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Title: No Such Thing as Absolution
Author: lit_luminary
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.

Previous Chapter:
Acute Management

Next Chapter:
While You Were Out

Date: 2012-09-04 05:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This was brilliant, it's like seeing bits the show left out. It reminds me of the shot of House watching Chase asleep... I always wondered at what was going through his head, I'd like to think it was something like this. And it's nice to see a more realistic portrayal of Chase's injuries too, can't wait to read more :D

Date: 2012-09-05 07:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for commenting! I want to use these stories to take a close look at the physical and psychological realities of disability, so I'm glad you appreciate the realism. Canon threw so much away by giving Chase a miraculous recovery--all the power of "Nobody's Fault" dissipated when the SCI failed to be permanently life-altering.

Next up will be a revision of "While You Were Out" to suit this 'verse's version of events.

Date: 2012-09-04 07:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Really, really good. So much more realistic than the show. Chase's exhaustion and unhappiness were so painful to read. Brava for this story!

Date: 2012-09-05 07:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you so much! "Painful" was exactly what this story was going for, so I'm glad it succeeded. Realism is one of the primary purposes of the entire 'verse, since all the power of "Nobody's Fault" was undercut when the SCI magically healed. (Much like House's pain was so often magically ameliorated by ibuprofen. Canon, did you even have medical consultants?)

House changed as a result of his injury; Chase will change because of his. That's the reality, and that's what I want these stories to show: the effects of disability in both their lives, how they cope, and how their relationship changes because each understands what the other has to live with.

Date: 2012-09-05 08:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Just caught up on these chapters and you've a convincing inner voice for Chase, who I've always found a bit opaque. The consequences of his injury, with all the humiliating practicalities involved, really come across. I'm looking forward to more.

Date: 2012-09-05 08:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you so much for commenting! Chase's voice is one I had to work to pick up, since he has relatively less dialogue than many other characters, but I've acquired an ear for it over time. (I wish more fan writers had: too much fic dismisses/misreads Chase as weak, a suck-up, a sex object, or crippled with angst.)

I'm glad you appreciate the medical realism, since one of this 'verse's primary goals was to correct canon's miraculous "rise and walk" recovery. I wanted to examine the ways in which disability is physically and psychologically life-altering--and not just for Chase, since witnessing Chase's experience will necessarily make House think of his own.

Next up will be a revision of "While You Were Out" to make it suit this 'verse's version of events, and then I'll keep moving forward. "Step Follows Step" will also be reworked in its turn (internal chronology continues to evolve with research), and I have another piece of the story drafted and several more chapters planned, and events continue to unfold. I should have at least a year of writing material, and very likely more.

Date: 2012-09-05 08:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's almost painful to read, both because of the suffering (and really, House's punishment is severe indeed, no matter what others may think) and because of rage at the writers who completely ignored any form of verisimilitude. Chase is young, and with time and effort he may have recovered most if not all his mobility, but not in the miracolous way tptb showed us.
I'm so looking forward to the rest of this, and I hope you will not be offended if besides you, I also thank resourceress7 because really, the amount of work you've set up for yourself is such that one person alone cannot possibly do.
Oh, and I mem'ed the first chapter, because I count on you to keep the whole story linked.

Date: 2012-09-05 09:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The chapter was painful to write as well. And yes, the punishment House has created for himself is more severe than prison ever could be. I found myself thinking of Milton's lines, "Infinite wrath and infinite despair/ Which way I fly is hell, myself am hell."

Canon's portrayal of a miraculous recovery was both poorly planned and grossly disrespectful to all people who live with disability. I want this 'verse to be an unflinching look at how this kind of injury is permanently life-altering, and the ways in which Chase will have to change in order to cope. And of course, witnessing Chase's experience means House will necessarily remember his own infarction, his own concessions to pain and limitation (most of which canon either glossed over or dismissed as "House being an ass").

As I study pain (in medical textbooks, personal narratives and critical theory), I realize how different House must have been pre-infarction, and that many of his behavior patterns aren't just his personality: they're adaptive. At the moment, Chase is only thinking that House's empathy will be helpful to him, but he'll come to realize that he's now uniquely positioned to understand House. There are things House will be able to say to Chase--in time--that he wouldn't say to Wilson, because Wilson doesn't share the experience of disability.

And no, I'm not in the least offended by your thanking resourceress7 as well. I freely admit that the amount of research required to make this 'verse medically accurate is more than I could manage and organize alone. These stories are only possible because I have co-researchers, and they should be thanked for their efforts.

Date: 2012-09-07 06:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks, dami!

[ profile] lit_luminary is so fun to nerd out with. The words, the medicine, the brainstorming, the color-coded spreadsheets -- yum. Working with her on this project is a privileged obsession. :)

There's much more in store for Chase and House in this 'verse. Stay tuned!

Date: 2013-07-27 10:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
These are the bits we needed in the episodes (knowing full well the writers had a finite number of minutes to tell a bigger story, along with Chase's experience). This tug-of-war conversation is so IC, I could hear their voices in my head: House pushing Chase to admissions he's not ready for, not yet, not for some time, and Chase knowing this instinctively and pushing House right back. The mentor/student aspect moves back to reveal a bit more of the father/son relationship, the one neither will admit to, but understand it's there all the same. Brilliant.

Date: 2013-07-27 11:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
House's interaction with Chase has always interested me, because it tends to be brief and (apparently) simple, but is in fact so nuanced--just as their relationship itself is. (I'm glad to hear the subtly father/son element came through correctly, since most fic either ignores it or overdoes it.)

And I'm always happy to know the dialogue was effective.


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