Chase looked up when House came into the conference room to get water.
"I thought it was just lunch."
House waggled his head and shrugged, chugging down half the bottle of water in one go.
"Chase, answer me something, just yes or no."
"Okay," Chase said warily.
"Do you feel like you're worthy?"
Chase blinked and stared at House, trying to decipher why he was asking, what had he done recently or not done recently, was this a trick of some kind to get him to admit something. House watched him, seeing the thoughts racing in his expression, and waved his hand dismissively.
"Forget it. Too personal, you don't have to answer," House said and went into his office to sit and think.
A few minutes later Chase stood in the doorway that connected the office to the conference room.
"No. My answer is no," he said, then turned and fled both the conversation and House's presence.
"Fuck," House muttered, tipping his head back against the headrest of his chair. Why had he asked him that in the middle of the work day? He knew Chase was messed up too. He got up and went after him.
"Chase! Wait up!" he called out as the younger man had just gotten into the elevator. Saw the wild look in his eyes as the doors slid closed and sighed, watching to see if he was going up or done and running possibilities for where he could look for him, but the car didn't move. After a moment the doors opened and Chase met his eyes.
"If you're coming, get in," he said harshly.
House pursed his lips, figuring he was due a snap for setting him off, and joined him in the elevator.
"What do you want? I answered your question."
"Yes you did. I… I wasn't… I didn't mean it to set you off. I'm just trying to understand," House explained hesitantly.
"Understand what?" Chase asked just a little less harshly.
House reached out with his cane and pushed the stop button. Chase crossed his arms and faced him with a glare.
"Understand what?" he demanded.
"If I'm the only one."
"The only one?" Chase repeated, looking confused for a moment but then he dropped his arms and looked more serious than angry. "Do you feel worthy?" he asked breathlessly. It couldn't be true, could it? House had problems, sure, who didn't, but he was brash and arrogant, brilliant and confident. But House was silent and that shook Chase's world.
"Do you feel worthy?" he asked again.
"No," House answered quietly. "I'm trying to feel it. They keep telling me I am. So does Nolan. But I can't grab onto that feeling for more than a moment that just slips away."
Chase stared at him in consternation, not sure what to do with the knowledge that the man he both hated and loved didn't feel worthy, just like him. The phone in the elevator car rang. Chase picked it up absently, listened for a moment, then passed the phone to House.
House rolled his eyes and took the phone. "Yes, Mistress?"
"House. Put the elevator back in service. If you want to have a private conversation, do it in your office. Or the morgue. Or the coma guy's room. Not the elevator," she said in an exasperated tone of voice.
"Alright, keep your panties on," House answered, nodding at Chase who pushed the button. "Back in service."
"Thank you. Now go do whatever you're doing somewhere else, somewhere that other people who are trying to work this afternoon don't need to be or use."
"Fine," he said, handing the phone back to Chase who hung it up. The doors opened onto the first floor to maintenance and Cuddy standing there, both irritated.
"Both of you, go do your clinic hours," she ordered.
Chase ducked out of the elevator after glancing at House and headed for the clinic. House stepped out and walked over to Cuddy.
"I wasn't finished talking to him yet," he complained.
"Too bad, we need the elevator. Go corner him in a clinic room," she said, shaking her head at him.
House huffed and headed toward the clinic. Chase had already taken on a patient, so he had to wait until he'd finished to corner him again.
"House, I just want to work," he sighed. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"Are you alright?"
Chase froze, unused to getting this level of concern from House.
"Alright, you're seriously freaking me out now."
"Just answer the question."
"Isn't that how this all started?" Chase quipped then sighed and leaned against the exam table. "I don't know. Is that honest enough for you? I don't know what to do with the idea that someone who is so much larger than life like you doesn't feel worthy. I don't know what to think about you giving a damn about my reactions. I keep waiting for the other boot to drop and you to go back to mocking me again. I just… I need some time alone to think, okay? Not to do anything else, just some mindless colds and STDs and think."
"Okay then," House nodded. "I need to think too. Come back upstairs when you're done here. Not to talk more, unless you think of something you want to say. Just… check in with me."
"Who are you and what have you done with House?" Chase asked but cracked a smile to let him know he was joking. He knew how much effort House was putting in to learn to relate to and actually support his team lately. And hadn't forgotten the night he'd spent at House's apartment when both men had needed the other's presence.
"I'll come back up in a couple of hours. By four o'clock. I'll bring you a coffee."
"Okay. Happy clinic duty."
House left the clinic and headed back to the elevator returning to his office.
Celeste was back at her desk and looked up questioningly when he sat down at the conference room table with a sigh.
"Is everything alright?" she asked after watching him bounce his cane for a few minutes. "Another case?"
"I wish," he answered with a grimace. "A patient would be a great distraction right about now. I'm actually tempted to go and do clinic duty."
"Now you're just talking nonsense," she said with a small smile, getting up and coming over to sit down at the table with him, putting a stack of files in front of him. "How about signing off on the billing instead?"
"How's repeatedly signing my name going to distract me?" he grumbled but reached out to pick up a pen from the holder on the table and flipped open the top folder.
"Why do you need to be distracted?" she asked after he had signed the first few files.
"Because I don't want to think about what I'm currently thinking about. That's sort of the definition of distraction," he drawled sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
"Well the clinic would give you plenty of people to mock, that is, if you actually see patients while you're there. Since you usually just use it as a place to watch TV, I doubt it will work."
He grunted but said nothing more, finishing the files off and getting to his feet. "I've got a call to make. No interruptions that don't start in fire, gun, or code blue."
"I'll blockade the doors with the medical encyclopedias," she agreed, earning an appreciative smirk and a nod of thanks.
House sat down at his desk with his cell phone, debating who to call. Nolan? No. Marius? Maybe. But then he remembered that Gyndol had been Gaius' master and he dialed his number instead.
"Gaius? This is House. You have time to answer some questions?"
"What's on your mind?"
"I just had lunch and a soul searching chat with Gyndol."
"He surprised you at work?"
"Yeah. It was just lunch at first but then it got deep pretty fast."
"I am sorry he chose to do that while you were working. He's eccentric and has his own agenda. I can speak with him and tell him not to contact you at work anymore if you like."
"No. Not… not right now," House said, scrubbing his face with his hand and taking a deep breath.
"So what's on your mind?"
"I was so off balance from what Gyndol talked about that I tipped Chase off too. I think I've got him stable again but he admitted having the same problem I do. And said that it shook him to know I felt the same way."
"Chase… is one of the doctors that works for you?" Gaius asked to clarify.
"Yeah, he's been with me the longest."
"What is the feeling that you both share?"
"Not feeling worthy."
"Gyndol didn't pull any punches, did he?" Gaius sighed.
"He started out just talking about intuition and the 'spirits' telling him that I used to like to be outside and that I haven't been since the infarction, and that was why he wanted to take me out to a picnic in the park. That It was life altering and I was still mourning the loss. I said that was true and that… that it shook my whole sense of self-worth. He started talking about soul purpose and that he didn't think I was finished with mine. That there was something more than medicine."
"I think we all agree with him about that, House. You have too many other talents for medicine to be the sum total of your life, despite how brilliant you are at it, though I'm not sure you've come across the next thing yet."
House was silent for a moment.
"What else did Gyndol say?" Gaius prompted after a couple of minutes went by, sensing there was still more.
"He said that even though I'd been broken that I could make myself into something new. Something whole. Something that maybe would let me feel worthy and like I belonged. Then we had chocolate cheesecake."
Gaius chuckled at that. "Yes, he does love his sweets and chocolate especially. Do you believe what he said or even consider it might be possible?"
"A few months ago my answer would have been categorically no but… enough has changed for me that I can't rule it out without more research," House answered thoughtfully.
"That's quite a task to take on."
"Well, you do realize that the only way to prove that it's not possible is to put forth your best effort to remake yourself into something new and whole and have it fail. That's a great deal to risk, if your purpose is merely curiosity and research. If you are truly looking for more than just to satisfy curiosity and prove a point, then I would encourage you to throw yourself into it with as much single-minded drive as you apply to your patients' cases."
House sat back in his chair and scrubbed his face with one hand. "Damn, Gaius, you're not pulling any punches either."
"I didn't think you'd want that."
"I don't, not really. I just… How much can a person really change?"
"As much as they want and are willing to put the work in to do. Many people only make small changes, just a couple of things to make their lives a little easier. Some do bigger shifts for health reasons. Some change everything and start over if they haven't liked how their life has been going. That is the hardest path of all to do and it's a deeply personal decision. I will support you in whatever path you choose."
"Even if I choose not to change at all?"
"You've already changed, House. The question at hand is whether you wish to push on and make more changes."
"Yeah, I have, haven't I?" House said, realizing that was true. "I've liked the changes I've made so far but they've also made other parts of my life harder to deal with."
"What would a life you'd be content and happy with feel like?" Gaius asked curiously. "If we could wave a magic wand and have it instantly come into being when you get up tomorrow morning, what would that life be like?"
"Hmm." House hummed and tapped his fingers on his lips as he thought about the question. "Well, my number one thing would be to have the least amount of pain from the leg. To get decent sleep every night, to feel well enough to eat good. To go back to being just a smart aleck instead of a snarling wild animal to people. Having friends to go places with. Friends that I don't have to act differently to be around. Maybe even friends I trust enough to invite into my house or friends that invite me to theirs. That don't hide me from their other friends and family. And I am starting to get curious about this spirituality thing that Gyndol's brought up which is radically new. I've been and remain against organized religion and the crazy things people do in its name. I want to stop feeling angry all the time.
" I've hated my life for decades and wanted it to change but I felt like it was out of my control. Suddenly there's all these things that are in my control to do and I'm not doing any of them, even when they're my plan. The only thing I've managed to change is sleeping and eating, and then only by hiring a personal chef."
"Don't do that. Take that word 'only' out of that sentence. You are making a lot of progress and there's no shame to hiring a chef, we've been through that already. You've been sleep deprived and eating poorly for a decade or more. It will take longer than a couple of weeks to reverse the effects. You have been in less pain with regular sessions from Sidney, have you not?"
"True," House acknowledged.
"And your ability to have difficult conversations, with the clan, with Wilson, with Chase, shows that you aren't that snarling wild beast anymore. The changes you desire are coming. Just not as quickly as you would like, nor without effort on your part. That's the part that keeps people from making changes you know, having to put in considerable effort themselves, often while enduring ridicule from those that should be supporting them."
"Yeah, I've run into that already. Why do people do that? Crab at you to change and when you do they crab at you for doing it."
"Fear. Because if you can change, then they can too, and they don't want to face the enormous effort it takes anymore than anyone else. And they start to wonder, if you won't want them around anymore if you change and they don't. You already know the level of boredom and discontent that comes from living in a state of stagnation, where little to nothing changes on a day to day basis. When you decide you can't live like that any longer, you'll change. It won't be easy. It will be worth it."
"And you won't leave? The clan won't leave?" House asked nervously.
"I won't leave. The clan won't leave. We will support you and look forward to who you are becoming."
"This is a lot to think about."
"It is," Gaius acknowledged. "It's the future and you're the one in charge of choosing the course. Take your time but don't wait too long and lose the wind, current, and tide."
"Thanks. See you this weekend."
"Call again if you need to talk. About anything at all."