rubyjuly: (red motorcycle/house)
[personal profile] rubyjuly
Title: Follow You Around the Sun
Author: [livejournal.com profile] rubyjuly
Rating & warning: Rated PG-13. This takes place after events in "Both Sides Now."
Genre & characters: Gen. Chris and Rachel Taub. Wilson appears.
Disclaimer: Anyone you recognize here does not belong to me.
Wordcount: 1,815.
Summary: How House's team passes the summer.


On the first day that House doesn't show up, no one sits in his chair.

They haven't been in the office an hour before they get Cuddy's explanation, which comes in the form of a one-line memo to the hospital's department heads that diagnostic cases are to be referred to Dr. Foreman while Dr. House is on medical leave.

After that, Foreman takes House's chair at the end of the table, the one closest to the coffee machine. Taub watches Foreman lean back in the chair, unconsciously imitating House while they try to fill in the gaping hole left by his absence.

Taub's a good listener, and he hears a lot about his missing boss in the next few days.

Half the hospital is sure Cuddy fired House and the other half speculates that he's in rehab. Taub notices that Cuddy remains tight-lipped and quashes the worst of the speculation with terse reminders that House's health has not been good for quite some time.

Either way, after a few days without anything new to gossip about, the topic goes stale.

They go back to work, but Foreman is not House. They lose their first patient in the last week of May, the second two weeks later after the failure of what Taub is starting to think of as diagnosis by Ouija board, during which they all seized on symptoms and dragged them past an alphabetical list of possible causes.

The next week Foreman doesn't bring them a patient file. By the end of June, the Diagnostic Department's paperwork backlog, some of it dating back nine years, is in perfect order and filed, and there is nothing else to do.

Thirteen checks the log and adds up the clinic hours House still owes. She splits them into thirds, and they finish all his unserved time, including the various penalties Cuddy tacked on in recent years, by the end of July. It feels, Taub thinks, like every hour is a shovelful of dirt thrown into a grave, a kind of finality and neatness that House would have raged against.

In August, Foreman schedules them for vacations and continuing education conferences that will keep them out of the hospital for most of the month. Taub goes to the conferences and skips the vacation time. He tells Rachel he's too busy, but the truth is they can't afford it. He needs to come clean about their financial situation, but he can't bring himself yet to do it.

He's rehearsed it a hundred times in his head, usually at night while he's watching Rachel sleep. They'll sell this place, which has always been too big for the two of them, and find something smaller and affordable. He'll sell the Porsche while he's at it and wipe all the lingering doubts sown by House that Rachel had been stashing away money to leave him.

He watches her sleep, a self-contained island of peace curled beside him, and imagines the effect this will have on the fragile balance of their marriage. By morning he always changes his mind.

He passes September working as a general practitioner in the clinic. Sometimes he's called to the ER when they have facial lacerations that need his plastic surgery skills, but that's not often.

Through it all, House's office remains dark, like a hole in space where a star burned out.

Wilson is a cipher that only House can decode. He's harder to crack than House, who fiercely wishes to be inscrutable, because that's how Wilson is. He doesn't even have to work at it.

Taub knows that Wilson doesn't trust Foreman and Thirteen doesn't even seem to register on his radar. He's fairly certain that any kinship Wilson finds with him is superficial at best and unflattering at worst: they're both Jewish, around the same age, both adulterers.

But Wilson no longer has anyone to confide in, and so he's not surprised when loneliness finally sets in. A polite greeting one evening when they're both leaving work leads to Wilson inviting him out for a drink.

"Things have been quiet," Wilson says after they're settled into a booth at the bar, and Taub suddenly realizes how empty that quiet is for Wilson.

"How is he?" Taub asks, and Wilson's shoulders sag a little.

"Better," he replies.

"Foreman told us he's in rehab again."

"He's in a psychiatric hospital. He had a breakdown," Wilson says, and it looks like it's a relief to say those words.

Taub puts down his beer glass. Most of the hospital's employees would say House causes breakdowns, not suffers from them, but his behavior just before he disappeared suddenly makes sense.

"A major one," Taub says.

"Complicated by chronic pain and his addiction issues." Wilson looks down at his glass and swirls the dregs of his beer. "Which is why he's been away so long."

"He's coming back, though? We're dead in the water right now."

"I've noticed," Wilson says. "But, yes, he'll be back. I'm not yet sure when."

It doesn't take much digging to find out where House has gone. The last entry in House's medical chart details his admission to Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital. The next day Taub signs himself out early (not that anyone notices or cares lately) and drives to Mayfield. He can't explain the impulse. He doesn't intend to go inside and has no desire to see House.

He needs to know where he is, in a way that he can't put words to. It is, he thinks, like orienting himself to the position of the sun on a long walk.

The hospital's tree-lined drive ends at the front entrance, and he wonders how many generations of sick people this grim-looking place has struck fear into the hearts of.

It looks like an archetypal lunatic asylum, and it's nothing like the cheerful, modern facility where he spent eight days after he tried to kill himself.

He never let House know how close he was to the truth. All that feels like ancient history now. He thinks now that the despair he was in then probably would have passed if he'd waited it out, but he'd tried pills instead, and Rachel found him in time. She'd covered for him by telling his partners he'd caught a particularly vicious form of food poisoning while they'd been away for the weekend.

Nine days after he'd tried to end his life, he was back at work without anyone knowing what had happened.

He stares out the windshield. The first hint of autumn color is on the big trees that shade a side lawn. There are patients there, moving around slowly or sitting on benches in the sunshine, but he's too far away to pick out House among them. At this distance, even House's height and limp won't be distinctive.

He puts the car into gear, turns around and heads home.

That night Rachel falls asleep early while he reads in bed next to her. He hasn't told her about House. Every day he's pretended that the usual routine awaits him.

They used to tell each other everything, but the conversations have dwindled over the years. Now she waits until dinner time to ask about his day, the conversation politely slotted between bites of food.

Maybe this happens to everyone, he thinks as he watches her sleep. He feels unworthy for even considering it. She's been steadfast, and a better wife than he's been a husband.

He turns out the light and curves his body around hers. Her hair is like silk under his cheek, and he falls asleep and dreams of when they were first married and lived in an apartment with a tiny balcony. She used to hang their sheets to dry on it, and they'd reveled in the luxury of a bed that smelled like a spring day.

In his dream, he sees her again on that balcony, the sun making a corona of her hair as she lifts the sheets and pins them to the line. He comes closer and sees her smiling inside the cool white tunnel of freshly washed cotton. Her eyes are closed and he wants to kiss her awake. He steps closer, and they're both standing ankle-deep in fallen leaves. He kicks them aside and sees how they've lain in layers for a long time, with years of rain and rot concealed underneath.

He wakes up and finds that Rachel has rolled away from him to sleep on the edge of the bed.

He should tell her. That's what this dream means, but the truth will require laying all his failures bare. Every one of them is not exclusively his; after all, he didn't personally cause the collapse of the mortgage industry that made almost 90 percent of their portfolio worthless, but he made plenty of bad decisions that they both have to live with now.

He lies on his back in the dark and thinks about Wilson and how the guarded conviction in his voice didn't match the profound sadness in his eyes.

If House doesn't come back, then he has no job. If the worst happens, he could find a job at a doc-in-a-box clinic for awhile or maybe move out West and start over again, but it's not what he had in mind when he wanted to change his life two years ago.

It's not just the limp on the outside that's crippled House. The one on the inside, with all the damage that's accumulated before and since, is far worse. He didn't know that when he gambled on House taking him on.

He'd fallen a little short of brilliance once before, fallen a long way with trashing his career, and thought hooking onto House, who had brilliance to burn, would give him something worthwhile, the second chance at what he'd so often felt was just beyond his reach.

"Chris?" Rachel suddenly says, her voice thick with sleep.

"What, sweetheart?"

"You're awake."

"How'd you know?"

"You snore a little when you're on your back."

"I do not," he answers reflexively.

She rolls back to him and he wraps his arms around her. "Why can't you sleep?"

"I was. I had a dream and I woke up."

"Bad dream?"

"No. It's just ... I remembered something and then I was awake."

She doesn't say anything for a few moments and he wonders if she's dozed off.

"Chris, is something bothering you?"

He doesn't want her to ask that. He could quiet her with lovemaking, slide his hands down her smooth shoulders and tease down the straps of her camisole. The darkness would let them both pretend that no one else had ever come between them, but that feels like another lie and he simply holds her close.

"No," he says. "I'm fine."

She falls asleep in his arms, and he lies awake until another day of waiting comes.

~~ Finis
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rubyjuly

July 2012

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