Title: No Such Thing as Absolution
Rating: PG-13 for medical realism.
Characters: House, Chase.
Summary: After Cofield's verdict, House visits Chase in ICU. Apologizing can’t fix this, but there’s nothing else he can do.
Notes: Thanks to resourceress7 for masterful beta-reading and research assistance.
House storms out of the office-slash-inquisitorial chamber, leaving Cofield, Foreman and all the able-bodied members of his team behind, and heads for the ICU.
‘Nobody’s fault’ is a crap ruling. There’s no logic behind it, no better reason than chance good timing on the part of his ex-patient’s wife, and Cofield’s sudden attack of sentiment. Get Out of Jail Free, like this whole fiasco had been a Monopoly game. Like Chase had just drawn the wrong card and had to pay everything in damages. House’s mistakes should have been his own to pay for.
Chase should have walked away unscathed.
But Cofield’s magnanimous gesture is a better-designed punishment than he’ll ever know. House’s parole ties him to PPTH, and after this, he will not get himself fired. Because this disaster is a direct result of his decisions, and that means he deserves exactly what he was given: the solitary hell of watching Chase follow in his infarcted, limping footsteps to become Cripple the Second.
Watching him struggle through months of painful, grueling physical rehab. Feeling Chase’s grief and anguish echo through his own memory. Seeing him in a wheelchair, on crutches, gimping through the world, being stared at. Knowing the pain and fatigue that will wear him down until he loses the energy to care about anything beyond his own exhaustion.
Dammit! He should have been able to prevent all this. When Chase hadn’t posited a theory of his own, of course that meant he’d thought one of the other three was right. Of course he’d wanted to find out. It wouldn’t have been the first time Chase had taken initiative and run an extra test. If only he’d told his team, “Keep testing if you want. Just have the patient strapped down in case he goes bonkers,” it would’ve been enough.
Noticing that both his fists are tightly clenched, House steps toward a nearby pillar, bracing himself against it with his free hand. He hooks the cane over that arm so he can extend and flex his fingers against the soreness of a white-knuckled grip. Drawing a deep breath, he leans forward to rest his forehead against the pillar, and slowly exhales.
When he’s as ready to move as he’s ever going to get, he repositions the cane and starts down the hall, too aware of his own lopsided gait. At least Stacy had only taken one muscle group from him—he’d only lost function on one side.
It’s too early to know the full extent of Chase’s spinal injury. Even after the swelling subsides, he may have lost everything from L5 down. Plus, recovery from the thoracotomy to patch his heart means no strenuous physical therapy for at least a month. And that could cost him. Big.
There’s nothing he can do for Chase that he hasn’t already done, no chance of the eleventh-hour realization that this was never really an SCI. Nothing he can cure. Nothing he can give but a worthless apology.
House opens the door to ICU, moving down the hallway until he reaches Chase’s room. He peers through the glass, his gaze flitting to the monitors (no anomalies) before settling on Chase. He’s half sitting up, supported by pillows and the tilt of the bed, eyes on his own folded hands. There’s a grabber tool lying beside his right leg, in case he needs to pull up a rumpled blanket or reach something close to the bedside. No doubt from OT—they have a thing for gadgets.
“The firing wire in my Vicodin,” he says as he walks in. “Nice. It went off in front of Cofield, set off the right diagnosis. Tumor lysis syndrome. Patient’s gonna live.” Solving the case doesn’t make up for what happened, but there might be cold comfort in knowing that he hadn’t been crippled for nothing.
Chase nods slightly, but doesn’t look up. As long as he stays this quiet and closed off, House has nothing specific enough to work with.
“Cofield decided it was nobody’s fault you got stabbed.” Still no answer. He waits a few more seconds, then says, “He’s wrong. I’m sorry.”
Chase makes a small, choked sound—maybe something like bitter laughter, maybe an attempt not to cry—then takes a deep breath. Trying for control. Finally, he says quietly, “Don’t.”
House waits, and after a few seconds, Chase looks up. He may think he’s pulled himself together enough to hide his feelings, but he hasn’t. Exhaustion, grief, uncertainty, pain… House may as well be reading a book.
Or maybe looking in a mirror.
“House. Just—please. Not now.”
House raises an eyebrow. He hadn’t expected Chase to be in a chatty mood, but he also hadn’t anticipated ambiguity. “Not now because you blame me? Or because you’ve been too many people’s lab rat today?” He gestures at the grabber. “New toy means OT eval.”
Chase nods. “To begin with. PT was later.” A slight, humorless laugh. “Lots of tests, lots of questions that aren’t their business.” Half under his breath, he says, “Like they need my life story to do their jobs.”
Prying into his history is one of the few things that riles Chase. That explains the frustration. So does the endless poking and prodding, quantifying exactly how much he’s lost. “So that’s a yes on the lab rat thing?”
“Yeah.” Chase releases a deep sigh, closes his eyes for a few seconds, then opens them and looks back up at House. “I want to be left alone. But I don’t blame you.”
House frowns at him. That doesn’t make sense. He’s the one who’d put the patient on the diagnostic trial that made him snap. He should have seen this coming.
“Why? This was my fault.”
“Oh God,” Chase mutters, fatigue shading into exasperation. “It wasn’t, and I don’t blame you. Can’t that be enough? For today, at least?”
He knows better than to believe that. The only reason Chase doesn’t hate him right now is that hatred takes energy. ‘It wasn’t your fault and I don’t hate you’ is just code for ‘I’m too tired to argue, but I still want you gone.’
His instinct is to dig, keep asking until he gets a real reason. But the exhaustion he sees in Chase’s face is real, and House knows that right now, a demand for answers would be one demand too many.
Fine. He can observe from the hallway, pilfer evaluation results and interrogate therapists in the meantime, and it’s not like these answers are time-sensitive. “Yeah,” he agrees.
Chase relaxes slightly. “Thank you.”
He doesn’t want or deserve Chase’s gratitude, but he has enough self-control not to snap that at him. Not today. He nods curtly, turns and leaves the ICU, moving toward the elevator.
He’ll go back to his office, check if any of Chase’s initial test results are available on the hospital network (fewer offices to break into later), and then go to Wilson’s and wait for him to come back from the world’s most horribly-timed oncology conference.
He scoffs. Wilson will be so happy House isn’t going back to prison, so happy to hear the collaborative lie of “nobody’s fault.”
They can repeat it as many times as they want. It’s never going to be true.
While You Were Out