"Hi Dr. Foreman, this is Eva Kessler from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. I'd like to speak to you about one of your former colleagues—if you could call me back at 212 555-4824, I'd appreciate it. Thank you!"
Cuddy knew that House was going to murder her in her sleep tonight. She'd tried to convince herself there was some benefit to the whole thing, that the hospital would get publicity and she would be participating in educating the population about medicine, but in all honesty, having a reporter trail after you all day was nothing more than annoying. Especially if you were House. Who was definitely going to murder her in her sleep tonight.
From the email she'd received, the article was going to be about the best minds in the Princeton workforce, and someone had gotten it in their head to write about House. And she would have said no, normally—she would have—but House had been unbearable for the past month and something had to be done. She was going to punish him, because for once, she had the means to do it effectively.
She knew that this business with Chase had been hard on House, but a month? He hadn't been this bad after Stacy had left, and she'd been the love of his life for years.
The reporter fidgeted in his chair.
Cuddy offered her best pre-second-cup-of-coffee smile. "I'm sure that he won't keep us waiting too much longer."
She couldn't remember if he had a patient. If it wasn't a patient keeping him, then he was just late for work again, which was another thing she had to figure out a punishment for. House came in late all the time, but for the last few weeks, he'd been coming in even later and it was getting ridiculous.
After hours of pacing his room, staring at the ceiling, and searching for free internet crossword puzzles, the continental breakfast had finally opened and Chase had something to do. He was faced with a buffet line of breakfast foods. Easy choices. Years ago he had worked at Peggy's Haven by the Sea, a Melbourne bed and breakfast, and he knew exactly how these things worked.
The cereals were in plastic containers with cut-out labels slapped over them-Cap'n Crunch, Fruit Loops and Kellog's Corn Flakes. From experience, he knew that the actual cereals in the containers were knock-off versions and probably a few months stale, as well. He bypassed the cereal and moved on to the danishes.
He could have stayed at a nicer place, he supposed. But even the motels in New York City were expensive, and though he was hopeful about being employed again after yesterday's interview and the impromptu tour that had proceeded it, he'd thought that he should save the money anyway. If he was going to have to find an apartment in the city, one that was close to the hospital, his bills would be increasing significantly.
A small price to pay, in the end.
Chase could see that the danishes were a bit soggy-that meant that they had been frozen, microwaved, refrozen and re-microwaved several times over, so they were out as well. The bagels were much in the same way, and he was passing the fruit salad (also fresh from the freezer, if the glittering ice crystals around a few of the blueberries were anything to go by) when his phone vibrated in his pocket.
Chase's phone was set to vibrate once for a new text message, twice for a voicemail, and three times for an incoming call. Four times if House was calling—that extra vibration had been reserved for him, because usually Chase wasn't too inclined to pick it up if House wasn't the one calling.
House shouldn't be calling him. And even if he was, Chase wasn't going to pick up.
The phone vibrated a second time.
Chase walked right past the trays of piping hot scrambled eggs and sausages, which had probably been reheated from yesterday and had probably had dirty fingers picking at them all morning.
He stopped, closing his eyes and waiting, hoping, praying that there would not be a fourth vibration. Not House, not House, not House. He really couldn't take it.
His phone was silent, stopped at three rings.
Releasing a breath, Chase opened his eyes and found himself staring at the one thing he knew would be safe to eat at a sketchy motel breakfast buffet such as this one:
"Lazy! What the hell am I paying you for?"
"Thirteen's already on the paperwork," Foreman said wearily, not even looking up from the table.
"And I already talked to the family," Taub added, also not looking up.
House scowled. His leg throbbed.
"They're more terrified of me when they're not so tired," he muttered to The Stooge, who nodded as if he thought House was serious.
"Will I be allowed to interview them later?" The Stooge asked, pulling out his notepad and fumbling for a pencil. "Can I get their names, and maybe their specialties right now? It won't take more than a moment."
"Knock yourself out," House said. There was coffee brewing. Finally, one thing in his day that was guaranteed to not piss him off. "In fact, why don't you follow them around all day?"
"The story's supposed to be about you, Dr. House," The Stooge said, in a self-righteously amused sort of way.
"And that's your first problem."
"Don't mind him, sir," Taub said in an undertone. "He's been on the warpath for the last few weeks. He's normally less, ah, abrasive."
The Stooge busied himself with Foreman and Taub as House poured his second coffee of the day and then emptied the cabinets in pursuit of a non-flavored creamer. When that failed, he just grabbed the first bottle he saw, but as he popped off the cap he noticed that it was Irish Cream (Irish Breakfast, sticky teddy bears, sleepy conversations) and he had to put it back. French Vanilla was just as good anyway.
After ripping the incident out of his memory, tossing it out his right ear, then stomping on it with his foot, House attempted to slink into his office. The Stooge caught him.
"Dr. House, do you have a moment?"
"You only want one?" House asked without turning around. He pushed open the door to his office, bad mood mounting as the scent of French Vanilla rose from his mug. He hated French Vanilla.
The Stooge followed. "I'd like to ask you a few questions."
"I refuse to swear on Bibles."
"I noticed that the last four of your patients have been homosexuals. Is this a common theme in your work?" The Stooge asked, pencil at the ready.
"Is this your angle?" House raised an eyebrow. "Hero Doctor Ensures Liberty and Raging Buttsex for All?"
"Would you say that you treat mostly homosexuals?" The Stooge pressed, unfazed by his response.
"No," House answered. "Sometimes I treat people for other diseases."
The Stooge raised an eyebrow. "You consider homosexuality a disease, Dr. House?"
"Google 'diseases plaguing America'. It comes up under obesity and Miley Cyrus."
"So if you're against the practice of homosexuality, can you explain to me why your last four patients have been gay?"
The Stooge sighed. "Okay, this is clearly a bad line of questioning. Why don't you tell me something positive about yourself?"
"My HIV status."
The Stooge paused his writing and looked up at House. "Look. Dr. House. In my conversation with Dr. Cuddy this morning, she warned me that you were doing this against your will, but I would appreciate it if you would at least make an effort to cooperate. Is this really how you want to present yourself to the world?"
"The world? I thought your little newspaper barely made it past city limits?" House asked.
The Stooge cleared his throat. "Knock-knock."
House stared. "What?"
"Knock-knock," The Stooge repeated, giving him an expectant look.
"So you specialize in diagnostics," The Stooge said, suddenly back to business with his pencil and notepad. "Why don't you tell me what that involves?"
"You're getting my floor wet," House said, eying the trails of water that were running across the floor.
Chase dropped his bag on the couch and squelched back towards the door, and then began wrestling with his shoes, which were sodden and stuck to his feet. He looked like he'd been dunked into a river.
"You're going to clean it up," House said, when Chase maintained his stormy silence. "As soon as you stop being the source of it, that is."
"Fucking Christ, I'll clean it up, just give me a bloody moment, would you?" Chase muttered, wrenching his shoe off and letting it hit the ground with a wet smack.
House raised an eyebrow. "Problems?"
"Nothing," Chase said with a scowl. He managed to get the other shoe off and reached up to rub at his hair, which was fairly plastered to his skull. "Just personal stuff."
"As far as I know, I am your personal life," House pointed out, watching him with more interest now. He hadn't heard about any surgery drama in the hospital today. "That means it probably involves me."
House blinked. "Are you going to be pissy all night?"
Chase's look was answer enough.
With a sigh, House rolled his eyes—and that was when he noticed the envelope peeking out of Chase's bag. His eyes traveled from the corner of the envelope to where Chase was now shrugging off his coat, and then back to the envelope.
"I would like to point out," House stated loudly, "that in the interest of being a supportive and respectful domestic partner, I am not going to open this envelope in your bag that has wrecked your mood. Even though I really, really want to. Instead, I'm going to ask you what's in the envelope and why it's put you in such a strop."
"Bully for you," Chase said darkly.
"You're certainly in an Australian mood tonight," House remarked. Chase was now peeling off the jacket that he'd had on under his coat. "Eh, mate?"
Chase didn't answer, but House saw a muscle in his jaw working.
"So. Envelope. Before my self-restraint runs out."
Not answering, and finally down to his rain-soaked jeans and a damp-looking t-shirt, Chase disappeared down the hallway.
House stared at the corner of the envelope that was sticking up, sharp white against the black of Chase's messenger bag. It was calling to him. It was practically serenading him. He wanted so badly, so, so badly know what it said—but there was a second, competing urge to try make Chase feel better that was putting up a pretty good fight. So House compromised.
Chase emerged wearing a pair of sweatpants and a sweater.
"That's my favorite sweater, and you know it," House said, with no real irritation in his voice.
Somewhere along the line, it had become Chase's favorite sweater. House had given up on ever reclaiming it.
Chase moved his bag to the floor—House watched as the bag turned and the envelope vanished—and sat down on the couch, head tilting back and eyes falling shut.
House opened his mouth to give Chase his options (let him read the letter, tell him what was in the letter and then let him read it later, or leave until he was willing to do one of the first two options) when Chase sighed and turned to look at him.
"We need to talk," Chase said heavily.
That wasn't good.
"About?" House prompted.
Chase exhaled and leaned forward, reaching into the side pocket of the bag and pulling out (yes!) the envelope. He held it out and House took it, slightly wary now that Chase was being so forward.
"Don't read the letter yet," Chase said.
House examined the envelope in his hands.
"Postmark from Oz, some weird-sounding city in Victoria. It's been forwarded at least a bajillion times, so it can't be from someone you've spoken to in the last... five years? Seven?"
"Ten," Chase answered.
House glanced down at the envelope, and then back up to Chase. Patience had never been his strong suit.
Chase swallowed, his eyes going down to the letter, and then he drew his knees up to his chest and let out a breath.
House reached out to draw him under his arm, but Chase shrugged him off, squirming off to the corner of the couch. His eyes were still on the letter, his expression desolate.
The word "Well", tinged with annoyance, was on the tip of House's tongue, but he held it back and waited.
Eventually, Chase began to explain.
"Hello, Dr. Wilson. This is Eva Kessler from Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. Do you have a moment to spare?"
"Sure. What can I do for you?"
"We have Dr. Robert Chase applying for a job here, and you were listed as one of his references. Can you tell me, more specifically, what your relationship to Dr. Chase is?"
"Uh. Dr. Chase?"
"He's applying for a job at Mt. Sinai?"
"Is there a problem?"
"Uh, no. Not at all. I'm sorry, when did he apply?"
"He came in yesterday for an interview. How exactly do you know Dr. Chase?"
"Well, we've never worked together directly. I'm the head of the oncology department here at Princeton-Plainsboro, and Dr. Chase worked under the head of the diagnostics department. I do frequent consults for the department."
"That would be Dr. Gregory House's department?"
"Yes. Dr. House and I are very good friends."
"How would you describe Dr. Chase, as a doctor?"
"He's an excellent doctor. Working under Dr. House requires a certain degree of creativity and versatility, and Chase—Dr. Chase has never lacked for either. He also has amazing reflexes, probably from his training as an intensivist. He's been the favorite of the NICU for years."
"And on a personal level?"
"Er. Reserved. Dr. Chase is selective in who he chooses to open up to, but he's a good friend to me. He's funny and caring, and he's one of the most responsible people I know."
"Did Dr. Chase maintain any sort of relationship with Dr. House, after leaving the department?"
"Yes. On a professional level they almost never work together, but Dr. Chase's leaving resulted in the formation of a very close personal relationship between the two of them."
"Dr. House is a... difficult person to work for. Once out of that environment, I think that they were able to find more common ground. They—well, no matter what either of them says, they care about each other."
"Hm... Okay. What other sort of relationships does Dr. Chase have around the hospital?"
My name is Paul now, but you remember me better as Steve. I have joined an abbey just outside of Melbourne, and as Saul was reborn into Paul, I too, have been reborn. I am writing to you now in the second hour of my rebirth, which has followed a vow of silence I undertook for ten years. Ten years of silence, Robert, and I still cannot forgive myself for what I did to you. I have found some solace in our daily services, but instead of feeling cleansed as I emerge from the cathedral, I am instead immediately assaulted with agonizing guilt the moment my foot touches the dusty ground. My knees tremble, sometimes, when I think of what I put you through.
Father Percy tells me that you went to university after leaving the seminary. I have asked that he send this letter to you, and pray that it reaches your hands. I do not deserve it, but I am begging you for forgiveness. I have had ten years trapped inside myself and though I have taken my new name, I will not begin to live until I know that what I did to you is not still haunting you as it does me.
I will remain at this abbey until these chains crumble from rust and old age, or until your words set me free. May God be with you.
The funny thing was that he'd always meant to get fish.
The last person to reside in his apartment had left the tank behind, claiming that they needed to buy a new one for their ever-increasing hordes of guppies anyway. Chase had shrugged, waved goodbye, and then moved the tank from the living room into the bedroom, atop the dresser that had also been left behind. He'd always meant to buy a few fish to put in there, but there hadn't been a drop of water in the thing in the four years that Chase had had it, and now he was leaving it to whoever was moving into his apartment next month. It was sort of like a fruitcake. Except not edible.
Fish weren't the greatest thing in the world, and Chase was pretty sure that he hadn't missed out on much by leaving the aquarium dry and empty, but it was the principle of the thing, and also the fact that he had an hour left before he was back in Princeton and I-95 was a really boring highway. His radio was also broken. A cheering thought: if he got this job at Sinai, the pay increase would be enough that he'd be able to buy himself a new car that not only had a working radio, but maybe even a CD player.
The other part of it was that he had a narrow range of things that he could think about, because PPTH had been cut out of his life and Australia was what had gotten him here, and with both of those out of the running he didn't have much left.
Chase had always divided his life into two parts-Australia, and the States. Coming here had been a fresh start, free of old friends and family and people who knew. Chase had jumped at the chance. He'd gotten the job with House, moved here, jammed a brick wall between his old life and his new life, and reveled in the feeling of finally having his strings cut away.
It wouldn't have taken more than an hour to buy some fish. Goldfish were a dime a piece, although they probably would have died within the week. There were other fish that he could have bought, ones that would have lived for years without ever needing to be fed—why hadn't he ever taken the time?
He could take the aquarium with him. It was a little five-gallon thing, and he could definitely stuff some shirts into it and load it up with the boxes.
It he was honest with himself, it wasn't about the fish.
But Chase had had enough of honesty, and he spent the rest of the ride home pondering the idea of taking the aquarium with him, though it wouldn't solve anything.
House was pretty sure that Wilson was babysitting him. And while it was true that he'd been a little bit meaner than usual to the nurses, and maybe a little more ruthless with his patients, he didn't warrant full-time daycare.
"Go away," he snapped, striding past Wilson and going to his chair.
The Stooge scurried in after him. The fact that House hadn't managed to shake him off by this hour of the afternoon said something about the man's tenacity, and even Wilson looked surprised to see that he was still around.
"I need to talk to you," Wilson said.
House snorted and didn't deign to reply.
"Alone," Wilson added, his eyes going to The Stooge.
Like House hadn't already tried this.
"That would be a violation of the first amendment, under the reporter's privilege clause," The Stooge said promptly. "I am here to gain a full understanding of the world of Dr. House, and to exclude me from conversations would be unfair to the public and an injustice to the United States."
Wilson opened his mouth to argue, then apparently thought better of it. He turned to House. "Look. You have got to do something about Chase. He's—"
"Not my problem anymore?" House suggested.
"Who is this?" The Stooge asked, pulling out his notepad.
"House, it's been almost a month. Whatever you did to him, just suck it up and apologize already. If you don't you're going to lose him, and we all know—"
"Because of course it's my fault," House interrupted curtly.
Wilson stopped, looking startled. "You're telling me that Chase... did something?"
House scowled. "No. It's not his fault. Or mine. We just... We can't do it anymore, okay?"
"Bullshit," Wilson said stoutly. "House, c'mon. Everyone knows that he was good for you, you're obviously still in love with him."
"Stop talking about things you don't know about," House said tightly, his fingers wrapped tight around his cane. "It's not a fucking fairy tale, Wilson, we're not just going to kiss and make up. There are things—you have no idea."
"I would if you'd just tell me!"
"It's not your business."
"Were you romantically involved with this Chase fellow?" The Stooge interrupted, looking at House with his pencil poised desperately above his notepad.
"The key part of that sentence," House said through gritted teeth, giving Wilson a pointed stare, "is the past tense usage."
The Stooge flipped through his notes. "Dr. House, I could have sworn that you called homosexuality a disease earlier in the day. Is there something I'm missing?"
"You're going to regret this," Wilson warned.
The phone rang.
Wilson raised an eyebrow. "That should be Eva Kessler calling to ask about Chase. She said she was calling you next."
"Who the hell is Eva Kessler?" House demanded.
"She works at Mt. Sinai," Wilson told him evenly. "Chase is applying there. Didn't you know?"
The phone rang again.
House's eyes widened. "He is not."
"He is. You avoided him so well, you didn't even notice that he'd quit." Wilson looked smug.
House snatched up the phone.
As Wilson left the room, he was humming something that sounded suspiciously like the theme from Sleeping Beauty.
House glared at his retreating back.
Chase was hauling a duffel bag out of the back seat of his car just as House was pulling up.
The Stooge finally stopped running his hands over the interior of the 'Vette and looked up, and then went for his notepad. He'd been allowed to tag along, but only after the screaming match between House and Cuddy had ended and Cuddy had laid down her final offer: if House wanted to leave the hospital before five o'clock, The Stooge had to go with him. If he waited until after five o'clock, he was free. So because patience had never been House's strong suit, and because this was a very time-sensitive matter, The Stooge was tagging along. He'd been so impressed by the 'Vette that he hadn't asked a single question for the whole ride, though House suspected that that was about to end.
But he couldn't worry about that now. Whatever The Stooge wrote, The Stooge wrote—House had bigger fish to fry.
He parallel parked and turned the car off, then grabbed his cane. He was going into battle.
Chase, who had at some point noticed that House had arrived, had set the duffel on the trunk of his car and was leaning against the side of the car casually, his arms folded over his chest. His face was blank.
"Fancy seeing you here," Chase said as House approached.
"I was in the neighborhood," House replied, voice light.
Chase's eyes traveled behind House and narrowed. "Who's he?"
"Reporter. Doing a piece on local geniuses or something, Cuddy's making me put up with him all day."
"Ah." Chase kept a wary eye on The Stooge.
"So I got a phone call today," House said. "You're applying for a job at Sinai?"
"So what if I am?" Chase asked, lifting his chin defiantly. "You've made it clear that it's no longer your business."
"You're an idiot," House said flatly. "I broke up with you to help you, and now you're going to run off to New York City so you can find someone else to take my place? I don't think so."
"Because I'm obviously such a whore," Chase snapped. "Because you're such a replaceable person."
"You're not leaving. I won't let you."
Chase laughed sharply. "Watch me. You don't have a claim on me anymore, remember? I can do whatever I want."
"Chase, you need—"
"I need to stay here where it's 'safe'?" Chase interrupted. "Where you can keep an eye on me? Protect me from myself? Yeah, you already told me that, and it's bullshit. It happened ten years ago. I'm over it. And why the hell is he writing down everything we're saying?" he demanded, throwing out a hand at The Stooge.
The Stooge straightened. "I am here to gain a full and complete understanding of the—"
"Oh, shut up," House said, cutting him off in irritation. He focused on Chase. "Listen, you moron. You need help."
"I don't!" Chase exploded, throwing his hands up in the air. He strode towards House. "I'm. Fine. If that letter hadn't come, you never would have known—you'd never have even suspected that I'd been through something like that! Why don't you trust me?"
"Because I'm not going to be—that for you," House said, tripping over the proper word for it. "I won't."
"You're not. We've been over this a thousand times, before you even knew about this: I don't see you as a replacement for my father. That's all Steve ever was for me—a father figure—and he abused that position. I'm done with fathers. I don't want a father." He blew out a breath, his shoulders sagging, and refocused. "I have never been afraid of you, House. You could never be him."
House's eyes narrowed. "He was more than a father figure. You said that he touched—"
"For fuck's sake, it was once! Once!"
"And now you're defending him," House accused.
"I'm defending my ability to make my own choices," Chase shot back. "If anything, it looks like you see me as a son, as a child who doesn't know any better and needs you to make choices for him. Is that it, House? You see me as 'your boy'?"
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" House sneered. "All your daddy issues fit seamlessly with me being an old pervert, don't they? Great, Chase. Great. Let me pull out my collection of child pornography and we can get to it."
Chase brought both of his hands up to his face and exhaled in frustration. "Okay. Fine. So the decision to have all that muscle in your thigh removed, that choice rightfully laid with Stacy, then?"
"She has nothing to do with this."
"She made a life-changing decision for you, choosing the option that she knew you didn't want, because she thought that she knew best. Have you ever forgiven her for that?"
House's hand was tight on his cane and his heart pounded in his ears. "Yes."
"Do you think she made the right choice?" Chase asked.
House said nothing.
"Of course," Chase went on with a slightly bitter laugh, "even if you did reconcile with her, it didn't matter when it came down to it. You pushed her away because the thought of—of being happy for once in your life—"
That was it.
"I'm not in love with my own misery!" House yelled, swinging widely with his cane, suddenly too furious to care. "Fucking hell, you and Wilson!"
But Chase's eyes had widened in realization. "And that's why you're pushing me away, isn't it? It's got nothing to do with my baggage, you're just getting a little too close to being happy again. Isn't that right?"
"I'm doing this because I love you, you idiot!"
"Because I'm better off without you."
Chase's lips curled. "Everyone's better off without you, aren't they?"
House opened his mouth, but he suddenly couldn't breathe to form the words..
Chase sighed, closing his eyes. "Why couldn't you have come sooner?"
Because it hurt. It hurt worse than his leg and he had to down three Vicodin just to get himself out of bed in the mornings.
Green eyes opened, locking on to his. "Why don't you trust me?"
Because fairy tales weren't real.
Chase's voice was strangled. "Why won't you just let yourself be happy?"
Because I'm protecting you.
"It's so easy," Chase whispered. "All you need to do is say one word and I'm yours again. One word. But you won't do it, will you? You wouldn't do it for Stacy, and you won't do it for me."
"I would," House finally managed to say.
"Then do it."
But House couldn't. Wouldn't.
If he had to sacrifice his own happiness for Chase, then so be it.
"I know that you wake up in the morning with your leg hurting too much to move, now," Chase said quietly, lifting his duffel. "Most nights, I wake up trying to scream but I can't because no one's there to tell me to breathe." He paused again, swallowing. "So I'll be inside if you change your mind. But if you don't—I am not broken, and if you refuse to see that, then fine. Don't let me be the one to ruin your miserable little world."
And then he turned and walked up the steps, unlocked the door and disappeared into his apartment.
"What a fucking idiot," House said, when he could talk again. He turned to The Stooge. "He's being an idiot, right? I'm not alone here?"
The Stooge looked startled to realize that House was actually asking him something. His eyes darted around the street, mind clearly working furiously.
"He'll appreciate it someday," House muttered, moving his gaze to Chase's door.
"Knock knock," said The Stooge.
House sighed. "Who's there?"
"Tom Sawyer who?"
"Tom Sawyer underwear."
As House turned away to go back to the car, he thought that there was no way his heart had ached this way for Stacy. He thought it might tear itself in two, so desperate was it to go running back to Chase. He'd loved Stacy so much, but the pain had been incomparable to this—for all that he had loved her, somehow, he'd managed to love Chase even more. But things had worked out for Stacy, without him, which was why it was important that he do this for Chase. It was for the best and someday, Chase would see that.
I forgave you six years ago, and I have moved on. May you find peace in the abbey.