Fandom: House MD
Characters: Chase, Wilson
Challenge/Prompt: fanfic100, 030. Death
Genre: Gen (with the teeniest hint of slash; although not all of it is Chase/Wilson…)
Copyright: “Short Stacks” by The Ditty Bops, very possibly one of the most beautiful songs ever, in my humble opinion.
Summary: Chase and Wilson have to deal with death in all sorts of ways.
Author’s Notes: This is kind of a rip-off of my Torchwood fic “People That I Wasn’t”. It is a companion piece or something, in a similar style because I’m going to write quite a few of these. Morbidly dark and depressing but parts of it work, and I love section one and the first sentences of section three, although you don’t want to know how I came up with the title.
… before you answer my call
“Does it ever get tiring,” Chase asks, coffee cup in his hand, tie loose, 3 a.m and counting, leant against the doorframe like it’s the only thing keeping him upright, “Being surrounded by people doing nothing but dying?”
Wilson blinks at him. Exhausted. Thinking but why are you saying this and feeling half-faint from the sleep that’s eluding him tonight.
“I-” he begins dizzily. “I don’t know.”
Chase walks over, slow, careful, sets the red mug down on the desk and sits down in the chair Wilson normally saves for patients or for House. He reaches for the manila files sitting on Wilson’s desk, concentrating with the hard stare and trembling hands of a man who hasn’t slept in thirty hours or maybe more, and Wilson watches as Chase flips them open and casts his eyes over the paper inside.
“Brain tumour. Inoperable.” Another file. “Breast cancer. Stage three.” Another one. “Leukaemia. Can’t find a bone marrow donor.” Another. “Lung cancer. Maybe four weeks left to live.”
Chase obediently closes his mouth and returns the folders to their original position on Wilson’s desk, left hand side. Neat. Tidy. Keep your desk organised enough and maybe your life will stay together too.
Wilson hates it when he becomes so tired his brain makes House’s sarcastic comments without the other man needing to be there to say them.
“Why are you asking me this?” Wilson asks again. Chase shrugs, carefully reaching for his coffee cup again, and taking a sip. He makes a face at the fact it’s gone cold, then sighs and keeps drinking it anyway.
“Because it’s late and I’m tired and our patients won’t stop dying and I’m curious to know how you manage it.” Chase’s tone is flat and monotonous and he doesn’t sound the least bit interested. But Wilson has been watching Chase for the last two and a half years and he feels that he knows him well enough now to know when Chase actually cares about something.
It’s strange. Never had a straight conversation that didn’t involve House or a diagnosis in the whole time Chase has been here, but Wilson seems to think that he knows him. He almost laughs except that he probably knows as much about Chase as everyone else at this hospital, and that’s just plain depressing.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Wilson tells Chase. He wants sleep. Somewhere peaceful and quiet and safe. Not on the couch in his office, waking up later smelling like yesterday.
Chase looks at him through that fringe of hair and bites his lower lip, before his face splits into a half-smile.
“Neither do I,” he admits.
… with tied mouth somehow telling all
Chase lies on his couch and laughs breathlessly into the silence until the laughter becomes tears and then becomes laughter again. Twisting and changing and then changing back. He’s not good at this. He’s got to get better. Then again, he notes with the wriest smile he can manage in this kind of situation, he’s got no parents left to lose. No family left to die at inconvenient moments.
He’s run out of tears too and that’s probably just as well.
Aged sixteen and biting his nails raw, Robert stood by as his mother’s casket was lowered into the ground, shaking like a leaf, and really all he wanted was his father’s hand on his shoulder, making him not alone, making him a son again. What he got was a few brief smiles that could only have conveyed pity if there was more effort involved, and a cheque, and a whole lot of silence.
Fourteen years later, and he hasn’t even got that. He’s got a silent apartment, a boss who couldn’t care less, a dying mother-of-two, and no money at all (one last permanent fuck you from his father; a last sign to show how very little he actually mattered, as if he didn’t already know).
Chase doesn’t know how he’s supposed to feel. He did the grieving thing wrong the first time around, he’s sure of it, and it’s too late to start doing it right now. He feels somewhat guilty, and somewhat let down. It’s almost an anticlimax. Oh, right, he’s- what? But- but I- but-
He sighs, tucking hands behind his head, closing his eyes against the migraine pounding itself against the back of his skull. Everything is fucked-up right now, more fucked-up than he’s prepared for, and if he brought this up, if he told someone what’s happened to him, then he’d get time off to process this and deal with it. But somehow the idea of having to stop everything scares the hell out of him, so instead Chase lies there on his couch and decides not to say a word.
… before it breaks, before you’ve listened
In poetry or books of a certain type, they refer to orgasms as le petit mort. The little death. Wilson has next to no patience for that kind of language, but he suspects that if it weren’t for his addiction to finding them wherever he can, he’d still be married to Laura with a couple of kids and a white picket fence. Well, knowing Laura, it would probably be a magenta picket fence; but still, it would be a fence that was somewhat picket-ish in nature. Or maybe he could have made it work out with Rose and her beige-coloured living room furniture. Or maybe Julie wouldn’t be walking out with her shoes clicking on the floor and guilt smeared down her face like the mascara she’s crying off.
His marriages die on a regular and tiresome basis, House’s face crinkling into tired little smirks and the guilt is unbelievable as his wives drift away and the alimony cheques pile up. Wilson has been forced to consider the fact that maybe he just wasn’t made for marriage. It’s unsettlingly possible.
Breathing out through his teeth, James carefully begins to read through the divorce papers. It’s not as though he hasn’t done this before (twice before a nasty little voice in the back of his head reminds him, but he ignores it, because that nasty little voice was responsible for the last two divorces; that sudden inability to say ‘no’), but he still finds a certain special kind of misery preserved just for these occasions, legal papers spread across the table, guilt making it virtually impossible to breathe, back aching from nights on House’s unforgiving couch, the last death rattle of the marriage fading out under the scratching of a biro pen signature.
Maybe James is self indulgent, maybe he likes it when he’s proven a failure again and again. Maybe he’ll never know. But that picket fence is still conspicuously absent.
… lips are dry, maybe you’re guessing why
Hysterical tears and laughter are not what Chase is or was expecting, but he copes with them well enough. Mother on the floor weeping. He cleaned up after her, a solemn kid with eyes too large and a tendency to say sorry, even about things that could not possibly have been his fault.
Wilson’s sobs, interspersed with moments of complete laughter, don’t scare him as much as they should do. If he were Cameron, Chase suspects he would be ringing his hands and looking anguished right now. If he were House, he’d be mocking Wilson for the weakness and already finding ways to make Wilson buy him lunch. If he were Cuddy, he’d be sympathetic, and if he were Foreman, he’d probably be pretending this wasn’t happening. But Chase has sadly learnt to his cost that he is no one but himself, and therefore he does what he does best. Some Kleenex, and some silence. It’s not the best solution but it’s not the worst either.
“House will be wondering where you are,” Wilson chokes out. Chase looks at the file in his hand and wonders whether House actually wants an answer, or if he sent Chase deliberately, knowing that this would happen.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replies, picking a loose thread on the cuff of his labcoat. “I’ll deal with him.”
Wilson laughs harder at that, but he’s not in his right mind right now so Chase lets it slide. Maybe the oncologist has forgotten that Chase has been working for House for three years now and is starting to pick up certain tricks, even if he blatantly and cheerfully ignores them most of the time.
“You shouldn’t be alone right now,” Chase adds calmly, getting up from where he’s perched on Wilson’s desk to go and watch the world through the window. Awkward. Or maybe not. Nothing makes sense when lines you’ve carefully drawn erase themselves. He shouldn’t be the one to be here, but there’s no one else. That thought depresses him, but also stiffens his resolve. He turns back.
“Please,” Wilson snaps, “Just go.”
Chase could, but he won’t. Instead, he sits down and says:
“Tell me what’s going on.”
Wilson seems to be getting a hold of the tears but the laughter still spills out, inappropriate and raw and shocked, and it takes him a moment to speak.
“It’s Grace,” he says softly, throat raw, “She’s dead.”
… don’t mean to make you sick; it just works out that way
Wilson, in his most morbid phases (because you can’t be an oncologist and not have morbid phases), imagines getting cancer. Becoming another statistic. Just which part of him chooses to become cancerous and just how serious it is all depends on how he feels.
Sometimes he imagines it all caught early, fixed with chemo, everything sorted out fine. Other times, it’s metastasised to the rest of his body, he only has weeks left to live, and even House is vastly unsympathetic (“I wish I was dying. I’d be better at it than you.”). Wilson suspects that that’s what you get for picking a friend whose ideas of interpersonal relationships are as damaged as his thigh muscles.
God, that had been fun. Watching House crumbling away piece by piece, Stacy in tears, Cuddy actually fucking panicking, Rose screaming down the phoneline because he was spending every waking minute at the hospital. It took three days of agony for House to diagnose himself, and in that time Wilson had had nothing to do but watch the way pain creased House’s eyes (he’d never seen it until then; now he looks at his friend and he honestly can’t remember what he used to look like before the constant ache inserted itself into his personality, right between the sarcasm and the soft spot for Baywatch). It stung his eyelids but Wilson hasn’t cried for House to this day. It’s the last line he won’t cross.
He’s watched so many people lose the battle that he thinks he’d have dying down to a fine art, if he put his mind to it. He’d probably be able to concentrate so hard on being good at dying that he wouldn’t have time to panic, wouldn’t even notice until it was too late that the whole process was irreversible. Not that it’s something Wilson wants to try out anytime soon; he can’t help feeling it’d have a downer of an ending, but he thinks that maybe he’s the expert, now, on dying with grace and dying with panic and dying alone and dying in the arms of your loved ones. He’s certainly seen it enough to be sick to death of it (however unfortunate the turn of phrase).
This job destroys him a piece at a time, sanity and hope and personality all eroded until he’s got nothing left.
… we know it’s what I say
The line between life and death gets scarily fluid from time to time and Wilson can’t imagine why the hell Chase would want to work in the NICU anyway. The patients are obviously the point of being a doctor (otherwise they’d just be wandering the corridors in their white coats looking a bit lost), but there are some patients that are harder than others. And babies and children are the most soul-destroying kind, hands down. It’s hard enough coping with the kids and teenagers, wide-eyed and terrified of dying before they’ve lived, but on a day-to-day basis, tiny babies slipping through the cracks- it’s madness and Wilson can’t work out why Chase, of all people, would willingly subject himself to it.
[No one deserves cancer. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks “fuck, I wish I had leukaemia”. No one smiles when they come to see him and when Wilson offers reprieves, they look relieved, never delighted. They shuffle along in death’s shadow for so long that by the time they’re told that they’re free, it no longer really matters. Chase can’t think why anyone sane would want to be an oncologist.]
It’s a Friday afternoon, and Chase is sitting under the table in diagnostics, sipping a cold instant coffee and wondering just how much he’s willing to subject himself to for a little extra money. It would be less soul-destroying to whore himself out to the hospital staff; and he’d probably make more cash in the process (he’s willing to bet Wilson is a great tipper) (and he tells himself that he didn’t just think that).
Cameron feels everything and everyone, the pain is vicarious and it has got to be making her completely fucking insane because Chase lost another baby today and he has no idea where to begin putting the pieces together again. It’s possible that he can’t, and that thought terrifies him. So he curls his fingers harder around the coffee mug and makes a mess of drinking it, because apparently he’s forgotten how to swallow and the world is too bright and he can’t see and it makes no sense that he should be cut so deeply over this. Alcoholic parents; yes, that snaps everything out of place, and he’ll always have an Achilles heel for members of the clergy, but he has no connotations with babies and yet there was a tiny life that never got the chance to blossom and he abandons his coffee and runs for it before he vomits all over the carpet.
His mouth tastes like cheap coffee and bile, which is a lovely and eclectic combination, and he’s never been more grateful for a rotation to be nearly over. It was kind of Cuddy to get him out of diagnostics and it was sort of funny watching House trying to work out just why he had to get out (it was less fun when he worked it out; but then things generally are) but now he thinks he’ll be glad to slip back into the diagnostics bubble where nothing and no one matters unless you desperately want them to.
Chase splashes cold water on his face and gasps like a drowning man, terrified and tangled for a few irreversible moments, then packs the emotions into the box in his head (it’s overflowing with stuff he refuses to acknowledge, but he doesn’t care) and stands upright, breathing through gritted teeth. He can make it through today. He has to.
… it’s best to say little
Right now, Chase is looking at Wilson with something a little like uncontrollable hatred on his face and it’s setting Wilson’s teeth on edge but he deserves it.
“You are an unbelievable fucking dick,” Chase snarls, face twisting with anger, which is a pity because he’s too beautiful for looks like that. Wilson doesn’t want to have to do this.
“Why?” he enquires, forcing himself to stay calm and sensible because one of them has to be and the look in his eyes implies that it won’t be Chase.
“Did you get a sadistic kick out of waiting to see just how I’d crack when my father died?” Chase demands.
“Don’t get me confused with House,” Wilson snaps back, suddenly hurt that Chase could think that of him, before remembering that, fuck, of course, Chase can only see him as an extension of House, with better hair and an even crueller smile. It’s how House’s team always see him, and they resent him for being able to get between the cracks of House’s affection that they just can’t. They don’t understand the cost of being the only one House values, and he’ll never tell.
“You’re just a cheap extension of him, aren’t you?” Chase accuses. “A pale imitation and all that?”
That one hurts, which it shouldn’t, but Wilson always wanted to be more than just Michael’s Younger Brother, and now he’s just House’s Best Friend. Forever trapped in the shadow of those better than him.
“Tell me Chase,” he begins, voice trembling, “Isn’t that exactly what you’re trying to be?”
Chase looks hurt; even after nearly three years of working for House, he still can’t hide his emotions quickly or well enough. It’s slightly depressing that he still has so far to go.
Foreman is running the diagnostics department for the foreseeable future. Chase got a slapped wrist because of the whole thing with his father, but two and two have been put together and the issue has risen to the surface and for some unknown reason, the whole thing is now Wilson’s fault. Self-pity is ugly and really only for the weak, but he still can’t help feeling that he shouldn’t actually be involved in any way with this situation, so it’s hardly fair that he’s now getting the blame.
“I didn’t kill Kayla,” he says carefully. “You did.”
“And if you’d said a few words at the time, all this could have been avoided!” Chase is still so young, so much younger than his thirty years imply, and Wilson just wants to pull him into his office, punch out their frustrations with each other, and then maybe they could start again, and he could begin to teach Chase what being an adult actually means and how you cope with these things.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Wilson tells him for about the eighth time. “And I don’t know why House didn’t. But, believe it or not, we did not have a bet going on how many patients you were going to kill when you found out the news, and I am sorry for your loss.”
Chase glares at him and Wilson can tell that he doesn’t want him to be the reasonable one, but there’s a limited number of outcomes for a situation like this, and an uneasy truce is certainly the most practical.
“This isn’t over,” Chase mutters, brushing past Wilson as he tries to leave. Wilson catches his arm.
“Yes,” he tells him calmly, steadily, “Yes, it is.”
… the less you put out the less that’s gone
He still keeps a rosary in the drawer of his nightstand. He doesn’t keep a Bible in there because that would make the apartment feel even more like a hotel and he already doesn’t feel at home there anyway without making it worse. He still hasn’t unpacked all the boxes from the move, even though he left Australia a good three years ago. He’s not too fond of permanence, which is sort of ironic and sort of sick, given how bad he is at letting go of things.
He still believes in Hell. He doesn’t believe in Heaven although he does rather hope there’s something up there so Cameron won’t have been trying so hard in vain. Maybe Kayla’s up there, maybe every patient they’ve ever lost is up there. He kind of likes that idea. That their mistakes can begin to be erased.
He wouldn’t ever have been a good priest, and he knows that now. He’s not empathetic enough. It’s quite a large problem, as problems go, and his inability – and lack of motivation – to feel other people’s pain wouldn’t go down well. He’s also not sure whether he’d ever have got the hang of everyone calling him “father” (and besides, in his experience, fathers are only designed to let you down anyhow). Medicine wasn’t necessarily a better choice, but his mother wanted him in the seminary and his father wanted him in something that wouldn’t disgrace the family, so he wound up here. Some days, he sits back and thinks he’d rather be anywhere in the world but Princeton/Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, and maybe this is God’s punishment for turning his back on everything, but he doesn’t really believe it.
[He still says Hail Marys until his voice cracks on days when he can’t solve the case, his own special form of masochistic penance.]
Watching your faith die out is faintly disturbing. He can’t begin to pinpoint the day on which belief turned to doubt, turned to downright disbelief and hatred, but he remembers feeling disconcerted, breathless and trapped, and fuck, maybe it was a panic attack, not an epiphany, but it’s too late to go back now and he’d hardly be happier in the clergy than he is here (although it would probably spare him from House. The man probably can’t enter sacred ground for fear of bursting into flame.) (and that was too cheap a shot).
He’s died a thousand times in penance, praying and not praying and apologising and then trying to work out why he’s saying ‘sorry’ when, as far as he’s concerned, there’s no one up there to listen to him. It’s all kinds of distressing and shades of downright strange, but he supposes that it’s just another layer of parental issues (his mother’s fingers trembling on the rosary beads, face stained with gin and tears, please, lord, just bring him home) that he’ll never have the patience or the inclination to work through.
… my love for you is not like friendship
Four a.m, and they’re supposed to be having breakfast. Chase isn’t eating and Wilson can’t help wondering why he’s sitting with him, except that House is still unconscious after his shooting and Cameron is a wreck and Cuddy has thrown herself into her work and he can picture breakfast with Foreman just being one long awkward silence. There’s a long silence between him and Chase now, but it isn’t awkward. It’s more… charged.
“He isn’t going to die,” Wilson mutters, more to convince himself because exhaustion is eating into him and he doesn’t know what to do about it.
“I know,” Chase mumbles back, blonde fringe in his eyes. The pause stretches. “He’s everything to you, isn’t he?”
Wilson’s had to answer this question before; Laura asked it, and Rose asked it, and Julie asked it, and Cuddy’s had a go once or twice, and he thinks it might have been on the tip of Cameron’s tongue but he managed to dissuade her from finishing the thought. But he never expected it from Chase. So he listens to the silence for a moment and says:
“I wish he wasn’t.”
Chase’s smile twists and Wilson can’t even begin to understand what that might mean. He doesn’t ask for clarification, though; and for the first time he begins to think about words that will never be said, eye contact they’ll never make, questions that will never be asked and offers that will never be made. Chase is a work colleague and means almost nothing (oh but he could-) and House is supposedly his best friend, even though he takes him for granted and treats him like he’s disposable and interchangeable, and he means too much. It’s too late for thoughts like this, both in hour and overall chronology.
“Don’t,” Chase whispers, flinching back from Wilson as though he can read his thoughts, and Wilson hadn’t even realised he was leaning closer. Wilson smiles ruefully and leans back in his chair.
“You’ve never been in love, have you?” he asks, apropos of nothing. Chase flushes a pretty shade of pink and still won’t meet his eyes.
“Not as such,” he murmurs. Wilson finishes his coffee, and contemplates the advice he could give. After all, he’s been in love with everyone at one point or another. House calls this a fatal character flaw, but Wilson prefers to think of it as unfortunate quirk, because it’s the only way to keep himself sane.
It’s all too close and too confusing and if he sits here much longer he’ll end up saying words he doesn’t mean or making actions he can’t take back, so instead he tells Chase he has to go and Chase nods and lays his head down on the cafeteria table like he’s just going to go to sleep right there (maybe he will).
House is in pieces in another hospital bed again and Wilson is tired and bemused and as he walks out he considers what he’ll never tell Chase.
Love is gut wrenching and dangerous and requires so much more sacrifice than people are willing to give. Love isn’t poetry. Love isn’t sunlight. Love isn’t roses and freedom and laughter and when it dies, it hurts.
But nothing can be achieved by killing off Chase’s hopes this early, and so Wilson makes his way upstairs to watch the sunrise through the window of House’s hospital room, because there’s nothing else he can do.