And another chapter in which a seed is planted and may grow into something more. Still thanking you all for your comments. I know that some people think that Chase's life hasn't always been terrible but I just alway felt that everything they did to Chase was tainted somehow. It was all so very bittersweet. I didn't like that. I wanted him to have something that was beautiful and pure and lovely and good that didn't have any catches. Even his marriage had a catch in that it was loveless. To me, his only happy times were when he was working for House, when he was hanging out with his boss, with Wilson. Even his job was obtained as some great f*ck you to his father. I guess I want to give him something happier even if it is hard going.
Many thanks to those who have dropped me a line. Much appreciated. Not far to go now. A few more obstacles, a few more turns and then we're done here :)
"Judging by the size of those bags under your eyes I'd say you didn't sleep much last night."
Wilson is House's best friend, one might say his only friend. Wilson is long-suffering and worthy of time, worthy of space, worthy of thought and consideration. Wilson is the anchor to House's often torrential storm, a grounding point which he tethers himself to even when that tether is not welcomed because House knows that Wilson, because he is long-suffering and worthy, will never turn his back on him.
Wilson, however, states the obvious and it's something that House cannot abide during times of pain, when the ache in his leg renders his tolerance levels almost to zero and the twitching, pulsing discomfort renders him powerless against his own sharp tongue.
Wilson doesn't deserve this any more than Chase does but House is left with that resounding knowledge that he just. can't. stop.
"I'm in pain, genius. Something about a hole in the leg? Infection?"
He mentions nothing of the impromptu confession; of the ticking timebomb he was forced to diffuse when his body and mind had wanted only to shut down and pretend that the world did not exist, let alone existed in some state of Chase-related turmoil. He mentions nothing because he doesn't want to invoke Wilson's 'I told you so' response yet again.
He rubs his leg instead, hoping to avert further questioning.
"You haven't been taking your Vicodin?"
"Yes, I've been taking my Vicodin. But it's not enough."
"Not for me."
"That's the tolerance you've built, House. You're on the highest dose that's safe for you."
"I'm an addict, need I remind you?"
It's a sore subject for him now, a chink in his flailing armour. Yes, he's been taking his Vicodin. No, he has not been double, triple, quadruple dosing. He's been sticking to a dosage that isn't nearly enough because that's the 'right' thing to do. Nobody said it was going to be easy. His body's tolerance levels are sky-high due to his own misuse of the substance and there's nothing he wants more than to knock them back like candy just like he used to.
He won't, though.
It's a shame everyone else will have to suffer the consequences.
He sees Wilson consciously decide to avert the subject onto something else, perhaps something even more painful in a lot of ways. Another one of House's addictions, this one better for him than the damaging preoccupation with prescription drugs.
"Out with a friend. Figured he needed the break as much as I did. He didn't go to work today. He's feeling a little out of sorts."
"Living with you would do that to anyone. I know first-hand what a pain in the ass you can be."
He's smiling when he says it but the words don't go down well. Wilson knows better than to tease House when he's in pain but, often, Wilson's comments precede him. They float from his lips unwittingly as they escape from his mind without tethering or reservation. He sees how House's body shakes with the tension of pain, his eyes flickering left, then right, as if searching for a scything comeback but returning with a blank. Three words come to mind.
This is bad.
Seeing House devoid of barbs or bullets is a worrying turn. It's his weapon. It's his speciality. His pain must be worse than he's letting on if he hasn't even got that.
"Sorry," Wilson says, finally, under his breath. "I didn't mean that. You're a perfectly adequate housemate with no end of redeeming features."
Even the sarcasm draws nothing from House.
Wilson is close to panicking at this point.
"Have you come around here to insult me, Wilson, or is there something you actually want? Need I remind you I'm recovering? You should be bringing me gift baskets, not insults."
"I thought you could do with the company. Is that such a crime? And, I have brought you a gift basket. Kind of."
"You should've led with that, idiot."
And, there it is. Wilson, in a somewhat misplaced turn of emotion, sighs with relief.
House looks at the poor, tragic, needy specimen that is James Wilson that stands in front of him. He is often guilty of poor timing but, when he pulls out the pizza delivery pamphlet a bottle of Jack Daniels with that trademark well-meaning smile on his soft features, House cannot help but think that this evening, Wilson could not have timed it better. This invasion. This impromptu call-in.
"What have you got for me?"
"It's been ages since we sat down to pick something apart," he smiles, "and it just so happens I have the latest series of Downton Abbey on DVD."
He holds it up as if it's treasure, that still-sealed box with stuffy English ladies and gents gracing the cover as if they were too good for it. Despite the pain, House smirks, embracing the prospect, accepting the 'comfort' that Wilson is gladly providing him with.
"There's nothing I love more than mocking the high-end British, Wilson. Other than mocking you."
"You know me so well."
"Was there ever any doubt?"
Chase doubts everything.
He sits alone at the bar waiting for Anton to arrive, his head full of thoughts, his mind racing with possibilities and discrepancies. Last night it all came to ahead. Last night it was all laid out for him in hues of black, white and grey, in swirling facts and hazy clarifications, all of which warred inside of him even in sleep. In turn, he doesn't feel rested. He doesn't feel refreshed.
He just feels confused.
Robert Chase killed a man.
Robert Chase killed and evil, sadistic, power-hungry man – and got away with it.
It's the truth. It is no word of a lie - and yet Chase still keeps returning to the act he is supposed to have committed, searching within himself for some sign of capability, of a moral compass so skewed and off-centre he simply pays no heed to it. Could he really have made that choice? Is it really possible that somewhere inside of this shell he's carrying around is a man that's capable of murder?
It just doesn't feel right.
His finger traces circles in the wetness that his glass has left on the bar. He's drinking lemonade because House upped his meds to try to reduce the absence seizures and he's not really capable of anything stronger, nor would he dare risk it. There is an element of trust that House is putting upon him in honouring the request for freedom that he had pleaded for. He'd labelled it necessity. In desperation, he'd even called it 'therapy'. Perhaps he'd taken advantage of House's pain and tiredness by pushing that little bit harder.
He promised not to talk in any certain terms.
He promised he'd never risk others even if he wishes above all things he could wipe his slate clean.
House told him "Go!" with the snapped patience of a hounded father and now here he is. Robert Chase, the killer, out for the evening alone. Robert Chase, the murderer, released from prison on the promise of good behaviour. The hand on his shoulder pulls him out of himself. The sharp intake of breath is an physical representation of that, of Chase himself dragging himself outside of his own head and trying to root himself in the present.
"Hey. You look like sh*t, buddy. And I mean that in the nicest way."
Anton, in contrast, looks as he always looks wearing a battered leather jacket and a smile. He flirts effortlessly with the bar-tender as he orders a beer, a skinny blonde who bats her eyelashes so hard they almost fall off her face when he thrusts even the most elementary of attentions her way. Chase laughs quietly. Such a player he is. Such a pleaser. It's only when he thrusts his car keys down onto the bar that he gives away his softer side as a keyring with his two smiling girls flashes up beside the silver.
Chase strokes his finger across their beautiful faces and immediately imagines them elsewhere, two little black girls under Dibala's iron rule, slaughtered for his own sense of righteousness.
He closes his eyes and tries to block the thought.
"Something up, buddy?"
"Huh? Oh. Sorry."
Chase smiles, his tired blue eyes meeting Anton's with an ease that is starting to become second nature to him. Still, there's the same unease in them that Anton has seen before, back when Chase had things on his mind, back when he was hitting the bars with an unnerving degree of regularity.
Back when something was wrong and he let it eat away at him.
"You looked a little off, man, you sure you're alright?"
There's a can of worms that doesn't need re-opening, Chase thinks, as he contemplates what, indeed, is 'up' in terms broader and less literal than the sky, the clouds and Heaven itself. He looks up nervously at the blonde and licks his lips, not lascivious but nervous, not horny but edgy. Anton senses the nerves, the apprehension. He sees the reluctance on Chase's face.
He doesn't want to talk here. Not in front of prying ears no matter how pretty the face they belong to.
"C'mon, let's go and take a pew. There's a booth up front. Aint no point in boring Little Miss Pretty with our tales of woe."
That's what Chase loves about this guy. Full of brawn, full of beef – but full of clarity, too.
"So, spit it out. What's been buggin' you?"
Bugging. Such a general, benevolent term. Such an innocent word to describe what indeed has been playing on Chase's fractured mind. He shifts in his seat. He came out without his crutches today. There's an extendable cane in his rucksack but he's choosing not to rely on it for the time being.
He's standing on his own two feet.
"I've, uh – I've been remembering some pretty awful stuff. I guess it's kind of playing on my mind a bit."
"Ouch. That bad?"
"Pretty bad. I wish I could just shut it off sometimes. But then I get frustrated when I can't find something that should be there so I guess I can't even win with myself anymore."
"Aw, c'mon, we've all done sh*t we're not proud of, Chase. Don't beat yourself up about it. I've known my fair share of bad guys, dude, and, trust me, you weren't one of 'em."
Chase raises an eyebrow at that. How sure Anton is. How sure he is that Robert Chase was a decent human being, one of 'the better ones', and somebody who did not deserve such harsh self-appraisal.
"Maybe you didn't know me at all, mate."
"Hey, I'm a stellar judge of character. You were one of the good guys. So you did some stuff you're not proud of. So what? Happens to us all."
"'Not proud' is an understatement."
Not proud would be cheating on his wife, cheating on an exam, blaming someone else for his own wrongdoings. Murder, though? There's a lot more than pride at stake when it comes to taking someone's life, so much more. There's the sense of morals, of humanity, there's fear for the very human soul.
"I can't get it out of my head. What I did, it changes everything."
"Don't start questioning who you because of something you did in the past. Damn, we'd all be in Hell if we did that. You think I'm proud of my record? Hell, no. But some of the stuff I did back then I'd do again and it wouldn't make me any less of a person. It'd make me a criminal, yeah, but given my life to be spent over again? I'd do it in a heartbeat."
"You stole cars."
It hardly compares.
"Amongst other things. I was on my own with my two brothers, no job, no money and no prospects. I did some sh*t I wasn't proud of to make ends meet. I hit the hard road but, I tell you one thing, as much as I proud of it, my brothers had food. They had clothes. They had a place to stay. A roof over their heads. They might've had an absent father and a no good mother but they still had those things."
"But you changed. You're not that person any more."
"Yeah, prison changes a man. It can be the making of a guy or it can be the end of him. I came good. But, deep down, I was never a bad dude. Yeah, I made some bad choices but that didn't change who I was."
No, it doesn't. Anton is a good guy. No matter what he has done, his reasons were good reasons. His actions were taken out of a misguided sense of doing the right thing. Isn't that the same for Chase? He tallies that up inside of him. Bad deeds for good reasons. Would he do it again? He's not even sure. Then he remembers those two little girls in that keyframe and he thinks, yes. Yes, he would.
He'd do it again because if there was the slightest chance that his actions saved lives then is that not what being a doctor is all about?
"Nobody condemned the men that killed Bin Laden, Chase. Remember that."
Chase frowns, but it's more confusion than anything untoward and unpleasant. How is it that he can always get through? How is it that his rough, brash, fierce guy who is so very atypical to any friends Chase has ever had before can reach him in ways that nobody else can? Chase thinks he knows why. It's because he treats him like he's normal. It's because he doesn't walk on eggshells around him. It's because each and every hour he spends with Anton is like an hour spent in the life of a guy who isn't brain damaged, amnesiac and dependent.
He's grateful for that.
"People do all kinds of bad sh*t, Chase, for all kinds of reasons. Don't let it wear you down."
Chase's reasons were pure. His justification was…just. Chase did what he did because he weighed up the alternative and he could not live with it.
God would forgive that.
"Thanks," he says. "For getting me out of the house. For letting me take some time away for a little bit. For listening to me harp on about my own personal messes and for putting 'em into perspective. God knows my therapist hasn't been able to. Neither has House. I don't know why you can but – thanks. Really, thanks."
"Anytime. If I can't apply some of this well-earned spiritual knowledge to someone then what's the point in having it, huh? I'm a regular Dali Lama."
That earns a smile, a genuine, full-face smile from the man who had looked so sombre when he first got here. Chase lifts his glass and shakes it a little. He watches as the bubbles race to the surface then die as they hit the air.
"Who'd have thought it? Robert Chase, hastily put together as he is, spending the evening watching the game with the Dali Lama."
He looks up at the screen. Smiles.
"Since when did you give a damn about ice hockey, dude?"
Chase can't even remember.
"So, what is it that's holding you back? I thought things were going so well. It's not just bad thoughts. It's something else. I can tell. You're jaded, dude. I can see it in your eyes."
If only he knew. If only he knew how to interpret his quirks and nuances and 'feelings' the way that other people seem so able to do. If only he could reach inside of himself and pull out an answer, any answer that makes sense, without having to ask someone else to decode it for him.
It's just a niggling issue, something that isn't sitting right. It rests somewhere in his stomach, an emptiness and a disconnect that has no real root in his conscious world.
There's something missing.
"I just can't help but feel that something's wrong. Something's missing that's right out of my reach. I can't figure out what it is. It's nothing here. I know it isn't. It's not this place. It's just…something."
He shakes his head. Looks down into his glass.
"I don't know. I probably sound like a lunatic."
Anton lets it process. Something passes through his eyes, almost like recognition, a possibility met, a realisation. He does this. It's almost like a gift.
It's nothing here, I know it isn't.
He's felt this before.
"You think you'd ever go home? Home, home I mean? Back to the Land of Oz? You used to talk about it sometimes. I hear the weather's pretty good there. Better than here, anyway. I always wanted to go there. Get me some kangaroos and shit."
"I had a kangaroo when I was a kid. Lived out back. I used to feed it sometimes. Then it got itself a Joey and never came back. I had a sheep, too."
"Get out, really? You never mentioned that before."
The old Chase was too conscious of other people's opinions of him, was too worried that he might come across as strange. The new Chase is less mindful of such things.
"I had…a lot of strange, furry friends, growing up. And, yeah, I wanted to go home but I haven't thought about it in a little while. When I first woke up from the accident I just felt it. Badly. That pull. I wanted to go back. I wanted to just bury myself in the Melbourne surf and wash my life away but – I don't know. I guess I thought my time there was done. I mean – what is there left for me there?"
He moved for a reason, after all. Lack of ties, lack of prospects, all of the above. But, since he woke up there have been inklings. There have been feelings. There has been a need to feel the waves under his feet, to revisit the same old stomping grounds he used to tread as a kid. There has been this invisible pull, a figurative hand trying to grasp him and pull him back into the fold. He found himself longing for his grandmother's porch, for the fish caught fresh from the monger's down the street. For a mild Christmas. For the ability to speak aloud without people double-taking at his accent and knowing he doesn't belong. House put it down to nostalgia; living in the past because he couldn't remember the more recent past with any lucidity whatsoever. But here, now, Chase feels that it might just be something more.
"All I know is that, when I got out of prison the first place I wanted to be was home. When sh*t happens it's always callin' me, man, loud and clear. Whalin' at me to get back to where I was born and bred. Don't matter how bad it got it was still home, y'know? The walls might've been crackin' down but that was my place."
His place. Just like Australia is Chase's no matter how bad things got there.
"Maybe that's what's missing."
It's a seed, no doubt, and as it settles inside of Chase it seems to grow immediately.
"Yeah," Chase says, distracted, full of thoughts. "Yeah, maybe."
It's a warmth he cannot shake, an idea that grasps him hard and firm.
God, he misses it, even now.