Chapter Nine

Ten minutes after parking along the curb, Chase continued to grip the steering wheel and stare at the nondescript house across the street. It had been a while since she'd driven by. The place hadn't changed, save for the flowers lining either side of the stairs and a newer car parked in the garage. The house itself was completely average for an upper middle-class Atlanta suburb. Brick and grey vinyl siding, it looked plain enough, which Chase assumed would make sense. Devon wouldn't want it to be flashy if he had to hide out there periodically. Still she wondered if Devon had used the same realtor he'd used to find their condo ten years ago, or worse, if this Diedra woman and Devon had picked this place out together.

Chase reminded herself, again, that she was being irrational. She didn't come to scope the place out, and she wasn't there to flip Dr. Mancelli from the devil she didn't know yet into the one she did. Diedra Mancelli was a doctor, contracted by Devon in secret because of his status as both a business prodigy and media darling. Men like Devon weren't allowed to show signs of weakness. Chase understood that after so many years in business herself. A celebrity could tweet it to the world when he checked himself into therapy. The sixth richest man on the planet and one of the world's leading authorities on investment and economics? Not so much. The public, and more importantly his peers, proved much less forgiving in his case.

She wasn't there to be a jealous wife. Chase came because she needed to give Devon some difficult news, and it would be easier to do so in the presence of his psychiatrist. More importantly – at least to Chase, she was there because Devon had asked her to come. Knowing how carefully Devon had protected this secret for so long and at the cost of so much, Chase appreciated that his invitation was no small gesture.

With that in mind, Chase finally loosened her hold on the steering wheel and grabbed the file out of the passenger seat. Just holding it made her insides twist inside-out. Like the situation itself at DPC wasn't bad, and having to drag Devon back into it worse, this topped the misery cake like nothing else could have.

With a deep breath and another short mental pep talk, Chase finally shoved the folder into her purse, got out of her car, and crossed the street. She was halfway up the walk when the front door opened. And suddenly Chase faced The Other Woman for the first time. Naomi's warning that Chase better catch up, implying that someone else would ran through her head. Chase noted immediately that the woman had cut her hair at some point in the past year. Up close, Chase realized Dr. Mancelli was older than either Devon or her. Mid-forties, maybe a little older if the woman wore her age well. A stupid thing to care about, but Chase felt slightly better for it nonetheless.

Dr. Mancelli waited while Chase walked the rest of the way up. Then the brunette cocked her head to the side, offered a smile both wide and warm, and held out her hand.

"As you can imagine, I've heard a lot about you. So it's nice to finally meet you in person, Mrs. Dunn."

Chase nodded and accepted the handshake, then allowed the older woman to lead her inside. Chase scanned the interior and noticed that the place felt warm enough, but nothing gave the impression that Devon had left an imprint on the place. Which was a strange thing to look for, Chase figured, but it still comforted her to some degree. She hadn't known what to expect; had she thought she'd walk in and automatically feel like it was Devon's personal refuge? Was it supposed to feel like a hideout? She didn't know.

"Can I get you anything?" Dr. Mancelli offered, forcing Chase to turn around as the woman rounded a corner and disappeared. "I don't drink coffee, but I have tea if you'd like."

"No, thank you." Chase scanned what looked like the living room and frowned. She suddenly realized something important was missing from this picture. "Where's Devon?"

Diedra returned with a steaming cup in her hand. "Well, the heat index is somewhere around a hundred and five, so he wanted to clean himself up a bit before you arrived. I expect he'll be out of the shower anytime now."

Chase tried not to look like that bothered her even as her insides twisted into jealous knots. In this case Chase felt perfectly justified. Devon getting therapy was one thing, but taking a shower in this woman's house? That wasn't a normal doctor-patient relationship; she didn't care how special Devon's circumstances may be. The woman's sultry accent that Chase couldn't place exactly didn't help matters.

For the first time, Chase wondered if she'd believed Devon's story too quickly. Perhaps Naomi had been onto something, suggesting that Devon would inevitably find someone else who wanted him if he didn't think his wife did anymore. It had been a long, long time, and God knew Devon hadn't ever "gone dry" before. Unable to focus on the more important reason for her visit, Chase spun on the woman. She didn't really care about what right she may or may not have, and she didn't give a damn what Devon's doctor might think of her for asking. Some things needed to be cleared up, now. She didn't even consider how she'd say what she wanted.

"Have you ever slept with my husband?" Chase blurted out.

Of course Chase knew the woman could easily lie if she wanted to, and she wouldn't know any different. But it mattered to Chase, to actually hear this woman either confirm or deny it, and to watch this woman's face as she said it.

Dr. Mancelli didn't look surprised or offended by the question. In fact the woman's smile broadened so much that Chase wondered if the woman meant to mock her apparent jealousy.

"No, Mrs. Dunn," the doctor replied clearly and genuinely. "I've never had sex with your husband. Devon is my patient first and foremost. Besides," the woman laughed, "I'm old enough to be his mother."

Chase snorted. "Either you started really young, or you look damn good for your age."

"Thank you," Dr. Mancelli replied without missing a beat. "And you don't have to guess. I'll be sixty-four next month."

"You've got to be kidding," Chase balked.

Dr. Mancelli actually tossed back her head and laughed. "Now you sound like my husband," the woman said between giggles. "He loves to stroke my ego with claims that I haven't changed in twenty years."

Once again Chase was caught off guard. "You're married?" She immediately looked to the woman's hand. She hadn't missed it; the woman wore no ring.

The older woman glanced down as well and shrugged. "Because of my husband's… particular line of work, he can't have things on his person that could be used to identify him. So we chose to forego the ring tradition."

If her husband couldn't wear a plain wedding band, Chase assumed Dr. Mancelli probably couldn't specify exactly what her husband's line of work entailed. Chase could make some decent assumptions though. Which meant both Dr. Mancelli's husband and his immediate family had gone through an extensive background check process to obtain security clearance, most likely on a high government level. Somehow, for Chase, it leant Dr. Mancelli a small measure of credibility and gave Chase some piece of mind.

So Chase pivoted to something she felt perfect entitled to ask. "And your husband doesn't mind that you let a strange man take showers in your house?"

"He understands the nature of my work as well as Devon's specific needs as my patient." The woman motioned to a seat in the living room as she moved in that direction herself. "And as you can see, my husband is rarely home. Another job requirement, unfortunately."

Chase mulled it over for a few seconds before following the woman in. She didn't sit down though, peering at the staircase to the second floor and down the only visible hallway alternately.

"Are you sure you don't want something, Mrs. Dunn? And may I call you Chastane?" Dr. Mancelli asked once she'd propped herself against the arm of the sofa.

"I prefer Chase, actually," Chase answered offhandedly as she looked down the hallway again. What was taking Devon so long? Devon pampered himself, sure, but he was notorious for taking pretty quick showers. "Are you sure Devon's okay?"

"He arrived looking like Paul Bunyan," Diedra said.

Okay, that made a little more sense, and Chase screwed up her face up when she pictured it. In that case, who knew how long it would take him to whack the overgrowth from his face.

"Have you never told Devon?"

Chase moved her attention back to Dr. Mancelli. "Told him what?"

"That you prefer to be called Chase," Diedra replied. Chase frowned, so Diedra leaned forward, resting her chin in her palm. "I knew of your nickname, of course, thanks to the media. But I've never heard Devon call you that. I just wondered why that was."

Chase thought about it for a moment, how silly her explanation would sound at her age. How stupid it was in general. But since it was true, Chase shrugged and said, "I always hated my name when I was a kid. It sounded weird and made me stand out when all I wanted to do was blend in. But Devon told me he loved my name, that he thought it was beautiful." Chase ignored Dr. Mancelli's penetrating gaze and tried not to blush too much even though she felt like she was under an emotional x-ray. "I don't know why, but it never sounds silly when Devon says it. It's more like…poetry or something."

Dr. Mancelli remained intent. "Well, I have to agree with him," the older woman remarked. "It is a beautiful name." Again there was no condescension in her tone, only authenticity. Combined with the analytic stare, Chase suddenly wondered if she too was being treated like a patient at the moment.

"No offense," Chase said as she looked away, "but I really need to talk to Devon. Do you mind if I go and see what he's doing?"

"I suspect he'd prefer it if you didn't. Not yet, at least."

"Why not?" Chase demanded, her paranoia blooming once again. "What else has he been hiding from me?"

For the first time, the doctor's expression betrayed a small measure of guilt. "I think it'd be best if he had the chance to explain it himself when he's ready."

That settled it. "Well he's gonna be ready now," Chase seethed. "Besides, you're his shrink, right? You should know that he never tells me anything unless he has to. Where is he?"

Dr. Mancelli paused another moment and then sighed. Without any more argument, she pointed toward the hallway.

Chase didn't wait for any further direction. She hitched her purse higher on her shoulder and stalked to the back of the house. Considering the layout, Chase assumed the first doors were closets or possibly a bathroom. She stopped at each and listened. She didn't hear movement so she moved to the remaining two. As soon as she neared the door on the left, she heard a combination of ambient noises that made her skin crawl. She hadn't heard them in a few years, yet she was intimately acquainted with them on a subconscious level. She could almost feel them surround her body, the measured, short mechanical beeps and a soft, background buzz that permeated the air. Chase had believed until that moment that there was no combination of sounds in the world that could duplicate a hospital.

As soon as Chase opened the door, fluorescent lights revealed that this back room, obviously once a sunroom or studio of some kind, had been converted into a fully functional medical suite. She wandered inside, her horror growing with each item she identified. Chase made a mental inventory just to distract from auditory assault making her nauseous. Because of her involvement with low-income clinics, Chase recognized some of the more basic diagnostic equipment. She remembered the open air MRI from her own hospital stays. And then there were the brain monitors and scanning equipment with wires and pads snaking out from every direction. They could have been moved straight from Robbie's old care facility into this place. There was even a cart set up for cardiac resuscitation.

In the far corner opposite a small twin bed was something Chase had never seen. She walked up to the pod-shaped contraption. Somehow it made her think of the hover vehicles portrayed in a Hollywood future flick. She glanced at the electronic control panel on the side of the glossy white surface. Then she looked through the small window inside of what she could only guess was a hatch. Inside it looked like an enclosed Jacuzzi lit up with black lights.

"What are you doing in here?"

A yelp escaped her, and Chase spun around, leaning heavily against the strange machine so she wouldn't lose her balance. Devon stood in the doorway, hair still damp, stripped to his waist with a towel around his neck and blue jeans that hung loose on his hips. Chase might have gone weak in the knees at the model-esque image, except Devon was furious. Chase could have seen that even if he'd appeared with his usual baby smooth face. With the addition of the facial hair, neatly and evenly trimmed as it was, his expression looked even more threatening.

Devon continued to glare at her, apparently waiting for her to say something. He was out of luck; Chase couldn't seem to find enough air to talk. After several tense moments, Devon nodded stiffly, as though answering something that hadn't been asked out loud. Chase fought back the panic and reminded herself that this was Devon, and she was more afraid of what all this stuff was than she ever would be of him, no matter how pissed he got at her. That thought steadied her a bit.

"I was looking for you," she finally offered weakly.

"Did Diedra send you back here? Or did you just happen to wander in on your own?"

Chase shook her head. "Your doctor told me you wouldn't want me back here. She said you'd want to talk to me at some point when you were ready."

Devon nodded again. "And obviously you thought she had no fucking clue what she was talking about," he growled.

Chase looked at her feet rather than remain a hostage of Devon's steely eyes. "All I know for sure is that you're never ready to tell me anything unless I find out on my own first."

It felt like an eternity passed as Chase squeezed her eyes shut to keep from crying like a naughty child who'd gotten caught.

She didn't have any reason to feel bad for choosing not to be willfully ignorant for a change. If they were going to work together, let alone anything else, the cycle of deception first and truth only as a last resort had to stop. He had to understand that. Chase couldn't allow yet another relationship to be built on lies and subterfuge, even if it was just as his business partner. Hadn't he had enough of that growing up? Had he not drained his lifetime bullshit output while they were dating? Weren't they about to clean up the destruction caused by the same behaviors among the current leadership in his family's company? How many lessons in cause and effect did he need to realize it was a problem? Or had he simply gotten lucky too often and avoided too many repercussions to have figured it out like a normal person?

Chase heard Devon take a deep breath and walk towards her. She allowed herself to look back up in time to see him barely a step front of her. Devon no longer appeared livid, but neither did he look especially calm either. He was obviously still tense but otherwise he appeared resigned. She held her breath as he leaned forward and around her. When she looked over, she saw him punch a few buttons on the control panel next to her shoulder.

"What is this thing?" Chase whispered shakily so she wouldn't come off as shouting in his ear, which hovered mere inches from her mouth at the moment.

Devon glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "It's a sensory deprivation tank."

He hit a few more buttons, and suddenly the tank hummed to life. Devon backed up just enough to give her room to retreat from the subtle vibrations against her back without stepping on him in the process. However he didn't seem inclined to give her much more space than that.

Because of the rest of the setup in that corner, she really didn't have an escape route without his compliance. Chase accepted the proximity for the moment. "What do you use something like that for?" she asked, keeping her voice low but steady.

"It's the best way I've found to sleep without the nightmares, since it's not really sleeping," Devon replied. "I do this every couple of weeks, just to recharge, as it were. Your warning earlier suggested I may be due a little early."

"What about the rest of this equipment?" Chase dared to probe even as she watched the muscles around his neck and shoulders stand out. But she couldn't let it go, no matter how much Devon wanted her to. "You don't need all just for PTSD, do you?"

Another awkward silence followed before Devon finally answered softly. "No." At the same time he backed away another step, physically give her an easy out.

Chase remained in place and considered him for a long time. Devon returned her stare, his expression guarded, almost defiant. Just like he had in the hotel over the weekend when she'd blindly offered to help him after witnessing his first episode. When he'd woken up enough to stagger away while she'd reached out but couldn't actually touch him. At that time, with the rush of raw emotions she hadn't stretched in years, she'd still seen that gulf between them as too wide to ever bridge again. Even she could admit now that Devon had probably been right in pushing her away, no matter how much it had hurt to do it. Anything she would have promised after seeing him so tortured, suspecting she herself was the cause, would have been meaningless. She wondered if Devon was waiting for the repeat performance, when she would reach nine-tenths of the way the one time in their lives he couldn't accept anything less than her crossing the whole distance.

It had only been a few days, and what was complicated before had multiplied so many times over. Devon still didn't know the worst of it yet. Almost like the final note of a song, Chase felt it keenly in her heart, that she'd pushed Devon away so many times while she'd been tangled in the hellish, all-enveloping grief of losing their daughter, that he just didn't trust her not to do it again. At least not while her own feelings were in question.

Without realizing it consciously, Chase was already reaching out. Once she did register the motion, she stepped forward, pushing through her own fears and colliding directly with Devon's near palpable uncertainty. His eyes seemed to widen a little more with every inch she encroached upon him. Finally she passed nine-tenths and ran her fingers along his cheek and jaw.

She chuckled to disguise the knot in her throat. "You like a cross between a gruff biker dude and a movie star."

His Adam's apple bobbed, and he dropped his face down enough that he wasn't peeking down his nose any longer. "That bad?" he croaked.

Chase cocked her head slightly, testing the texture. He'd left it short enough to look groomed but left enough that it felt softer than she'd expected. It added a few years to his face and highlighted the stark contrast between his hair and his blue steel eyes. It was a nice change, in a way, to see her husband look a little less polished on the outside. It fit her Devon better, the one she knew was still in there, however bent he'd become. She ran a finger along a few spots where silver mixed in with the black like a woven pattern.

"I like it, actually," she decided out loud.

Devon cleared his throat and chuckled. "You say that, but as I recall, you never let me kiss you when I hadn't shaved." Chase flinched. Apparently he noticed, because his expression clouded, and his eyes darted away from her. "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that. It's not exactly an issue anymore, is it?"

Chase felt the shudder along the entire length of her spine. Suddenly her mouth followed her body's last example in not waiting for a go signal before taking off.

She took his chin into her hand and gave it a shake. "It's a good thing I already know you're a genius, or I would think I've been married to a moron all this time." Her mind just rolled right through, ignoring his twitch as well as his confused scowl. It felt as though the pinhole Devon had pricked open in her heart was trying to rupture. Still she held his gaze as steadily as her own blurring vision would allow. "Do you honestly believe that I don't love you anymore?"

His head jerked back a little, and the previously confused display morphed to blank incomprehension. He blinked several times, rapidly. She could almost hear it even as his mouth opened slightly but nothing actually came out. He just didn't appear to be able to drag the two words he needed – Do you? – into the open where she might pass judgment. Devon's reaction, so tentative from the man she once believed utterly fearless, erected a roadblock in Chase's throat. She however refused to be barricaded and tore it down as a sob escaped.

"God, Devon, we'd literally been through hell together, even before all this. And it's true, there were times it hurt, like physically hurt, to be with you, and there were times I've been so pissed I just wanted to rip your face off. And I know you've felt the same way with me. It isn't easy for you to deal with someone like me. I'm hard-headed and single-minded a lot of the time. God knows I can't shut up when I should and I'm pissy and judgmental and I expect you to consider my feelings on everything, no matter how stupid it is. But even with all that, when we were together everything was so good."

Chase wiped her face roughly even as Devon appeared to unfreeze. Still his movements were jerky, like his brain was trying to give his muscles two different commands at the same time. He managed to reach her shoulder with one hand and held it like he'd float off without the anchor.

Chase shook her head, looking heavenward for a moment. Then she leaned her forehead against his chest. "And then it just…broke," she continued softly. "But this weekend when you said, 'No one wants this,' you were right; I didn't want this. I didn't want any of this for us. For ten years you were everything to me, Devon. Whatever is happening to you now won't change that. Whether you tell me or not won't change it. It'll probably kill me to watch from the outside, but I'm still gonna love you. I've always loved you."

Chase barely managed to finish before Devon enveloped her as if he was trying to touch every inch of her, to reach every possible place all at once. He held her so tightly it became painful. She could actually feel his heart racing through the fabric of her blouse. His muscles quaked like thousands of tectonic plates under his skin. He stayed cheek to cheek with her, and she could hear him gasping against her ear.

She knew something was horribly wrong. "Devon," she whimpered while trying not to indicate to him that he was crushing her ribcage. "It's okay, I'm not going anywhere, baby. But I need you to loosen up for a sec."

Devon did, a little. It would have to be enough. Even though it ached to do so, Chase arched back from him just enough to look him in the face again. If she had been able to breathe better, she probably would have screamed as he looked down at her. The already bright lights were amplified as they reflected off every surface. The entire room was white walls and metal gadgets. Yet his beautiful blue eyes that she could get lost in were actually lost. Devon's eyes were dilated; his pupils took up an alarming amount of the space where his irises should have been. In their current surroundings, there'd been no sudden light variations to work as a visual trigger. Worse, he hadn't blinked.

She only waited a few seconds, enough to see that his pupils weren't contracting. Then she massaged his arms, reached along the length of them to get to his hands. He complied, releasing her a little more as she physically prompted him to shift his grip. His breaths remained short and shallow, and his wide eyes remained more black than blue and locked onto her face as if he understood he needed a focal point.

Chase finally took her first full lung of air in several minutes, and although she wanted to catch up on her oxygen intake, she deferred. Instead she expelled that first breath so she could cry for Dr. Mancelli as she back Devon toward the small bed.

Apparently the woman had remained downstairs and attentive, because she rushed in within seconds. Dr. Mancelli didn't speak at first; she just forcibly extracted Chase from Devon's grasp and propped him against the edge of the bed. Chase moved back as the woman took his pulse with one hand and dug in a drawer with her other.

"Work or personal?" Dr. Mancelli asked over her shoulder as she pulled out a small vial and syringe, filling it as though she'd done so millions of times in her life.

Somehow Chase suspected what the woman was asking. "I told him I still loved him."

Dr. Mancelli stopped in mid measure, glancing at Chase. "Ah. That would do it." The woman finished what she'd been doing and muttered something into Devon's ear that Chase couldn't hear, but Devon let out a sound Chase thought might be a grunt or a laugh or maybe both. Chase winced as Dr. Mancelli stuck the enormous needle right into Devon's neck and slowly pushed the plunger, until she realized Devon didn't even seem to register it. Dr. Mancelli tossed it aside and looked toward Chase again, but past her this time.

"He's already gotten the tank warmed up?" When Chase nodded, Dr. Mancelli sighed, and Chase could see the relief relaxing Dr. Mancelli's features. "He was getting ready, just in case. Smart boy," she muttered, patting him on the shoulder.

Chase moved to Dr. Mancelli's side as the woman leaned forward so she could look Devon in the eye. "All right, Devon, I'm bringing you down as quickly as is safe. I want you under for at least twelve hours after this. While you're in the tank, I'll be monitoring your vitals and brain activity. Nod if you understand me."

Devon grunted again and nodded. Chase noticed his eyes were finally starting to return to normal. He blinked very slowly.

Dr. Mancelli peeked at Chase, then cut back to Devon and slapped his knee. "I imagine you think nearly giving yourself a heart attack was worth it, don't you?"

Devon's chuckle was easier to identify this time, even though Chase couldn't appreciate the improvement. Possibilities rolled through her head, from her Psychology class in college all the way through what she'd picked up administrating charity clinics and everything in between.

"Dr. Mancelli," she began tentatively, keeping her eyes on Devon, "that wasn't a normal anxiety attack, was it?" When neither responded immediately, Chase reinforced her will and went on. "Even with PTSD, that was an extreme adrenaline response," she declared rather than asked. It was the only thing that made sense, although she prayed she was wrong.

Instead Dr. Mancelli sighed again. "Yes, it was."

Chase felt like the floor was moving while her feet were tied together. "Devon's condition…it's not just psychological, is it?" she muttered.

The older woman looked much more like a doctor, trained to be sympathetic in delivering bad news. "No, it's not."

Chase nibbled on one of her fingernails and nodded. In her mind, Chase narrowed the possibilities based on what she knew so far and what she'd seen over the past week. She went back further in her memories, to other places in their past and things she'd been told about him from those who'd known him for years. Pieces came together here and there; enough that panic swelled in her gut. Instead of scaring herself into her own heart attack, Chase switched her focus to Devon as he sat quietly. He was squinting at her, and she didn't know if it was a residual effect of his episode, or if he couldn't see her clearly because of the medicine. She moved in front of him, bending down despite the ache in her midsection.

"I won't promise to help you when I can't this time," she whispered. "And I know you tried to be with me when I needed it and I didn't let you, so I'm being a hypocrite if I ask you to let me be with you through this now." Chase ran her fingers through his hair as his head lolled forward to rest on her abdomen. "But I'm gonna do it anyway. So please…just tell me."

Devon didn't move for a full minute, and Chase wondered if he was too sedated to answer. But then he nodded against her stomach. She looked at Dr. Mancelli. The woman affirmed that she'd noted his approval. The woman however promised to fill in the blanks only after she'd finished with her patient. So Chase waited anxiously as Dr. Mancelli covered Devon in various electrodes and set the IV that would administer his medicine and fluids during his "sleep". Once he was stripped to his boxers, moved into the chamber - with help from both women – and locked in for the night, Chase's patience had exceeded its limit.

Dr. Mancelli gave Chase's arm a comforting pat and invited her to come back into the living room. The doctor insisted they eat first and would hear no arguments to the contrary. Then Dr. Mancelli assured her they would discuss Devon's medical conditions that, according to the elder woman, were both as complicated and unique as he was.


A/N: Okay, so one more chapter before some old favorites return. This was getting long, I'm exhausted, and I never could resist a good cliffhanger when I'm hanging off of one. Somehow I think you guys might forgive me, considering. ;)