Step Follows Step

Occlusion of the radicular artery. Incomplete paraplegia, L5; posterior and anterior cord syndrome. Posterior damage means impairment or loss of sensation; anterior damage complicates movement.

The anterior damage is worse.

The physiotherapist had been guardedly optimistic and painfully earnest, assuring him that with time, with effort, he'll regain more function. He'll build strength. With support, he'll be able to walk.

He can move his legs, even though the motion's stilted and he has to rely on his arms and upper body to stay upright. He'll be able to walk.

He clings to those facts; repeats them in his mind until they have weight and shape and his fingers remember rosary beads: I have some sensation. I will regain function. I will be able to walk.

Later—later, he'll allow himself to consider the probable indignities of bowel and bladder and at least some sexual dysfunction. Later, he'll deal with the countless small adjustments that have to be made to accommodate disability (a shower chair and a grab-bar to begin with; trying to stand on wet tile would be idiocy when he can't trust his legs), and the larger ones, like the question of whether he'll be able to drive without learning over again with hand controls.

I have some sensation. I will regain function. I will be able to walk.

He tells himself he's fortunate. That if not for House, he'd be in a wheelchair, unable to feel or move his legs at all.

After physiotherapy, Chase lies in bed in the ICU, every muscle from the waist up aching with the effort of holding himself upright between parallel bars. His chest wound throbs with his heartbeat, sharp and stinging beneath a muffling dose of pain meds.

Lost sensation concerns him more than pain.

He thinks of Cofield—probing and judging as though that'd make any of this better—telling him he might never walk again because House "promotes recklessness." Even if that's true—even if Chase doesn't consider nine years with a success rate he's never seen another doctor match, even if he didn't agree that House's methodology works—this wasn't House's fault. House hadn't put him in that room; House hadn't told him run a test with sharp instruments on a patient with a one-in-three chance of going violently insane. The choice to play those odds had been his.

He blames himself for that. True, he'd done similar things dozens of times (House doesn't care whether he authorizes a test, not so long as it can't muddle up the differential and the information from it's useful), but he could've checked the patient's mental state before going ahead with the biopsy. Hell—he could've had the patient restrained before going ahead with the biopsy, and if he had, nothing worse should've happened to him than the annoyance of House's hair dye prank that morning.

In other circumstances—in a world where he was doing something besides maintaining a white-knuckled grip on parallel bars and cursing uncooperative legs when House explained his reasoning—the game would've ended in a tie, no real harm done. He'd have enjoyed the small coup of rigging House's Vicodin bottle and chuckled to himself at home about House's ways of giving a damn in code.

In these circumstances, it seems absurd that he'd ever been angry about such a stupid, easily fixable thing as orange hair.

I have some sensation. I will regain function. I will be able to walk.

He suppresses the urge to try flexing his toes (they're not going to be more responsive now than they were half an hour ago; he doesn't need to reaffirm that and resent his traitorous body all over again) and looks through the glass wall. House is in the corridor, half-hidden by a pillar. Supported by his cane.

Chase imagines a DDX in motion, the others following House easily while Chase labors after him on crutches, and laughs once, bitterly, as he holds this disaster beside House's: blood clot, cell death, lost mobility.

Had God laughed at the symmetry, enjoyed the irony when House had watched him struggle to walk?

House's gaze meets his, and Chase wonders whether he's going to stay where he is or stalk off to brood at home or in his office. He's not going to come in: I'm sorry, straight out, had probably been as much effort for him as Chase had just made in physio, and Chase hadn't even wanted the apology.

He'd have appreciated it after House had punched him that once, or after finding out House had faked brain cancer and let him grieve for nothing. But no: House had mustered I'm sorry today, when he hadn't been at fault. When he'd done everything in his power to minimize the damage.

House is still standing by the pillar. Watching. Recognizing.

Chase considers gesturing for him to come in, to find out whether or not he would, but leaves his hands still on the blanket, on his own half-feeling lap, and watches House's face. He doesn't want to talk, but he can accept I know and I understand from the only one who can mean it.

The words settle steady and solid.

END.