Title: Tea and Impossibility
Rating: PG for one somewhat naughty joke towards the end, but basically a G.
Word Count: 3,578
AN: Naturally, this is merely a work of fan fiction. Special thanks to my nice friend Odensdisir and andrealyn for their fantastic beta help. And incidentally, I am totally amused by how many of us apparently want to bop Chase on the head.
Prompt: Chase is granted 3 wishes. What would they be?
Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.
- Anaïs Nin
Wednesday, and Chase knew he should have stayed in bed, preferably with the covers pulled up and the phone turned off. The weather was chilly and rainy, draping a gray curtain over everything, no matter how many windows lined the rooms of the hospital. House was in an especially vicious mood, maybe because the weather aggravated his leg, or maybe because he'd lost too much money at poker, or maybe just because it was Wednesday. Cameron and Foreman were frosty over something, making any time spent in the diagnostics conference room especially miserable. Their patient was equally uncooperative: he had already crashed once and foiled numerous perfectly reliable tests by producing inconclusive results.
Chase was running for the patient's room for the second time that day, wondering if it was too late to consider a new career in something less stressful, like air traffic control. Considering the overall quality of the day, he shouldn't have been surprised when he suddenly felt his feet fly out from under him as he rounded the corner. Yet the pain that slammed into the back of his head as he hit the floor still came as a shock, and Chase caught a fleeting glimpse of a too-bright fluorescent light before his vision disappeared completely.
An odd tapping sensation on his forehead brought Chase around. He fought a wave of nausea as he woke out of what he could only describe as an unpleasant sleep, and looked around to find that he was not in the hospital anymore...at least not any part of the hospital he recognized. When he had last checked, the ICU was not decorated in jewel-toned silks.
"Hello? Are you there?" The voice belonged to a dark-haired woman in a sparkling costume, teal and gold with extraordinary beading along the skirt. Her arms jangled with metal bracelets as she reached behind his head to check the spot where he'd smacked it on the floor. He winced, but noticed that his vision seemed clearer when she took her hand away.
"Yes, I think," Chase replied weakly.
"Oh, good. You're awake. Tea?" She offered him an ornate glass filled with warm green tea.
"Uh, thanks," Chase replied. He struggled into a sitting position in a mess of pillows, and accepted the glass. He smiled and took a sip to be polite – the tea was sweet and minty, and somehow comforting even though it wasn't to his taste. "I'm afraid I'm a little confused about where I am at the moment," Chase said hesitantly, hoping she would explain.
She smiled brightly before answering. Exotic as she looked, Chase thought there was something familiar about her. "How silly of me. Most of the time, people know what they're doing here. I'm a genie. You're here because we need to have a chat."
Chase put down the tea and stared at her, because he suddenly remembered where he'd seen her before. "You're not a genie. You're a businesswoman named...Samantha, I think? I treated you in the clinic yesterday for a sprained ankle. "
"That's what you thought. I mean really, imagine putting 'genie' down on insurance forms. 'Venture capitalist' makes considerably more sense to your...people. And my name is Sameera."
"Um, right..." Chase wondered if it would be rude to inform her that she was mythical.
"I understand your skepticism. Centuries of science have helped to form your thinking, and I am sure this sounds like a child's story. Of course, the advantage of a child's story is that you already know it. So what do you wish for, Dr. Chase? Anything you want is yours." Chase tried gazing into his tea, as if it would reveal something to him about what was happening. Sameera lifted his chin so that he had no choice but to look into her pale gray eyes, and he had to admit that she definitely didn't feel like a figment of his imagination. And even if she was just a blip on a scan, wishes were harmless.
A wish. How could anyone possibly choose? Even worse, how could he possibly say such a thing aloud? Yet, Chase knew the wish he had to choose, the one that had been on his mind for as long as he could remember. Sameera smiled beatifically, and Chase knew that she understood, without so much as a whisper from his lips.
He closed his eyes briefly, and felt the slightest of chills brush over his skin. When he opened his eyes he was at home in his apartment, with the Weather Channel droning on in the background. Chase realized that he must have fallen asleep on the couch. Honestly, Robert. Genies. Just then, the phone rang jarringly in the half-empty space.
"Hello?" He mumbled.
"Robert, darling, do you enjoy tormenting me?" Chase sat bolt upright on the couch, his whole body suddenly trembling from the effect of hearing a voice he never imagined he'd hear again.
"Mum?" he gasped softly.
"Well, of course it's your mother, dear. You haven't called in two weeks. How are you?"
"I'm – I'm fine. Sorry, we've had um, a complex case. How are you?"
"Oh, just fine. Your stepfather's driving me batty with his little DIY projects all over the house, so I've been working out in the garden." She chattered amiably about the weather, a cousin's wedding ("Everyone asked after you, darling"), and mentioned a stepsister named Brooke that Chase knew very well he didn't have. He could picture traces of gray in his mother's blonde hair, the lines around her eyes, as if he knew instinctively what she would look like if she had been alive these twelve years.
"I saw your father on the news the other night, by the way. Talking about all those problems with those arthritis drugs. He looked very handsome, maybe a little thin, though. You should mention it the next time you ring him, love."
"Oh, I will," Chase promised, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to ring his father for a chat, because that was how it felt, natural and surreal all at once. He almost didn't care, though, because his mother sounded happy. Glad to be alive. Chase tried to swallow away the lump in his throat, trying to behave as though this was perfectly normal, even though it was so much better than normal had ever been.
"Anyway, I need to be going, but I just wanted to hear your voice. Miss you, darling. Love you," she said tenderly.
"Love you, too, mum," Chase replied. He didn't want to hang up and sever the link to her kind voice, and to that foreign, comforting knowledge that she still existed somewhere on the other side of the world. The phone line, however, went treacherously silent, leaving behind the dial tone, and then the empty, shrill chirp of a phone left off the hook. Chase's hand trembled as he pressed the button to turn off the phone, and he closed his eyes, unprepared for how quickly his awareness of her absence flooded his mind anew.
A soft caress at the back of his neck made him lift his head. The genie's kind gaze was small consolation. She pressed another glass of tea into his hand and ordered him to drink, then waited patiently for him to finish a few sips before speaking again.
"Not bad, for a beginner," Sameera acknowledged, "I take it you didn't often have those conversations?"
"My mother had a beautiful smile. I hardly ever saw it." Chase said quietly. "Even before they got divorced, that's all I ever really wished. For her to be happy. Dad had his work, his wife, his life. She never had anything like that."
"You don't think you made her happy?" She asked. Chase remained silent, thinking of the warmth in his mother's voice.
"It was never enough," he finally said, and found himself sinking backwards into some ridiculously comfortable pillows. The desire to sleep seemed to curl, tendril-like, over his mind. The genie's hand caressed his forehead, and Chase was deeply tempted by the idea of giving in to a long nap.
"We're not finished yet," Sameera said, her voice soothing, yet firm. Chase opened his eyes and saw something decidedly no-nonsense in her expression. He sat up, forcing himself to ignore the desire to sleep. He'd survived residency, he could handle this...whatever this was.
"I guess I have another wish?" Chase asked. The genie nodded, and Chase swallowed nervously. "Anything I want, right?" He said, looking for reassurance. She smiled warmly before speaking again.
"If your intentions are good, Dr. Chase, I can deny you nothing." Chase thought he had never heard that caveat in stories about her kind – in fact, intentions seemed like the sort of thing that always went spectacularly astray in such tales. Still, he could find good intentions, if he tried to remember where he'd been keeping them after three or so years of working for House. He took a deep breath and brought the next wish to mind, only a little surprised at how easily it came to him. A smile curled at the side of her lips, and the air shimmered around him like asphalt in the summer.
Chase closed his eyes against the light, and when he opened them, he was in the clinic. A small cough behind him told him that he had a patient. A little girl with a full head of red hair smiled at Chase, swinging her feet over the edge of the exam table.
He almost didn't recognize Andie. She was a bit older and a bit taller than the last time he had seen her. "Everyone says it's amazing," she said, her eyes bright and cheerful, "But the funny thing is that it didn't feel amazing. I just woke up one day and I felt better. And then the next day and the day after that, too."
"What's it like, feeling better?" Chase asked. He listened to her heart, completely unnecessary but so comforting to hear its sound, sturdy beat. Andie was alive, safe and healthy, like every child should be.
"It's great. I can play with the other kids at school, and I'm going to a camp for singing and dancing this summer." She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially to him, "I will definitely kiss a boy. For real this time."
"There's no rush, you know." Because Andie would live to be 83 years old. He knew this, as well as he knew his own name and the words to "Advance Australia Fair."
"I know, it's just that I know what it's like not to feel this way," Andie replied with a smile. "Aren't you going to finish? I need you to sign the doctor's note." Chase nodded, and then examined her eyes and saw her on stage, proudly playing Juliet to her teenaged Romeo. He looked into her ears, and he could hear, no, he could feel decades of laughter, applause, and beautiful music. He held her tiny wrist and took her pulse, and the flutter was so strong and vibrant that it was all he could do to keep from scooping her up off the table and dancing around the room with her.
"I'm so happy for you," Chase said, smiling so brightly that he could feel his eyes crinkling at the sides.
"So am I," Andie replied cheekily, before flashing him a broad grin. "I'll send you a postcard from camp."
"You'd better," Chase replied, signing the health form with a slight flourish. She hugged him good-bye, and he opened the door to the exam room and watched her run off to her mother.
And that was that.
"Why her?" The genie asked. "Why not Kayla? Time that phone call just a bit differently. Or Michael? He was just as much of an innocent."
"My mistakes killed them. I have to live with that."
"I'm telling you that you don't – "
A flash of anger flared in Chase's heart, so sharp that a pink flush rose up around his collar. "Another day, another doctor, Kayla might have lived. At least her daughters had someone to take care of them. And Michael...House tried to show me that we couldn't have known...I guess at least, nothing worse will ever happen to him." Chase ran his hand through his hair. "The point is, I have to carry those mistakes, but Wilson is the best and still Andie had no chance. Everything we did and she only gained a year at most."
"I see," Sameera replied. She poured another glass of tea, and Chase began to drink without another word. "You're very focused on the past," she said. "I mean, why not something a little more forward-thinking?"
"Oh, I don't know. Success equal to your father's, perhaps?"
"Lot of good it did anyone," Chase snapped. The genie looked hurt by that. "Look, can't I ask for world peace or something?"
"Sorry. If I could do that, I don't think I'd be sitting here waiting on you." Sameera smiled flirtatiously. "Although maybe you don't want a third wish. Maybe you just want to stay here with me."
"Tempting," Chase said softly. She seemed nice, after all, if a little imperious, and the tea was awfully good. That was silly, though, because he already knew his last wish. It wasn't extraordinary. Maybe it was a little selfish, but for the longest time, it was exactly what he'd wanted.
He knew where he was before he opened his eyes, because he could smell the coffee brewing and hear the low clunk of the door as House entered the room. Everything looked normal when he opened his eyes, but he knew it was different.
"Patient is a female, age 26. Presenting with headache, fever, abdominal cramping, and seizures," House began. And so they began testing and treating another person that ordinary medicine failed to help.
Perhaps the strangest thing was how normal it felt. The team throwing around ideas, bouncing off each other, and House lobbing everything back, until something stuck. They performed their procedures, everything was smooth, everything felt flawless.
In short, it was as though the mistakes that had shocked him out of his ease and comfort had never happened. As if he'd never been the one to run to Vogler, as if he'd never screwed up the angiogram or Kayla's diagnosis and made himself look like the lazy slacker he'd made himself out to be. Chase had always figured that his reputation didn't matter that much if he performed well, until his reputation was actually in question. By the time he'd realized it, of course, it was too late.
Once upon a time, he'd had ideas, and they had flowed off his tongue like a stream. Now, when he should have felt more confident, more experienced, he felt like he was rowing against the current, like some sort of fog had ensnared his brain and was dragging him down. There was no insight, no magical moment where he was genuinely able to innovate. He missed that feeling, and couldn't detangle the moments where he had brought the snares down on himself and where simple, ordinary fate had thrown him to their mercies.
So that formed his last wish: that everything was back to the way it was when they were at their best, at least in his view. The experience was enthralling, better than he remembered, to be perfectly honest. It was a reminder of the excitement of solving the mystery and seeing the patient dance on the edge of death before returning to the world. He felt capable and competent, with nothing holding him back – hell, they were all geniuses, when medicine worked like this. When Chase came back to Sameera, the team had cured the imaginary patient, and House was in his office doing his most mellow style of brooding.
"Still looking back," she scolded. "Why would you waste your last wish on something you can't get back, rather than a glimpse of what you might yet achieve?"
"But I didn't –" Chase started, and then realized that in fact, he'd done just that. You should try working in my office, he thought. Then she'd know just how bad bad could be, and how desperately Chase could want to escape...without really escaping and leaving the only place that made sense to him anymore. Except Sameera seemed to know, and yet she thought everything could be fine, or at least better. And if she really was some little misfiring synapse in his brain, then that knowledge was actually in there.
"What you feel, what holds you back, is the weight of your regrets. Your mistakes, your losses." she said, speaking so calmly and so logically that Chase wondered if she wasn't real after all. His dreams never seemed to be so even-keeled. "Even if you move past what happened, Chase, you will never forget them. But you can stop allowing them to hold you back." Sameera leaned closer, and Chase felt her completely impossible breath on his cheek. "Two of your wishes are impossible, and you know this. Perhaps the last is still in your reach, as long as you accept that nothing is ever quite the same over time. Everything must change, and if you try to cling to the safest place, you'll find yourself drowning instead."
Chase felt the weight of her heavy necklace fall against his shoulder as she drew closer to whisper into his ear, her body distorting strangely in his vision. His hands almost twitched because he thought he should make some sort of adjustment, make her comfortable or something.
"I promise you," Sameera whispered, "No matter what you have learned, Dr. Chase, I am not lying to you now."
Chase nodded, because he knew that if she had wanted him to see some false vision, she could easily have done so – the illusions of his mother's voice and Andie's smile had been flawless. Then he felt a wave of the strange nausea that preceded her appearance. The rich colours of the room swirled before his eyes, to be replaced by a jarringly bright light...and then the concerned faces of Cameron and Foreman staring down at him.
"What the – ow?" The back of his head throbbed the second he tried to move. "What happened to me?"
"You were running to the patient's room for a code. There was water on the floor. You slipped and hit your head," Cameron said with a winsome little smile.
"House applauded, until he realized you weren't getting up," Foreman added. "Can you follow my finger?" Chase stared blearily at the movement before his eyes.
"Christ. Which finger?" he asked weakly.
"Okay – definitely a concussion," Foreman declared.
"Yeah, I got that." Chase groaned.
"So," House barked from the corner. "Did you see the bright light?"
"Nah, better. Hot genie, offered me three wishes," Chase drawled. He felt sort of loopy, maybe Foreman had given him something for his headache. Or maybe not, since he still had the headache.
"If one of them wasn't a threesome with Cameron and Cuddy, you're fired," House declared with a smirk, "Maybe with spanking, since Cuddy's on the naughty list for not keeping her floors dry."
"Sorry, didn't think of it. Should have, though," Chase replied, and Cameron flicked him on the arm as she walked past.
"You're gonna need everyone's favorite treatment for head injury, check-ins every two hours," Foreman said firmly, ignoring Chase's grimace. "We'll schedule you for a CT scan, but I think you'll be fine. Get some rest."
Chase had no trouble agreeing to that assignment. Wishing was apparently exhausting. He closed his eyes, hoping that he might slip back into his haunting reverie. However, when a hand carefully shook him awake, his sleep had been empty and dreamless.
"Chase? Time to get up," Cameron chirped cheerfully. She flashed a penlight into his eyes, and he winced.
"Do you have to be so unrelentingly perky?" Chase asked miserably.
"Yes. Came with my degree," was Cameron's arch reply, and Chase almost smiled, except that it sort of hurt. She asked him questions to establish that he was conscious and not suffering memory loss, got him some water and filled him in on their patient's improved status. The experience of being a patient was somehow buzzingly pleasant and irritating all at once, but in spite of Cameron's efforts Chase's thoughts drifted wistfully to the sheer euphoria of his dreams that day. The memories were already starting to slip away from him, moment by moment. He thought of Sameera's words about letting go, and realized that maybe he wasn't meant to keep them.
"Cameron, do we have any mint tea?" he asked, apropos of nothing apparently, judging by the expression on Cameron's face.
"Uh, maybe...in the cafeteria, I think. Or I could ask the nurses...Are you sure you're all right?" Cameron asked suspiciously.
Oh, I've only had a million beautiful things dangled in front of my eyes that will never, ever be even close to true. Other than that, just fine, Chase thought blearily. Except maybe not, because even though he couldn't mend the rifts of his family life (although he made a mental note to call his aunt on the weekend) and he couldn't cure cancer, he could try to stop letting everything he had left fall into decay.
"Nothing that can't be fixed," Chase assured her. For the first time in ages, he actually believed his own words.