Fandom: House MD
Notes: Written for hllangel,to whom I've owed this story to for over a year. Written in the dark, which may be why it's darker than I intended. Thanks to topaz_eyes for post-posting Beta.
Warnings: Spoilers through Season 6.
Summary: This is what PPTH does to you.
Chase, it’s Cuddy. I hate to ask, but I’m desperate. Can you come over and watch Rachel for a few hours? Lucas and I are going to Hershey for the weekend and my sitter won’t be available until tomorrow morning. We want to try and get out before the snow starts.
Chase stared at the answering machine, looked at his watch, and then glanced toward the window, trying to figure out when the call had come in and what he should do about it now.
He already knew more than he wanted to about Cuddy and Lucas and their “Romantic Getaway to Prove They’re Really a Couple and Not Just Two Pathetic Losers Clinging to Each Other,” as House had called it that morning while handing out the case files.
They were supposed to be diagnosing a forty year old gym teacher with swollen earlobes and bleeding toes, but House had started in on Cuddy and Lucas and typical House fashion, refused to let go. He’d promised an unspecified bonus to whichever one of his “Lonely Hearts Club Band” could find a way to successfully sabotage the planned excursion.
Chase and Foreman had exchanged exasperated eye-rolls, but Chase could tell that Taub and Thirteen were getting caught up in the game. They’d learn. Or maybe they’d end up like him, burned out and unable to imagine life beyond House. He wouldn’t be the least surprised to learn that Thirteen had waylaid the sitter for a night on the town, or that Taub had promised a free breast enhancement in return for showing up too late.
He didn’t know who to feel sorry for: Cuddy and Lucas for being the victims of House’s insanity, or House himself. Clearly whatever he was supposed to have found by giving up Vicodin or moving in with Wilson wasn’t enough to make him happy and if House wasn’t happy, God’s mercy on those around him.
It took a hot shower and a hotter cup of coffee to shake off the hours he’d spent in his usual post-work bar, but within an hour, he was driving towards Cuddy’s place. Halfway there it struck Chase that this was what House and by extension PPTH had done to him. He now lived in a world where being dragged out in the middle of the night to baby-sit the hospital administrator’s child was deemed normal and obviously he agreed with it, because here he was.
Cuddy’s house was dark and Chase was tempted to turn around and go home. Clearly Cuddy had given up on her trip and presumably she and Lucas were inside, cuddling up against the snow, seething at Chase instead of the real culprit.
Except that wasn’t Cuddy’s car or Lucas’ van in the driveway. Simple explanation: another replacement sitter. Cuddy was doing her cuddling by a fire-place with the smell of chocolate wafting through the air and Chase could go home and sleep.
”Who the hell could she get at this hour that she’d trust with her bundle of adopted joy,” said a voice in his head that sounded exactly like House.
That voice was helpful when trying to diagnose patients, considerably less so in dealing with his so-called real life. He didn’t want to be like House, seeing plots and mysteries around every corner, much less feeling the need to solve them with chicanery and stealth, rather than asking a direct question.
So why was he picking up the flower pot outside Cuddy’s door to find the spare key so he could open the door and take a peek?
Chase caught himself basking in the approval before telling the House in his head to shut up. He turned the key and saw the form of a woman sitting on the couch. He recognized her from the back even before she reacted to the sound.
“There’s no money in the house and you can have my credit cards, but if you touch the baby, I’ll kill you with my bare hands and… Chase?”
“You look different.”
That made sense. It had been four years. He’d been fired and come back and quit and come back again. He’d gotten married and divorced and committed a murder. It had to show on his face. He wondered which one she might have noticed.
“The short hair looks good on you," she added.
He could have talked how she hadn’t changed at all, or said something about how he could leave now, since Rachel was in good hands, but instead he stood there, looking at her, remembering.
He’d thought it was the worst day of his life at the time: forced to face the peer review of his multiple failures in Kayla McGinley’s treatment, while confronting the fact that House had known about Rowan’s illness.
When it was over, all he wanted to do was be alone with his self-pity and a very large bottle of scotch. He was making good progress in getting royally pissed when Stacy showed up at his apartment and was in no mood to bother with the strained politeness of the previous day.
“Why aren’t you with your husband? Or House?”
“I want to make sure you’re okay. You’re my client.”
“Not any more.”
“Friend?” she said, sounding a bit hurt.
“Like hell you are,” he snapped back. “It’s done. Thanks for saving my job. Now please leave me the hell alone.”
He heard his voice start to quaver, felt himself shake.
She laid one hand on his shoulder.
“Chase,” she said, in a husky whisper, that seemed to be offering a good deal more than sympathy.
He’d always found her attractive, even when it was mostly with anger at House’s seeming obsession her or her obsession with House when she was supposed to be focused on saving Chase’s ass. Either way, Chase was sick of being second best to his father or House or anyone else, but he was also lonely and needed something after the stress he’d been through the past few days.
“I’m not your charity case either.”
Before she could confirm or deny it, he had his mouth on hers and her arms were around his back, pulling him closer. The vestiges of his religious belief and the sight of a small cross around her neck reminded him that this was wrong.
That made it even better.
“Potato chips or pretzels?”
”What?” Chase asked, coming out of his reverie.
“Sit down. Have a nosh.”
While he’d been caught up in a memory that ended with the two of them in bed, groping, grasping and moaning, Stacy had been of a more practical mind. She’d clearly come prepared for her baby-sitting duties. There were bowls of snacks on Cuddy’s coffee table and she’d brought the first season of Melrose Place on DVD, although they eventually settled on the three unwatched episodes of Project Runway from Cuddy’s DVR.
Chase tried to stop himself from analyzing the fact that Cuddy cared enough to have the show recorded, but hadn’t actually watched it yet. The House voice in his head insisted that Cuddy was afraid to let Lucas know she enjoyed something so frivolous. She wasn’t being honest in the relationship and therefore said relationship was doomed.
No, he told the voice. It had just been really crazy at work lately. She didn’t want to waste what time she had with her boyfriend on an inane, although he had to admit, quite addictive television show. It was none of their business anyway.
Conversation tiptoed around any important issues. Within a few hours, Chase knew that Stacy had made partner at her law firm and Mark was now a vice-principle. They talked about Michael Jackson’s death and Obama’s election. Chase took the risk of mentioning the salacious gossip about his co-workers’ strange affair and the nickname House had bestowed on them.
“Foreteen? That’s hysterical.”
The smile seemed genuine, but Chase suspected the mention of House was as unwelcome as a question about Cameron would have been to him. Stacy must know some of it. If Cuddy would ask Stacy for help, then they were still good friends. They must talk about…things.
“How is he? How is he really?”
“Different. But the same. I think he’s still miserable, but now he’s less proud of it.”
“But he’s off the drugs?”
Chase nodded and shrugged. He had his own opinions about House’s sobriety, which he had no intention of sharing with Stacy.
She took the last fragment of pretzel from the bowl and chewed it slowly before speaking again.
‘Lisa told me about you and Cameron. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
So they were going to be honest after all.
“She’s stronger than I am. She got over House.”
Stacy shook her head knowingly. “No one gets over Greg. The most you can do is get away.”
“You’re a wise woman.”
“And you’re a sleepy boy.” She reached out, as if to tousle his hair and frowned when she couldn't do it. “It’s more than just the hair, isn’t it?”
He took her hand and held it, not sure what he really felt or wanted anymore. How was it she happened to be there when he was falling apart again? “Did I ever thank you? For everything?” he asked, looking into her eyes and trying to see beyond the happy façade.
“Chase…this has been…” She was struggling with something. “Why don’t you lie down in the bedroom and get some sleep. I’ll stay on the couch.”
It would have been easy to push. If she was backing away from the darkness inside him, he could play to her sympathy, or he could smile and give her the “boy” she remembered and still wanted to play with. He could even tell himself he was doing it to prove himself to House. Chase could practically see him on the sidelines with pom-poms. That was enough to make the decision for him. He was a better man than House.
“All right, but you should have the bedroom,” he said, prepared like a gentleman.
“Thanks,” she said gratefully, and kissed him on the cheek. And the forehead. And the lips.
So much for good intentions. At least this time he was sober, able to appreciate what he was being given, from her salt-flavored mouth to her lovely long legs. Even the giggles and awkwardness of attempting the act on a couch and ending up in a half-crouching position, where his thrusts were shallow, but his fingers had full access and Stacy’s screams muffled against the cushions.
They’d actually managed to fall asleep in an impossibly impractical arrangement on the couch when Cuddy’s sitter showed up.
Chase decided the price of his name disappearing from the story was never finding out which of his co-workers had been responsible or how they’d done it.
Marina went to check on Rachel and Stacy phoned Mark to let him know she was on her way home.
“Yes dear. Of course I’ll be careful. Uh huh. Lisa sends her love. I know, hon. I missed you too. See you soon.”
She was good. If House hadn’t been firm in his conviction that “everybody lies” before he knew Stacy, she must certainly be the one who seared it into his consciousness for all time. Maybe even before the infarction.
Outside, the street was slushy and the sky was dark with the threat of more snow.
As they shared what he hoped was a discreet hug, Chased realized exactly what had been going on with House and Cuddy all these years.
“He never got over you either. He just took all that love and hate and transferred it to Cuddy. He thinks he’s going to be happy if he gets her, but that’s only because he still wants you.”
“Then he’s never going to be happy, is he?”
Chase watched her drive away, back toward her carefully maintained life with Mark, and he let out a deep yawn.
He was going home to get some sleep in his own bed, followed by a Valentine’s day spent in solitude.
At least he knew whom to feel sorry for.