's white and sterile and clinical and clean but it doesn't feel much better than the 'cave' did, not really, because the air in here is still stuffy and House still feels like he's buried alive. He should be used to enclosed spaces after the past few hours of his life but at this moment in time he feels like he wants to run to the centre of an open field and just stand there for awhile, arms outstretched, breathing in air that isn't full of debris and staring up at a sky that isn't made of grey stone.

He wants to feel the air on his face. He wants to become a living cliché for a few moments in time.

"How d'you get out?" he's asked, but what can he say but "Determination. Perseverance."

He looks down at his hands thinking of how he clawed his way out of that place and wonders if it makes him any more of a man, any more of a human being, the fact that he dug a man out from the centre of the Earth when the rest of the world had practically given up on him.

"You're brave," the crew tell him. "You wouldn't have caught me down there."

"Selfless guys," House responds, but there's no malice in his voice.

The paramedics gave him the once over at the scene. They shone lights into his eyes, fixed on Cuddy yet not really seeing her. They took his BP. He shrugged them off forcefully because he knows his own body and he's 'together' enough to know there's nothing wrong with him.

It took five minutes to get Chase into the ambulance; to position him in such a way that he was not in pain and that his circulation was not compromised. He looked terrified as they strapped him down, as if he were frightened of what they'd do to him whilst he was sedated and restrained; helpless, in effect.

House promises to 'protect' him with the faux valour of Knight but it makes Chase feel safer, at least.

He reels off symptoms as they apply wires to Chase's chest; as they hook him up to monitors House could've done with down there in the Hell-hole they've just returned from.

When they ask Chase a question he looks frightened and lost, tries to curl into House, to disappear into the man he feels will shield him.

"He's a little confused, as I'm sure you can imagine," he explains. "A little knock to the head and all of a sudden he's all clingy and whiny…"

"Understandable, considering what he's been through."

"Oh, that was nothing. He could've lost an arm and had a hole drilled in his head. He got off lightly."

House rolls his eyes sardonically but there's no seriousness in his harshness. He's just trying to keep Chase calm.

The medic is trained to keep patients calm.

"It's a good job it was me on call. If I were in his shoes I wouldn't want a stranger

working on me. Nothing more comforting than a familiar face when your head's up in the clouds."

"You know the Brit?"

A look of confusion not too dissimilar to Chase's.

"I thought he was Australian…"

The medic's name is Eddie. Chase knows him. He's had dinner with him on three occasions because he attended a seminar last Spring that Eddie was a part of. Chase did a couple of lectures because intensive care is often a huge part in the patient's journey and it's useful to do some prep work whilst they're in the back of the ambulance. Eddie was intelligent and intuitive. Curious. Eager to learn. Chase liked Eddie. Cameron liked Eddie's wife, Shanice.

That was then, though, and this is now. Eddie tries to engage Chase whilst he's adjusting the mask on his face but the look he receives in response disturbs him. Chase looks…timid. Frightened, almost. There's no recognition.

He looks nervous as his eyes flicker between Eddie and House as if he's searching for protection. Reassurance.

"Prosopagnosia," House explains. "Difficulty in recognising faces. I've known him for years and he's been sporadically forgetting mine, too. Would you believe that?"

"What does that mean?" Eddie asks. His accent has always grated on House's nerves, so very New York, so very…lower class. He doesn't notice it now. All he notices is Chase's alarmed expression as it tries to force its way through the mask that the sedative has left him beneath.

"It means that he's most likely got pressure on his temporal lobe. He's been having trouble understanding simple words, too. Wernicke's Aphasia. It's another problem with damage to that area. His memory is…unstable at best. Chase is like an elephant. He never forgets. It's why you can never borrow money off him. The kid will probably still be holding grudges when he's seventy. Now? He can't even remember his own mother's name."

Hardly a memorable woman, but still.

He blinks. He forces himself to comply with his own head.

He finds the name from somewhere, conjured up by sheer determination that leaves him red faced and gasping for breath.

"Susan," Chase manages, his voice muffled by plastic and forced air. "My mum's name was Susan."

"And, your Dad's?"

That's too much to ask.

Everybody knows Chase's father's name. The look on his own face indicates the fact that he doesn't.

House nods his head as if he's won.

"Point proven."

Chase closes his eyes, defeated, dejected. If his hands were not occupied by needles and compromised nerves he might ball them up into fists of frustration. Instead he just tries to focus on his breathing; tries to get his mind away from the fact he can barely see any more, other than these dancing pink and blue butterflies that spread across his vision every time he moves his eyes.

They're pretty, at least. Distracting.

"Do you remember my name?" House asks. "Yours?"

The response is not forthcoming. The silence is…telling.

"Didn't think so."

House tells Chase he's too damaged to play clever at the minute and the patient doesn't deny it. He just looks a little sad, a little lost and far, far too young to be a doctor.

It's obvious he's tired. It's obvious that the combination of stress and medication and injury are taking their toll on him and now that he's in some kind of supportive environment House feels that he can finally let go; cut the apron strings a little.

He can reel out the leash just that tiny bit and finally give Chase a bit of rest.

"You're tired."

"So tired…"

"You need sleep."

A sound like a whimper. Delicate. Frail. "Please…"

Then quiet. House feels a pain in his stomach and he wonders if it's sympathy. Then he wipes it away, not allowing himself to feel that because it's such an alien emotion and one he cannot deal with right now.

It's not hard to sense Chase's need, though, and his vulnerability is plain to see.

"Be good, now," House says, as he touches that injured head. "Don't cause any trouble, Chase. Daddy needs some rest, too."

His voice is sarcastic but the words, they're not completely far from the truth. Chase just lies there, strapped down to a gurney lingering in a world where nothing is easy any more; where nothing is clear.

He feels he's been given permission to let go, though, and it helps.

It helps, a little, that he's granted authority to stop trying so hard.

House leans back and rests his head against the window. He closes his eyes, wondering how on Earth he didn't see this coming when he got out of bed this morning. He's normally so intuitive, can 'sense' when something bad's coming but he had no inkling. There were no moths flapping around in his stomach; no nestling worms biting through his intestines.

He felt…calm.

Now, he just feels tired, so tired, as though he's been awake for days, as though he hasn't had a moment's rest in as long as he can remember. He knows it's the physiological effects of that increase in adrenaline backing off, giving him an almost bipolar 'low' but still, it exhausts him and he allows himself a moment to simply…reflect.

He only rests for a second. Just a second; a split moment in time.

For that moment there is silence and he's peaceful. He rests within the moment, gathers it up and treasures it, relishes it, appreciates it. He ripples with the movement of the vehicle, moves and sways as it bends and brakes. His body is liquid, smooth and relaxed, and he drifts.

For just a second, he drifts away…but, Heaven can only last a moment for the Atheist before it's snatched away, stolen from him because he didn't believe.

The sound of shrieking alarms provides the wake up call that he didn't need and sends his body into overdrive yet again. It's loud. It's shrill. Eddie springs to action without so much as a flinch but House is fast too, fast when he needs to be, alert when it's necessary.

He almost curses Chase for not doing as he's told but then he sees the devastating effect this evening is having on the boy and the sentiment dies in his arms.

"He's seizing," Eddie yells, as if that much isn't obvious.

The fragile body jerks with a force it shouldn't be capable of. The veins in Chase's neck stand out against the skin, his temples throbbing with the unbelievable strength of the electrical storm that wreaks havoc upon him like lightning pummelling the flimsy branches of a newborn tree. His body, held to the gurney with black straps, strains against them. They'll mark him. They'll leave bruises like lashes over his arms and chest.

His eyes are wide open but white, no colour, no pupil, no iris, just red; red where white should be and he's bleeding out of his ear.

House calls out his name; calls out his name as the alarms scream out "stop" and "help" and "ACT!"

For a second House feels helpless. Useless, as the first injection does nothing. Powerless, as the second does little to calm these raging muscles, as the monitors screech and shout and scream and deafen and as God. Looks. Away.

House hasn't prayed since he was eleven years old but he finds himself pleading for resolution as this act plays out before him, begging for some divine intervention because he can't lose him now. Not here. Not like this.

Not after all that's gone before.

(*)

The seizure lasts four minutes.

With the amount of drugs House had Eddie pump into Chase he'll be practically comatose, if he isn't already. By the time his body stills he's unconscious. Barely breathing.

His chest rises and falls with a raggedness that cannot be sustained, not with his body this weak and his brain this taxed.

"It's over," Eddie pants, the sweat dripping into his eyes and his whole body a mess of tangled muscles and tension.

For now, it's over, but the patient is weary and spent and his 'guardian' is close to breaking point.

"Jesus Christ," House says, and his tone suggests he's angry with the patient, something which Eddie simply cannot understand.

He cannot understand the complex relationship this man has with his 'fellows'.

Chase hates to depend upon anyone but House can see he can't do it alone, any more, that this is too much work for him to manage by himself. He's crashed, and there's nothing House can do but try to keep him alive for the remaining six minutes of the journey.

He's kept him alive for this long but now it just seems…out of his hands.

"Just relax," he says, as he tilts Chase's head back. "Try not to start breakdancing again. It isn't cool."

Isn't cool but terrifying, and House isn't a man that scares easily.

There's no resistance when he's intubated. His level of consciousness isn't enough for the gag reflex to kick in. House wonders whether he truly is unconscious or simply too exhausted to respond.

The seizure threw him around like a ragdoll. His body remains that pliable now that the tension has ebbed away.

"There. All done."

He doesn't look human like this, with a tube coming out of his mouth and a thick metal bar entering and exiting his body as if it's a part of him. House tapes the same tube to the side of Chase's face so gently, stroking a finger along his cheekbone as he does so. Again, it's a comforting gesture masked as medical intervention. Again, he can't afford to be 'open' about his concern.

He whispers softly to Chase, so softly that the ambulance crew cannot hear because these words are not meant for them. House wonders if they're even meant for him.

Somewhere, somewhere inside, Chase hears.

Hears House, cold House, rigid House, careless House telling him "Hold on," telling him "we're almost there" as he pumps air into his lungs; as he breathes for him, speaks for him, lives for him.

He's happy, then. Happy to succumb to the darkness because he knows he won't be alone in it.

He's happy to give in because he knows that House is there to hold him above the water; to stop him from drowning or falling beneath.

He's never had that faith in any one before.

He's never had the trust to simply let go.

PART 10

Wilson has always been tolerant. He's an elastic band that never snaps. You can push it, pull it, twist it, manipulate it and it will never break, will never tear and, most importantly to House, will never leave.

He's the doormat that House has walked over for years but he's the only doormat House would ever want. He's soft beneath his feet. He doesn't gristle. He doesn't complain. There's 'give' in Wilson, always has been, and though House is prone to 'take' he only takes what Wilson can afford to hand over. He's sensitive, but Wilson is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He's one of the strongest men that House has ever met.

They're good friends. To those on the outside it seems one-sided but House offers Wilson more than anyone could ever imagine, bounces off him, judges him when he needs to be judged and calls him out when he needs that, too.

House thinks that Wilson is pathetic…but, that's fine, because Wilson thinks that House is mentally deficient and it works, somehow.

They work.

"You shouldn't still be here," Wilson says. "It's two in the morning."

"If I wasn't here I'd be at a bar somewhere chasing down Vicodin with vodka and absinthe. Would you prefer that?"

"No, but…"

"But nothing. Either sit down or shut up. Better still, go away. Haven't you got a girlfriend to pleasure? I'm sure she won't appreciate being left home alone to her own devices. She might, God forbid, leave the toilet seat down if she's left alone."

He sighs. He rubs his head with his temples because he's tired but he knows he'll never sleep. The day has left him exhausted…but he can't leave it, now.

"Toddle off home, Wilson. I don't need you here."

The answer is firm. Fair. There's no give in it. House needs that, sometimes, a person with no give, a person that won't let up.

"No."

Wilson is one of the only men who will stand up to and defy House; one of the only men that House would take it from. He doesn't have many friends, but at a push he might provide Wilson with that title; that label.

Wilson has always been tolerant…but, he can't tolerate this. He won't. He won't sit back and watch House wrap himself up in this obsession, this compulsion, this hopeless quest for something that Wilson will never understand.

At least…he won't let him do it alone.

He's been sat on the 'observation deck' for two hours. There are two empty cups of coffee at his feet. There is an endless supply of silence around him. He hasn't eaten. He hasn't showered, has snapped at anyone who has tried to get near as if this were his place, his territory and as if they were not welcome within in. He's pissed in every corner, metaphorically, has laid claim to the young man on that operating table because he saved him, because he dragged him out of that place and in a way that makes him his.

He watched alone.

He watched alone as Foreman ran the clippers along Chase's skull, watched as the fine blond hair fell to the ground, so carefully procured in recent weeks and now so ruined. It lay scattered, a thin layer of sand around blue-plastic feet.

He looked like a baby bird. Newborn and vulnerable.

When they'd taken the scalpel to his shaven skin and peeled it back he'd forced himself to stay with it, watch as they scoured that horse-shoe shape into his head that will scar beneath his hairline, watched as Chase didn't move; looked dead already. For a split second he thought he'd noticed Foreman's hands trembling but perhaps that was House's tired eyes.

The only words Foreman has offered in his direction have been "House, go home."

"Whatever for?" he'd replied. "There's nothing on TV."

The grains of Earth still cling to his skin, the remnants of Chase's blood still nestled beneath his fingernails. When Wilson places a hand on his shoulder it feels dirty and dry, as if it's turning to ashes and dust before his eyes.

"I told people to stay away," House warns, but he doesn't push. "What makes you think I'll let you in?"

Wilson analyses the tone of his voice and it's accepting. Almost.

He doesn't lean into Wilson's touch but he doesn't push it away, either.

"You could at least clean yourself up," he says, "if you must be here."

"Again, I ask, what for? I'm not performing surgery. I'm watching it."

A pause. A beat. He sounds…wracked. Ravaged.

"I'll shower when it's over."

"It's a delicate operation. Foreman said it could be hours. The fracture, it was…messy. He wants to make sure he gets all of the bone before he closes up."

Depressed fracture. Fragmented. The shards of glass Chase felt were actually shards of skull. The damage is located where House anticipated it would be. Temporal lobe. It's too soon to tell how bad. Fragments of skull had penetrated the tenderness of his brain tissue and are now carefully pulled away by a man he's laughed with, joked with, fought with.

Foreman wanted to do the surgery.

House thought that Chase would've wanted that.

He knows the first 72 hours after surgery are critical. He'll be kept sedated. Comatose. Ventilated, to allow his body to concentrate only on gluing itself back together. It'll only be when he wakes up that they'll be able to see what remains of the Robert Chase they knew; whether he'll be changed substantially, whether he'll be a different person entirely.

House knows the effects of temporal lobe injury; knows that Chase could suffer from any number of them or none at all. He knows that his memory could be impaired, short and long term, that his organisational skills may be compromised. Both of these symptoms would make his job impossible. Difficulty in identification and categorisation would ruin him as a diagnostician.

"He didn't want to lose the arm because he'd risk his job as a surgeon," House explains. "It might be all over anyway."

"He's a strong-willed guy, House. If anyone can fight back, it's him."

"Oh, yeah? And, who'll push him but me? If it hasn't escaped your attention nobody gives a fuck about him. Do you see any distant family here to cry for him? Where's his wife?"

"Ex-wife, and she's not here because you threatened her off. She's downstairs, House. She's too scared to come anywhere near."

"Good."

The word is spoken bitterly. Wilson wonders just what was said down there in that cavernous place to make House so anti-Cameron; to make her suffer the way he has.

His hand forms a fist. The urge to punch and shatter the glass in front of him is strong, so strong, because even if they save his life they might end it. He'll need further surgery once he's stable on his arm, on his leg. House concludes he'll be spending a lot of time up behind this window in coming days but knows it's a damn site better than spending his time wondering who, if anyone, would turn up to the poor kid's funeral.

"It'll take a long time for him to recover but he will recover."

"You don't know that. What are you, Mystic Meg?"

"I'm your friend. I'm his friend. We won't let him go through this alone. We'll push him when he needs pushing. We'll back off when he needs that, too. I know you, House. You don't give up on a challenge. You get these…obsessions. You won't let him sit back and take this."

He sighs.

"God knows, how many times you've pushed me when I just wanted to curl up and give in."

He feels Wilson sitting down beside him but he doesn't turn to look. He doesn't reiterate his 'need' to be alone because at this moment in time it kind of feels good to have someone near him.

He turns his head but doesn't look Wilson in the eye. He looks past him, gathers him up in his peripheral vision.

He doesn't want to portray his own need.

"His vitals look good," Wilson acknowledges, as he eyes the young man sadly, so full of life only a few weeks ago as he sang with the man that saved him; with the other man that attempts to save him now in a sterile, clinical room.

He smiles a little. "He's so particular about his hair."

"His soft, luxuriant hair," House mocks, channelling Cameron's voice.

Wilson sounds serious, now. A little scared. "He looks about twelve."

"He is about twelve. Or five. I'm surprised he doesn't still wear nappies, as the English call them."

He sighs, hard done by - pretends to be the ever-suffering father who just can't get his kid to stop disobeying him.

"I don't know how many times I've warned him about putting things in his mouth. Pens. Rulers. Plastic wrappers. I thought kids grew out of those habits? He'll be chewing on that ET tube the minute he wakes up. Might even cry when we take it out. We might have to give him a pacifier. Or, sorry, a dummy."

"Oh, I'm sure you'll give something him to suck on," Wilson says, then immediately chokes on his own words when House stares at him incredulously.

"Wilson!"

"I-I don't mean like, like that…I mean…"

He flushes furiously. The colour paints those delicate, Jewish cheekbones as he writhes in his own misplaced words. It breaks the mood, somehow. House smiles, smiles for the first time in what feels like a long, long while as he places a hand on Wilson's leg and pats it, fraternally.

"You always know what to say, Jimmy," he says, in mock accusation. "You always know how to lower the tone. You should be ashamed of yourself. The kid might die."

"I know, I know, I just…"

The flush depends. It's furious, spreads across his face like a blanket of heat-based humiliation as he buries his face in his hands.

"God, I should never, ever speak."

"Why not? You're a world of comedy in any event. I should hire you out for children's parties. We'd make a fortune."

"It's good to know that my shame is your gain, House."

For a fragment in time they're just Wilson and House again, sat side by side making a mockery of the world.

For one little moment they're just…here, with no subtext, no background, no dire, deathly situation.

House laughs. Wilson laughs too.

Sometimes, moments like this need a bit of relief, even if it's only fleeting. Even if it doesn't last for long.

Part 11

The surgery ends at 4am. House remains present whilst Chase is sewn up and whilst stark white bandages are wrapped around his broken head. The drainage tube that's kept in place to spit blood away from the injury is grotesque but the shell, the body, it's still Chase's.

"You did good," Foreman says, as he places a hand gently on the side of his patient's face. "You did good, man."

He feels like he's been watched from above but it wasn't God. It was House.

Foreman looks up though the obs deck window. His face is strained. Exhausted. Pale, if it could ever be pale. Five hours of surgery will do that to a person, will leave them drained, emotionally and physically. He can feel a stress headache building in his temples; has to wonder whether or not it's 'sympathy pain' for the man he just attempted to put back together.

Foreman hopes he's kept the seams neat; that he's left Chase with at least some semblance of normality.

House presses the intercom button and asks "What's the verdict, Doctor Foreman?" and whilst Foreman can see that he's attempting to remain light-hearted he's shocked at the sound of the tattered voice.

He attempts a thumbs up but the sentiment doesn't reach his eyes. Whilst his actions suggest a good result his face reflects the worry that these forthcoming days will bring, the unpredictability that follows this kind of operation.

"You should go home, House. We're taking him to recovery. You know he's off-limits until we move him to the ICU."

Foreman knows that Chase is terrified of the thought of being a patient in his own comfort zone. He's said it time and time again, that ICU is a torture chamber and that the things done to patients in the name of curing them are incredibly cruel.

It's hard being a doctor, knowing what torments one looks forward to when they walk the shoes of those on the other side.

(*)

It's only now that the immediate danger has passed that House knows he's crashing, too. His whole body becomes a mass of jagged nerve endings, his every waking muscle giving in on him as he falls into the seat he's dragged himself out of.

He knows the expression bone-tired and he's certainly that. The ache settles in his tibia, his fibula, in his spine, in his clavicles. His arms hang limp at his sides and his head begins to swim with the need for sleep.

Foreman was correct when he said "there's nothing you can do, now," was correct when he established the fact that until he's settled in his 'new' room tomorrow he will be out of bounds.

If he were not so tired the words would've been like telling a four year old "don't touch that" or warning a person "don't look down." Being told he could not be somewhere would've made House want to be there all the more but he's burning out, he can feel it, and Chase needs him alert and in focus.

They're 'packing him up,' now. They're taking him away. His body is a mass of tubing and medical equipment but he's in there somewhere. It's funny how House can only 'see' him now when he never 'saw' him before, even when he's barely visible.

It's daunting, the feeling that's built up inside of House these past hours. It presses hard on his chest.

It almost hurts.

He places a hand on the glass as Chase is wheeled away and when he's certain that nobody's looking he whispers the words "Sleep well."

(*)

She looks small and fragile, her arms wrapped around her body and the remnants of dried tears so prevalent on her face.

Her mascara has ran across her face and she's paler than House remembers. The mask she wears is one of devastation. House wants to apologise to her and tell her that Chase isn't dead yet, that the grieving widow look has been born before its time but even he's not that cruel.

She stands immediately as if expecting something. House doesn't know what that 'something' is but he's not going to give her what she wants.

Chase's voice, so soft, so quiet, echoing in his ears with such delicacy and such graceful sadness as he told him "All I wanted was for her to tell me that everything would be alright. I wasn't asking for much. I'd have done the same for her."

House can see she's frightened to approach him, as if the years she knew him never happened and the man before her is a a hostile stranger. Her steps are tentative. Her legs are shaking as if the stress of holding her upright is too much for them to handle.

"How is he?" she asks. Her voice is low, as shaky as her legs. It doesn't sound like her voice and, to House, she doesn't look like Cameron.

He wonders who this stand-in woman is and what happened to the girl he once knew?

Did she die along with that dictator?

"She told me you'd broken me and that she couldn't be around me any more. Why wouldn't she fix me? Was I not worthy enough to be fixed? I loved her. I really thought she loved me, too, but now I'm not so sure."

He knows he's being intentionally cruel when he walks straight past her; when the words "Go home" leave his mouth only when he's left her behind.

He doesn't want to see her tears. He doesn't want to look at her sad, pathetic little face and wonder whether she had more sadness for her other husband. He doesn't want to look into her eyes and wonder if Chase had been searching for this kind of emotion in her face when he was pleading with her not to leave him to deal with his demons alone.

"House."

She screams his name in hysterical frustration; tells him he has no right to treat her this way. That man is her husband until the paperwork is complete and she has rights.

"I have rights…"

That pisses him off. Those words, they leave a sour taste in House's mouth and he's not going to let it go. He looks her right in the eye and lets her know that he means every word that he says.

"You lost your rights the minute you left him, Cameron. Is puppy more appealing now that he's got a broken leg?"

"No, I – "

"Grow up."

She bites her lip desperately. House has always wondered whether Cameron's 'little girl' routine is manipulative; cultured from the thought of not getting her own way. He's always been cynical of her apparent innocence; her Little Miss Muffett vulnerability.

He's cynical of it now when she whispers her heartbroken plea.

"Why won't you let me near?"

House refuses to be drawn in. His mind is one-track.

Chase doesn't need her screwing with his head. It's screwed up enough as it is.

"Because I have to think of what's best for the patients of this hospital and he's better off without you. Now, go home."

He knows she won't. He knows she'll pull the 'Next of Kin' card and when he returns she'll be sat with Chase's still hand in her own, reminiscing about the old days of risqué sex in closets and all of the 'wonderful' things they did together.

She'll conveniently leave out the part where she left him close to breaking point because that's not part of the 'fairytale'. That's not part of the illusion that is Allison Cameron.

She's angry now, though, and her face contorts from pretty to grim

"You can't suddenly change your whole M.O and pretend to give a damn," she calls out. "You treated him like something you scraped off your shoe and now you're laying claim to him?"

It's so easy to lay the blame at someone else's door when your own blame runs so deep.

"I admit that I'm a hypocrite, Cameron," House replies. He looks her in the eye and says "Can you?"

He walks away. He can hear her sobbing and for a second it does strike a chord but he carries on walking, thankful at least that somebody fought Chase's corner on this matter; that someone thought of what was best for him and not best for the sobbing little child that's so desperate for something that nobody can give her.

Part 12 and 13

Cuddy has always felt something for chase. Pity, perhaps. Sympathy for the loveless life he has led.

To Cuddy, Chase has always been one of life's tragic figures, like Oliver Twist. She's felt pangs for him, maternal pangs, has seen the way his hair would fall so haplessly into his eyes and wanted to brush it away; tell him that life would be okay.

At times, she's wanted to hold him.

She imagines him as an eight-year-old boy with dirt on his face holding his hands out for something that would never come. That's how he looked to her down beneath the ground. Young. Needy. Not the cold, insular young man she has grown to care about, on some level; the not-so-rich boy they all assumed to know yet never did.

She looks in on him in recovery and it breaks her heart to see a man so fiercely independent looking so nakedly vulnerable. There is livid bruising to his bare chest. When Cuddy inhales she swears she can feel it. His lungs rise and fall with the mechanical push and pull of the ventilator he depends upon and it doesn't look healthy. It doesn't look real.

He looks like a mannequin. Perfect. Smooth. Robotic, almost.

He's not alone. Cuddy isn't surprised. She knows she'd do the same. She called Cameron because she felt she had a right to know, knows she would've wanted to know herself.

The observing doctor stands beside her, watching the patient through the window.

"She wouldn't leave. She was getting in the way. It was easier just to let her sit with him. She hasn't been any bother."

He's only been here four months. He doesn't know Cameron; doesn't know the history between the two of them. Not with any degree of clarity.

It's probably better that way.

"She hasn't taken her eyes off him in hours."

Drawn to him, she is, like a moth to a flame, so much easier to talk when he can't talk back. Cuddy wonders if Cameron is after absolution. Forgiveness. Chase is incapable of offering either.

She asks how he's doing. Fine, they say, considering all things. The surgery went well. No immediate complications. His vitals are stable. Slightly elevated temp but they're running through antibiotics. He's doing good. Real good, considering.

She looks serious, as if she wants straight talk and nothing else. This is a 'boss' talking, now, not a friend.

Cuddy wonders if she's ever been a friend.

"How bad was the damage when he was opened up?"

"Moderate. The fracture wasn't clean. The damage is isolated to the one area, but..."

" - Will he ever practice medicine again?"

The momentary pause is telling.

"It's too early to tell."

It makes her cold, somehow, those words, that truth.

She pulls get jacket closed and shivers, a little.

(*)

She just wants him clean. It's all she ever wanted, to wash away his sins and make him perfect again.

Cameron doesn't realise that Chase never was.

She lifts his hand gently and uses a warm towel to clean away the remnants of dirt that still lingers on his skin. She does it in silence because she has nothing to say.

His skin feels familiar but he's lost his shine, somehow. He's still beautiful, though, even like this

It's hard to believe she used to sleep in his arms when this whole thing feels like intruding.

"How long have you been here?" Cuddy asks. So lost was Cameron that she didn't even know she was there.

The voice is monotone. It's black and white. There's no colour in Cameron this morning.

"All night."

"Have you had any sleep?"

"No. I thought if I left him alone he might fade away."

He did, Cuddy wants to say. He did fade away, but he came back. He moved on. There's been light in his eyes, of late.

Don't ruin that, she wants to say, but she can't.

Cameron inhales deeply, a shuddering breath. She closes her eyes and imagines herself sat in a small wooden box talking to Cuddy from behind slats and grates.

This is confession with no God to hear.

"I wanted to make amends. I thought I could."

She can't. She never will.

Cuddy resents the fact she has to play mother, here, that she has to hold everyone's hand. She resents that she has to hold it together when she wants to bury her head in the sand.

"House told me to stay away as if I did this to him, as if this is my fault."

Harsh words. Harsh thoughts. Cuddy looks at Cameron, so lost in her own sense of concern, and she tells her that House is right.

"Not about it being your fault but about you needing to stay away."

She might not want to hear it. It might sound out of tune to Cameron's ears but she has to think of Chase. Even if it goes against everything she believes to be right, he is the important factor, here.

"If he wakes up and sees you here it's only going to confuse him. It's going to be hard enough for him without having to deal with his feelings for you. Chances are he might not remember who you are. What you are to him. Or, what you were...

Past tense. It only serves to remind Cameron she has no place here, now. She has no divine right.

"I don't want to hurt him…"

"Then, you need to leave him alone."

It's a bitter truth but it is the truth.

Cameron nods her head, doesn't trust her voice. She dries her eyes and draws to a close.

She touches Chase's hand. Squeezes it. The motion is unrequited. There's not a whimper, not a sigh. There's just…silence.

"I'm sorry", she says, because she is. Always was. She just hasn't said it.

It's hard to watch for Cuddy, this woman so wrapped up in bitter-sweetness, this slip of a girl who doesn't know what's right and what's best.

She watches Cameron lean down softly, so gently. She kisses Chase goodbye again.

She doesn't have to see his broken emptiness this time.

She tells him she loves him. Present tense. It's as painful to hear as it is to see. Then, she leaves. She leaves as if she was never here and the room is once more empty.

There is quiet. Stark quiet.

There is quiet and there is nothing.

Cuddy sits down next to Chase. For a moment she just looks at him, looks at his bruised body and his motionlessness. She imagines him with a pen in his mouth and a smile on his face and it's hard to see him so devoid of that character.

She feels guilt. Strong guilt.

She, too, tells him that she's sorry.

Then she picks up where Cameron left off, taking that cloth to his skin in comfort, in silence.

(*)

Three days.

Three days, they keep him sleeping, locked in a world where nothing happens; where he cannot even dream. His ICP remains low, his blood pressure stable. His temperature was a little elevated but the antibiotics brought it down to an acceptable level by the time forty-eight hours had passed.

His pulse is strong.

Chase fights hard, as hard as Wilson said he would, as readily as House anticipated he would on his lighter moments, doubted when the mood turned dark.

For three days, House sleeps in a plastic chair next to his bedside, no longer understanding the concept of 'visiting hours' because they don't apply to him; because this is his place and this is his employee and those two things alone give him rights beyond rights. Wilson gives up trying to drag him away and brings him dinner served in Tuppaware to save him from starving to death

Sometimes, he sits with him. They talk about Monster Trucks and baseball. It's normal. It's nice. Thirteen drops by with a toy poodle in a pink, studded collar. She leaves it at Chase's bedside and calls it a 'private joke'.

House wonders how much of Chase he doesn't know, how many parts of him are given away in tiny snippets to different people who exist in his life. He wonders if they all got together they'd each have tiny pieces of Chase that could be fit together to make a real person, a living, breathing jigsaw puzzle.

For three days Chase lies perfectly still, white bandages against white pillows, pale skin sinking back into the colourlessness of this place. He remains critical but stable, kept in such a base state that the only thing his brain has to focus on is remaining alive.

Machines breathe for him. Hospital staff feed him, wash him, care for him as if he were their child; as if they were the mother and father he no longer has. They remove his bandages to clean the wound in his head. It's livid, blood-red and stapled shut.

It's clean. Ugly, but clean.

His face looks so thin without the feathery-blond that usually frames it. House wonders if he'll ever look the same.

He mocks him incessantly, calls him lazy and work-shy, all the while wondering if he can hear him on any level; whether his voice is infiltrating the carefully created 'bubble' he's been placed within. He imagines Chase trapped inside of himself, desperate to retort but unable to do so, imagines that boyish face all crunched up and desperate, biting on that bottom lip so hard it bleeds. Bloody bastard, he'd call him.

Bloody bastard.

For three days it's just House and Chase. House, Chase and the noisy, incessant peacelessness of Intensive Care where Chase used to come, so ironically, to rest.

To seek quiet.

To kiss his wife where nobody could say a word.

Cameron doesn't come, knows House only too well, that he'll see this as a game, a challenge that she's not willing to pick up, at this moment in time. Cuddy doesn't tell House of her visit that first night, a private moment between a woman and the man she once loved.

She doesn't want to give House any ammunition…

She calls every day, twice a day, and is given the same information at every call.

No change.

House doesn't know what she's expecting. Chase is comatose. It's protocol, following neurosurgery, three days of silence before the patient is gradually brought back to the world; resurrected in stages. Still, she stays away, which House again sees as a victory as if he and she are vying for the attentions of a man who cannot give attention at all.

At the end of the third day House eats a stolen sandwich that Wilson lovingly prepared for himself and tells Chase that he's tired of watching him sleep.

He sighs.

He asks him, "Are you not pretty enough?"

Part 13

On the fourth day, Chase's sedation is reduced, his paralysis withdrawn entirely. The tube is removed from his throat and he's permitted to breathe the air for himself for the first time since the reflex was taken over from him. Chase wakes up in such a panic that he knocks a nurse unconscious as she's trying to reach him to calm him down. It's cliché. House should've known. It's a scene from a movie. He never should've left.

He promised he wouldn't leave but he had to…

Watching Chase cough so pitifully when they extubated left House with such a bitter taste that he found himself wanting to throw up; wanting to throw up as that too-long, too-thick tube was pulled from Chase's airway; as the alarm bells starting ringing as his oxygen levels dropped so harshly. House needed air as Chase tried to breathe it. He's seen it done a thousand times but never to Chase…never to Chase…

Never to Chase, whose screams he can hear, so pained in their gravel-throated agony, so muted in their still-sedated weakness but at least he's alive, he's alive to make those sounds.

"What happened?" he asks, as he moves as fast as his legs, leg, will carry him. Then more quietly, as if to ease the tension,"Did someone show him a mirror? For the love of God, it'll grow back."

He's joking – but he can't hide the tremble in his tone or the look, that look in his eyes that suggests he's scared out of his mind because this is the moment of the big reveal. This is that life or death second where it all just comes to fruition.

Foreman's been attending. He's been overlooking Chase's reintegration with the conscious world.

He shakes his head, as if the words he needs to speak are no longer a part of him.

(*)

"You restrained him? Jesus Christ, Foreman, what were you thinking?"

"I had no choice. He doesn't know what he's doing. He knocked the obs nurse unconscious. She's getting checked out in the ER as we speak. He attacks anyone that goes near him."

"He doesn't know where he is. You expected a loving embrace? A kiss on the cheek? When does this ever go smoothly?"

Foreman's own arms are scraped and bloodied where Chase clawed him in an effort to get free. Right now he's thrashing against the straps that hold him down, his eyes wild, his screams wilder.

"He needs a sedative, House. He can't go on like this."

"He just woke up and you want to snow him in again?"

"He's not stable."

His vitals are unstable. He's unstable, yet the only thing House sees when he looks at him now is a kid that's scared out of his mind and needs something that House is willing and able to give, even if Foreman isn't.

He'll take a risk because he knows what Chase is looking at, now, and it's not a pleasant sight. He knows the darkness, the depth and the terror of this disorientation because he's felt it, too.

"Give me a few minutes," House says. "If I can't get him calm you can drug him into next week. Just…give me a chance."

Foreman wants to refuse. He wants to refuse and keep Chase nice and tight, nice and safe, nice and unconscious until things are better; until he's less unstable.

He knows they're playing with fire every time they bring a person round after surgery like this…

"House, he's…"

" - Foreman, just give him a damn minute. He's not just anyone."

No, he's not.

Looking at House, now, worn and unshaven and still wearing yesterday's clothes, Foreman has to wonder if that's a negative point.

(*)

He unfastens the restraints and leaves Chase flailing and free. He lets those straps fall to his sides where Chase can see them. He wants him to know that they're not trying to hurt him; that this world of pain he's awoken to isn't something they're trying to enforce upon him.

His anger is unbridled. His fear, that's immeasurable.

"Shh," House says, "look. Look. They're off. They're gone."

The words don't get through. They don't penetrate. They don't breach the screaming, manic wall that Chase has built up around him and for a moment they're back down in that cave and Chase is yelling, yelling so loudly as if it's the only thing that tells him he's still alive.

"Look at me," House demands, pulling Chase's hands up together in front of him to 'ground' him, to centre him. "Listen to me, Chase."

Chase tries to pull away. He tries to escape. He refuses to look House in the eye because he's distressed, because he's confused and because he doesn't know what they want from him.

He has the feeling of being buried alive. He thrashes, his head moving from side to side as if he's trying to shake some sense into himself. He's only putting himself at risk.

"Chase, stop acting like a child."

It's hard to get through to someone whose brain is compromised; whose body depends upon mechanical interventions to keep it functioning. The monitor begins to wail. It takes House back to the rude awakening in the back of the ambulance when Chase's body began to seize and when everything became suffocatingly real. His wrenching, writhing wildness leaves his arm bleeding as he tears out his arterial line. It spurts momentarily before settling on a pretty red pattern splattered across the white of the bed sheets.

Rorschach has nothing on Chase…

"Look what you've done," House says, as stern as a teacher, "we're going to have to put that back in. You want to pull a few more out and have us replace them, too? It won't be pretty. You know that much."

His tone is unpleasant but the blood and the voice break through the panic. The blood frightens Chase. His face reflects the abject terror as he tries to get up; tries to get away but the grip tightens. House won't let him do this and even when he takes Chase's fist to the side of his face he won't give in.

It doesn't hurt. He doesn't draw blood. It won't even bruise but it's enough. If he weren't in such a state House would undoubtedly hit him back but right now that's not important. What's important is that he's still. Quiet.

Alive, but not like this. He'll leave fingermarks over Chase's arms but he doesn't care, doesn't care that he'll mark him and bruise him, doesn't care that he'll write his signature across the pale skin. Sometimes it takes a firm hand.

"Damn it, STOP struggling. Stop!"

The struggles lessen, then they cease. The look of utter wildness in Chase's eyes fades away replaced by something else, something different.

"Just…stop," House reiterates, as if to consolidate it, as if to make sure.

For a few moments there is quiet. Perfect silence.

House looks at Chase. Chase tries to look back. House speaks Chase's name – but Chase doesn't remember him. Not with any degree of certainty or clarity. Everything is familiar but it's all just out of his reach. House is just a man to him. He knows that he knows him but he doesn't know how.

"What do you want?" House asks him. "What do you need?"

It's part of the problem, the fact that he can't tell them. They say that the majority of children's tantrums come down to being unable to communicate their needs. Chase can't communicate his. He can't communicate what he's feeling because he can't remember how to speak

Words evade him. It should ease off once the swelling subsides but there are no guarantees. There never could be.

"Show me, if you can't tell me."

Chase just feels…out of control, but the blood scares him and the serious look in the other man's eyes puts the fear of God into him. He feels his own heart racing in his chest and it hurts. It hurts.

He knows, on some base level, that he cannot be trusted. He hurt that woman. He heard her cry out.

He hit this man.

He hurt her, he hit him and he doesn't know why; knows he can't do it again. Mustn't.

He whimpers, a plaintive cry. Again, he looks five years old with his head swathed in bandages and a feeding tube taped to the side of his frightened face, marring it somehow, spoiling it.

He closes his eyes, places his wrists into those unfastened restraints slowly, so slowly. He reflect something dark and empty, something wholly broken. He relinquishes control because he can't control himself. He asks to be restrained because he's so overwhelmed that he can't be trusted.

House watches his unsteady movements, uncoordinated, sluggish. Chase was never graceful but he was never this unsteady, either.

"You don't trust yourself. Is that right?"

Chase tries to respond but he can't. There's a 'link' that's been severed somewhere inside of him; a program that can't run because someone's deleted some of the relevant code. He's frustrated by his own lack of communicative skills. He can't tell them what he wants, what he needs, because it's all disjointed inside of him. There's no way of getting it out.

House touches his wrist. Touches the leather strap that he just removed from it. It's left a bruise already. It's left a mark.

He circles his finger absently over that wrist, feels the pulse quicken beneath him before those beeping monitors pick up on it. He knows that Chase wants to say something but can't, doesn't know how. The way that he swallows, the way that he shifts, the way that he looks so defeated…

House just understands.

"Do I need to put these back on?"

The eyes flicker to the left, to the right. The movement is slight but it's a response that House identifies and analyses. He reads it well. House offers him kinaesthetic communication as well as verbal in case he doesn't understand.

He touches his wrist. He touches the leather strap. He eyes him as if he's asking the question and Chase pushes his hand further, indicating what it is he requires.

"You understand what you need," House says. "That's a start. I wonder if you ever did before. I guess you're better off, in that sense."

Chase needs to be restrained.

He needs to know that he's safe.

House fastens the right wrist down slowly, as if to offer Chase the chance to change his mind. He doesn't miss the way the forearms tense, as if he's fighting against himself, but he doesn't pull his arms away. When House fastens the left wrist it's with more care. It's supported, his healing shoulder protected by pillows strategically placed behind it.

The elbow is encased in plaster, hindering the movement already. House assumes the cast on his arm is what injured the nurse but the fact is he was out of his mind, frighteningly confused by the kaleidoscope that forms his brain, these days.

"It wasn't your fault," he tells Chase. "You just…reacted."

He brushes a hand over Chase's head as if to prove a point. The reaction, once again, is violent. The look in Chase's eyes is one of uncontrollable rage, tempered only by pure, unadulterated terror. He makes a sound that's painful to hear, a stuttered mess of a word that House can't make any sense of at all. Don't, it could be. Stop. Leave.

Help. Please. Don't let me do this.

He's a wild animal, cornered and prodded with sticks and fingers.

"You don't want to be touched," House says, and he can't hide the fact that his heart skipped a beat, then, and his adrenaline went into overdrive. "I get that."

Another sound. Another unintelligible plea.

Another desperate look in eyes that look far, far too young to be this damaged.

"You get scared. You panic. You lash out. This place might as well be the Twilight Zone, for all you can understand it."

All of these people he doesn't remember trying to take pieces of him away with them to analyse and understand.

All of these pieces of machinery attached to his body; all of these tubes going in and out, constantly toyed with, constantly checked...

All of these sad, sad faces that he knows he should recognise but doesn't. All of these faces expecting something from him yet never quite establishing what.

Chase closes his eyes. He turns his head away, away from House, away from this man that's speaking to him in a voice that sounds so familiar; whose looking at him with eyes that he knows, that he's always known.

That's treating him in the way he feels he needs to be treated. Sternly. Harshly.

This man doesn't look at him as if a look alone could break him.

"You feel helpless because you can't do anything for yourself," House says. "You want to be left alone."

It's what House would want.

If Chase has any idea what is being said he doesn't show it. He just blinks slowly and stares. It's as if he can see beyond people but not inside of them; as if the world is something he can look through but can't be a part of, an almost-autistic quality as he lingers between worlds. House imagines he's underwater, fighting to emerge. It's a struggle and it takes time. Effort. It's exhausting.

This time, when House touches Chase's head he doesn't lash out. He just…lies there.

"Just rest. You look like shit."

He pushes a syringe into the IV line in Chase's wrist and watches as his eyes begin to flicker. It's light. It won't snow him but it'll help.

"I can make you sleep," he says, as if it's an achievement, but what he's really saying is "Give in to me. I can do what I think is best. I can help you."

Trust me, he says.

House knows how difficult it is not to trust yourself. He knows how it goes against human nature to place yourself at the mercy of somebody else; to relinquish control entirely.

He also knows that Chase needs this right now, this security, this protection against himself.

The aggression is a symptom; a side-effect of the damage that was done to him.

A by-product of fear.

Whether or not it'll form part of this patched-up, sewn together Robert Chase is yet to be seen.

Part 14

His interest in work is half-hearted, at best. He tries to draw it up from inside of himself but the reserves are dehydrated and in need of life support. It's hard to keep your focus in one place when your mind is back in a man-made mistake of a cavern and your thoughts are in a dark, clinical room just as claustrophobic as that place was.

Dimmed down, Chase's room is overbearing. Oppressive. It's intimidating, the flashing screens and the hanging bags, the lines and wires and plugs and sensors. House wonders if he escaped that prison only to be placed into another.

House feels trapped, too – trapped by the feelings Chase's vulnerability have brought up him. He doesn't feel right. He doesn't feel able to fight off the concern he knows he's exhibiting yet tries so hard to hide. He wonders whether that's why he's drawn to the young man; why he chooses to spend his every spare moment sat watching him.

They're both vulnerable.

There's something they share, now, the terror and fear of looking death in the face and laughing at it; at crawling out of Hell before it all collapsed around them. He wonders whether they exchanged something, down there in that place and whether they'll never be able to take it back. House feels as if Chase holds a piece of him, now, and if he were to let go he'd tip downwards, He would freefall.

He feels that Chase would, too, would descend into the chaos that drew them together.

It's amazing how relaxed Chase looks when he sleeps. House wonders if he ever looked this relaxed before, always noted something in his young employee, something pent up, something bubbling beneath that perfect façade.

Now, he watches him rest. He watches him awaken, too, sometimes to panicked alarms and desperate hands holding him down whilst the disorientation cuts through him but sometimes just to silence. Chase will look House in the eye and there'll be recognition there. There'll be familiarity.

He'll stare at House as if taking him in; as if trying to find a 'match' in the mismatch of his fractured brain.

"House. My name is House. Say it. You kiss my ass on a daily basis, for Christ sake. It's just one lousy syllable."

Chase doesn't even try.

It frustrates House as much as it unnerves him and when the doctors tell him not to expect too much he wants to scream at them loudly and tell them how much potential might well be lost if he doesn't 'expect too much', if he simply lets Chase become complacent in his confused little world.

Last night, Chase lay there tapping his fingers against the side of the bed. In a moment of exhausted hope, House wondered if he were tapping out Morse Code but there was no pattern to the movement. There was no code.

He pressed a hand against Chase's hand, restraining it, stilling it. Chase had smiled, as if House's presence pleased him, as if happy that his repetitive behaviour was forcefully stopped. He curled his fingers up in his sheets for security. For orientation. Then those soft, unfocused eyes slipped shut again, his face almost content.

House spent hours searching for meaning in the exchange but finding none.

Sometimes, when things start spinning out of control all Chase wants is for somebody to care enough stop him. To intervene. To hold his hands, tight and firm...

Sometimes, when he feels overwhelmed he just wants someone to touch him, to press a hand to his body. Head. Shoulder. Arm. It doesn't matter. The physical contact calms him, always did.

Chase will fall asleep if someone strokes his hair, a fact which Cameron found so sweet and endearing...

"Strong bonds are formed through near-death experiences," Cuddy tells him when she finds him once again sat beside the silent, sleeping doctor. She's used to finding him sleeping in empty exam rooms but of late he's drawn to this place. "It's natural you feel the need to be here."

"Strong bonds? Pffht. He has a TV that he's not watching and a chair with an awesome backrest. It's quiet."

"You haven't been home in days."

"I can catch a bit of shut-eye here without having to listen to Wilson bang the re-invented ex through the paper-thin walls."

"House…"

"You think I'm here for him? Seriously?"

"House, listen."

"The pommie idiot's not worth my time. I just like the ambience of this place."

"Greg, you need to get back to work."

Greg, now?

She blurts it out as if she's frightened to say it. House can feel her discomfort as readily as he can see it. Her face looks strained. She looks tense, terse and uncomfortable, as if asking him to do his job is something that's beyond her own right.

Her voice is when she tells him she understands his concern. He wants to laugh in her face and tell her she wouldn't have the faintest idea but instead he stands back and lets her have her say as she ponders the consequence of 'the team' being two men down instead of one.

She repeats herself.

"You need to get back to work. Have you even slept?"

"Quite well, actually. He doesn't snore. Does Lucas? Your eyes are looking a little dark these days."

She ignores the jibe, doesn't want to play along. She doesn't want to revisit the place she was in with House on the day this all happened.

"I understand you feel responsible for him."

"Oh, I don't feel responsible, Cuddy. I didn't send him underneath the ground chasing ghosts."

The words which go unspoken are 'you did', but that's neither fair nor right. Still, House knows that Cuddy heard them by the way she blinks a little too long, a little too hard, and swallows as if her throat were full of razor blades.

"You're not helping him and you're not helping yourself. More importantly, you're not helping this hospital. What happened to him is terrible but life goes on. He's being taken care of. He's safe."

"Safe. Right."

She sighs, as if reasoning with House is taking something out of her. She's been doing that more often, recently. House wonders if she's finally about to snap.

"House, he sleeps 20 hours a day. He doesn't need you watching him while he does it."

"He doesn't need to wake up alone. It doesn't sit well with him."

"Robert will be fine. It'll just take time."

There's something distasteful and frankly disturbing about the way she calls him 'Robert' in that same manner she personalises the dead; the way she calls terminal patients by their first name because she believes they deserve that 'respect'.

House looks at her.

Sometimes, she just couldn't see past her own name on the sign across her pretty, oak-carved door.

"I'm sure Robert would appreciate you doing your job, Cuddy. I'm sure he'd understand that your own staff comes secondary to the running of this place but I'm not going to leave him alone."

"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to do your job. By all means, sit with him in your spare time but we need you. I need you."

Yeah, House thinks.

Yeah, but he needs me more.

(*)

He arrives in his own diagnostics room as fresh as a daisy.

He doesn't do this for her, he does it for himself. He knows that Chase will be 'out' for at least six hours after the dosage he was given to get him through the process of cleaning the wound in his shoulder. It's packed. They've left it 'open' to reduce the risk of infection. The exit wound at the elbow was surgically dealt with, neatened and tidied, but the shoulder was a problem. The scars will be substantial but they're allowing it to heal from the inside out, just as they hope he will.

"Good morning," he tells his loyal pets, and when they ask him what he's doing there he pretends he hasn't heard them.

He's there because his back was beginning to hurt and his head was beginning to swim and he felt he needed something more.

The file is, as is customary, made of paper. When House slams it down on the table it sounds as though it's made of stone.

"Case," he says, stating the obvious.

It's 6.15 in the morning. Outside the window there is battering rain and grey, grey skies. It's dark, shades of black and dismal; hues of misery. Thirteen mentions something about the rain putting her in bad spirits but House doesn't believe the weather is reflective of mood. To think so, he believes, would be narcissistic. Egocentric. Two of the things they say he is but he believes he isn't.

"What do we have?" she asks. Her tone reads '"his had better be good."

"Eighteen year old female presenting with left-sided numbness, blood in the urine and respiratory distress."

It's not 'good' in the juicy sense of the word. It's not 'good' in the House definition of what 'good' is. His 'team' look blank, devoid of life this early in the morning. House, himself, has not slept but to look at him you wouldn't know. His eyes are still the same shade of cobalt-blue as they always are. The whites, they're…white, as if to spite Cuddy and her accusations of him not taking care of himself.

How she'd blushed when he sarcastically asked her to do it for him.

"Come on, people, look alive."

At least one of his team, currently absent, doesn't look alive at all but even Chase, in all his sedated, head-injured'glory', has more to him than they do.

Of them all it's Taub that looks the most worn down, the late nights getting the better of him.

"Look alive. There's no coffee, it's freezing cold and it's still dark outside. How are we supposed to function on four hours of sleep with no coffee?"

"Job satisfaction. The pleasure of being part of this team who, it seems, you've taken it upon yourself to speak on behalf of. Since when did you become head boy?"

"Not today," Taub replies.

Taub was never the favoured one. Never will be. House brushes him off as if his cries of tiredness and discomfort are insignificant.

"Symptoms came on periodically over two days. Little Miss Former Cheerleader didn't think the blood in the urine was a big deal, which only serves to back up my view that teenage girls are all idiots."

Thirteen takes the file first. It's not the usual 'pattern'. Normally it's Foreman. Then Thirteen. Then Chase. Taub waits until last, reads as if it's an afterthought and House wonders whether or not this is the hierarchy; the Chain of Command, with Foreman and Thirteen as the dominant 'parents' and Chase and Taub as the children that fight for the scraps.

Everything feels different today. The room is less 'sunshine' without Chase in it. Foreman's too black. Thirteen's too brunette. Taub's too…bald. It's like having a roast dinner without the potatoes, a game of football with only ten men.

It's a classroom without the scapegoat and they're all sombre, as if they're lost.

"Discuss amongst yourselves," House says as he fingers the black marker thoughtfully. "First person to come up with something interesting gets to feel good about themselves."

He puts the end of the pen in his mouth and it's as if he's wanting to recreate a piece of his absent employee in this room. Oral fixation, Chase called it, but House would just call it distraction. A habit stemming from insecurity.

The plastic tastes offensive but it's smooth on his tongue.

House enjoys the sensation.

"Paralysis indicates neurological," Taub says finally, when nobody else volunteers. He's the kid in the classroom that's too good to raise his hand, the one that knows all the answers yet rarely volunteers them because it's so beneath him. His voice holds that tone, as if this is all so easy for him, even when it's not.

House thinks it a defence mechanism because all his life he's been somewhat hopeless and he wants people to think that at least he's smart.

"Anyone else?"

"Kidney infection. Pneumonia."

Thirteen doesn't need to try. She was born with a gift of beauty but her liberal feminism lets her down, at times. House finds her cold and rigid, an ice-maiden, as such.

She's the only one of the three who hasn't been to visit, yet, other than to drop off that stupid stuffed toy. House wonders if it's because she sees herself in that hospital bed in years to come, achingly still and unable to function correctly. It's a state she sees almost every day but not in someone close to her.

He wonders if she's imagining them leaving flowers at her bedside; talking to her when she can't talk back.

"Neurological issue. Kidney infection. Pneumonia. That's three."

Thirteen is such an unlucky number. "They say bad luck comes in threes…"

"And, here it is sat right in front of me with ill-fitting shirts, no cleavage and bags under his middle aged eyes after a midnight booty call."

He stares at Taub and asks, "Was she good?"

"Could be a blood-borne bacterial infection," Foreman says, ignoring the slight on his colleague's fidelity. "File says she's been doing a lot of travelling recently. She could've been bitten without knowing – "

" – travelling to Texas, not Kenya. Do you actually read the notes or do you just fill in the blanks?"

The sarcasm doesn't flow like it should. Right about here would be where he dreamed up an anecdote for his aforementioned blond scapegoat to fit the also aforementioned 'unlucky rule of three', a story of how a poor, young man from the other side of the globe was unfortunate enough to be born with an aversion to fashion, an absent parentage and an inability to hold down a marriage.

Chase is so easy, with red and white circles on his forehead that only House can see. House seems lost without the interaction, can't find anything clever to say.

He's hindered by lack of inspiration, struck dumb, as if he's lost his mojo.

It gnaws at him, bites away flesh, skin and spirit and that little voice in the back of his head tells him he shouldn't really be here.

"House – "

He realises he's been staring at an empty whiteboard for two full minutes, his silence and thought broken only by the sound of Foreman's voice.

He looks up.

Then, he gives up, absolves himself of responsibility because it's about time he gave them some of their own.

"The patient, House? She's not going to send the answers telepathically to the whiteboard if you stare at it long and hard enough."

No, she isn't.

He looks up, taps his cane against the side of the table. His body language suggests that he's done; that he's wrapping things up.

He throws the pen to Foreman, his Second in Command and his reflex is excellent, if nothing else, as he catches it in his left hand.

"She's all yours," he says, as he wipes his hands of all of them. They don't entertain him. They don't hold his attention. This case, it's not unbreakable. "If you can't figure out something as simple as this then you shouldn't be working for me."

He wonders if that's why he took it, so that he could pass it off to them without having that itching, gnawing worry that they're going to mess it all up.

So that he could palm it off without Cuddy telling him he's passing the buck.

"Where are you going?" Foreman asks, as if he doesn't already know.

"I'm putting in a shift in the ICU. Beats clinic duty. Don't squabble amongst yourselves when I'm gone. Foreman's the oldest so he's in charge."

"I'm older," Taub says, then shifts a little as if it's uncomfortable to admit.

House stares at him, deadpan, mock judgmental.

"Foreman has morals. It's important."

(*)

Part 15

The conscious world, to Chase, is a cavernous mouth trying to pull him forth and devour him. It's intimidating and frightening, as though there is a film over everything and everything is simply too bright, too loud, too large, too much.

He screams, a sound he can't hear but can feel in his throat, struggles hard but isn't able to move. He imagines it's hands holding him down and the voice that shouts in his face is threatening and damaging.

He feels a pull in his wrist as it twists. The pain shoots up his arm, white-hot, agonising.

It hurts. It hurts as they hurt. It hurts as they hurt him.

"Chase, it's House," the voice tells him. "My name is House. You know me. You know me, Chase. Stay with me. Just look at me."

Louder, louder, and then softer. Quieter. He struggles to hear but he doesn't want to hear. He struggles to remember, doesn't want to remember.

The warm liquid in his veins sends him back underground, enveloped, as such, by the pull of drugs combining to create such a lulled world; a world which exists only to keep him safe and secure and yet ultimately scare him to death.

It's the drugs that do this to him; the drugs that soften him, at first, but eventually mess with his head.

When Chase was at school he 'experimented' with pharmaceuticals, a reckless, wayward move that he attributed to rebellion, to the need to shove it all in Daddy's face. On Friday nights he'd go out with the other kids. They'd party on the beach with log fires that they'd dance around as though they were ritualistic cannibals; tribal leaders, or the like.

They'd listen to The Prodigy which was noise, to many, but to them was an expression of the inner conflict of youth.

Chase would smoke weed to 'calm down', would enjoy the sedate, tranquil, peaceful world it placed him in because his own life was so full of chaos, the remnants of a dead mother on one hand and the fragments of an absent father on the other.

He never got on with his father's new wife, hated her spoiled daughters whose names were as pretentious as they were. Melandra. Beatrice. Twins, two years older than he was. Melandra rode horses and Beatrice studied philosophy. His father doted upon them soon after he married their mother in a way he never doted on his son. Years later, he would leave them his all whilst his own flesh and blood got nothing. Perhaps Chase reminded him of his mother. Perhaps he simply didn't love him as he should.

It was the first time he tried LSD that it all went horribly wrong. The trip had hit him hard, so hard that the colours and the swirls became his reality and he found himself falling into them, gathered into their damning arms and held there. The high was overwhelming and he succumbed to it entirely. His father found him passed out on the kitchen floor, his pupils dilated, breathing shallow - his heart so fast it almost burst through his called an ambulance when his son failed to respond; when he couldn't bring him round to face up to what he'd done.

How ashamed the mighty Rowan Chase was that his own son was treated for a drug overdose at the very hospital he made his name.

Dad sent him to England to finish his studies, a way of wiping his hands of his only son. There was no fear of him feeling homesick because Chase had no home. No real family.

He received prestigious schooling courtesy of Daddy's bank balance but he found England prissy and uptight, hated the way people spoke, hated the way they walked, hated the way they talked in accents that sounded similar to his own yet so very different.

He hated the rain, the grey skies – hated the Winter because he was always averse to the cold.

When he was eighteen he met a girl named Anne, an artist from his own neck of the woods. She was small with mousy hair and large blue eyes, referred to a 'tinny' instead of a 'beer' in a way that made him smile and miss his old friends. She was funny and cute and smart and she pushed him, pushed him and encouraged him and challenged him in a way that nobody had before.

He related to her Aussie smile; her effervescent way of simply living.

They were both fish out of the ocean and, when the other students were busy planning trips down canals on barges and boats, Robbie and Anne were dreaming of the white-tips of the surf, the salt-spray that burned and cooled at once, the only water worthwhile. Whilst the other students were throwing snowballs at Christmastime, Robbie and Anne longed to feel the sand in their 'thongs', shoes and not underwear.

They moved in together at nineteen. Robbie's allowance covered the rent and Anne never judged him; never mocked him about where the money came from but of course their parents didn't approve. Too much too soon, Rowan stated, but Chase didn't give a damn. He'd been 'responsible' since the age of twelve, the man of the house since he was fifteen, when his father decided he no longer wanted the responsibility.

"I grew up long ago," he told his father and it wasn't something Rowan should be proud of, this forced maturity, this worldliness before his years.

They rented a flat above a green-grocers and at night, the scent of fresh grown mint gave a cleanliness to the somewhat-run down place, furnished it with young love, beautiful in a sense, unrealistic in another.

For awhile they were their own little contained 'unit', their own Australia in the middle of Oxford, England.

The 'honeymoon period' lasted nine months until Anne earned herself a place at an art academy in Queensland.

Robbie had to let her go because he loved her; because it was her big opportunity to make something of herself and who would he be to stand in her way?

It still didn't change the fact that she broke his heart.

Their aching goodbye was painful and for years Robert Chase swore off women because women always leave, even when they have to, starting with his mother and continuing with Anne, a girl who said she'd never leave him, that she'd give him a son with blond, blond hair and a smile so big it'd light up Sydney.

Anne still keeps in touch, even now. She's married to man named Jacob. They have two sons, Finlay and Jackson, who have their father's jet black hair and their mother's blue eyes.

She doesn't do it to rub it in. She does it because she said she'd never leave him and in that sense, she hasn't.

Chase still feels alone, though.

He awakens with her name on his lips but he can't say it, can't breathe it. Deep down he knows she doesn't exist any more; that she's no longer a part of this frightening world.

But, this man is.

This man, with eyes as blue as Anne's and a gazing intensity that Chase feels, as well as sees.

This man hasn't left.

He shifts, his body achingly heavy, his mind even heavier. He remembers the last words he heard before he was forcibly sent to sleep.

"House," he says, though his voice is slim and his confidence thinner. He fights to put the words together in his head, fights to drag them from the depths. They're barely audible. They fit together so raggedly it's almost sharp. "Y-your name is…House."

He tries to gage the reaction from the other man; tries to look into those so-familiar eyes and see that he's done no wrong.

To see that he hasn't disappointed.

Part 16

He knows House's name.

He knows House's name – but it's not quite that simple, knows it because he was told it recently, knows him because he's seen him as he flitted out of consciousness these past few days. He knows he knows him…but he doesn't know how.

Doesn't remember.

Chase doesn't know House as anything but a constant presence that's watched him as he slept and talked him down when his unbridled anger, fear and tension has reached its dangerous peaks.

Chase doesn't know House, doesn't know this place – doesn't know this present time, because to him he doesn't belong in it. He's tired and numb. He's rattled, like all of his pieces have been jumbled around in such a way that he can't quite put them all together.

He's certain there's a piece missing and that the piece is integral because none of this makes sense to him.

"You were in an accident," House explains, and whilst Chase understands the majority of words, now, he has no recollection of the event. "You wanted to play Mr Invincible and you took a few rocks to your head in the process. It's scrambled you up a little. Made a mess in that pretty head of yours. If I didn't know you better I'd think you were suicidal. Going down there was just stupid."

House doesn't acknowledge the fact that his own stupidity took him down that very same route; that his own mind is often as addled and scrambled as Chase's is because he refuses to acknowledge fear. Danger. Life-threatening idiocy.

"You're such an idiot I should've left you down there."

He shines a bright light in Chase's eye and the young man growls a little because it's a jarring brightness he's not ready for and it's all just still so unclear.

"Do you know who you are? Do you know your name?"

The questions frustrate him as much as they did beneath the surface of the Earth but Chase doesn't remember that; doesn't remember how he clung to this man, mentally, so as to save himself, how he depended upon him to help him emerge from the wreckage.

There's a wreckage that is Chase right about now and it's only now that he's awake it'll start to become clear.

Who will help him emerge from that wreckage is unclear, right now.

"Robert Chase," he says, weakly. Finally. He says it as one word instead of two. He says it slowly and deliberately.

His voice doesn't sound like it used to.

"Place of birth. Occupation."

"Melbourne." A pause. He searches for the answer but it doesn't feel right to him. "Med student."

If he notices House's ill-restrained flinch he doesn't take issue with it.

"What's your speciality?"

"Intensive Care." He looks around slowly. At times, it's difficult to understand what he's saying. He sounds intoxicated. Drunk. All of the things he condemns. "Is that where I am?"

"Call it a hands-on field trip," House replies. "You're getting valuable experience you might never have had if you hadn't already experienced what it's like to be buried six feet under."

For a moment, House pauses. He tries to sketch back into Chase's past, to pinpoint times and dates in order to establish just how much Chase has lost of himself.

"What about Seminary School?"

He hits a nerve.

The blush is deep. It's red, beginning on his cheeks and spreading all over his face. He swallows, then grimaces. His throat hurts. He can feel something in the back of it, resting, invading. From what he's learned at school he'd equate that to an NG tube. He put one down the nose of a plastic premature baby in class not so long back, kept doing it wrong.

He imagines he has abrasions in his throat from an endo-tracheal

He blinks long and hard as if to try to focus his thoughts. His mind wanders from one place to the next and then back to where it should be.

Seminary school. A turning point in his life.

Another failed experiment with faith.

"That didn't work out," he replies. "Wasn't for me."

God didn't replace the 'love' he lost when Anne left; didn't comfort him when his mother's anniversary cropped up.

God didn't 'touch' him like He should've done.

"Lost one of your trials, right?"

Blue-green eyes so wide, so sad, so…vulnerable, as if House has invaded him, somehow - as if he's taken something from inside him that he's never really shared before.

"I guess…"

"How old are you?"

He shifts. When he looks down he realises his wrists are bound to the side of the bed; that as well as medical equipment he's manually restrained.

His awareness comes back to him in waves.

He looks disturbed as he weakly tries to tug his arms to his body, ignoring the pain as it runs up his elbow and shoulder.

"Why am I tied up?"

House doesn't flinch.

"I asked first. Age?"

"Twenty…"

Again, unsure. It's not that he believes he's twenty because he thinks that's most likely wrong. It's just that everything in him - his feelings, his thoughts, his awareness – have reverted back in years to that time.

That dream of Anne seemed so far away – but his emotions are the same as if she'd only just left him. That's how raw it is. That's how painful.

He looks a little scared.

"I-I think I'm twenty."

He says it because he doesn't know any better and if he is wrong, House doesn't tell him he's wrong. It's a momentary show of compassion. It's also a tactic to keep him calm because House wants him here in the present, even if it's an altered present, and he knows that any overwhelming emotion could send him reeling backwards again.

He doesn't want him free-falling. He doesn't want him spinning away and out of control as if gravity no longer holds him.

Still, he makes his notes. He asks his questions gently, for him. Gently, for Chase.

"President?

The patient looks uncertain. His eyes search for an answer slowly. His processing is as slow as molasses in January as he moves through the treacle.

"Prime Minister is John Howard. President is…Bill Clinton?"

The answer is correct, if this were 1999.

Now, he just looks desperate.

"Please. Why am I tied up?"

"Because you asked to be. It's kind of your thing these days. Preferred name?"

Its clear the ties are not coming off; that House isn't going to let him go that easily. He stops moving in the restraints. His hands rest limply at his sides but he pushes his head further into the pillow.

He looks every inch the twenty-year-old he somewhat believes himself to be.

"People call me Robbie. Or Rob. My friends call me Chase. My dad just calls me 'boy'."

Present tense. House doesn't think him ready to know that he's actually an orphan; a soon-to-be-divorced orphan with a colourful employment record and a potential murder charge in his future, if it ever comes to light.

He just focuses on the name.

"Chase it is," House replies, as though taking on the role of a friend when in actual fact he's just seizing the chance for normalcy. "How are you feeling? Any pain? Pressure?"

"I'm tired," Chase tells him, and it reflects in his face, the residue of sedatives still lingering, always lingering, the pressure of an injured brain still pressing, pushing, overtaking. "No pain, though."

"There shouldn't be. You're on the good-if-potentially-addictive stuff."

"I have an addictive personality," Chase says, softly.

House thinks he likes him this honest.

Even if his words aren't clear the meanings are.

(*)

Time crawls. It drags itself along as if it's heavy and laden.

Still, House stays.

Chase feels stoned. The world turns in slow-motion and he finds it difficult to concentrate. He doesn't remember being violent and unable to speak. It's only now that House has talked his attending doctor into reeling in the drugs that he's beginning to come into focus.

He's not focusing well.

He still doesn't know who House is. He just knows that his name is House. He doesn't know where this place is, just knows he's in hospital; that he'll probably be here for a long time and that his injuries are severe.

He understands that because he understands medicine, to some extent. He understands because he's learned some of this from text-books and work experience.

He understands…but he doesn't understand. He knows that House is American and that the doctors who continually try to get a rise out of him, it seems, are American, too.

"I'm in America." Chase says. He looks…lost. Sad, almost. "I was in England."

Mentally, he's on the other side of the world and House treads gently, as if walking a field of mines.

"You were in England ten years ago. You studied there for awhile."

There are no words for that. Chase's lips part and he lets out what can only be described as a strained sigh.

"You seem to have some memory issues," House concludes finally, understating on purpose because it's the best thing to do. "Don't worry, though. I'm sure we'll have you back up to date in no time. Back in the good old present with all its fascinating issues and nuances."

It could've been worse, House thinks, or tries to think. Chase remembers how to move, how to breathe. He remembers how to read, though his eyes are less clear than they were.

He remembers how to exist and how to function – but, he doesn't remember how his life has progressed this past decade.

When House calls him Jason Bourne he doesn't understand why.

That movie doesn't exist, where Chase is right now.

(*)

When Chase was nineteen he wanted to be a musician. Or, a priest. It was his mother that did that to him, that led him to question humanity in such a way that he'd devote his life to seeking solace in an unseen entity that supposedly governs this life.

His faith was strong, back then, because he had nothing else, just his thoughts. Just his apartment.

Just an empty space where what he equated as love once was.

Chase was never pious. He just wanted to be. When the living world failed him time and time again, Chase just wanted to seek comfort in the spiritual.

Right now, he just wants to sleep, just wants to close his eyes and shut out this baffling world that he doesn't feel right in, that is clearly skewed and wrong.

But, House won't leave him alone.

"I just want to rest," he almost pleads. "I just want to close my eyes."

"Are you in pain?"

"No, but – "

" – unless you're in pain I want you awake. It's good for you. You're stable. We need to start keeping you awake now that we've been cutting back on the meds. You can handle it."

"Yeah? How do you know what I can handle?"

He watches Chase fight against the anger that's building. He watches as he tenses. As he trembles.

He watches a vein throb in his temple and it's an indicator. It's a sign.

"Do I need to restrain you again?"

"NO."

"Then, stop acting like a spoiled teenager and eat something. I'm not the enemy, here. You want things done so you have to work for them."

Life can't always be handed to you on a plate, he wants to say, but a 20-year-old Chase might not appreciate such a sentiment, whilst a 30-year-old Chase might just accept it as a sweeping generalisation.

House tells him he needs to eat something if he wants the tube out, that choking, grating, uncomfortable tube that feeds him something with a consistency of wallpaper paste and the look of cottage cheese.

He tells Chase he'll have to drink something if he wants off the saline drip.

"Sloth doesn't suit you," he says, as he tries to get Chase to understand. He speaks to him bluntly. He's seen how some of the attending nurses speak to the patient as if he deaf or, worse still, stupid, and he won't treat him like a child.

Chase just stares at him angrily. Wildly, almost. Obstructive. Defiant, but so tired.

So tired.

"Just eat the damn thing," House yells, finally, "it won't kill you. It won't even hurt you. I'd guess you've lost fifteen pounds since you've been in this room. You don't have to worry about your hips or your svelte figure."

The raised voice shocks him a little. The patient looks petulant, then, his lip curling up in reminiscence of a fallen leaf. House has never seen this look on Chase before. He wonders whether the head injury has opened up a whole new door; a brand new catalogue of expressions and emotions he once kept hidden yet now doesn't know how to.

"But, I don't want it."

Small voice. Young, and childlike.

House bites back a laugh, not wanting this strange new creature to think that he's being mocked. He'll hold it in. He'll save it for later. Now that he has Chase here he doesn't want to frighten him away.

Chase, with his jagged hair. Chase, with his unrestrained smile, with his unbridled emotions, with his vigorous rage.

He looks like he wants to cry.

"Nothing makes sense to me," he says, quietly. "I don't know what any of this is."

And, it's only now that House realises just how hard this must be for him, how hard it is to simply not understand why you're so laboured; why you're so bound down by bewilderment.

His voice breaks a little.

"I'm so confused."

"The brain is like a computer with huge disc space. Imagine the biggest hard drive you can find full of the biggest selection of downloaded Internet porn with still enough space for more."

The analogy is lost on Chase but he tries to see the logic in it. He tries to find the truth and the meaning but his processor is running slowly and sometimes it freezes entirely.

"The mind is more complex. It's a building full of doors and corridors, each leading to a new thought and a new set of rules and flaws. Behind some of the doors are memories. Behind others, there are life experiences. They're always accessible to us because we are the masters of our domain."

"Some of your doors are locked. When you took that hit to the head the doors got jammed shut. You can't access the information because the function that allowed you to do that got screwed."

He explains further. The way he speaks to Chase is complex but Chase's world is so dumbed down, at present, that House feels he needs to be stimulated, mentally, rather than wrapped up in blankets; averted to the point of over-protection.

"You can't control your temper because your temporal lobe's compromised. You have no problem with acquired skills but your long-term memory's as useful as a blind kid in a Where's Wally contest. If you see the Virgin Mary stood at the end of your bed? Don't think you're special. It's just another symptom."

With that, Chase almost, almost smiles.

"We learned at seminary school that most religious visitations are delusions; that it's only the righteous and pure that are led to see evidence of God's existence."

House remembers the kid, the spiritual kid with the STD. The preacher. The healer. The miracle-worker.

He remembers Chase's almost desperate desire to prove that God had won, on that occasion.

House won't go there. Not yet.

But, he will go here.

"God wants you to eat your jello, Chase," House says, as he forces the spoon into Chase's hand like a frustrated parent might. "You going to disappoint Him?"

And, Chase proves he's still the choirboy he always was when he awkwardly does his best to please.

(*)

There are flashes. Flashes of current memory interspersed with that which went before. It's overwhelming. It's…painful. At times, he doesn't know where he is and he panics and fights and tries to break free. Other times, he can't find words to say and is rendered silent. Struck dumb.

It's a frightening place to be; a terrifying state to find oneself in, yet House has ordered that he only be drugged if it's absolutely necessary; that he only be sedated as a last resort. His ICP has been stable for two days. His blood pressure is improving. His pulse is good and his temp is down.

"The medication's what's setting him back," House had said. "Drugs are bad. Just say No."

His doctor had agreed, seeing the link between the meds and Chase's sporadic deteriorations. House had told him not to question him again.

"I know my minions," he'd said, as if that alone gave him authority.

When Foreman comes to check on the patient's progress, a regular occurrence yet this first time he's been lucid and focused, Chase has the instant feeling of familiarity. He hears Foreman's voice before he speaks. Deep. Rich. Melodic.

He sees his passive expression before it reaches his face. It's non-specific but it's there.

"You know me, don't you?" Foreman says, when he reads that 'look' in Chase's eyes.

"I know that I know you," Chase replies, "but…I don't know you."

It makes sense, in some warped, illogical way. Chase knows when someone is a stranger to him; recognises when someone is new to him in a way that he doesn't recognise how the ties bind him to the people he does know.

It's a strange sense of de ja vu; of knowing something but not knowing it at all because those doors are still closed and Chase can't see what's behind them.

"Sometimes it comes back," Foreman tells him. "Your brain just has to heal."

He's quiet as Foreman talks at him, when he asks him how he's feeling, when he tells him he's glad he's awake.

"House tells me you're doing much better. That's good, Chase. That's really good. It's such a critical period, right now, but you're doing really well. I know it doesn't feel like it, but trust me."

Chase looks on quietly.

He's just trying to find something inside.

"We're not friends," he says, out of nowhere, and he seems bothered by his own assumption.

"Colleagues," Foreman replies. "We work together."

"You don't like me."

Weak voice. Small and frail, things that Chase has never been before. It unnerves Foreman as much as it 'hits' him hard.

It's just a sense. Just a feeling. Just a flickering, pulsating thought that crosses Chase's addled mind. It was true once but Foreman got to know the man behind the mask; got to peek inside and saw what Chase was hiding.

It was tough, realising he'd been wrong about him; that he'd given him a hard time because he simply chose to ignore the fact that Chase's life, in a lot of ways, had been just as difficult as his own.

Foreman presses buttons on screens, writes numbers down on the chart that lives at the foot of his bed.

Chase wonders if it's just an avoidance technique; a way of looking busy when he isn't.

"It's true, isn't it?"

He sounds so…young. Even his tone of voice is different. House told the tale of a just-past-adolescent Chase and Foreman couldn't even imagine it, but here it is.

Here it is, in all its raw, susceptible glory and he blanches when he thinks that Cameron will want to mother him and Thirteen will want to corrupt him with such sensual vigor that the poor kid won't know what's hit him.

Kid. He's never thought of Chase as a 'kid' before yet here it is.

There it is.

"I don't dislike you," Foreman says, finally. "We're just not…close."

"You think I'm a spoiled little rich boy who lives off Daddy's name, is that it?"

That's exactly it. Or, was. He's perceptive, for someone who at times lacks perception, surprisingly lucid for one who lacks lucidity at regular breaking intervals.

He looks at a speck; a crack in the wall. In this moment he looks weaker, sicker, more forlorn. More withdrawn.

In this moment, the loose gown swamps him. His body, it hangs on his soul like an ill-fitting, too-big garment, aged before its time.

"I don't think that. Not now," Foreman tries to say, but Chase doesn't want to hear it.

"It's okay. It's what everyone thinks."

He almost says 'it's what the kids at Med School think' but it doesn't feel right. It's hard. It's hard to place something in the past when it's so firmly in your present.

"I just live up to the expectation. Can't disappoint anyone then, can I?"

"Chase – "

Foreman tries to reach him but he's already gone, turned away, gathered up to himself as if how one might gather up a child.

His self-comfort is obvious. Blatant. It's hampered only by the medical equipment that's still limiting his movements, the monitoring devices that test for signs of life yet don't show the real readings whatsoever.