TITLE: Exit Wounds (1/?)
SUMMARY: Grief feels like a fathomless pit, waiting to swallow him boundlessly the moment he gives in. Chase has been resisting it for years now, afraid that he will never reach the bottom if he allows himself to slip. An AU follow-up to Nobody's Fault.
WARNINGS: Spoilers through 8x11; graphic descriptions
NOTE: So, last summer I thought I was out of House stories to tell. But then they had to go and throw a Chase neurorehab plot to this neurorehab specialist, and…you knew I had to write this, didn't you? While I (mostly) respect the creative decisions they've made to have Chase present in the rest of the season and not horribly debilitated, I wanted to explore what I feel is a more realistic path to recovery. So, this fic becomes AU after Nobody's Fault. I hope you enjoy. Oh, and by the way, today is my sixth anniversary in House fandom. I'm not sure if I should celebrate, or weep for myself. :p
Edit, please read: Since some of you apparently haven't forgiven me for having fics still on hiatus, I wanted to add this. I have ideas for the entirety of this fic, and I will do my best to finish it. However, I am a graduate student now. That is my priority. My real patients are my priority. I write fic because it's fun for me, and because I feel like some of you also wanted help processing what happened to our show. I tried to keep writing even when I felt like I had nothing left to say, and that is why I have some fics that are abandoned. I'm sorry for that, but seriously? Look at my two completed novels. Look at my 160,000 word novel and then tell me that you don't think I can stick through and finish a fic. I will do my best and that's all. Sorry for the rant, but I feel like it needed to be said.
There is a peculiar characteristic of time in hospitals, when you are the patient.
In the absence of windows it stretches out, unmoving but for the passage of other tragedies unfolding all around, in the hallways, in adjacent rooms, with their paper-thin walls and open doors failing everyone's privacy. Day and night cease to exist discretely, bleeding into a nebulous crawl in the artificiality of fluorescent lighting.
In what must be the hours after waking for the second time, finding that his world has not miraculously righted itself from this nightmare, Chase lies still against the thin standard-issue pillows and listens to the rain, unseen, beating down on the roof of the hospital.
He has been unaware of the pain until now, the sight of the scalpel protruding from his shirt, fabric darkened by his own blood utterly surreal, as though the entire situation might all be some sort of cruel joke, nothing more than an illusion intended to elicit panic. Afterward, all he'd been aware of was the numbness, a terrifying void where half of his body ought to be. But now, as the minutes tick by unmarked, footsteps passing up and down the hallway outside of his room, he feels the edges of the drug-induced haze lifting, pain settling slowly.
It starts in his lower back, where he knows they have operated to remove the clot, the place that he'd watched on the monitor just a few hours before. The ache seems to spread downward, intensifying until it is as all-encompassing as the numbness. Chase considers asking for pain medication, knows that he would not be refused, and moreover that he may now be forced to depend upon it for the rest of his life, images of House coming unbidden. But for now he cannot bring himself to accept this reality, lying in the stillness of his darkened hospital room.
There is a bag of blood hung from one of the IV poles at his bedside, and it suddenly strikes him as bizarre, as though someone else's life might be seeping into his veins, keeping his heart beating.
The most surprising thing about it is how very quickly the rest of the world returns to normal.
Adams goes home after Cofield's decision, because they don't have another case and Foreman is obviously in no hurry to produce one, despite his obvious relief at the department coming out of the hearing more or less intact.
It is the middle of the day, and she finds herself disoriented by this fact, though it has not been that long since she was unemployed and without regular hours. Still, she is at a loss for how to react now – it feels as though she ought to be at the gym looking for something to hit, or else curled up crying in her bed. But neither of those options is truly what she wants; instead she feels disconnected, the fact that she ought to be the one in a hospital bed playing over and over in her mind, as though that might make it feel more real.
After wandering around her apartment for the better part of an hour, Adams decides that she might as well buy groceries. It's a reasonable enough activity, but picking up milk and eggs seems a bizarre way to follow up being slashed with a scalpel and nearly losing her job as well as her sanity. She drives past the store and ends up back at the hospital practically without a conscious decision.
Chase appears to be asleep when she arrives at his room, and that is almost a relief. She has nothing to say to him, she realizes, her own emotions surrounding the past few days still a roiling mass dominated by confusion. Satisfied that there is nothing for her to do here, she turns to leave.
"You come to apologize too?" Chase asks, stopping her on the threshold.
"I came to see if I could help," Adams says, caught off guard by the question. The truth is that she has been holding herself wholly responsible for his injuries, and yet it has not occurred to her to apologize.
"But then you decided you couldn't, so you were just gonna leave quietly," Chase continues, bitterly. "Don't worry, you're not obligated."
"I know I'm not," she snaps, surprised by the unexpected sting of his words. Something has changed in him over the past few hours; this is a side of him she has never seen.
"Then get out. I don't want help, and I don't want sympathy. You can feel free to pass that on to the rest of the department."
"I'm not the departmental freak show," he interrupts, cruelly. "And I'm not gonna make you feel better about what you did. You're the last person whose help I want right now."
This time, as she turns from his room and begins about the business of getting her life back to normal, Adams does it with an air of defiance.
Physical therapy is a comfort at first, even the sudden unbearable pain in his back and legs a reminder that something is happening, that this part of his body is not simply dead to him as he'd feared for those few awful moments. It seems promising that they ask him to begin only two days after surgery.
But when the second and third sessions pass, and Chase finds himself barely able to do more than stand upright while resisting the urge to vomit from the sheer agony of it all, it begins to feel like torture, a reminder of everything he once took for granted.
Regaining function does not mean getting back to normal, he realizes slowly. It means fighting desperately for mere approximations of movements, slow, shuffling steps that make a mockery of the miles he once ran effortlessly at the gym every week.
Regaining function also does not mean that the pain will go away. It means adjustment after adjustment to his new medication regimen, and talk of coping strategies which seem absurd in their utter ineffectiveness.
By the end of the third session, Chase falls back into his now-familiar hospital bed wishing that it had not been a clot after all, that the damage had been total and permanent.
Because then there would have been no choice, no fight to surrender and lose.
He stays in the hospital for one week and four days, marking time by the torment of physical therapy. Adams does not try to visit again, nor anyone else on the team.
House is a spectral presence, now choosing to remain unseen, but still undoubtedly close by.
Chase is the sort of patient who ought to have family members contacted by now, ought to be surrounded by loved ones offering help. But anyone who might have played that role in his life is beyond reach now, dead or driven away by his own self destruction.
When Chase is able to drag himself twenty feet down the hallway outside the rehab clinic, he makes the decision. It seems a crucial moment: twenty feet is far enough to get from the street to just inside of his building, and suddenly he cannot bear the thought of staying any longer in this place.
House comes in as he is finishing the AMA paperwork.
"I don't suppose I need to tell you that you're insane. And also an idiot, but that part isn't new."
"Get out," Chase growls, struggling to focus as the writing on the page blurs. For days now, his mind has seemed hyper-alert, contingencies for the future racing through it as the rest of his body lagged behind. But now it seems impossibly difficult to concentrate.
"Your new martyr complex is really unattractive," says House. "It'll be even better when you end up killing yourself. Are we supposed to cry for you then? Because I'll be standing at your funeral telling anyone who shows up that you're an idiot."
"I'll be fine," Chase insists, scribbling a signature haphazardly through the last line.
"Right." House holds up a chart, and Chase realizes belatedly that it is his own. "You've been running a fever for the past three days. White count is up, too, and you're still having arrhythmias. Think you're too good to get an infection? Have other complications? You need to be here for another week, minimum."
Chase shrugs, pushing those thoughts away. Those concerns pale in comparison to the pain and humiliation of enduring this any longer, being told in any more official terms just how hopeless his situation is becoming. "That's why they invented antibiotics. I did go to medical school, you know."
Something shifts in House's face. "Then I'd think you'd know more efficient ways to commit suicide." He turns and leaves without another word.
Things have changed, subtly and profoundly.
Adams has never had trouble sleeping before, but now she finds herself sitting up into the predawn hours, pretending to read until her eyes refuse to focus on the page.
It isn't fear, exactly. It isn't nightmares.
Instead she feels filled with a strange energy, as though everything around her has been abruptly amplified.
It takes Chase half an hour to make it to the couch.
He is forced to stop and rest twice, dry-heaving in the elevator when the pain and vertigo become overwhelming.
But the soft leather cushions are a comfort when he sinks into them, and he falls asleep immediately, to the sound of a fresh downpour beginning outside.
When he wakes, much later, the pain is so intense that he can scarcely bring himself to move. Only now does he realize how hard they have worked in the hospital to keep his medications in balance, how much it has meant to have even the minimal help the nursing staff has provided.
He is utterly alone now, with his empty apartment and the ghosts of a thousand mistakes.
This is not going away, he thinks, as he struggles to sit up and sort through the bag of medications he's dropped by the couch. His fingers feel clumsy as he works to open a pill bottle, and he turns that realization over and over in his mind as he forces the pills down a dry throat. He is never going to get back the life which ahd seemed so certain just a few short days before.
Grief feels like a fathomless pit, waiting to swallow him boundlessly the moment he gives in the smallest inch. He has been resisting it for years now, afraid that he will never reach the bottom if he allows himself to slip. He has tried desperately to bolster himself with alcohol and the shoddy imitation of intimacy, and it has landed him here, with nothing.
"Chase dropped out of physical therapy." Adams goes to House the moment she is certain, though she's hardly even needed to check the computer to confirm her suspicions.
"Yep," says House, sounding completely unsurprised. "He also dropped out of lying in a hospital bed."
"I know he was discharged." Adams takes a step closer, struggling as always to read his face. "That's no excuse to slack on rehab."
"Chase discharged himself. Don't worry, I already informed him that he's an idiot."
"He left AMA?" It feels as though her world is shifting again, as though she ought to have given more credence to her original concerns, forced him to accept some form of help. "You have to do something!"
"And what exactly do you think I should be doing?" House sounds almost resigned.
"I don't know." Adams finds herself searching for the words. "If he were any other patient, you wouldn't let him get away with this. You'd push and manipulate until he caved and went back to therapy. Because you'd know it was in his best interest."
"I solved his problem," says House. "My job is done. And physical therapy is a waste."
When Chase wakes again it is dark outside, and he is uncertain how many hours he has lost in sleep.
His clothes are drenched in sweat that makes him feel terribly chilled. His chest wound is throbbing, barely masked by the deep ache radiating out from his lower back, and he realizes in the dim light from the window that it has bled through the thin bandage to stain the couch cushions darkly.
His throat feels swollen and he thinks he ought to get up and change the bandages, or at the very least have something to drink. But moving brings the pain to life; his head swims dangerously, and suddenly it feels vividly as though he has been stabbed again, as though he can sense the cold metal of the scalpel hanging out of his skin in ragged contrast.
Chase pulls his shirt over his head in a rush, shivering convulsively as his muscles seem to leave his control. He tears the bandage away without thought, jumping when the headlights of a passing car illuminate his hands, wet with his own blood.
And then he is scrambling for the pills again, desperate now to find the numbness once more, unconsciousness, oblivion.
He swallows six immediately, one dose seeming hopelessly inadequate. The pills catch in his throat and he gags, reaching reflexively for the bottle that is always close by lately. The alcohol burns all the way down, and the thought briefly crosses his mind that it will be dangerous in combination with the pills.
But in this moment fear outweighs all else, and he drinks until the bottle is empty.
When there is no sign of movement after the third knock, Adams wastes no time in breaking into Chase's apartment. She is prepared to find him stubborn, angry, unreceptive. She has come here expecting a fight, has even told herself that it might be therapeutic for them to yell at each other.
What she has not prepared herself for is what she finds in his apartment.
Chase is curled up on the couch, half naked and covered in so much blood that it sends images of that day rushing back into her mind, slamming into her with such force that for a moment she actually contemplates simply running away.
But then the rest of her instincts kick in and she crosses the room in a few long strides, kneeling beside the couch. For one terrible instant, she thinks he must be dead, but his eyelids flutter as she feels for a pulse, there, but too rapid and also irregular.
"What did you do?" she demands.
"Allison," Chase whispers, and his eyes tell Adams that he is not present with her in this time and space. "What I did...It—wasn't real. You know I could never do anything to hurt you, right?"