NOTES: This piece sort of leads into the timeline that will eventually attach to my upcoming multichapter fic, Life After Armageddon. It's a slightly looser interpretation of canon than my other fics, and I hope you like it. Additionally, this is another experiment in style. Let me know what you think? Sorry for the lack of Exposure recently, I've been having a hard time with a lot of things. Hopefully by the end of next week I'll have an update, although it could be sooner.

Playing with Fire

The moment the committee finishes speaking, he's on his feet and running. He's vaguely aware of House's angry footsteps down the hallway behind him. Certainly there will be hell to pay for what this has cost his boss, but at the moment, the only thing in his mind is the burning need to get out. He ducks into the nearest men's room, silently praying that House won't follow.

He slams the stall door, catching a finger with the lock in his haste. It's not a bad injury, but it stings. The plastic of the stall wall is cool when he rests his forehead against it, hot tears burning his eyes and blurring his vision. He feels a stab of guilt at the show of weakness, though no one's there to see. It's replaced just as quickly by anger, acrid and sickening in the pit of his stomach.

He can't say, later, whether it's minutes or seconds before he swipes the back of one hand roughly across his eyes, opens the door with a violent bang, and steps out into the hallway. Nearing the door to Cuddy's office, he slows at the sound of House's voice, expecting the explosion as he steps inside.

"Now you're fired," says House predictably.

Chase takes a breath to respond, ready for the first time to defend himself in this whole matter. But Foreman gets there first.

"No, he's not."

Chase can see in every pair of eyes in the room that Cuddy has told them all. A heated argument has broken out among the others, but he isn't listening anymore. The ache of guilt and betrayal is making him sick, and he wonders for a moment whether with enough of it he could absorb the pain he's caused Kayla and her family.

Cameron finds him on the bridge across the street from campus. He's leaning over the railing, shirt un-tucked, tie hanging loose from one hand like a pitiful flag. It's gotten dark, and the water looks nearly black, the lights from the university pale on its surface. Chase pictures the ghosts of all the patients hundreds like him have let down, dead souls floating on a river of blood.


He's only slightly surprised to hear her voice. Death draws her like magnetic force. He thinks maybe the flippant contempt she's been showing him lately would hurt less right now. He isn't used to even the illusion of sympathy; its presence is only serving to make him bitter.

"I saw your car in the garage," says Cameron when he doesn't acknowledge her. "You should go home."

"I'm fine," says Chase sullenly. He stoops to pick up a twig from beneath his foot and drops it over the side of the bridge. It lands in the middle of the reflection of the moon, and is quickly swept under.

"Your father died," says Cameron, coming to stand beside him against the rail. She says it like she's reading a fact from a patient's chart.

Chase picks up another twig and watches it get sucked into the current not ten seconds after he's dropped it. He wonders for a second what it would be like to simply pitch himself over the rail and in, but doesn't seriously consider it. That isn't the kind of thing he does. Not ever.

"Why didn't you tell someone?" asks Cameron.

There aren't any more twigs on the bridge, but there is a large branch. Chase holds it in the slight evening breeze, watching the brown and shriveled leaves whispering for a second before dropping it. Wordlessly, Cameron walks to the other side of the bridge and peers over.

"There," she says, pointing as the branch sails out from under it. Then, "You should talk about this."

"I'm fine," says Chase again. She turns back toward him, but he puts up a hand to stop her. The truth is he wants to talk—yell, really. And maybe smash something. And maybe do something that will cause him the kind of pain he deserves, and not at all by accident. But that isn't the kind of thing he does either. Not ever, and not now.

"I'm going home," he says, and walks away.

He's halfway there when something breaks. The bar is small and dingy and exactly the kind of place he avoids on instinct. It stinks of tobacco and old smoke as he walks in, but he hardly notices. He's here for one purpose only, and if he's learned one thing as the child of an alcoholic, it's how to get drunk as quickly as possible.

By the time he shows up at her door he's too far gone to even consider how much he'll regret driving in this condition later. He knocks heavily on her door, the irony of this situation planted somewhere in the back of his mind, waiting until later to spring. Cameron is wearing blue striped pajamas and a very surprised expression when she opens the door.

"What are you doing here?" she asks, squinting at the light. Chase knows by this that he's woken her up.

"Let me in," he says simply.

Cameron gives him a strange look, but she steps back and allows him to enter. He thinks about her hands on his shoulders, pressing him to the wall. The shock of her lips against his, rough and rushed in all the right ways. He wants to touch her now, to fuck her on the kitchen table so that the wood creaks, and the teapot falls to the floor and shatters.

"Are you drunk?" asks Cameron incredulously.

"Yes," says Chase, because even he can tell there's alcohol on his breath. He takes a step closer to her, smelling vanilla lotion and soap. He doesn't remember details like this from before. Cameron locks eyes with him, but she doesn't move away.

"And you drove here?" Her voice has dropped into that soft, breathy place that's usually reserved for either House or a terminal patient. He honestly can't tell whether it's disapproval or concern. A wave of need starts in his stomach and shoots straight to his groin.

"Yes," he says again. He takes another step, close enough that her elbow brushes his as she crosses her arms over her chest. She locks eyes with him, and for just a second he sees a hint of the fire that was there before. For that second he thinks that he can ignite it, can make her see how badly he wants her. He takes her by the shoulders, and she tilts her chin up. In the space of a breath, he's close enough to kiss her. All he has to do is let his head fall forward, bring tangle his hands at the small of her back. He knows from the look in her eyes that she won't stop him, and fuck it, he isn't going to let her even if she tries. Because he needs this, and it's about damn time someone noticed.

But maybe he hasn't managed to get quite drunk enough, or maybe it's just too deeply ingrained from twenty seven years of refusing to follow the dysfunction that is the only role model he knows. Taking a long, painful breath, Chase rocks back on his heels and lets go of her shoulders. Because even here, even tonight, that just isn't the kind of thing he does.

Not now, and not ever.

"Lie down," says Cameron, pointing to her couch. "I'll go get you some blankets."

And then she's gone, vanished into the other room. Chase sits shakily, and wonders if she knows.