This story took a particularly tortuous route to completion. I started it some time in early 2005, finished around October of that year, fucking hated the ending I'd written, and it languished untouched on my hard drive ever since. It was, as I told someone once, like the aborted fetus in the jar beside my bed: started out great, utterly failed somewhere along the way. Even the title was a struggle. I started out calling it "Sweet New Disease", decided that was way too pretentious and emo, and ended with the dull-as-dirt name "Summer Vacation".
As soon as I realized what was wrong with the original ending, I fully intended to go back and fix it. For a year, I did nothing. The damn thing was too big, too sprawling, too intimidating a prospect. I didn't know where to start.
There was no great revelatory moment, no particular event that prompted me to finally sit down and start editing. I just did it, and a week later, I was finished. Again.
Most of this is what was originally posted on Livejournal as "Summer Vacation", just edited for style and stupid mistakes. But I'm a lot happier with this version than I ever was with the original, and I hope others will be too.
"Speed You Down" starts immediately after episode 1x22, "Honeymoon," and deviates from canon sometime during 2x01, "Acceptance". House, Chase, Foreman, Cameron, Cuddy, Wilson, and PPTH all belong to David Shore and FOX and other people who aren't me. The title is from the song "Speed" by Call Me Alice, from which I also got the first title, "Sweet New Disease". Full lyrics are at the end of the story, where you can ignore them if you're not interested, and check them out if you are. It's totally a House/Chase song, if you're twisted like me.
Speed You Down
by Maya Tawi
"The speed you are, I cannot make a fit
I'm trying hard to find a way to catch on up to it"
--Call Me Alice, "Speed"
As the wind picks up speed, Chase huddles deeper in his leather jacket and stares at the door, trying to convince himself to do... something. Knock. Walk away. Go inside or go home.
Neither option is looking particularly attractive at the moment.
He raises his fist and it hovers in front of his face for a few moments, just as uncertain as the rest of him. He's just about to lower it, to turn and walk away, when the door swings open to the accompaniment of a long-suffering sigh.
"I can't lurk behind the door all night, you know," House says. "Legs aren't what they used to be. Well, not the one, anyway."
Chase suppresses a sigh of his own and studies the man in front of him: tall, lanky, all sharp edges, none blunted in the least by the cane on which he leans. House's stare is annoyed and frankly shameless, despite the fact that he's as much as admitted to waiting for Chase's arrival. He has a fierce, peculiar pride, but after two years Chase is no closer to determining its limits, to mapping its rocky territory; he never knows what will irritate House and what will simply amuse him, and not knowing keeps him unsettled and off-balance.
Chase hates not knowing things.
House's brow furrows, and he opens his mouth for what will no doubt be a cutting, caustic remark. Chase forestalls him by pushing past him into the house, giving only a cursory glance to his surroundings. It's not the first time he's been here. The last time wasn't the first time either.
He still remembers the first time, with the embarrassing clarity of a year one crush. Some file or other that House needed from the hospital, one night when he'd already gone home and Chase had been staying late-- back before Cameron even, back when Chase was the wide-eyed ingénue (and just as love-struck, a suspiciously House-like voice whispers in the back of his head) and the other two were the veterans, jaded and defensive in their loyalty to their half-cocked boss. He stood in the doorway, peering at the furnishings beyond, the piano and the paintings and the overstuffed easy chair, as House snatched the file from the grasp and flipped through it without a single word of acknowledgment. What is it, Chase asked, curious and eager, and House waved a dismissive hand at him and said Probably nothing and slammed the door in his face.
Chase thought he hated House back then. Somewhere along the line, hate transmuted into respect. House has that effect on people.
Now he wonders sometimes if it had ever been hate at all.
Other times, he thinks it still is.
He waits until House closes the door (behind him, this time, and not in his face for a change) and limps back to the sitting room, where he rescues a half-full shot glass from its ring of moisture on the coffee table. Then Chase folds his arms over his chest and demands, "What the hell was that about?"
House blinks at him, lazy and unconcerned.
"Well?" Chase snaps.
House holds up a pre-emptive finger. "I'm trying to remember what I've done to piss you off lately. The list is getting kind of long."
Chase grits his teeth. "Perhaps I should jog your memory. Me, prison, dozens of inmates whistling at my ass? Ringing any bells?"
House brightens. "Really? I hope you got videotape."
"I didn't get anything," Chase says, "and you know it. You knew I wouldn't."
"I know no such thing," House says. "Your tremendous sacrifice saved a life today. Are you suggesting the patient wasn't worth it?"
"I'm suggesting you just like to see me suffer!"
"I've never denied that." House drains the last of his drink in one long swallow, and Chase forces his eyes not to follow the movement of the muscle, the bob of the Adam's apple in the long throat. House glances at the empty shot glass, seemingly at a loss for what to do with it, then hands it to Chase.
Chase takes it without a word and stalks into the kitchen, seething, where he drops it in the sink and runs hot water in the glass. Then he slumps forward and braces himself against the counter, watching the water swirl and overflow from the glass into the sink.
From the hallway, House says, "My keen deductive skills are telling me that's not the only thing chapping your ass."
"What do you care," Chase mutters, still staring at the sink.
"Well, there's my water bill, for one." He hears the familiar step, step-click of House's gait, and then an arm reaches around him and shuts off the tap. "Besides, I like your ass. I'm the only one who gets to chap it."
Chase's hands tighten on the counter. "I thought I was done with this hazing shit."
"Hazing? I haven't even broken out the Saran wrap yet."
"You know what I mean!" Chase spins around. House is leaning against the refrigerator, watching him with disinterest. "You're treating me like-- God, you're treating me like Foreman!"
"And you think you're better than Foreman? Think you deserve better?"
The question is mild, unassuming. Chase hesitates, caught off-guard, uncertain of the angle. "In what way?" he asks at last.
"Oh, excellent," House says, with a vicious, gleeful grin. "Splendid answer as usual, Dr. Chase. Not a blanket denial, suggesting you do think you're better than him, at least in some respects. Care to elucidate?"
A test, then. Chase sets his jaw and doesn't answer.
House moves closer and drops his voice. "Could it be because he's unethical enough to try and screw his way back into his boss's good graces, while you remain virtuous and pure? No, that's not quite right. Did I get something backwards?"
"I'm unethical?" Chase couldn't have kept the incredulity out of his voice if he tried.
"Fun, isn't it?" House says. "We could start a club. Maybe have a secret handshake. Matching ties."
"Are you suggesting I was ever in your good graces in the first place?"
"That would be one of the subtexts." His eyes flash with something close to contempt, leaving no doubt that if Chase ever was in those mythical, inconceivable good graces, he certainly isn't now.
Chase feels his spine stiffen and steps back. His voice feels like ice in his mouth, sliding over his tongue, cool and slick. "If you don't want me here--"
"If I didn't want you here," House says, "you wouldn't be here. Don't think I'm the type to suffer in stoic silence. I can safely say that I've never tucked a fox cub in my chainmail, and frankly I can't see the attraction. I, unlike some people, am capable of learning from history." He pauses. "Benedict."
Chase rolls his eyes at that, but House isn't done. "And if you don't want to be here, I certainly hope you'd have the balls to actually say so."
"Yeah, and face further humiliation and ridicule at work," Chase says. "I prefer to suffer in private, if need be."
He regrets the words as soon as they leave his mouth. House doesn't disappoint. Eyebrows arch to dangerous heights over pale blue eyes as House purrs, "Why, Dr. Chase, your private life is coming into disturbingly sharp focus."
No words are forthcoming. Chase can only manage a weak scoff.
"Is that what you think this is?" House's voice has lost its mocking edge, but Chase isn't fooled; the razor is still there, just better hidden. "Some kind of trade-off?"
Chase forces his voice to remain even. "What would you call it?"
House's eyes darken and his hand tenses on his cane, his knuckles standing out in sharp relief. For a moment, Chase is afraid he's gone too far, that House will actually hit him.
Then House's grip relaxes, and Chase feels his back unclench in something like relief.
"I'd call it quits," House says. "Since you asked."
It takes Chase a few moments to realize what he's saying, that he's answering Chase's question. Then he just stares at House, open-mouthed, not caring how he must look.
He feels like he'd been kicked in the stomach, and he doesn't even know why. This is what he wanted.
Most days, anyway.
With one last, disdainful look, House turns and starts to shuffle towards the sofa. "Stop gaping and get out," he says over his shoulder. "You have work tomorrow."
Chase snaps his mouth shut and turns to go.
He lingers at the door, wanting to say something-- anything-- to make amends of some kind, to make the parting an amicable one. To quiet the panic that's beginning to clamor in the back of his brain. He still has to work with this man. Work under him....
He leaves without saying a word, closing the door behind him with a dull thud.
Maybe he doesn't have any balls after all.
The next day, House is scrupulously, unfailingly polite, even greeting him as "Dr. Chase" when he walks in. After about fifteen minutes, during which the novelty is a refreshing change of pace, it starts to set Chase's teeth on edge.
It's a small comfort that the others don't seem to notice at first, being too distracted by their own personal dramas. Then Clarence is sent back to death row and Cameron is forced to break the news to Cindy Kramer about her impending demise. With Foreman's sense of self-worth reasserted and Cameron apparently embracing her new commitment to the cold, hard truth, they corner him in the cafeteria, united in their common pursuit of information.
"What the hell's going on?" Foreman asks bluntly. Chase freezes with a paper packet half-opened in his hand, caught in the act of sugaring his fifth coffee of the day.
He forces his voice and his fingers to steady, and is gratified when he manages to tip the sugar into the coffee with nary a tremor. "In general, or are you referring to something specific?"
"He means with House," Cameron says.
"Nothing," Chase says. He schools his voice to a surprised tone-- Why would you even ask?-- and keeps his head down over his coffee, less confident of his control over his expression. As he breathes in the steam, he is struck by the irrational fear that if he looks at Cameron, she'll know. That House is a disease, and the sufferers can all too well identify the symptoms in others.
"Seriously, man," Foreman says. Foreman is safe; Foreman has never fallen for House. Chase flicks him a brief, dismissive look, but Foreman is undeterred. "What have you got on him?"
"What makes you think I have anything?" Chase counters, even as the idea settles uneasily in his gut. Blackmail? He can certainly blackmail House if he wants, or at least he can try. He has the ammunition.
And House will call Chase's bluff, and then Chase will either have to drop it or go on record claiming his boss has sexually harassed him. Even if he goes through with it, House will probably lose his job, and then what would be the point? He came to PPTH to work with a certified, if certifiable, genius, not to get him fired.
Not like he hasn't done his best to do that anyway.
Besides, whatever hoops House intends to make him jump through to get back into those supposed good graces, he's pretty sure blackmail isn't one of them.
"Chase?" Cameron prods, and he forgets himself and looks up. Their eyes lock, and his gaze automatically cuts to the side, his own words ringing in his ears-- He's so old-- and Cameron's rejoinder-- And you're so young.
It's all Cameron's fault, damn it. He never would have thought... if she didn't....
"I said he's being nice to you." Cameron's voice drips annoyance and disbelief. Hearing it, recognizing it, Chase can't help feeling smug. Not so special now, are we, Princess?
"Please," is all he says. "He's not being nice, he's being sarcastic. Surely you can tell the difference by now."
Foreman says, "With House, I'd take what I could get."
Chase shrugs, wishing it didn't feel quite so obvious that he is lying through his shiny white teeth. He picks up the coffee and sips, then makes a face; too much sugar. "Sorry," he says, pushing the cup away. "I don't know what to tell you. I don't have anything."
"Something's going on," Cameron says.
"What, you think House shouldn't be nice to me?"
"I wouldn't," Foreman says.
"Well, thank Christ I don't work for you, then," Chase says.
"It's just... unusual," Cameron says, placating, shooting Foreman a quelling glare. Foreman stares back, unrepentant.
"House is unusual," Chase says. "Get used to it." He raises his tuna sandwich to his mouth with resignation. He isn't hungry, but he knows he needed it; his stomach is empty, and knotting from the barrage of caffeine.
"Are you fucking him?"
Chase sprays a mouthful of tuna sandwich across the table.
"Jesus!" Foreman grabs a handful of napkins and scrubs at his tie. "Timing, Cameron, look it up."
"Sorry," Cameron mutters. "I was--"
"--being House, yeah. Give it up, Cameron. You need about twenty years and a limp to pull that off."
Chase sputters quietly and downs mouthfuls of too-sweet coffee, grateful for the distraction. With any luck, they'll take his response for the simple sheer disbelief the question should have commanded.
Would have, if he hadn't gotten in so far over his head he can barely see the surface anymore.
He steals one of Foreman's napkins and wipes his mouth, and is contemplating another bite of the ill-fated sandwich when Cameron shoots him a suspicious look. "You're not, are you?"
Chase pushes his sandwich away and sighs. "Yes, Cameron, I am sleeping with House. Obviously. Satisfied?"
Blind 'em with a lie so blatantly improbable, and they'll never know it's the truth. The voice still sounds like House.
"Fine. Don't tell us." Cameron stands with a small annoyed huff. "You know, I liked you a lot better before."
"Sorry to disappoint," Chase says, even as he wonders Before what? and How much better?
Foreman stands too, with obvious reluctance. "Something's going on, and I'm gonna find out what."
Chase isn't sure if he means it as a threat, or if it just sounds like one.
He sits there for a long time after they leave, sipping the syrupy coffee and grimacing. The rest of his sandwich goes into the trash can, untouched.
He can't remember how it began, not really. Not with the same startling clarity he recalls that first night at House's door. What he does remember comes in snippets, as all the best memories do-- highlights only, skipping the dull moments in between. Chase doubts House ever had a dull moment in his life.
He remembers walking past House's office on his way to the elevator, at the end of the long, long day when House had, with his usual cocktail of staggering genius, sheer audacity, and insanely good luck, diagnosed Mark Warner with AIP. He remembers pausing at the glass door and looking in, a private daily ritual that was, he knew, light-years ahead of anything Cameron could dream up in the pathos sweepstakes. He remembers getting his feet moving again, hurrying on before House saw him and decided to give him hell for it.
He doesn't know what he saw then that gave him pause, and he doesn't remember stopping in front of the elevator and making the conscious decision to go back; but he must have seen the former and done the latter, because the next thing he knew, he was watching House again.
House was leaning back in his desk chair, eyes closed, head bobbing to a rhythm only he could hear. Chase looked for earphones but didn't see any; internal soundtrack, then. He shuddered to think. Funeral marches, maybe. Or perhaps the best of ABBA.
And then House looked up and saw him.
Chase froze, feeling like a voyeur, feeling fourteen again, wank mag clutched desperately in one hand and dick likewise in the other, and his mum standing red-faced and flustered in the doorway. If only House had a glass of G&T by his side, the illusion would be complete; thankfully, the shot glass next to him held the last dregs of some dark liquid that was most definitely not gin.
That, and Chase's mum had never quite had that expression on her face. Calculating, speculative... amused?
House saw him. House wasn't supposed to see him. He never had before; that was how it worked. Bright boy that he was, it hadn't taken Chase long to figure out that five p.m. was House's own personal Happy Fun Time, featuring Special Guest, answers to the name of Heavy Narcotic. Every afternoon at quitting time, House retreated to his office, if he wasn't there already, and popped what (Chase vaguely recalled) some American comic would have referred to as a heroic dose of Vicodin, uncaring whether or not his subordinates had already left; and every afternoon, Chase stopped on his way past and watched through the glass. Just for a few seconds, never before long enough to get caught. It seemed the safest way to interact with House-- trapped behind glass, no longer a danger to society, at least for the time being.
Chase didn't know why he stopped, at first. Told himself he was watching genius at work, ignoring the fact that said genius was currently floating amidst a drug-addled haze. Later-- he's so old; and you're so young-- he started playing a game with himself, watching House's hands and body, the restless, twitching fingers and the stiffly-held leg and the cane-hunched shoulders, trying to see what Cameron saw.
That day, for a brief, heart-stopping instant, he saw it. And House caught him looking.
Even from the hallway, Chase could see House was feeling no pain. His eyes were bottomless black pits, the lines around his mouth relaxed for once. Not necessarily a good thing; a manic House was almost as trying to deal with as a snappish House. He fixed those black eyes on Chase, pinning him to the spot like a butterfly, and Chase's mouth went dry.
House probably started dissecting butterflies at the tender age of three.
Just as Chase's skin was making a credible attempt to crawl off his body and scurry down the hall to safety, House raised one hand in a lazy gesture that somehow managed to combine Come in, Shut the damn door behind you, and This had better be damn good all in one negligent flick of the wrist.
Chase swallowed. He pushed the door open and stepped inside.
He remembers opening his mouth, and being surprised at the words that emerged.
"I hate this," he said with feeling, without preamble. "I don't want things to be like this."
House gave him a long, slow, head-to-toe look. A You interrupted Happy Fun Time for this? kind of look.
Chase's mouth tasted like ashes. "Forget it," he said, and turned to escape. Maybe he'd make it out of the building this time.
House's mild voice arrested him halfway to the door. "Somehow I don't think you're referring to my feng shui."
Great. Worse than manic House; it was reasonable House-- calm, collected, and dripping with contempt. Reasonable House reminded Chase far too much of his father for comfort. Especially given the disturbing turn his thoughts had taken of late.
He hadn't so much as kissed another man since seminary. What the hell had possessed him to play the Cameron game?
Chase looked longingly at the hallway beyond the glass door, then turned back around with a sigh. "Look, I'm sorry about Vogler, I really am, but--"
House cut him off with a loud, rude buzzer sound, and for a moment Chase wondered if he was hearing things. "Nice try, but no cigar. You never use the word 'but' in an apology. Makes a butt out of 'apol' and 'gee willikers, I didn't mean to be such a bad, bad boy.'"
The hell with it. "Thanks. Glad we had this little chat."
"Not so fast," House said. "You barged in on me, bucko. Besides, you might learn something." He grabbed his cane and started to rise, never breaking Chase's gaze. "Like the fact that I hate apologies."
Chase licked his lips and didn't say anything. He knew that already. He hadn't come in here to apologize.
He didn't think.
House heaved a long, put-upon sigh. "I'm not mad at you for going to Vogler, you moron. You did what you had to do to keep your job." He paused. "It's kind of flattering, actually, in a spite-your-face sort of way. You like working with me so much you're willing to tell little rat-tales on me out of turn. I knew you were into torture," he added with a leer.
Chase ignored the look; he was used to it. "What, then?"
House leaned over his desk, planting his fists on the scattered stacks of paper. Chase cleared his throat and looked away.
"I'm mad at you," House said softly, "for being such a raging, unrelenting prick about it."
Chase swallowed again, a dozen missed opportunities flitting through his brain. How can I work with you, House had asked, deadly serious and even-- shock of shocks-- a little hurt; You have to, Chase said, and walked away. He winced now at the memory.
House said, "So tell me, Dr. Chase, how are you supposed to work with me now?"
Chase's mouth was dry. He tasted ashes again, and wondered if it was the taste of bridges burning. If he lost his job now, like this, after everything he had done for it....
"Did you think maybe you'd bat your eyelashes and wiggle your ass, and all would be forgiven? I'll have you know I carry a wicked grudge. Just ask my psychiatrist."
"You have a psychiatrist?" Chase asked, momentarily diverted.
"Not anymore," House growled.
That growl did things to him.
It was all Cameron's fault, for putting these ideas into his head. He'd have to make her suffer. He was smart; she wore low-cut tops; he'd find a way.
Suddenly, pathetically, he wanted nothing more in the world than for House to like him. He wanted to prostrate himself across the desk and beg for forgiveness.
But Chase had his own pride, and he didn't beg. He clenched his fists at his sides, took a deep breath, and said something inane, something he can't even remember now.
That's where his recollection starts to get spotty. Logically, Chase knows he must have moved to the other side of the desk at some point, must have shown some telltale sign of arousal, a half-open mouth or a quickened breath, some rising pulse or animal scent. He doesn't think it was the obvious; his slacks were loose enough, thank God, to hide all but the most persistent hard-on, and he wasn't into humiliation that much. But House was a diagnostician. He didn't need the obvious.
Chase doesn't know how, but it must have happened, because the next thing he remembers is standing with his face inches from House's, close enough to feel the eddy of air when House inhaled and asked with what seemed like genuine bemusement, "Is there something in the water?"
Chase jerked as though he'd been slapped and took a hasty step back. His face felt hot and cold all at once. It was, he thought, like waking from a bad dream, only to find the monster was still under the bed. Or, more appropriately, in the closet.
House was watching him, a bright, hot gleam in his eyes that Chase suspected was only partly drug-fueled. For House, the opportunity to mock his subordinates was better than any narcotic. "Is that really how good Catholic boys do penance? I heard the stories, of course, but I didn't dare dream--"
"Please," Chase groaned into his hands, which were helpfully covering his face; he couldn't recall moving them, but he was glad they were there. "Please, just drop it."
Denial wasn't even an option. Whatever House had seen to convince him, his instinct was not about to be dissuaded. It took more than self-serving denials to convince Gregory "Yes, everybody lies, we get it already" House.
"Not really that surprising," House said, ignoring his pleas. "Obviously you're looking for a replacement daddy figure, someone to keep you in line. I should warn you, spanking's never really been my thing, but for you, hot stuff, I'll make an exception."
This was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. Chase would wake up any minute now, and be safe at home in bed.
And then take a very long, very cold shower.
He peeked through his fingers. House batted his eyelashes.
House. Batted. His eyelashes.
"I've noticed," Chase said slowly, still half-stunned and hardly believing he was saying the words, "that you talk about my ass a lot. Or my mouth. Or various other body parts."
"I'm warning you," House said, "you tell Cuddy I'm creating a hostile working environment, and she'll laugh you out on your ass." Then he opened his mouth in a faux-surprised O and clapped a hand to his cheek. "Oh my, there I go again."
Chase stared at House with sudden, blinding hate. That this man, the man he'd pulled so many strings to work with, for whom he'd swallowed his hard-won pride and asked his father to make a phone call, was the same man who took such pleasure in making his life miserable, with no more personal regard for him than a little kid for the ants under his magnifying glass-- the irony stuck in his throat like a half-chewed lump of steak. A dangerous prickle of defiance shivered down his spine.
Without conscious thought-- because he wasn't stupid, one instant of conscious thought and he'd never have gone through with it-- Chase sank to his knees, at House's feet, behind House's desk.
"You think this is penance?" he said acidly. "Fine. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."
He expected another caustic comment, something to the effect of just how many times he'd fallen to his knees in front of a priest. In no way did he anticipate House's quick intake of breath, or the way every muscle in his body tensed.
It didn't take House long to find his voice; Chase suspected it never wandered far from home. "That," he said, with a definite note of approval to his words, "has to be the kinkiest thing I've ever seen in three dimensions."
Chase doesn't remember getting on the elevator, or following House home in his car, with too-late panic racing through his veins like a drug. He doesn't remember the walk to the front door, or how they got to the bedroom. He doesn't even remember getting up off his knees.
He does remember sucking cock for the first time since seminary-- not the story House always wanted to hear, no licentious priests or naughty initiation rituals; just Chase's last disastrous night at school, the night when everything he'd held together for so long had fallen apart and he knew he never wanted to set foot in another church ever again. He'd gotten blind drunk, sucked off some stranger in the back room of a sleazy Melbourne bar, and woke up the next morning with an ill-advised tattoo on his ass. His mother was dead, and he had years of suppressed teenage rebellion to pack into a few short hours before he had to start being responsible again.
He wonders if it's a coincidence that desperation and cocksucking always seem to go hand-in-hand for him.
Afterwards, House jerked him off, long piano-trained fingers hitting every one of his buttons, then made him sleep in the wet spot.
The panic set in sometime after midnight. Chase woke up and blinked at the ceiling, and once it hit, he fully intended to run for the door.
If only he weren't so comfortable, and so damn tired. The wet spot wasn't even that wet anymore.
He rolled over and passed out again.
"Good morning, stupid mistake number three hundred and forty-seven," was the first thing Chase heard the next morning. "Want some eggs?"
Chase froze, his pulse racing and his eyes squeezed shut.
"I make a mean omelet," House continued. "Only the best for my favorite piece of litigation. Coffee or tea?"
"Coffee," Chase mumbled into the pillow, still praying for oblivion.
House gave a huff of disapproval. "I thought all you Brits drank tea."
Chase didn't bother to correct him this time. He just waited until the sound of House's shuffling gait faded into the distance, then shot off the bed and as far away from it as possible.
He paced for a few moments, trying to gather his scattered thoughts, then froze again when he realized that he was stark naked and House could come back at any minute. His briefs were-- his face flamed in recollection-- crumpled in the doorway of the bathroom, and his trousers lay draped over a burgundy-upholstered armchair. He'd just struggled into them and was doing up the fly when House reappeared in the bedroom door with an unreadable expression on his face, holding a steaming mug of coffee.
"So," he said, and cleared his throat. "We should probably talk."
"Probably," Chase agreed, wishing he had the nerve to reach past House for his shirt, which was-- a wince, this time-- hanging on the doorknob. Instead, he sank down in the chair and folded his arms over his chest.
House limped across the room and handed him the mug. Chase accepted it warily, wondering if the House family tree featured any Greeks in its lineage.
"Obviously," House said, retreating to the door in an uncharacteristic display of tact, "you mistook me for your priest and I mistook you for Carmen Electra. Easy mistake. Won't happen again."
Chase set down the coffee on a side table and stood again, conscious of the way House's eyes followed the movements of his torso as he reached for his shirt. He shrugged it on and started doing up the buttons with what he knew was misplaced relief. He felt well-rested, and resented the fact. He should feel like shit. He'd just screwed his boss, for God's sake.
Cameron, he realized, would be sick with envy.
If he told her. Which he had absolutely no intention of doing.
Still, there was one matter on which he had to set the record straight. So to speak. "I didn't mistake you for anyone," he said, and scooped his tie off the floor and concentrated on knotting it so he wouldn't have to see House's face.
"Well, that's one perfectly good theory down," House said. "You don't look a thing like Carmen anyway. You're pretty, but you're not that pretty."
Chase hesitated as he adjusted his tie, turning over the possibilities in his mind. Some sly, scheming part of his brain was already looking at the angles, wondering how he could turn the situation to his advantage.
"Of course," House added, "you've just blown your best excuse to forget this ever happened. Care to dazzle me with a substitute, wunderkind?"
Chase took a deep breath and turned to face him.
"I don't want an excuse," he said.
Whatever response he was expecting, it wasn't for House to roll his eyes. But it should have been.
"I was afraid of that," House said. "Honestly, now. Is it the coffee? Has Cuddy been slipping you guys her special brew?"
Chase let his hands fall to his sides and took a step forward, ignoring the panicked Don't don't don't clamoring in his brain. This was his chance, maybe the only one he'd get. He wanted camaraderie with House. He wanted the delusion of respect.
In retrospect, maybe sex hadn't been the way to go.
Hindsight, et cetera, and at the time he was hardly seeing twenty-twenty. Desperation caused a certain myopia. At the time, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to reach for House's face, to feel the shock of warm skin and sharp bone and morning stubble under his fingers, and to say softly, "It's not the coffee."
House closed his eyes, and Chase watched, fascinated by the minute play of emotions over his face-- the tightening of his lips, the twitch of his eyebrows, the bob of his throat.
Then he opened his eyes again, and Chase realized his mistake.
House wasn't stupid. He had been called many things, but stupid wasn't one of them, and he knew exactly why Chase was doing this, had probably known long before Chase even did.
Chase yanked his hand away and clenched his fists at his sides. His breath came in quick, shallow gasps. He felt himself teetering on the edge of a precipice, unable to step away. There was a curious kind of freedom in it; he'd placed his cards face-up on the table, and they were greeted with naked contempt. All that remained was to wait and see how the hand played out.
House surprised him again. He ought to have been used to it by now.
"Tonight," he said, digging sharp fingers into Chase's jaw and forcibly raising Chase's gaze to meet his own. "Your place. I'll bring the hairbrush."
Somehow Chase managed to make it out the door to his car without gibbering all over the carpet.
He wondered what the hell he'd gotten himself into.
Whatever it was, he seems to be well out of it now, if House's pronouncement the other night was any indication. In the following days, House doesn't even do him the courtesy of avoiding his gaze; he stares right back at Chase with the same cool, impatient look he always did.
The first time it happens, Chase is leaning back in his chair and tapping his pen against his teeth. He's already regretting tossing his uneaten tuna sandwich; his empty stomach roils inside him like a living creature. House is busily scribbling Janice Loew's symptoms on the whiteboard and barking them out as he goes. When he glances over his shoulder at the three of them, raking Chase with an unconcerned stare, the abused pen falls from Chase's fingers to his lap, and he scrambles to retrieve it and nearly loses his balance in the process. The pen clatters to the floor, far more loudly than a cheap ballpoint has any right to clatter.
Chase rights himself and bends to retrieve it, grateful for the excuse to hide his burning face; the curse of fair skin. Safe behind a fall of hair, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. House will be merciless.
House, incredibly, doesn't say a word. He simply scrawls the final symptom on the board, and if the twin Ps of "partial paralysis" seem particularly jaunty, Chase isn't about to call him on it.
He feels Cameron and Foreman's stares burning into the back of his skull, and sets his jaw and refuses to look at them. If they want to speculate, they can damn well do it without his input.
House clears his throat. Chase gives a guilty start and looks up; House is tapping the marker against the whiteboard with ill-concealed annoyance. "Does anyone want to tell me what these latest symptoms mean, or are you all too busy committing Chase's profile to memory?"
Chase grits his teeth and kept his head down. He should have known the reprieve wouldn't last.
Except House still isn't actually talking to him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees House lean toward Cameron, who is now staring at her own hands. "You can't actually burn a hole through someone's brain like that," he confides. "Believe me, I've tried."
Cameron straightens and squares her shoulders. "It means the disease is progressing."
"Not good enough." House snaps his fingers at the rest of the room. "Anyone else?"
"It means she's dying," Chase hears himself say, "very quickly," and braces for impact.
To his surprise, House just nods again. "Now who wants to be really radical and tell me what's wrong with her?"
Who doesn't? Chase thinks, noting Foreman's studied neutrality, the way Cameron's teeth dig into her lower lip. All of them desperate, in their own way, for House's approval. He can't even begin to imagine what his own expression might be.
"Fine," House says, and heaves himself past them to the door. "Potty break. Try not to break anything while I'm gone."
As soon as the door swings shut behind him, Cameron opens her mouth.
Chase stands. With a muttered "'Scuse me," he steps blindly into the hallway and picks a direction at random, praying it isn't the same one House has chosen.
He was prepared for ridicule; with House, public humiliation is just one of the perks of the job. He was even prepared for, if dreading, more tortuous drudge work.
The one thing he didn't prepare himself for was nothing at all.
Twenty-four hours after the ill-advised affair began, Chase ended it for the first time.
He'd spent the day in a state of near-nervous breakdown, flinching at odd sounds and leaping to attention every time House entered the room. House was his usual self, if not more so; more House than House, in a way. He made rude remarks about Cameron's cleavage that left her with an odd little half-pleased, half-pissed smile on her face; he alluded to Foreman's less-than-impressive criminal past on no less than seven separate occasions, and that was just before noon; and he made a point of asking in front of everybody, as though the idea had just occurred to him, whether Chase had heard from his father recently. He did not, however, make any mention of Chase's ass or his supposed predilection for nipple clamps, for which Chase was grateful. He didn't think his nerves could have taken it.
He'd been sure the others would notice something was wrong, but they both seemed lost in their own thoughts. Cameron kept giving House long, moony looks (If only she knew, Chase thought, and then panicked all over again), while Foreman seemed content not to pry for once. Wilson had dropped by late in the morning, but after a few minutes of excessive Houseness, he wisely ducked out again and vanished for the rest of the day.
Thank God they didn't have a new patient already. Chase's brain was no good to anybody at the moment; he doubted he could even remember how to work a syringe. He did have clinic duty in the afternoon, but that was never taxing, and he welcomed the distraction. For two blissful hours, he peered into sore throats, probed swollen lymph nodes, handed out antibiotics like they were candy, and didn't think about House once.
By the time 5:00 rolled around, however, the soporific effects had worn off and he was almost as much of a wreck as before. He didn't stop in front of House's office this time. He kept his eyes fixed on the carpet in front of him and picked up the pace more than was necessary, moving at such a clip that Wilson had to jog to catch up with him.
"Hey!" Wilson wasn't quite out of breath, but it was close. "If I were a delicate soul, I might think you were ignoring me."
Chase gave him a quick sideways glance. With his face flushed and a lock of dark hair falling over his forehead, James Wilson looked impossibly young. Chase realized he was looking at the man with new eyes-- assessing eyes, sexual eyes-- and felt his face burn.
No. That was not how it worked. One night with another man did not turn a person gay. He was a doctor. He knew better than that.
And he did not just check out Wilson's package.
Chase wrenched his gaze back up to Wilson's face, which was growing more and more curious by the second, and dredged up a weak smile from reserves he didn't even think existed. "Sorry. I was kind of lost in thought."
Which was the truth; he hadn't heard the man call his name. But if he had, he would have been sorely tempted to pretend otherwise. Wilson was dangerous (unaware that three months later he'd think the same about Cameron, with the same implied threat); Wilson knew House.
Sure enough, the first thing out of Wilson's mouth was, "Is something going on with House? He's acting... off... today."
Chase quickened his pace, anxious to reach the elevator and the safety of his car below. Wilson lengthened his stride to keep up. Peeved, Chase said, "Why ask me?"
"Because you're acting weird too," Wilson said, and Chase's legs stopped moving. Unfortunately, the rest of him didn't get the memo.
He pitched forward and flailed for balance, managing at the last minute to catch himself before he made a personal acquaintance with the floor. Wilson quirked one eyebrow and held out his hand, but made no other move to assist.
Chase waved the hand away, casting about for-- and utterly failing to find-- the tattered shreds of his dignity. "Think it's communicable?" he asked, a bit breathless, and then regretted the question; it opened up all kinds of worrying avenues of pursuit, such as how, exactly, said weirdness was communicated.
Wilson was not House, and so he didn't ask the obvious, if crude, question. All he said was, "I was hoping you could tell me."
Chase stopped at the elevator and stabbed twice at the down button. Wilson, to his dismay, halted too.
"Couldn't say," Chase said.
"Hmm," Wilson said.
Chase stared at the flickering floor numbers as the elevator descended. 9, 8, 7-- he wouldn't ask, wouldn't ask, would not ask.... "What, 'hmm'?"
"Oh, nothing," Wilson said. A maddening pause, then: "Interesting choice of words, is all."
If there was a God, Chase thought, He would strike Chase dead on the spot.
"You know," Wilson said with a narrow-eyed stare, "I think I left my briefcase in my office."
Well. It wasn't spontaneous combustion, but it would do.
As he stepped into the elevator, blessedly alone and not even shaking, Chase started to rethink his stance on the whole church thing.
He arrived home at 6:17. By 6:30, he was already on his third glass of scotch.
House had never said when he planned to arrive, and an hour and half a bottle later, Chase's stomach was starting to make its displeasure known. Chase knew without looking that he didn't have so much as a TV dinner left in the freezer. Options: he could run to the WaWa on the corner. He could try that new Thai restaurant over on the next block. And if House arrived while he was gone, well, it would serve the bastard right to have to wait around in the hallway. But would he? Or would he turn right back around and head for home? And was Chase hoping for or fearing the latter? The stack of delivery menus loomed temptingly by the phone.
In the end, he didn't move from the sofa and poured himself another shot instead. He never could eat when he was nervous.
The buzzer rang at 9:54 p.m.
Chase opened the door and greeted House with a grumpy, "I do have work tomorrow, you know."
"Well whoop-de-doo," House said. "I'll write you a doctor's note. Think your boss will go for that?"
Chase just blinked at him. Copious amounts of alcohol on an empty stomach were taking their toll. Suddenly getting drunk didn't seem like such a good idea. He could barely keep up with House when sober.
House made an impatient noise. "Should I come in, or do you want to have sex right here in the hallway?"
There was no one else in the hall, but Chase still panicked, grabbing House's arm and hauling him inside, then slamming the door after him. House wrenched away with a haughty, "Oh, sure, let's play wheelbarrow with the cripple. I love party games."
"That wasn't the wheelbarrow," Chase felt compelled to point out. "You had the wrong end in the air. Though some might dispute that point."
"Oh you Brits," House said. "You're all so very droll."
"I'm Australian," Chase said, "and you know it." He took a step forward. House still stood in front of the closed door; if he backed up, he would be pressed up against it. But House held his ground, and Chase started to think that maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Then House blinked twice, rapidly, and held out a small plastic bag. "For you," he said, the ghost of a smirk lingering around his mouth.
Why Gregory, you shouldn't have, Chase refrained from saying, though not by much. He had a sinking feeling he wasn't going to like the contents of the bag.
With mounting dread, he opened it and peered inside.
A sturdy, old-fashioned wooden hairbrush, the kind with boar's-hair bristles, mocked him from within the plastic depths. A jaunty red ribbon was tied around the thick handle.
Yep. Knew he wouldn't like it.
"I did promise," House said. He sounded... defensive? Weird.
Still staring at the brush, Chase said numbly, "I think this is a really bad idea."
"No argument here," House said. "More to the point, though, it's your really bad idea."
"Hang on, you asked me back to yours!"
"Right, and the fact that I had an altar boy staring at my dick had nothing to do with it." House paused, lost for the moment in what was undoubtedly deep, absurd thought. "If I started referring to my penis in the third person, would you still respect me in the morning?"
"I think," Chase said before he could stop himself, or even decide whether he wanted to, "that we'd finally have reason to institutionalize you for good."
"Medium Greg will be so sad to hear it."
"I'm Big Greg," House said. "And he's not little."
Chase managed not to look down.
"So that's a no to the hairbrush, then," House said, and Chase heard the subtext loud and clear.
"Yeah," he said, and meant no, as in no more of this if we know what's good for us.
Which, given both their track records, was by no means a foregone conclusion.
House acknowledged the response with a small twitch of his lips, then said, "I've come all this way. It's only polite to offer me a drink."
"Um," Chase said. "Okay." He paused. "Want a drink?"
"Why, how splendid of you to offer," House said. "I see I have some catching up to do."
Chase backed away, and House took the opportunity to look around the room, his eyes bright with some unreadable emotion. "Gotta say, not quite the swingin' bachelor pad I was expecting. Where's the chrome and glass and black leather? TV's usually so accurate about these things. Did you offer me a drink? I forget."
This last was delivered as an aside over his shoulder as House stalked over to the far wall, inspecting the painting over the fireplace-- a bright, psychedelic abstract, by an artist he knew in New York, not a gift from a friend, but discounted and therefore just as good. Chase took advantage of the reprieve and retreated to the liquor cabinet, clinking bottles against each other in his haste. The scotch was long gone; he didn't feel cheerful enough for tequila, or suicidal enough for vodka. Whiskey, then.
Christ. He'd never just had a drink with House. Not unless he counted that time in the bar with the drug rep, but that wasn't just a drink. Nothing was just anything with House.
He'd had more social interaction with Cameron and Foreman, for God's sake.
Then again, before last night he hadn't done a lot of things with House. Tossing back a few in the warmth and comfort of his own apartment didn't rank that high on the weirdness scale.
He'd performed emergency tracheotomies on raving loonies who'd threatened to deck him if he so much as touched them with his scalpel. He could handle a quiet drink. Just one.
Except one turned into two, which turned into the sloppy geometry of a true bender, shot glasses stacking up exponentially in his head, if not on the table; no reason to wash more dishes than he had to. House sipped his whiskey more slowly, but Chase suspected he'd already been flying high on more than just hormones by the time he'd appeared at the door.
It occurred to him then, a sudden flash of drunken insight, that maybe House had had trouble working up the nerve as well.
The thought was cheering, and he drained his latest (and last, if he had anything to say about it) glass and slammed it down on the table. House blinked, staring at him, saying nothing. The silence was par for the evening, and unnerving in itself; he'd never known House to go so long without some kind of smart remark. But after a few failed attempts at conversation, they'd settled into an uneasy, challenging silence, eyes meeting as they drank, the tension stretching taut between them and--
Christ. Shit. Fucking hell. He was just drunk enough to do something unbelievably stupid if he wasn't careful. Like maybe jumping his boss for the second night in a row.
He caught himself staring at House's lips-- thin, almost delicate, would be if they weren't always so twisted-- and wondering what it would be like to kiss them.
He didn't want to do this. That was the whole point. That was why he wasn't doing it. Because otherwise he'd be finding out exactly what a kiss would be like-- if House let him-- let him, hell, he'd take it--
Except he didn't. Want to.
Chase huddled against his end of the sofa and glanced around the room for a distraction. His eyes lit on the offending plastic bag, sitting forlorn and forgotten by the door. That would do. House had brought him a hairbrush, for God's sake. That didn't turn him on at all.
Sure, Robbie, you just keep thinking that.
Suddenly he felt sick, sick and dizzy and claustrophobic and far too aware of House breathing next to him, too close for comfort even with the length of the sofa between them. He shot to his feet and grabbed at the sofa arm for balance. Disaster averted, twice in one day. He was mighty.
He was mighty fucking plonked, was what he was.
"I have to," he announced and, when House cocked an inquiring eyebrow up at him, lost his train of thought. "Um. I have to."
Derailed at the station.
"Powder your nose," House offered, as he stared into the distance and racked his brain. "Wash your hair. Shampoo the dog, dust the cupboards, cover my clinic hours for the next two weeks--"
"I'm gonna pass out," Chase blurted out, then frowned. "I don't have a dog."
A long, exaggerated look around the room, taking in the expensive furniture, the pristine hardwood floors. "I'm astounded."
"And I'm not covering your fucking clinic hours."
"Foiled again." House regarded him from beneath half-lidded eyes, seeming to loom even while sitting down.
Sitting down. Face approximately at crotch height.
"Go pass out," House said, voice so Dr. House-authoritative, so patient is suffering from extreme inebriation; recommended treatment, unconsciousness-diagnostic that he almost snapped out I'll get a CT scan from sheer instinct, mouth half-open before he managed to catch himself.
"Or puke," House said. "Whichever, I'm not picky."
Dismissed; business as usual. Chase was halfway to the bedroom before he stopped and turned around. "You can't drive."
"People keep telling me that," House said.
"That's not. I mean--" He gestured vaguely. "Now, you can't drive now--"
"Projecting a bit, don't you think?" House's eyebrow arched again, and Chase set his jaw-- House had been drinking after all, not as much as him maybe, but he'd definitely downed three glasses at least.
House relented far too quickly to be relenting at all. "Nice couch. Think I'll stay here for a while. Enjoy the view. You have digital cable, right?"
Chase blinked, his jaw slackening. House out here, him unconscious in the next room-- the thought was terrifying.
House didn't miss a trick, and he certainly never missed fear. His eyes narrowed, mouth thinning into a smug, malicious slash in his otherwise stone-cold face. Chase gaped at the transformation; just moments ago he'd been... relaxed. Almost friendly, even. Not so much now.
The words, when they came, matched the mouth. "Oh, come on. I promise not to rape you in your sleep. Whaddya say?"
He felt his already-pink face flush even more (alcohol, just the alcohol). Ugly words; House's specialty. He'd thought he'd be immune by now. Was surprised they could still hurt.
But that was what had driven him to Vogler in the first place, wasn't it? Wounded pride. Words that hurt.
"Fine," he said, through stiff, uncooperative lips. "Lock up when you leave."
Chase retreated to his bedroom without another word and slammed the door behind him.
He thought about locking the door, then realized that House would hear it if he did.
Sometime during the night, Ronnie Warfield, Jr., was brought into the ER, comatose for no apparent reason. By the time Chase arrived, cautiously optimistic about the future of his working relationship with his boss and now (he winced at the term) ex-lover-- optimism aided by his somewhat spotty recollection of the latter part of the evening-- House was already scribbling on the whiteboard.
"You're late," House pronounced as he walked in, crossing a t with a melodramatic flourish. If he'd had a mustache instead of stubble, he would've been petting it. "What's the juicy secret, loverboy? Killer hangover? One-night stand that just wouldn't go away?"
So much for optimism.
Chase met his cool stare and tried to ignore his racing pulse; Loverboy? he would have asked House incredulously, had they been alone. "One-night stand that wouldn't shut up," he said instead through gritted teeth.
House's eyes flickered brief approval.
"That's disgusting," Cameron said flatly.
Chase stared at her, feeling injured and not a little put-upon. She glared back.
Foreman raised his hand to shoulder height. "Could we stop talking about Chase's sex life now?"
House made a mock-sympathetic face. "What's the matter, Foreman, professional jealousy? The Love Doctor just don't got the pull he used to with the chicks? I'm sure Chase would be glad to give you a refresher course."
Chase tuned out Foreman's response, taking the opportunity to drop his bag by his chair and pour a cup of coffee. He had, in fact, woken up with a raging hangover, and the last remnants of it still throbbed behind his eyeballs, but that wasn't the reason he was late.
He had run into Stacey Warner in the hallway.
Just four days after her husband's diagnosis, there she was back at the hospital, striding down the hallway in an elegant power suit and sensible heels. Her presence didn't give Chase pause; he assumed she was there to visit Mark.
He nodded as they passed. Stacey stopped and said, "Hey-- Dr. Chase, right?"
"Yes," Chase admitted, watching her warily. This was House's real ex-lover, after all, the one who knew him better than anyone else (save, one might argue, for Wilson). What if-- God, what if she could smell House on him or something?
Right. Smell him. Earth to Chase; your little green men have landed, and they're here to take you home.
Stacey tilted her head to the side and gave him a considering look. Despite his height advantage, he felt intimidated.
"I'm glad I ran into you," she said.
"Why?" The question was out before Chase could stop it. He couldn't recall having distinguished himself to Stacey in any particular way.
She didn't seem to notice the rudeness; after House, he supposed, it would take more than that to put her back up. She said, "I wanted to ask how Greg's doing. Lately, I mean."
"Hard to tell," Chase hedged, after the first instinctive burst of Whyareyouaskingme? First Wilson, now Stacey; did he have a neon sign on his forehead? Then, more truthfully: "He's... kind of in rare form of late."
That was some rare form, all right.
Stacey sighed. "I just, I don't know, with me taking this job-- I mean, he said he didn't mind, but of course he'd never say if he did."
"Job," Chase echoed. "Here?"
"Oh," she said. "Crap. Well, I guess it's not a secret. It's not even personal. Lisa offered me my old job back."
Lisa? Oh, right-- Cuddy. Odd to hear her referred to by her first name. House avoided given names like the plague. He even called Wilson "Wilson".
He wondered how long it had taken Stacey to progress to the coveted given-name status, or if she'd occupied that position from the start.
Then: She's working here? House would be even more unbearable than usual. Snappish House could last for months.
"I'm sorry," Stacey said, looking rueful. "I've just made your life a lot harder, haven't I?"
"Yeah, well," Chase said, a little unnerved at how accurately she had read his mind. "Not exactly your fault, is it?"
"Call it what it is," Stacey agreed. "Greg's the one holding the whip."
Chase opened his mouth, then shut it again, assaulted by lurid mental images.
"'Scuse me," he muttered, "I'm late," and fled.
Considering the welcome he'd gotten, he ought not have rushed. Chase could only imagine the size of the knackers it took for House to allude to his love life in front of Cameron and Foreman and, well, Cameron. Except he didn't have to imagine, but that wasn't a thought he was anxious to have at the moment.
It was, he thought with a quiet sigh, going to be a very long day.
And then House informed him that he would have to go to Robbie Warfield's favorite hangout, a biker bar in the decidedly bad part of town, and gather information on his possible sexual partners.
Chase sank down in his chair, staring at House in horror. "You have got to be shitting me."
"Ah, the English language," House said. "So poetic, don't you think? So musical to the ear."
"Why me?" He knew he was close to whining, but he didn't care. Biker bar, for God's sake.
"Because Cameron would get eaten alive," House said, "and Foreman would get his attractively hued ass kicked right back out the door. You're my go-to Aryan boy, Chase. Go to, already."
Chase was pretty sure his first thought shouldn't have been, You think Foreman's ass is attractive?
He wouldn't look for himself. He would not look for himself.
Not half bad, actually.
Foreman shook his head, oblivious to the visual molestation. "Better you than me, white boy."
"Thanks for the support," Chase said.
"Besides," House said, and winked at him. "You look so good in that leather jacket."
Five minutes at the Pit Stop and Chase knew the place for exactly what it was: sheer, unalloyed hell.
He'd been shoved, punched-- oh, but a friendly punch-- and otherwise manhandled from the moment he set foot inside the door. The third time some hulking mountain of studded leather called him "pretty boy," he had to resist the urge to hit someone in the face. In the end, the only thing that held him back was the clinical knowledge of just how badly bones could be broken. He'd seen grown men writhing and crying like babies; he had no desire to become one of them.
Screw them all, and screw House (been there, done that) for putting him in this position. This was not what Chase had signed on for.
And, as Ronnie Warfield's good buddy, the aptly named Bud, slammed him backwards over a billiards table and threatened him with the business end of a cue for poking around in ol' Junior's personal business:
Screw House through the wall.
Chase returned to PPTH with a split lip, a pronounced limp, and the strong desire to inflict bloodshed.
"My God," House said, emerging from his office to gawk. "What'd they do, gang-bang you?"
"I hate you," Chase said.
"Hey now. No need to get personal."
Chase gritted his teeth. "What is this," he hissed, "revenge because I won't sleep with you, because I won't play your little games--"
House didn't bat an eye. "Yes, all right, you've found me out. I can't live without you, Robert. Take me now, take me hard--"
"I. Hate. You," Chase ground out. He spun on his heel and stalked away.
"Learn anything?" House called down the hall after him.
"That I hate you!" Chase yelled back.
A passing nurse shook her head and said, "Join the club, honey."
That evening, Chase did something truly desperate and mostly unprecedented: he went for a run.
He never ran; he hated running. The dull monotony, the sheer pointlessness of it, the damage he knew he was doing to his knees and his shins-- if there wasn't a football in front of him, he didn't see the point. But he had to do something physical, something to work off the anger and adrenaline that still simmered inside him, and there was a sad lack of ski slopes in the greater Princeton area. If he were the type to punch things, he would have hit a punching bag for a while. If he'd owned a punching bag. He still wasn't ruling it out as a possibility. Maybe he could paint House's picture on the side.
But for the time being, he ran.
By the second mile, he was regretting his outburst, though not because he wasn't still pissed. It was the lack of control that bugged him. He'd gotten good at not letting House see him react, shrugging off his caustic comments and petty torments with a smile or an eye-roll, and only venting later, if at all. It was the safest, sanest way to get through the day. House was an attack dog; the instant he sensed weakness, he went for the throat.
That was what Chase told himself, why he kept a tight grip on his temper and told himself he didn't even mind all that much, got to the point where he really didn't mind, because House had new fodder first in Cameron and then Foreman and tended to leave Chase alone and trust him to do his job. He was more gratified than he'd admit by that trust, limited though it was, and for a while he'd done his best to live up to it.
Then House wormed his way into Chase's personal fucking business with his father, and then Chase fucked up Carly Forlano's angiogram, and just like that the grace period-- because that was what it felt like, and he refused to think of it as the honeymoon-- was over. As Foreman settled into his role and stopped taking everything House said so damn personally, and Cameron started getting under House's skin (and he wouldn't fool himself, much as he wanted to, he knew House felt something for her), that left Chase as the most vulnerable target. And House loathed vulnerability. It was something they had in common.
And yet... he'd lost his temper finally, snapped at House, yelled at him, and instead of pouncing House had barely reacted. Had been sarcastic, of course-- when wasn't he?-- but still somehow reasonable. Subdued, even.
I hate you. It should have hurt him, damn it, at least a little, and Chase was man enough to admit it-- that, if nothing more. He'd wanted to hurt House.
If it hurt him, that meant House gave a shit.
Healthy, Robbie. Very healthy.
Mid-mile three, the residual twinge in his leg flared into a full-blown muscle cramp. Chase staggered to a stop, doubled over and breathing heavily, and tried to massage the pain out of his leg, which of course made him think of House. Again. Some more.
He wondered if House had been a runner, before.
Situation: fucked up, prognosis: grim. He'd sucked House's dick and had subsequently been less tormented by the man than usual. He'd broken it off, and the very next day House sent him to a biker bar to get his ass kicked all over a billiards table. Trial and error had revealed the likely progression of the disease.
Still, it was only a hypothesis, and one which bore further investigation. And if that meant he got to feel House's piano-player fingers on his dick again, well, that was a sacrifice he was willing to make for peace of mind at work.
He wasn't capitulating. He was making a strategically sound decision.
It was a little too easy to convince himself.
Peace of mind seems about as likely now as a dozen roses and a heartfelt apology. Chase is impressed despite himself. How long can House keep up the polite disregard? What's he trying to prove?
The rest of the day provides no further clues. Janice Loew's condition continues to worsen; the three of them continue to fail to determine what's making her sick; and House continues to be embittered by his own failure to hit upon yet another brilliant, miraculous solution, and to take it out on Cameron and Foreman. He also continues to say nothing more to Chase than is necessary to avoid killing the patient.
Silent treatment, Chase thinks, very mature. Given past experience, it has to be just another punishment for refusing to screw House.
But then, he didn't refuse, did he? The other night, they never got that far. And House was the one to kick him out, not the other way around. So he's not allowed to end things, but House is. Nice. The prospect of filing suit is looking more and more appealing.
House never came out and said as much, of course. He never said he'd make Chase's life a living hell if he wasn't kept regularly laid. He didn't have to. Chase is capable of learning from experience, and it didn't take long to put the pieces together. The Warfield incident three months before was only the first of Chase's many attacks of conscience, or just plain anxiety, all of which were rewarded the next day with some kind of punishment. Sometimes House just made him run bloodwork all afternoon, saying that the more he did it, the less likely he was to screw it up. Once he set Chase on bedpan duty, when the night nurse for the ward hadn't arrived on shift yet and their patient was bellowing about the smell. And then there were the just plain embarrassing tasks-- nothing life- or limb-threatening, after the first ill-advised mission to the Pit Stop, but Chase is pretty sure no one actually needed to go through the Macavoys' trash, and he is damn sure it didn't have to be during early evening, just in time for Paul Macavoy to arrive home from his son's bedside at the hospital and find the scruffy, smelly doctor in the leather jacket picking through rotting banana peels and old sticky issues of Playboy. Chase only prayed the stickiness was just decomposition liquids, and showered for an hour and a half when he got home.
And of course, whenever it happened he was too fucking terrified to complain. Wuss, he thinks, without real heat. House had the ammunition to drag Chase all the way down, if he didn't mind going down with him-- and with House, who could ever tell? The petty torments had to be better than the alternative. Exposure, disgrace, merciless mocking... and even then, in the end, he always went back, because the sex was better than the torment was better than... et cetera, infinite recursion.
It was a trade-off, no matter what House said. Chase could sleep with him, or he could suffer. Usually he was happy with the former; sex was sex, after all, and with House it was almost always good. And maybe, just maybe, he got off on the very same thing that scared him: the professional danger inherent in screwing his male boss. Or rather, being screwed by him. Another tacit agreement-- House always took the lead, so House did what he wanted, and Chase didn't have the nerve to push his luck (luck, strange word for it). And if he wasn't bothered by it, well, maybe it was that power thing again. Though he'd rather gouge out his eyes with a melon baller than admit it out loud.
And it doesn't matter anyway. Whatever happened between them, whatever agreements were tacit or spoken, it was over, and if Chase hasn't managed to retain his dignity (forfeit upon employment, along with his soul), at least he doesn't have to live in fear of his colleagues' derision, or House's volatile moods, or the day House would tell him, yes, it was imperative that he suit up in full bondage gear and take his flogging like a good boy-- For the good of the patient-- and Chase would, of course, be powerless to resist. Doesn't matter that he can't possibly conceive of the context for that particular treatment; it wouldn't surprise him in the least.
This way is better. It has to be better.
The alternative is just way too fucking sad.
Despite his resolution, Chase held out until the end of the week, determined to see if House would crack first. Between Foreman's clear amusement at the state of his face, House's relentless mocking, and the persistent ache in his leg, he finally gave in.
If he'd had Vicodin to muffle the annoyance, he might have held out longer, but that would only have delayed the inevitable. Chase supposed he always knew he would be the one to break.
Only two shots, this time, before he felt capable of facing House. He squinted at the phone for a few seconds, wondering why he already had the man's home number committed to memory, then gritted his teeth and dialed.
I'm not here. Leave a message.
Chase hesitated, caught flat-footed by the answering machine. Should he leave an incriminating message? Would anyone care, if they heard it? Was anyone but Wilson even likely to hear it? More to point, would House even call him back? The possibilities were endless. As the recorder continued to unspool and he started to verge on Heavy Breathing Stalker territory, he heard a click and House's annoyed voice.
"If you're gonna call my machine to jack off, at least do me the favor of leaving a running commentary."
Chase stared at the receiver, then returned it to his ear. "How'd you know it was me?"
"You breathe Australian," House snapped. "Also, there's this amazing new invention, caller ID. You might have heard of it."
"Oh," Chase said. "Yeah. That."
A pointed pause. "Are you drinking?" The again remained unspoken.
"Why?" Chase returned, somewhat less than brilliantly.
"I'd like to know what level of conversation we're about to have. I'm trying to schedule my time better."
"Had a bit," Chase admitted after a pause.
"And where drunk goes, drunk-dialing is sure to follow. Why, oh, why did I get involved with an incipient alcoholic?"
Chase heard House's teeth snap shut at the end of the sentence, as though closing too late after words that weren't supposed to escape. His anger at the crack about alcoholism was as brief as it was fierce, distracted as he was by the new puzzle.
Involved, House had said. One little word, so many meanings. What did it mean to a bitter misanthrope who hadn't had a real relationship in years?
"Doesn't this bother you?" he asked abruptly.
"This conversation? So far, yes."
"I mean this," Chase said. "Us. Whatever the hell we're doing."
"We're not doing anything anymore. Your idea, I believe. Unless--" House paused. "Did I miss a memo?"
Chase closed his eyes. "Fine. Did it bother you?"
"Anyway, you hate me. You said so yourself. Several times, at an annoyingly loud volume."
"Once more and I'll think you're avoiding the question."
After a long pause, House said, "Everything bothers me. You'll have to be more specific about the particular behavior we're talking about here."
"Non-answer number three. You're quite good at that."
House sighed. "Why did you call me, Chase?"
"Because," Chase said, feeling his face heat, thankful that House couldn't see him, "I don't hate you. Actually."
"Why did you need to get drunk to tell me that?"
"Because sometimes I don't like you either."
"And this is news." House snorted. "So you toss back a few, pick up the phone-- and for the moment, I won't comment on the morbidly perverse fact that your mother died of acute liver failure and yet you still drink like a fish, so consider it noted for future reference-- and what exactly did you hope to accomplish?"
Chase gritted his teeth. "I would like to get out of the lab one day, and maybe actually see a patient again."
"We don't have any patients. Warfield's gone home, good as new."
"And if Cameron hadn't told me, I never would have known."
"If Cameron didn't tell you, I would have. She's the efficient one. She answers my mail."
At this rate, he would be toothless by age thirty. "I would like to not be sent on any more suicide missions to annoy testosterone-soaked behemoths with ham-sized fists."
"If you annoyed them, that's your own fault. Don't they teach you discretion in priest school?"
Chase closed his eyes and fumbled for the whiskey bottle. "This was a mistake."
House was silent for a long moment, and Chase started to think he'd hung up. Then, just as he was swigging directly from the bottle-- a simple shot glass wouldn't cover this situation, not now-- he heard, "Tomorrow?"
"Your place," Chase said, and slammed down the phone.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four