Last Rites

by Dira Sudis

Notes:

Beta thanks to Iulia Mentis and Brooklinegirl!


The email came in at three o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon. House ignored it, fully occupied with reading an obviously idiotic article that had somehow made it past the review board at Diagnostic Microbiology and Infectious Disease. What attention he had to spare he used to listen for anyone approaching his office, so that he could pretend to be engrossed in his quest for the next piece of the Triforce instead. He made it to the end of the article without interruption, and took his hand from its hover over the Game Boy to click over to his email, so that he could forward the article to his staff. If they were half as smart as he thought they were, they'd get a letter published next month.

The new message was there, waiting for him.

From: Rowan Chase
Subj: [none]

House frowned at the screen. He hadn't heard from the elder Dr. Chase since the man had walked out of his hospital, a little over two months ago. He'd set up a Google Web Alert on rowan chase rheumatologist, just in case that obituary hit the wires before he found out by any other means, but he hadn't particularly expected, nor wanted, to hear from the man himself. Holding out some faint hope that the email really was spam--what kind of random-noun-generator name was Rowan, anyway?--he clicked.

The body of the email was two words: Tell Robert.

Great. So the old bastard had finally gotten scared, with less than one month left out of the three Wilson had given him, and he wanted House to do his dirty work for him. And not just scared, but melodramatic. Two-word-imperative-sentence email: impersonal, cryptic, and sloppy. Tell Robert what exactly? The man's condition was bound to have changed in two months. House spent a few seconds trying to stare down the words on the screen, but that was a losing proposition: no cursor, no blink. He reached into his pocket for his pill bottle, shook out a tablet and swallowed it. There was a sig attached to the email, including an office phone number. It had to be four in the morning where old Rowan was, but then nobody slept well on their deathbed. House dialed.

The phone picked up on the second ring, but instead of a creaky ex-pat Czech, it was answered by a woman who sounded even more British than Chase. "Hello?"

He swallowed the first words he'd been going to say, waiting for a more appropriate target. "This is Dr. Gregory House, I need to speak to Dr. Chase."

The woman said, "Dr. House, can I ask what you're calling in regard to?"

House squinted at the email on his screen, wondering why Rowan had his secretary awake at four in the morning, and said, "He just emailed me. I need him to clarify the message."

"Oh," she said. "I'm afraid that won't be possible. I'm afraid--Dr. Chase--"

Her voice wobbled, and House knew: Rowan Chase was dead, and he himself was about thirty seconds away from listening to the man's secretary cry into the telephone. He gritted his teeth and pushed on. "I see. That does clarify the message somewhat. What happened?"

A discreet sniffle. House ignored it and waited. "He was ill," she said after a moment, steadier. "Lung cancer. He didn't want anyone to know, hardly anyone did. He was admitted to hospital a fortnight ago, but he had me bring his computer so he could keep up on his correspondence. He wrote a number of letters that he wanted sent after he'd died." The hesitation before the d-word was infinitesimal; she really almost could have been British.

"I see," he said, squinting at the clock. Chase was down in the clinic; he was scheduled for the whole afternoon. House picked up a pen. "Do you know what the funeral arrangements will be?"

 


Chase was in exam one with a patient. House watched through the door at an oblique angle, ignoring the bustle around him.

During the infarction, and in the years since, he'd spent a lot of time remembering his last day with his leg. It had been--as he'd explained countless times in the search for a diagnosis--a perfectly normal day. He'd walked rounds, climbed stairs, run a few miles. His legs had been there, the same as they'd been every day of his life to that point. There had been nothing special about it until afterward, and now the memories were polished, crystallized, half-fabricated from the desperate need for something to look back on. He could recall every stride he'd taken in vivid detail.

Chase, he thought, would always remember the little boy with hives. No need to tear him away just yet.

House took another tablet from the bottle in his pocket and swallowed it dry before settling into the molded plastic seat nearest to exam one. He spent ten minutes evolving scenarios for his conversation with Chase. He didn't like any of them. He didn't like any of this. Damn Rowan for being such an unwavering coward, and damn Chase for knowing his own mind, and damn himself, for shutting his mouth two months ago. This was what came of respecting people's wishes. He'd have liked to tell Wilson that, but he suspected Wilson would miss his point.

Chase followed the boy and his mother to the doorway of the exam room, assuring them that the child would be better soon. House got to his feet, and saw Chase's professional smile turn to a wary look. He didn't say anything, just waved Chase back into the room and limped in after him.

Chase went and leaned by the exam table, automatically ceding the doctor's space to House. His guardedness was fading into confusion. "What's going on? Is something wrong?"

House studied Chase's face for a moment. He shouldn't even be able to feel his leg at this point, but a dull pain still twinged through him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Vicodin, offering the bottle to Chase. Chase frowned and shook his head, but House said, "Yes, something is wrong. Take this." Chase scowled defensively but took the bottle, and when he had it firmly in hand House said, "I've just had a phone call from Sydney. Your father died in the hospital about an hour ago."

Chase's hand clenched convulsively on the bottle, sounding a rattle that was the only noise in the room. House kept his eyes on Chase's blanched knuckles. After a long silence, Chase said in a strangled voice House barely recognized, "How?"

House still didn't look up, staring fixedly at Chase's hand. "Lung cancer. He'd been sick for some time, but he didn't want anyone to know." Chase took a breath, and House said before he could ask, "That's why he came to see you."

"He--" House did look up then, finally, to see Chase's eyes wide and staring. "You knew," he breathed.

House shut his mouth and nodded slightly, and his eyes dropped from the dawning black fury in Chase's eyes to the hand that held the pill bottle just in time to see it fly back. He threw his own hand up reflexively, and the pill bottle smacked into his palm with enough force to have given him a black eye if he'd missed the catch. He shoved it into his pocket, keeping his gaze steady on Chase's face. The clenched fists and fighting stance were merely a symptom of the main complaint, which rested there in his eyes.

"You knew," Chase repeated, his voice low but murderous. "You bloody bastard, you knew he was sick, you knew and you just jerked me around, you didn't tell me--"

"You didn't want me to tell you," House interrupted.

"I didn't know--" Chase's voice was rising nearly to a scream, and House didn't resist the impulse to cut him off again.

"You didn't care."

Chase froze all at once and then pivoted on his heel, turning his back. House grimaced, watching his fists clench without release, his shoulders perfectly still and taut. He'd seen patients with tetanus whose seizing muscles, straining endlessly against themselves, snapped their own bones. "Chase," he said, but Chase didn't move, locked up tight. House sighed. "With the notable exception of myself, everything in this room costs less than you do. If you're going to break something, make it something we can replace." Chase still didn't move, and House took the slip of paper from his pocket and laid it on the counter, tapping his finger loudly enough for Chase to hear before he let himself out. He hesitated outside the door, listening for the crash of glassware, but the room stayed silent. House glared for a moment in the general direction of the reception desk--damn Chase for being brave about this--and then headed back to his office to work out what he needed to do next.

 


Cameron was precisely on time on Wednesday morning, but the office was dark. Chase was usually in at five till, settled at the table by the time she or Foreman showed up on the hour, but he'd vanished an hour early from the clinic yesterday and obviously wasn't here now. She paused in the doorway, wondering if she ought to try calling him, and startled badly when House said, "Cameron."

He was standing in the doorway from his office, barely visible in the dimness. She frowned at him as her eyes adjusted--it was possible he was just particularly rumpled this morning, but she could swear he was wearing the same clothes he'd had on yesterday. "Dr. House?" she said hesitantly, taking a step inside.

"Don't take your coat off," he said, walking over to the conference table, dropping a folder on its surface before he made his way to the coffee maker. "I need you to run an errand for me."

Cameron switched on the lights and rolled her eyes, the eerie mood of the morning abruptly evaporating. House was in his laundry day clothes because it was laundry day. She should never have agreed to go pick up his dry cleaning that first time, but back then she'd welcomed any excuse to get out of the hospital and away from him.

She sighed as she set her purse down on the table. "Do you have the ticket?" House looked up at her, seeming amused and jerked his chin toward the folder. They hated it when she didn't have the ticket and they obviously weren't her clothes, though they'd gotten used to her eventually. She flipped the folder open, and her jaw dropped. No slip from the dry cleaners, but a plane ticket, with her name and today's date on it. There was the familiar EWR code, and beneath it, SYD. "What...?"

"I need you to run an errand for me," he repeated. "I need you to go to Australia for a few days. Chase is there, or he will be when his plane lands, anyway. I want you to make sure he comes back promptly and in one piece."

She stared at House blankly as he sipped his coffee, and he added offhandedly, "His dad died yesterday. Lung cancer. Chase left last night."

Cameron looked from the plane ticket to House and back, trying to process. "Is he okay?"

House stopped in mid-sip and stared at her until she looked away, muttering, "Right, stupid question, his dad is dead."

Chase hadn't mentioned his father ever since that bizarre day they'd spent with the other Dr. Chase consulting, House taking an unholy glee in the situation and Chase clamming up tight. For three weeks afterward, though, every time Chase hit his second after-work drink he would snarl about House--something trivial, usually, the kind of stuff Chase had always found amusing before. Eventually he'd gotten back to normal--Foreman took a turn being the bitterest and Chase started defending House again--and now his father was dead, and Chase was on a plane to Australia, and House was standing there drinking his coffee at her in a very pointed way.

"You want me to go to Australia," she said, and it was just like every time House proposed some out-of-left-field diagnosis and treatment; she was torn between sheer disbelief and the pragmatic necessity of preparing herself to do as he said, trying to grasp the logistics of dropping everything and flying to Australia to do... whatever it was House thought she could do there.

"Yes," he said. "I want you to attend Dr.--Rowan--Chase's funeral. I've cleared it with Cuddy; in accounting terms I am sending you, on very short notice, to represent me at a hastily-convened medical conference, which, given the man's reputation, it practically will be. If you see Luetzen there, try chatting him up about that autoimmune case from last week, see what he says."

"I doubt he'll be wearing a nametag," she said slowly, but she wasn't thinking about Luetzen. House had cleared it with Cuddy. He'd arranged plane tickets. He was perfectly serious about sending her to Australia, to Chase's father's funeral. After working with him for close to a year, Cameron had mostly trained herself out of thinking He's out of his mind, not because it wasn't true, but because it wasn't helpful. "Why are you doing this?"

House looked steadily at her, showing no sign that he was caught out by the question, though she'd bet her last vacation day he wished she hadn't asked and wasn't about to tell her the truth. "If the Doctors Chase were American, and the late Dr. Chase were being buried somewhere reasonably near here, you would go as a matter of course," he said, perfectly blandly. "So would I, so would Foreman, so would Cuddy and Wilson and probably half this hospital. Chase is our colleague, and his father was a giant in the field. But he's very unreasonably being buried in Sydney, so we have to arrive at some sort of compromise measure, and you are it."

Cameron shook her head slightly. That was no explanation at all. "Is the hospital sending me, or are you?"

"No one's going to make you go if you refuse," House said, which wasn't such a bad deflection for a guy who'd been up all night arranging this and was so caught up in his plan he hadn't even thought to change his clothes.

"I wasn't really concerned about being loaded onto the plane in shackles," she snapped. "I just want to know why you're doing this."

House studied her as intently as she was studying him, and then shrugged and said, "If you must know, Dr. Cameron, the truth is that I have designs on Foreman. This was the best way I could think of to get you and Chase out of the office for a while. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to infect someone you've never met with lung cancer--"

Cameron shook her head. "That's just sad."

House gave her a wide-eyed look. "You don't think he feels the same?"

"I can't believe you can't just tell me why you're doing this."

House looked away. "All right," he said evenly. "Then I'll tell you that I would go, if I could, out of respect for Dr. Chase." Cameron opened her mouth to say that Dr. Chase wasn't going to know the difference at this point and couldn't have picked her out of a lineup if she stood up and tapdanced, and House turned his back, adding, "And his father," with a dismissive wave of his hand.

Cameron was still staring at him when he glanced at her over his shoulder and added casually, "Anyway, you and Chase are..." His voice trailed off suggestively.

She knew she was being baited, and bristled anyway. "We're colleagues," she said flatly.

House lowered his coffee and grimaced. "Damn. I was hoping you might be friends." Cameron looked away, off-balance, and House went on, "Still, you're more ornamental than Foreman, and the crowd will run more to immunology than neurology, so you're still our best bet. You don't have any problems with long flights or Catholics, do you? Your passport is still valid?"

"I--" She'd studied abroad a semester in college; it was on her transcript, and for that matter her international travel history was in her medical files, which she already knew he'd read. Of course he knew she had a passport. "Yes," she said, realizing as the word left her mouth that she was agreeing to this, no matter how much more she argued for form's sake. "It's still valid, but--"

"When your dad dies, Chase will attend the funeral, I promise. Are you going?"

One of these days, he wasn't going to be able to surprise her anymore by saying things like that. Cameron nodded mutely.

House said, "Good, I was getting bored with arguing," as though he'd never doubted she would agree; he probably hadn't, being him. She still had her coat on. "Go home and pack, then. Flight leaves at 6:25. Pack an umbrella, they're calling for rain all week. And take a scarf, too--I don't know how old-fashioned the church is, you might have to cover your hair."

"I--" She looked around vaguely, trying to remember the course her day was supposed to take before House hijacked it. "I have clinic duty this morning."

"You've been reassigned," House said impatiently. "Go, get out of here."

She went.

 


Her watch read twenty minutes past twelve as she walked through the terminal at LAX, headed for her flight to Sydney, but the clocks were all three hours earlier. She'd spent most of her unexpected day off shopping--black umbrella, new nylons, new black purse, black scarf.

In the middle of the afternoon, on impulse, she'd called her dad at work. He'd sounded puzzled but happy to hear from her, though he could only talk a minute. She told him work was going well, everything was fine, and he'd told her proudly that the title page of "her" article from "that medical journal"--not hers, she'd barely written a word of it, but House had put their four names on it in alphabetical order, so hers had come first--was still hanging on the fridge.

"Maybe I'll have another one for you soon," she said, thinking of House's instruction to talk to Luetzen. The folder, in addition to containing her itinerary and hotel reservations and the information on funeral services, had held a neatly condensed set of notes on the case and the questions House wanted her to ask.

"Oh, that'd be great, honey. Maybe include some words in the title that your old dad can pronounce this time, huh?"

She smiled and said she'd try, and she had to go. "Good bye," he said, "I love you, God bless."

"I love you," she echoed. He'd stopped expecting her to repeat the rest years ago; she'd buried more than her husband at twenty-one. She sat listening to the dial tone until it was time to leave for the airport, and then she was up and running.

She reached the gate and stopped, standing in the middle of an aisle of chairs. Maybe twenty more minutes to stand and stretch, and then fifteen hours strapped in a seat. Chase had probably been right here, twenty-four hours ago; he'd have reached Australia by now--if she was figuring the time right, he'd be due at the funeral home shortly, for the first day of viewing. She pulled her phone from her pocket and scrolled to his number.

It went straight to voice mail, like it had the first two times she'd tried to call him, but she'd had the entire flight from Newark to compose a message, so this time she actually left one. "Chase, it's Cameron. I'm so sorry about your dad. I'm on my way there now--I'll see you tomorrow. Take care of yourself."

It wasn't much, but it was the best she could do. She just hoped he would get the message.

 


Every third person everywhere she went--the airport, the hotel, the little café down the street--sounded exactly like Chase. She kept looking around for him, thinking he'd received her message and come to get her, though that was stupid. Even if Chase did know she was coming, he was sure to be busy with other things, not thinking about her at all. Still, she couldn't stop looking for him.

Australia--Oz, ha, and she was Dorothy, or maybe Alice down the rabbit hole--felt constantly, almost oppressively, foreign. She wasn't sure why; the people spoke English she could more or less understand, and Sydney was a big city, and big cities all shared a certain big-city feel. But the sky looked subtly wrong, and the shapes and edges of things were slightly off, and every time she spoke her own voice sounded foreign in her ears, contrasted against the Commonwealth accents surrounding her.

She was tired in an abstract way, though she'd slept well enough on the plane and taken a nap at the hotel, but she'd survived internship. She would survive this. She'd memorized everything House had given her--case notes, itinerary and all--and she had a black silk scarf tucked into her purse and her umbrella in hand.

She stepped out of the cab into the drizzling rain and walked up the steps to the funeral home entrance. I'm a colleague of Dr. Chase, she thought for the thousandth time. I work with Dr. Chase. It sounded plausible; she could explain herself, if anyone asked.

She stepped inside, bracing herself to explain, and a man in a suit said, "Chase?" She blinked and nodded, and he gestured smoothly to the open doors across the lobby. "The coatroom is just there, miss."

She checked her umbrella and coat and went on into the room, tucking the ticket into her purse. There were enough people that she didn't see Chase right away. She paused near the door, signing the register; her Princeton, New Jersey, USA came just underneath St. Peter's College, Oxford, England and Vancouver, BC, Canada, and she thought she wasn't going to have to explain herself at all.

People seemed to be moving slowly past the casket, receiving-line style; she caught a glimpse of Chase, pale and composed in a black suit, talking to a man old enough to be his grandfather. She realized abruptly that half the people here might well be family, and felt out of place all over again, but she was here now. There was nothing to do but go and say hello to Chase.

The line moved slowly, and she was bracketed by tall men in suits, so she couldn't see Chase, though as she moved closer she could hear him. He was speaking softly--everyone was--so at first she could only hear the cadence of his words and the sound of his voice, but not what he was saying. It sounded subtly off, like everything else in Australia, which was strange because everyone else who spoke like Chase sounded exactly right to her. Cameron frowned, listening more carefully.

She was only three back in line when she finally realized what it was: his accent, instead of getting broader as it did when he'd had a few drinks or was tired or ranting about footy or the superiority of Australian soap operas over their American counterparts, was half-suppressed. He did it sometimes in front of patients when he wanted to seem less foreign, or when he was making fun of House. It wasn't quite an impersonation, but all three of them had gotten good at mimicking his speech patterns, quoting his most scathing remarks to each other at the bar after a long day. Strange, that Chase should do it here and now.

Then the man in front of her moved, and she found herself looking straight into Chase's eyes. His jaw dropped, and he said "Cameron?" in his own voice, startled back to it. She smiled, feeling herself blush, as he mumbled apologies to the man ahead of her and came over to where she stood.

She'd thought she would hug him when she saw him, but he folded his arms in front of himself, looking hard-edged enough for her to cut herself on if she tried it. "Cameron," he repeated, more quietly but no less baffled. Close up, he looked like he hadn't slept since she'd seen him last; he might well not have. "What are you doing here?"

"I--" And that was the trouble. She couldn't say I work with you to Chase and have it be enough. She couldn't explain this to him, and he was the only one who would bother to ask. She'd wracked her brains for every waking moment of the last thirty-six hours, but she hadn't been able to come up with a reason for being here that didn't sound insulting, undignified, or flat out untrue. "If it were my dad, you'd be there," she said finally, cursing House as she said it.

Chase blinked and then frowned, as though he'd heard House behind her words. "Yeah, sure," he whispered, "but your dad lives on the same continent--"

"Robbie," an old woman said behind him, with an accent just like his. "You didn't tell me you had an American girlfriend!"

Chase--Robbie?--shut his eyes in what looked like total misery before half-turning to face the woman. "Gran, I--"

"--didn't want to disappoint you," Cameron said brightly. "I wasn't sure I'd be able to get away from work. Luckily, Dr. House was very understanding. I'm Allison," she added, reaching past Chase to offer her hand. Chase's eyes had narrowed at the mention of House, but when his grandmother looked at him, he smiled politely and didn't clarify that Cameron wasn't his girlfriend, just a colleague.

"Oh!" she said, smiling, her hand tightening on Cameron's. "Sophie Gordon, Robbie's mother's mother. Do the two of you work together, then? Are you a doctor, too, love?"

"Yes," Cameron said, smiling back while Chase stood between them, frozen and silent, "that's how we met, actually."

"Oh, that's lovely. Robbie, why don't you take Allison and go get some tea? I can manage the crowd while you say hello properly."

Chase flashed another short smile, but his jaw was clenched tight and his hand was stiff on her elbow, guiding her out of the viewing room and across the hall to a small lounge with coffee and cookies laid out. Cameron broke away from Chase and went to make herself a cup of tea--coffee would have been better, but anything would do to occupy her hands while Chase stood in the doorway being mad at her for lying to his gran. "I'm sorry," she said finally, "I shouldn't have--"

"No," he said, and when she looked up he'd deflated a little, relaxed enough to lean against the doorframe. "I was tempted to lie myself, but I thought you'd hit me."

Cameron smiled a little, but Chase didn't smile back; he was staring at the wall. He really did look terrible.

"Have you slept since you found out?" she asked softly.

The corners of his mouth quirked up a little then, but she wouldn't call it a smile. His eyes didn't shift from his stare at the wall, but she thought he was seeing something else now, and whatever it was, he hated it. "Not really," he said, "I keep--hearing it, when I try. Your dad's dead, just--" He cut himself off abruptly and scrubbed one hand over his face. "I'll sleep when it's all over," he said after a moment.

Cameron folded her hands around the warmth of the paper cup. "I'm sorry, Chase," she said, but he just shook his head and turned his face away. She looked down at her tea, groping for better words, but when she looked up again he was gone.

 


She stayed for the entire viewing, though she didn't speak to Chase. He wouldn't meet her eyes, and his grandmother obviously thought they were fighting and took it upon herself to keep Cameron company from time to time. Otherwise, she circulated among the eminent doctors and their wives--they were mostly of the late Dr. Chase's generation, so she was one of only a handful of female doctors in the room at any given time. The older men seemed to find her entertaining, but she found that after working with House for almost a year, merely having senior doctors stare at her chest wasn't enough to put her off her conversational stride.

Her watch said eight when everyone started to leave, but she couldn't remember whether she'd ever reset it, and there were no clocks. Chase's grandmother seemed to be giving him an earful about something, and Cameron lingered awkwardly, not wanting to simply disappear. Finally, with a grim look at her, Chase kissed his grandmother on the cheek and walked over. "Come on, Allison," he said, "I'll drive you back to your hotel."

She bit her lip on the impulse to call him Robbie, and followed him over to the coat check. The rain had stopped, and the sky was a spectacular twilit purple-blue. She stopped and stared, trying to fathom how it could look so different from home when she couldn't even see stars, and Chase stood beside her until she shook herself and started walking again. She noticed he hadn't been looking up, but then the sky here wasn't strange to him. He'd grown up under it.

She didn't know enough about cars to recognize more than that the one he led her to was very nice, and very expensive: his father's, she suspected. When she got in and sat down she noticed the faint smell of tobacco smoke, and that clinched it. He asked her where she was staying, and she told him. They didn't speak again until he'd stopped the car at her door. The silence was cold and dark, and she couldn't let him drive off alone like this in his father's car. "Chase," she said, "come in and get something to eat."

He shook his head, staring straight ahead, but she said, "Maybe you can skip sleep until this is over, but you can't skip eating, and you can't survive on tea and cookies. Come on. I'm not getting out of the car if you're not."

Chase glared at her, but at least he was looking in her direction, and he pulled the car around and parked it and came inside. She expected him to order a beer as soon as they sat down--he stared hungrily at the drinks list for a moment while the waitress stood by--but he only asked for water and Cameron, feeling the jet lag waiting to ambush her as soon as she dropped her guard, did the same.

He took a long drink of his water, glaring at it like he regretted his choice, and said, "Did House send you?"

Cameron opened her mouth to say yes, and abruptly realized that House had sent her to Chase as some kind of peace offering, because Chase was mad at him. She bit down on her answer, feeling suddenly not a little mad at him herself. "Nobody made me come," she said, which was true. "I'm here because I wanted to be here."

Chase studied her for a moment and then said, "Because if it was your dad, I'd be there?"

"Yeah," Cameron said, taking a sip of her own water, looking down at her hands. "I mean, that's--that's what friends are for, right?"

She glanced up at him uncertainly. They were colleagues; they went out for drinks sometimes, with Foreman, as colleagues. She'd never presumed to call herself his friend before, nor call him hers, but she'd flown halfway around the world to say hello, so it seemed a little late to scruple at the word. "Yeah," he said, sounding as cautious as she felt. "I guess it is."

Cameron nodded, and they sat together in silence until the waitress came back to take their orders. As she walked away, Cameron said, "So I take it you didn't get my phone message."

Chase blinked, then shook his head. "I left my mobile at home. Figured I'd be happier not knowing if anyone was trying to reach me for anything important while I was over here and couldn't do anything about it."

Cameron tilted her head, wondering if he'd even heard himself say it, sitting here in the city where he'd been born, where everybody spoke like him and the sky wasn't even worth looking at. "You left it at home?"

Chase twitched a smile, but showed no surprise. He'd said it on purpose, then, and House needn't have worried about getting his intensivist back promptly, at least. "I think home is where you think you are, when you're lying in bed and you're not really awake yet," Chase said. "This morning I woke up and I thought I was in Princeton, and then--" Even the shadow of his smile vanished.

Cameron looked down at the table and said, "So you have slept a little."

"Yeah," he said, "Yeah, a little."

She'd spent the whole day on her feet, but now, sitting down in the quiet atmosphere of the restaurant, Cameron's fatigue was catching up with her. Everything was taking on the hazy feel of a very late night, and she and Chase exchanged only a handful of words as they picked at their food, sitting together in a companionable daze. They roused themselves to tussle over the check, but this time when he called her Allison she did call him Robbie, and that ended the fight decisively and in her favor.

She walked him out to his car; dark had fallen and there were a few stars visible. Chase stood next to her, looking up as she did, and then he cleared his throat and said, "Would you come by the funeral home tomorrow morning? Nine o'clock? I know it's earlier, but--"

"I think I can pencil it in," she said dryly.

He nodded, clearly beyond the reach of her weak attempt at humor, and got into the car with a muttered, "Thanks." She watched him pull away and then shivered and went inside without looking upward any more.

 


When she got to the funeral home the next morning, the viewing room was nearly empty. Chase and his grandmother were there, and a few of the doctors she'd met the day before--all of them friends of Dr. Chase's, as well as colleagues. Chase didn't smile when she walked in--his eyes were bloodshot and he was pale with fatigue--but he met her gaze, and when she walked over and stood close beside him, he didn't shift away.

They were standing facing the casket, and it was the first time she'd really looked at the body; Chase had stood with his back to it as he greeted people, and she'd kept away from him and therefore it for nearly all of the previous day. She'd met Dr. Chase, of course, and even worked with him, in a manner of speaking, though it had only been for one day and only because House--

It hit her all of a sudden, and she cursed her slow, jet-lagged brain. Lung cancer. He'd been sick when they saw him. House was the best diagnostician she knew, and he never turned it off. He had to have figured out that Dr. Chase was sick, one way or another; by the end of that day, he must have known, and he pretty obviously hadn't told Chase. Neither had Chase's dad, of course, but House was the one who was still alive for Chase to be angry at. All that hate had to go somewhere, and she knew firsthand how hard it was, hating the dead for leaving you. Easier by far to hate House for leaving him in the dark.

She shifted closer to Chase, her shoulder brushing his arm as the funeral director came in and spoke a few words before closing the casket for the last time. The other doctors--pallbearers--came forward to escort the casket, and she walked at Chase's side as he followed it to the hearse, his grandmother and the funeral director following.

They sat close together in the limousine, though they didn't need to either for lack of space or to entertain Chase's grandmother, who was following in her own car. Cameron sat staring out the window at the thin sunlight until she remembered the scarf in her purse, and then she turned to Chase and said, "I--I am dressed right, aren't I?"

He blinked and then looked her up and down, a vague assessing look as far from the half-concealed leers of the day before as anything she could imagine. "Yeah," he said, "Yeah, you're fine."

"I just--I'm not Catholic, I don't know--" she explained, and he nodded.

"You're fine, you're perfect," he repeated, and then, turning to stare out the window himself, "Thanks."

The car stopped as she said, "That's what I'm here for."

They stood around at the back of the church for a while, Cameron watching covertly as the priest and a handful of boys in white robes walked around. Chase moved away from her to speak to the priest, and the priest handed him a folded piece of cloth. She saw Chase look toward the casket and swallow, and walked over to rejoin him as he stood at its foot. He glanced sideways at her, and then started to shake the cloth from its folds; she took one side and helped him spread it over the casket, and for a bizarre moment it was just like working together to settle a patient. Her hands matched the motion of his automatically, so that the cloth hung perfectly evenly.

When the service started, everyone already seated in the church rose and began to sing, and she and Chase followed the casket up the central aisle, all the way to their seats in the front row. Chase ushered her in first, and as she took her place he dropped to one knee in the aisle and crossed himself, then stood and joined her.

She at least managed to sit down on cue with everyone else, straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin, though all her attention was on watching Chase in her peripheral vision. His face, visible to the priest and the little boys in white robes and a whole row of pallbearers, was blank, but his hands, hidden from everyone but Cameron, were in fists. His knuckles were white, and she could see the tendons in his wrists standing out. When he opened his hands, she could see fingernail marks in his palms.

Cameron stumbled through the standing up and sitting down and kneeling, trying to ignore the sensation that the entire church at her back was watching her get it wrong. The rote responses from the entire crowd were kind of eerie, and she noticed that Chase stayed silent for nearly all of them, though his lips moved along. Between the incense and the singing and the way the service seemed to go on forever, it was exactly what everything she'd ever heard about Catholic masses had led her to expect.

Just when she was wondering how much longer it could possibly go on and how much more kneeling could possibly be involved, Chase touched her arm, gesturing for her to sit. He stood up and made his way up the aisle, first in line to the priest, and the priest laid a wafer on Chase's tongue and then a hand on his head. Chase stood still with his hands folded until the priest let him go, and Cameron slid down so he wouldn't have to step over her as he returned to his seat from the opposite end of the row.

She sat while Chase knelt beside her and watched people filing past. When the line finally ended and Chase shifted from his knees to sit beside her again, she figured they had to be nearly finished; his hands rested open on his thighs, as though the worst were over.

Then the priest asked Dr. Chase's dear friend Dr. Lang to step forward and say a few words, and Chase reached out and grabbed her hand. His palm was sweaty against hers, and she could feel the bones of her hand grinding together, but she held on right back while the man at the podium spoke in an unfamiliar accent about what a great man Chase's father had been, what a great father to be survived by such a fine son. Then Dr. Lang sat down again, and Chase let go of her hand all at once, as though he hadn't realized he was holding it. When she glanced over at him, his cheeks were pink. The priest stood up to say a few words, and it was finally, finally almost over.

 


Except then there was the burial, which meant more droning from the priest and more singing. She stood beside Chase at the side of the grave, her knuckles brushing against his, but he didn't take her hand again. He tossed dirt down onto the coffin and wiped his hand on his pants, leaving a barely-visible smear on his thigh, and his hands stayed pressed flat against his legs. He stared straight ahead, and Cameron didn't even try to touch him. Chase moved stiffly when they left the grave, with all the care and precision of a man walking on ice. He didn't look back.

After the burial they went to a hall for the luncheon, and Cameron took in the presence of an open bar and the size of the crowd and realized then and there that the funeral was never going to end. The doctors started getting boisterous halfway through the meal. Chase flinched when laughter erupted at one of the other tables, and responded in monosyllables when his grandmother or one of his father's friends spoke to him.

His grandmother got ready to leave as soon as the meal was over; Chase got up to walk her to the door, his plate barely touched, and Cameron stood up and headed for the bar to fortify herself before she waded in and started mingling.

She was arguing with Luetzen, forcibly restraining everything the little voice in the back of her head who sounded like House wanted to say to the man. The test results weren't an error; she'd done the assays herself, and Foreman had redone them, and two days later after the patient was out of danger and treatment proved they'd been right, she found House in the lab at six in the morning, redoing them again. It wasn't an error, it was a breakthrough, and this hidebound idiot--

She'd momentarily lost track of Chase, but she caught sight of him then, breaking away from the small group he was talking to, face white as chalk as he strode, nearly running, from the room.

"Excuse me," she said, without looking at the man who was, as of three days ago, probably the greatest living expert in the field. She followed Chase, forcing herself not to run, calculating just how badly he was about to crash. She stopped short, startled, when she found him standing just outside the door with his back to the wall, eyes shut, arms folded.

"Chase?" She walked over to him, hands hovering an inch from touching him. His color was improving already, and he was breathing evenly, no sign of hyperventilation.

"I'm all right," he said, waving her off so that she had to jerk her hovering hand away. "Just--Davidson was waving his gin and tonic around. I can't stand the smell of gin. Turns my stomach."

Cameron filed that away, studying him. "So you just missed your big chance to puke on the shoes of pretty much any eminent doctor you wanted, huh? You should have come over and gotten rid of Luetzen for me."

"Golden opportunity wasted," he murmured, half-opening his eyes to look at her.

She tried a smile, imagining Luetzen's face. "House may never forgive you for passing it up."

He shut his eyes again, his mouth hardening into a frown, and she winced. Shouldn't have tried that one on him just yet; the slight ease he'd had vanished, and before her eyes she could see him stringing tight again, close to snapping. One more gin and tonic, one word amiss--how many more hours of this was he going to have to get through?

"Stay right here for a minute," she said. Chase opened his eyes, his scowl lightening into confusion, and she waved toward the sofa a little further down. "Go sit, I'll be right back."

She made it to the bar without being accosted and ruthlessly cut in front of the men clustered around it. She had nightmarish visions of the international prescription drug translation books, but when she said, "Two whiskey sours," the bartender just nodded and grabbed a couple of glasses. Whiskey sours had been her drink to start with, but the first time they went out after work, Chase just said, "I'll have what she's having." She'd had the feeling he didn't drink much, didn't know what to order or didn't know how to order it in the States; in the months since, he'd unbent enough to order beers most of the time, but sometimes she and Chase still drank matching whiskey sours.

She took a healthy sip of hers, right there at the bar, and then headed back out to where she'd left Chase. He was sitting on the sofa with his head down, but he stood up when he heard her coming and then frowned. "Cameron--"

"Shut up and drink it, Chase."

He folded his arms, taking a step back like he thought she was offering him hemlock. "I don't need it."

"Well, you need something," she said, "you can't skip sleeping and eating and drinking and refuse to talk to me or anyone else. Whatever you're trying to prove here with this stiff-upper-lip thing--"

"I'm not British," he said reflexively.

"Yeah, the Stoics were Greek," she said flatly. "Take it, Chase."

He glanced at the drink, and she could almost see his mouth watering; he looked at it like he couldn't look away, and Cameron had a moment's doubt. But no--he drank casually at home; he wasn't an alcoholic in recovery, however good an impression he'd been doing for the last few days, and she wasn't knocking him off the wagon. She held the drink out. "Chase, come on. You're at your father's funeral. Have a drink."

His lips pressed together, but he looked more tired than angry and he took the drink, knocking half of it back in one go. She stood a moment, watching him, and then he said softly, in a wondering voice, "Yeah, why not?"

 


She stayed to the bitter end, until it was just her and Chase standing outside the hall, waiting for a cab. He was standing very still with his hands in his pockets, feet slightly spread for balance. His tie was loosened, and he'd had enough to drink that she'd heard him laughing a few times in the last hour, which was frankly scary. She'd tried to keep an eye on him, and never saw him without a drink in his hand, but she wasn't sure how many different ones there had actually been. She rubbed her chilled arms, watching his eyelids droop and snap up, and finally went and stepped in front of him. "Chase," she said, "how drunk are you, exactly?"

She sent her palm against his forehead, pulling up one eyelid with her thumb, and Chase's eyes flashed wide, startled, as though he hadn't noticed she was standing in front of him until she touched him. Even in the poor light, she could see his eyes were bloodshot. "Y'hand's cold," he said, and she snatched it away.

"Sorry," she said, folding her arms again and looking toward the street, though she didn't step away from him. It had been warm enough in the morning when she left the hotel, and she'd expected to be returning no later than midafternoon, so she'd left her coat behind.

"You're cold," Chase muttered, and before she'd realized what he was doing, he was out of his suit coat and settling it over her shoulders.

"And you're drunk," she said sharply, even as the warmth of the wool started seeping into her skin.

He folded his arms and fixed her with what was probably the best glare he could come up with, a little unfocused but thoroughly heartfelt. "Yes," he said, biting off the word distinctly. "And a gentleman, or so my gran likes to think."

She still stood stiffly under his coat, though she couldn't quite bring herself to take it off and give it back. "Alcohol is a--"

"It's ten degrees, Cameron, I'm not going to freeze to death waiting for a taxi."

She blinked at him and then said, "Centigrade."

His shoulders slumped, bright in a white shirt cut with the dark lines of suspenders, and he smiled. "Give the girl a prize. Or a coat." Chase got louder when he drank, and now his voice echoed in the quiet.

She rolled her eyes, but handed him her purse to hold while she shoved her arms into the too-long sleeves, the odd stiffness of the heavy fabric encasing her like borrowed armor. Chase was running the palm of his hand over the soft leather of her bag, his head bowed and his hair fallen forward, so that she couldn't see his eyes. She wrapped her arms around herself and watched the street.

His grandmother had been staying with him at his dad's house, but she'd gone home to Melbourne this afternoon, so he would be there alone tonight. And she really didn't know how much he'd had to drink. And he was her friend, after all, and a gentleman. "Chase," she said hesitantly, and he tilted his head and looked at her through his hair. Headlights flashed across his face, making him squint, and Cameron turned to see the taxi pulling up. "Chase," she repeated, rushed and cursing herself for stalling, as the car idled and the driver leaned over to squint at them, "seriously, how much have you had to drink? Are you going to be all right on your own?"

Chase frowned at her, then said, "Get in, Cameron."

"Chase, are you sure--"

"Get in," he repeated, "and then I'll get in, and we'll go back to--my--place, and I can introduce you to Australian television, if you're so excited about it."

Cameron got into the cab with Chase close behind her, still holding her purse. "Australian TV, huh?" she said, as he slumped on the seat, looking halfway to passing out. "Am I finally going to get to see this Neighbours show I've heard so much about?"

Chase snorted. "I don't actually watch it, you know. I don't even know when it's on. I was just--" He stopped short, but she knew what he'd been going to say: just trying to bug House. And while Chase teased him about soap operas, House had known Chase's father was dying, half a world away. Chase's hands twitched but didn't close into fists, still cradling her purse. He didn't move from his slouch in the seat. Maybe if it wasn't said, he didn't have to exert himself to be angry about it. Cameron huddled in Chase's coat and watched his eyelids sink.

 


"I haven't really--I don't know where anything is," Chase murmured, leaning against a wall in the front hallway as Cameron took off her shoes and his coat. The house was comfortably warm, but the floor was cool under her feet, and she wiggled her toes and enjoyed the inverted sensation of standing on an incline. "There's loads of rooms, though, if you want to crash--" He peered into the darkness of the rest of the house. "Should really have a look," he murmured, and pushed off the wall. Cameron rolled her eyes but followed.

They passed a guest bathroom and then found the kitchen, gleaming in stainless steel and white-painted wood. Chase stood blinking against the lights for a moment, looking around. Everything was immaculate. He stood at one end of the counter with his head bowed, running his hands over the smooth surface, and then his head jerked up and he looked to the next dark doorway. "Bar," he announced, but it came out as "Bah" and Cameron didn't manage to parse it until he'd stumbled on into the other room without switching on a light.

Cameron followed several steps behind, and had just reached the doorway when she saw Chase freeze. He was standing beside the bar in the light spilling out of the kitchen with a pale blue glass bottle in his hand. He looked like a bowstring--a live wire--a fuse, burning down.

He didn't make a sound as he burst into motion, suddenly swinging the bottle back, throwing it with all the force of his body, lunging forward as though he were smashing it over someone's head. Cameron flinched as it struck the wall and smashed, the sound echoing in the grand empty house. "Chase!"

He grabbed a glass off the bar and threw it after the bottle, a smaller crash. But she still flinched from the violence, feeling small and half-naked in a knee length dress and nylons. "It's mine, isn't it?" He threw another glass, and another. "It's all mine now." He kept throwing glasses, and Cameron held onto the doorframe, counting the ones remaining, telling herself he would run out soon, he would stop.

Chase was just starting on the snifters when the smell of juniper berries from the broken bottle reached her. Gin, but more than his stomach was turned this time. "There'll be people," he snarled, sweeping a row of glasses onto the floor, "to clean it all up, so why not, why fucking not--" He threw a martini shaker, which landed among the broken glass with a metallic clatter, and then a few more glasses, but he was finally out of ammunition and stood shaking with inexpressible rage.

"Chase," she repeated, and he whirled toward her, his furious eyes meeting hers as his foot hit a drift of broken glass and skidded. His eyes were on hers as they went wide, and she just had time to think that she'd be standing there watching helplessly as he hit his head or lacerated himself on a floor full of broken glass before he caught himself awkwardly on the bar. "Chase," she said urgently, "don't move, just stay put a second." His forehead was against the edge of the bar top, one arm flung over it and the other hand gripping the edge, his legs still splayed awkwardly under him. She couldn't see his eyes, but he nodded slightly, and she darted back out to the kitchen. Her own shoes would be no good; she'd have to find something else to put on her feet.

She ran, slipping on the smooth floor, back to the foyer. A pair of heavy rubber boots stood neatly side-by-side on the mat, and she shoved her feet into them and clumped back to the kitchen and through the doorway.

Chase had sunk lower in her absence, crouching with his hands on the bar, his head against its side. She crunched across broken glass to his side, bending to get her shoulder under his. "Come on," she said, "get up, now."

He dropped one heavy arm over her shoulder, and straightened up as she did, but when she tried to lead him back toward the light of the kitchen he pulled in the opposite direction. She couldn't let him fall, so she went with him, over to the far wall and its drift of glass. He leaned against the wall as he bent down, taking his arm from her shoulders. He reached down to the heap of broken glass, brushing pieces aside; she bit her lip and didn't try to tell him not to.

He unearthed a shard of blue from the transparent rubble; the neck and shoulders of the bottle, still intact. When he straightened up, she could see in the light of the kitchen that the bottle had still been sealed when he broke it. He turned the glass toward the light, not seeming to notice the small smears of blood he left on the surface. "My mum's brand," he said softly, gripping it tighter as Cameron watched, a sheared edge pressing against the soft skin of his palm, a thin red line appearing. "She said once that his eyes--"

The smell of gin, so close to the source, was making Cameron's eyes water. It was no surprise at all when Chase turned his head and vomited on top of the mess, his hand tightening spasmodically on the blue glass and then letting go.

 


Chase couldn't or wouldn't sit up, when she got him as far as the bathroom. He sprawled on the floor, curled awkwardly around the obstruction of the toilet, as Cameron wet a towel to wipe his mouth. His hands lay on his stomach, bleeding onto the white of his dress shirt from a dozen superficial cuts, and his eyes were closed. Cameron searched the medicine cabinet, reading labels until she'd identified an antiseptic salve and a box of bandages. She considered the logistics for a minute and then sat down on the floor against the wall, one leg tucked under her and the other crossing Chase's waist without--quite--touching him. She pulled his right hand into her lap, checking the cuts for any glass that remained. The slice on his palm from the gin bottle was the longest, but it was shallow, not even bleeding along its entire length.

"He didn't beat me," Chase said quietly, startling her so that her hands tightened clumsily on his. Chase winced but didn't open his eyes. "And he didn't beat my mum. I wished he would sometimes, because then I could say--he beat me."

It was Cameron's turn to wince, but Chase kept talking as she pressed a damp cloth against the cut. "It wasn't just that he left, it was that he came back and left again, and again, and again. I learned after the first few times--don't expect anything, don't be disappointed--but my mum kept hoping, kept being disappointed. I don't know why. I didn't find out until after she'd died that the divorce was final that first year. I don't know why he kept coming back."

Cameron glanced at Chase's face; his eyes were open now, staring up at the ceiling. She said softly, "He must have loved her."

Chase laughed, the harsh humorless sound echoing off the tile. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, he loved her, and she loved him. But he didn't like her very well, not when she drank, and she drank when he disappointed her." Chase turned his head suddenly, meeting her eyes, and Cameron froze. "He left for good when I was fifteen," Chase said. "Bought this house to show he meant it, and a year later my mother was dead. I think she thought he'd come at the end, when she was in hospital, but he never did."

Cameron opened her mouth, though she had no idea what to say to Chase's wide hazel eyes, to the hurt in him. She'd been twenty-one; she'd chosen to marry him, chosen to stay with him. She'd had her mother's shoulder to cry on, her father's hand to hold. Chase had been sixteen, and had no one and nothing. He looked away first, turning his head and closing her eyes, and she went back to cleaning his hand, ashamed that she had nothing more to offer. She'd been there; she should know what to say, but the truth was that all being there had taught her was that she didn't want to talk about it.

Chase seemed to want to talk about it, though, and she could give him an ear, if nothing else. "I sat there for hours every day--I thought I should have been able to save her somehow--and in the end, after she'd lost consciousness, the priest came and gave her the Last Rites. Do you know--?"

"I've seen it," she said softly. Her first year of internship. The girl had been three years old. The priest's hand had covered her tiny face when he signed the cross on her forehead.

Chase nodded. "It was for her, but I was there. I was sixteen, about to go mad--I'd already grieved her all those days while she lay there dying and by then I was just--tired and scared, didn't know what would happen to me--and the priest came, and he spoke the words and anointed her and--I don't know if it helped her, but I felt this moment of peace. And I knew it was true, what the priest said, it was real and it meant something, to him, to me, to my mum, to God... And I knew she'd be all right and I'd be all right and everything would be all right."

Cameron packed one cut and then another with antiseptic salve while Chase lay still, saying nothing, and she finally said softly, remembering a tiny still face, pale round baby cheek, "But she died anyway."

Chase looked over at her, a tiny frown creasing his forehead. "I knew she would die. She knew she would die. The priest knew she would die. It's--I know they call it Anointing of the Sick now, and people mean it to heal, but it's meant for the dying, to prepare them. Sacraments are channels of God's grace, not magic rituals." Cameron focused on placing the bandages on Chase's palm and fingers, and didn't ask him what kind of use that was, having a God that gave you no more than words and anointing oil and let you die while the person who loved you most in the world sat and watched, helpless.

"It's why I wanted to take Holy Orders," he said softly, and Cameron looked at him again, startled. He'd made references to seminary school, but she'd thought he meant boarding school. "I wanted to do what that priest did, give people that kind of peace..." The longing in his voice was shocking, raw as the cuts on his hands. He was still for a moment, and she was just hoping he'd lulled himself peacefully into unconsciousness when he said sharply, "Only it was all bollocks; I was sixteen and scared and sleep-deprived and anybody who came in and told me I was going to be all right and made me believe it would've given me a cosmic moment of peace. I didn't have that to give, I just wanted to find it for myself. So I did as my dad wanted and went to medical school."

"And became an intensivist," she said softly. His dad couldn't have wanted that; specializing in patients whose illnesses had already become critical wasn't the most prestigious field. And then too--

"Yeah," he said, smiling a little ruefully. "Closest I could get. "

"Do you see it often?" she asked. "Priests--"

Chase shrugged awkwardly, shoulders sliding against the floor. "It's not me they're there for now."

Cameron looked back down at his hand, focusing on the one thing she could fix. When she'd finished, she said, "Give me your other hand," and Chase rolled onto his side, facing toward her, and laid his left hand in hers.

"It's best if they're conscious," he murmured. "For the Last Rites. If they're awake, if they can agree and take communion--that's the best. My mum, she didn't want the priest to come yet--always said, not yet, not yet. Didn't want to admit--but when she went under, he came, and he gave her the sacrament, and it was all right, it was--" A channel of grace, he'd said. Peace. Bollocks. "It's all right if they're unconscious, the chance is still there. So long as you know the person would have wanted the sacrament, it's all right that they're not able to accept it at the moment. But if you wait too long--if you miss the time--" If no one tells you until it's too late to do anything but fly ten thousand miles to attend the funeral... "There's no sacrament for the dead," he said softly. "Just cleaning up the mess they've left."

Cameron studied him, lying there in the harsh bathroom light with his eyes closed. The anger was all gone out of him now--maybe only because he was too tired to keep holding on to it, but then maybe that was a kind of peace, if you'd missed the chance for anything else. "What about House?" she asked cautiously.

Chase's eyebrows twitched downward, but when his eyes opened on hers they were still hazy, unconcerned. "I don't think there's a sacrament for him either," Chase mumbled as his eyes closed again. "Exorcism, maybe."

 


Cameron fell asleep on Chase's shoulder shortly after they crossed the Date Line, twenty-four hours into the past. Her embarrassment only lasted until he returned the favor somewhere over Montana.

By the final descent they were both asleep, and turbulence snapped Cameron wide awake, panicked. Without thought, she grabbed Chase's hand, holding on as hard as she could until the plane stopped bucking and she stopped thinking they were going to die.

When she let go, his hand was as red as her face--stupid, such a girly thing to do--but when she stole a glance at Chase, he just smiled, flexing his fingers, and said, "Guess I deserved that."

She remembered his frantic grip at the funeral then, and smiled herself. "Guess you did," she said, as the plane touched down in New Jersey and they were finally home again.

 


House had his intensivist and his immunologist back barely a week after he'd mislaid them. It had been an irritating week: Foreman was good, but he wasn't a staff of three, and Cuddy had turned out to be quite serious about making him cover Cameron's clinic duties while she was gone. His mail had piled up on his desk, he still hadn't completed the Triforce, and Wilson actually seemed serious about threatening to stop speaking to him altogether.

Still, it was over now. That morning when he walked in, Cameron and Chase had been sitting at the conference table like they'd never left, and when he poured himself a cup of coffee, it tasted peculiar and half-burned in the unreproducible way that meant Chase had been involved in its preparation. Neither of them said a word about Australia; House tossed a file on the table before they had a chance, and started writing symptoms on the board, privately listing an entirely different set of signs. Chase had a number of small healing cuts on his hands, but seemed to have regained his British(-descended) cool. Cameron looked disgustingly chipper. They lacked either the glowy other-awareness of the newly-fucking or the prickly self-consciousness of the recently-regrettably-fucked. They talked over each other, batting ideas back and forth with one another and Foreman, seeming quite relaxed and peculiarly not hostile toward House. He could only conclude that he'd been right again.

Once his minions were off running tests and holding the patient's hand, House headed to his desk, considering scenarios for the case and strategies for the next level of Zelda simultaneously. It took him a moment to disengage from his thoughts when he saw the postcard propped on his keyboard.

It was an ocean view, with Sydney printed in one corner for the benefit of the logically impaired. When he turned it over, he saw that it hadn't, of course, been mailed. The only writing, in Cameron's hand, was the words Mission accomplished. House smiled a little and slipped the postcard into his desk drawer. There was no need to have it on display just because he wanted to keep it close at hand.