I wrote this snippet immediately after watching "All In" for the first time, way too late at night. It won't make much sense if you haven't watched the episode. Fair warning.

Characters aren't mine, etc., although it grieves me to say so, for Chase's hair is adorable, and his figure is svelte.

Zero Sum
by Maya Tawi


Chase opens the door on the first knock, like he's been expecting company; maybe his shark tale paid off after all. And maybe not; in a T-shirt and sweatpants, he's not dressed for it, less please pass the tea mum and more fetch me a Foster's and throw a shrimp on the barbie, there's a game on tonight. House looks over his shoulder and sees that there is, in fact, a game on, though the beer open on the table is something European and dark.

"BBC America," he notes. "Traitor."

Chase blinks a few times but doesn't move. "What are you doing here?"

"Wilson snores."

Chase just stares.

House shrugs. "It's a cumulative effect."

"I suppose you want to come in," Chase says.

"It's a thought," House agrees. "Maybe we should debate it, at length, while I stand here in the hallway on my bum leg. Hey, you got anything heavy I can hold while we're at it?"

"So that's a yes, then," Chase says, and stands aside.

House does his best to sprawl over the entire sofa and props his feet on the table, deliberately leaving streaks of mud on the wood. Chase, to his dubious credit, refrains from comment, but that's Chase all over; he picks his battles, and sometimes he even gets them right.

It's an admirable trait, House supposes, in anyone who's not a doctor. In Chase, it just depresses him more than he'd like to admit. Funny, then, that he wouldn't be here in the first place if it didn't.

Funny. Ha ha. God, he slays himself.

Sometimes it's easy to respect Chase. House has never gotten into the habit of taking the easy way, so he usually just takes a Vicodin and lies down in a dark room until the moment passes.

It's not passing now, and he just took a pill, so he turns to the next best thing: the bottle of wine he brought, which Chase has been pointedly ignoring since he walked in. "Got a corkscrew? I can't seem to find mine. Wilson hoards shiny things, you know. He has this compulsion."

"I'm amazed you put up with him," Chase says, in that wide-eyed, too-innocent way that always sets House's teeth on edge. He wants to shake the kid and yell at him to stop trying so hard. He wants to tell Chase it works for him. He manfully refrains from doing either, but maybe he's just too tired.

One patient dead, one patient alive, and in the end nobody really wins. It's like the twelve years in between never happened.

House asks, "Are you gonna help me drink this or not?"

Chase gets a corkscrew.

"You realize it's four in the morning," he says, as he pours them each a glass.

"Oh, I'm sorry, is it past your bedtime?" House watches him watching the dark red liquid and thinks about mothers and sons.

Chase looks up and finally meets his gaze. He looks just as exhausted as House feels. "Relax, Grandma," House says, "you're not working tomorrow. Live a little."

"I was planning to," Chase mutters, slumping down in the armchair next to the sofa. He glowers at House. The soccer game is still droning on in the background, and House spares a quick glance at the score; 0-0. He can hardly stand the excitement.

"I did you a favor. Women like that are all bosom and no brains."

"She's a gynecologist," Chase says defensively, Gallant to the end.

Gallant was a self-righteous prick. Goofus, now, there was a guy worth knowing. He probably knew where to score the good shit.

"So she's in it for the pussy." House pauses. "Which I guess explains why she was flirting with you."

Chase raises a lazy middle finger. "Shouldn't you be celebrating with Wilson? You just speared your great white whale."

"Everyone goes straight for the dick jokes," House grumbles. "It's like you're trying to tell me something, but what could it possibly be?"

"Did you two have a quarrel?" Again with the too-sarcastic, and damn it, it's still working for him. House looks down at his wine glass, realizes he forgot he even had it; an unforgivable oversight on his part.

He takes a long swallow, savoring the rich bite and the long, lingering burn, then looks up again. Chase's glass is already near empty, and he's slumping down in his chair to an alarming degree, his T-shirt pushed up at the waist and exposing a thin strip of pale skin. Suddenly, seeing him out of his usual sartorial armor feels far too intimate, even obscene.

"Nah," House says at last, setting down the glass. "He passed out about an hour ago." He takes in Chase's flushed face and glittering eyes with an arched eyebrow. "Couldn't hold his drink. Wuss."

Chase sounds amused; he got it, all right. "So he snores, he hoards, and he's a lightweight. My illusions are shattered."

"He paints his toenails," House confesses, feeling reckless.

Chase's eyebrows shoot up. "Really?"

"No, I made that up. But don't tell him I said so."

"You know," Chase says, "I keep hoping you'll start to make sense one day, and then...." He trails off.

"I'm really not that complex, Chase."

"That's what's so confusing," Chase mutters.

"Wow," House says, trying to sound impressed. It's the thought that counts, he's told. "And here I was afraid I'd have a head start on you. You've been doing some celebrating of your own, you naughty boy."

"Bloody right I have," Chase says, and drains the last of his glass and reaches for the open bottle, all in one smooth, practiced motion. House watches the wine pour again, and this time it looks like blood. "The end of your twelve-year quest to prove yourself right." He raises his newly-filled glass high. "To one less circle of hell for the rest of us."

"Your grammar is appalling," House says.

"Really?" Chase blinks, innocent again, and this time he isn't too sarcastic at all. "Yours was pretty good last night."

For a few seconds, House just stares; he's having another moment. Then Chase grins, slow and sloppy and far too pleased with himself, and House finds himself starting to smile back. He lifts his own glass in an answering salute and intones, "You make great progress, but you are not yet a true Jedi."

"Yoda, you're not."

"He probably gets laid more," House admits.

"So of course you have to drag the rest of us down with you." Chase is still bitter about being cock-blocked. For one crazed moment, House considers offering to make it up to him, then decides he isn't quite drunk enough.

Pity, because he's pretty sure Chase is.

He scoffs instead and takes another sip of wine. "It worked, didn't it? Imagine how much more useless you'd have been if I hadn't saved you from yourself."

Chase gives an indelicate snort. "That certainly puts a perspective on things."

House regards him solemnly, decides he's had just enough to drink for this at least, and says with absolutely no trace of sarcasm, "You did good tonight."

Chase blinks, and House envisions a pretty little blond owl, preening itself on a branch. "I was wrong," he says, like House is an idiot for not thinking he's an idiot.

Hard to argue with that logic.

House likes things the hard way.

"I mean it," he says, and does: remembers Chase charging the paddles for him, eight long minutes of quiet competence, even as Chase was berating him for not picking his battles, not letting things go. As if Robert Chase ever let anything go. Remembers the hushed conference outside the kid's room-- still just the kid now, by virtue of his continued existence; only the dead names linger. Remembers Chase voting neurofibromitosis (because the other choices suck worse) because he's an intensivist, and damage control is what he does best. "You're good at what you do."

Silence. Chase takes a drink.

"And?" he says at last.

"You're good at what you do," House repeats, and pauses. "You just don't do much."

Chase's mouth twists. "Ta very much. The suspense was killing me."

They look at each other. House thinks about missed opportunities, lives lost. He thinks he envies Chase sometimes, because it's so easy for him not to care.

Then he remembers Kayla, and thinks maybe Chase is just better at hiding it than most.

Or maybe he just has his moments.

"Why are you even here?" Chase asks, sounding far more sober than he is.

And that's his cue to leave. "You're so interested," House says, struggling to his feet, "you figure it out."

Chase stands too, the gesture automatic, like finding the salad fork on the first try. "You're leaving?"

"Careful, Chase, I'll start to think you enjoy my company."

Chase's mouth twists again, and he looks away. House suspects there's no easy answer to that. The boy's more of a masochist than he thought.

"You're not driving," Chase says, and tries to shove his hands in his pockets, then discovers he has no pockets. The results are mildly diverting, but it's not enough to convince House to stay.

"Really," he says blandly. "I've been up for almost twenty-four hours, I'm on enough drugs to stun a kangaroo, and I've just sampled the finest grapes in all the land. You don't think I have a bright future ahead of me as an object lesson for today's youth?"

"I think you're about to call a taxi," Chase says, sounding resigned.

"And I think I've had one waiting outside for the past half hour." House waves out the window. The cabbie doesn't see him; he looks like he's asleep at the wheel. "Care to place a small wager?"

Chase smiles a little at that. "I gave at the office."

"One day, you're going to learn never to doubt me," House says, as he grabs the wine bottle from the table-- still a quarter full, no point letting it go to waste-- and limps toward the door.

Chase follows him, opening the door and leaning on the handle in a perfect cover-model pose; House wonders if he's practiced it in front of a mirror. "You wouldn't respect me if I did."

"I don't respect you now."

His smile turns bitter. "Always nice to know where I stand."

"You wouldn't respect me if you did," House counters, and smirks at the uncertainty on Chase's face. Let the golden boy wonder.

He turns to leave, and just before the door closes behind him, he hears a faint cheer go up, as somebody in jolly old England finally scores a goal.


Email: mayatawi@populli.net

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