NOTES: This is a companion to The Shortest Distance. I will call it a companion, because as a rule I hate sequels, and it is a different style, but if you haven't read that one first, you absolutely have to. It is even more my baby. Please, please talk to me about it. Also, this is in part inspired by a calculus problem. No joke. I really am that geeky.
WARNING: SEASON FOUR SPOILERS.
An object falling can only accelerate so much before it's snatched up and slowed by a force equally as enigmatic as the one pulling it down.
Sometimes when things get particularly bad, he recalls facts from school. Nothing useful, and especially nothing that's ever relevant, but he repeats them over and over again like he's studying for a test.
Remember, he thinks. Remember or you won't get out.
Lately he's been dreaming about falling. They say that if you hit the ground in your dreams, you die. He doesn't know whether there's any validity to it, but he's sure House would have had some sort of theory.
In his dreams he falls and falls, faster and faster. There are thick clouds around him, and they are fluffy like cotton candy or surgical gauze. He thinks that they ought to slow him, catch him, but they just whiz by on all sides, and he is helpless.
How fast do you have to fall to be killed on impact when you hit the ground?
He sketches the problem in the corner of a page of his new notebook, the one he uses for writing his own words, but can't remember how to solve it.
Terminal velocity, he thinks. The speed at which death comes when you are falling and there's nothing there to snatch you back up.
An object falling can only accelerate so much before it's snatched up and slowed.
What goes up must come down.
An object falling can only accelerate so much.
Terminal velocity, the speed it takes to die.
An object falling.
It's still always going to hit the ground.
"Do you have a place to stay?" asks Cameron when they're out of the church. She's carrying a small black purse instead of her messenger bag, and Chase wonders whether it's a permanent replacement or special for today.
He shrugs. "I figured I'd go find a hotel. The area isn't that different, is it?"
"Yes and no." Cameron pauses, studying him. Her eyes are greener than he remembers. He wonders what else he's forgotten. "You can sleep on my couch if you want."
"I don't think that's the best idea," says Chase, though his heart's beating faster just because she's offered. He wants to keep explaining, to tell her that she's the edge of the cliff and he's feeling unsteady again, but she interrupts.
"No sex," she says, and gives him the barest hint of a smile.
Terminal velocity, the speed at which an object is snatched up and slowed.
"All right," says Chase, because really he's known all along that he was going to agree. He walks with her to her car even though they are parked on different levels, because he needs to see her just a little bit longer before he can believe that he's really made it here.
"Do you know the way, or do you want to follow me?" she asks when they get to her car. It's the same one he remembers, and he would recognize it anywhere.
"Same apartment?" Chase asks, just to be sure.
"Then I know the way."
She unlocks her car and starts to open the door, then pauses. Slamming it shut again, Cameron turns and hugs him tightly. Images of House come, unbidden. The memory of his body, taut as the cables that hold up bridges, and ready to snap at any moment. The way Chase always inexplicably expected him to smell like tobacco or alcohol. Tears come to his eyes for the first time in a long time, and he breathes in the salon-sleek smell of Cameron's hair.
It must be freshly dyed, he thinks. And why.
He wakes before the dawn to the sound of Cameron's breathing. She's standing in the kitchen hunched over the sink, and he recognizes tears by the line of her shoulders. There's a nightlight in the corner, framing her profile in pale gold as he swings his legs over the side of the couch and gets to his feet.
"Allison," he says.
"Damn it," she whispers. "I didn't mean to wake you." But really she did, he thinks, and he wonders if she knows that.
"What's wrong?" He reaches out a hand but doesn't quite touch her back. He can see tears clinging to her eyelashes now, and he thinks for a moment that they look like dew-drops.
"I need your help. I'm supposed to clean out House's apartment, and I don't know if…"
"Of course," says Chase, because really he needs it too.
The apartment is dark and cool and he thinks he can smell the bitterness of the last time he searched it. He half expects to find dirty dishes in the sink, or clothes on the floor, but the place looks like it's been vacant for much longer than a few days.
"Where's Wilson?" asks Chase, because it suddenly occurs to him why they shouldn't really be the ones doing this.
Cameron shrugs. "Nobody knows. He left four years ago."
They find an entire closet filled with empty pill bottles. The cane with flames painted on the sides. The red and gray tennis ball that used to make its way around the office during any particularly difficult case. Chase wonders whether the Diagnostics office has been empty for the past stretch of time, or if new things have replaced these icons.
On the bedside table in the room where he once had rushed and anxious sex with Cameron, he finds a folder of newspaper clippings. Curious, he opens it and finds Foreman's name scrawled across the top of an article. Malpractice suit, House's handwriting proclaims from the margin. Got cocky. Flipping further, Chase finds a brief announcement about Cameron receiving a grant to study counseling at Princeton Med.
"You didn't tell me about this," he says, sensing her behind him.
"You didn't ask."
For a moment he's stung, but then he realizes that she's right. He's spent nine years studying her off and on, and yet never once has he thought to actually ask her about the things he doesn't understand.
"Anything you want to tell me now?" he asks.
Cameron takes a step closer, peering over his shoulder at the clippings. "There's stuff about all of us in there. House started keeping it after you and Foreman left. Wilson thought he kept those notes as possible strategies for getting us back. I never really believed that."
Chase looks further, and his stomach twists as he finds himself confronted with images of the car accident printed from a news website. He's begun to forget how bad the damage looked, but the fresh wave of guilt is stopped short by a sudden realization.
"This is how you knew, isn't it?" he asks Cameron. "House was the one looking."
Cameron nods wordlessly, and Chase isn't sure how to feel. Disappointed, because he's had a faulty assumption for three years now. Scared, because he's started to let himself hope again under now-false pretenses. And something else, something he can't place. Something that suddenly makes him want to cry with relief and maybe gratitude that House was the one who found out to begin with. Chase searches for shame and doesn't find it.
It takes nearly a week to separate junk from things worth keeping, and to clean, and to get all of it into boxes. They put the folder of clippings aside while they work, but Chase never forgets about it for long. The work is strangely intimate, like meeting your estranged neighbors in the middle of a disaster-strewn street.
He watches Cameron work, silently noting the ways she's changed and the ways she hasn't, like it's his intention to capture her on paper. Maybe someday he will, he thinks. Sometimes they talk, and sometimes they don't, and both things are comforting.
On the last day, when everything is packed and shipped out, they go back to the empty apartment. He's leaving in the morning, and he knows he can't take the folder with him. He goes into the bedroom and lies down on the bare mattress, spreading the contents in front of him.
"Chase," says Cameron, very gently.
He jumps, realizing he's gotten drowsy looking through the clippings. He hasn't been sleeping lately, though there's nothing but his own mind to keep him from it. Cameron is sprawled on the bed beside him, her chin propped on an elbow, and he feels a sudden pang at the intimacy of the gesture.
"What?" he asks, rolling onto his side so he can face her. He shuts the folder and rubs his eyes. They're sore with unshed tears.
"Were you serious about moving back?" She looks oddly fragile, like a feather that's been rubbed the wrong way. Her hair is coming loose from its ponytail, and there's a crease from the mattress on her cheek. He wonders how long she's been lying here.
"I don't know," he says, because he hasn't really thought about it since the funeral. Truth be told, he's starting to feel more comfortable in other people's homes than in his own. "Why?"
"I don't want you to leave tomorrow." She clears her throat, sits up, and is out of the room before he can take it all in.
He thinks about falling all the way back to Arizona, because it's a strange curiosity though he's never seriously considered it. What would happen if he swerved just right while crossing a bridge? Would it be fast enough? He wonders what House must have thought.
It takes a month to tie up loose ends. He talks to Cameron on the phone nearly every day, and sometimes he emails her too. Sometimes they fight, and sometimes she makes him crazy, and sometimes he despairs of ever understanding her at all. But then he calls back, or she calls back, and he thinks he can't be driving to Princeton soon enough.
The phone wakes him up one morning, and it's Cameron telling him she's found an apartment for him. She sounds excited, he thinks, and he feels dizzy. He's been putting his things in boxes for days now, and he doesn't mind a bit. He has the distinct sense of going home, the moment where you can smell the scent of your own life because you've been away so long it's alien.
Terminal velocity, he thinks as he gets in the car and drives away from the house where he's spent the past six years of his life. He doesn't look back.
Terminal velocity, the fastest you'll ever get to go.
They paint the walls of his new apartment a warm peach color, because he doesn't think he can stand to live with the white. It reminds him too much of hospitals.
He's been working for a couple of hours when Cameron shows up in a t-shirt and very faded jeans. She wrinkles her nose at the smell and Chase hands her a brush.
It starts with a few drops of paint from his roller that end up on the cuff of her jeans. He hasn't done it on purpose, but she looks up from where she's been painting the trim and there's something in her eyes.
"Sorry," says Chase, but he doesn't really mean it. He thinks he must be as unconvincing as stars on a cloudy night.
"No you're not," says Cameron. She holds out a hand and he helps her up, getting paint all over his palm in the process.
He gives her a look, knowing that she's done it on purpose. "That's not fair. I was trying to help."
She looks at him with cat-eyes, and turns his palm toward his own chest, pressing it over the place where his heart is so it leaves a paint stain. The moment she loosens her grip, Chase twists his hand so that he's holding her wrist, stamping it across the pocket of her jeans. Laughing, Cameron bends down and dips her fingers in the tray, splashing little drops of paint into Chase's face and hair.
He stands frozen, because she's laughing, and he thinks maybe he's never heard anything so beautiful. He's done nothing at all to avoid her attack, and now there's paint dripping down the side of his face. Cameron takes a step closer to him, and he steps back until he's pressed against the wall and he can feel wet paint through his shirt. She reaches up to wipe away the paint, and suddenly he can't stand to not be kissing her. He starts to lean forward instinctively, but she stops him with a gentle pressure of her hand on the side of his face. Chase looks at her, surprised.
"You're my best friend," says Cameron, her voice unusually hoarse.
Chase can't decide whether he wants to laugh or cry.
An object falling can only accelerate so much before the drag force slows it back down.
The day of the accident, he'd thought he'd hit the ground.
But now he thinks maybe he's been falling for much longer. Maybe he's falling still.
Terminal velocity, when you're heading in the direction of death, and all you can change is your speed.
Maybe he's been falling, but so slowly that it actually felt like floating. Maybe he's falling free, even now.
Terminal velocity, the speed at which the worst is over, and there's nowhere back to turn.
And sometimes people fall. Sometimes people jump from buildings, dive from bridges.
Sometimes, people live.
Cuddy looks thinner, a little more desperate, and Chase can see roots of gray carefully combed beneath the rest of her neatly styled hair. Her office is large, spacious, and tidy as usual, with the sole exception of a pile of newspaper clippings cast aside on a chair. He pauses long enough to see that they're obituaries and articles about House's accomplishments from virtually every newspaper on the East coast. He wonders how it's taken her two months to start interviewing. There's a strange pulling in his chest as he sits in front of Cuddy's desk.
"Doctor Chase," she says, clearing her throat and looking down at his resume on her desk. It's hardly changed in six years.
Chase nods his greeting, because there's too much sadness in this room, and it's choking him.
"It seems I'm in the market for a new head of Diagnostics." Cuddy clears her throat again. "You're here to interview?"
"That's right." He's falling, he thinks, feeling the air rushing by on all sides. He's falling faster than ever before.
"It says here that you've been writing for the past three years," says Cuddy, running her finger along the side of his resume like it's something fragile. "Journal articles?"
"Some," says Chase, feeling only slightly ashamed. "Fiction, mostly."
Cuddy leans forward, watching him intently. He feels for a moment that her eyes can see straight through him to the wall behind. "I know your credentials, so I'm not going to ask you about that." She pauses. "I heard about the accident, Chase. What makes you think you're ready to manage your own department now?"
"I honestly don't know if I am," says Chase. He's falling, and she could reach out and stop him, but he's not sure if she will. "But I know that I belong here. And I know that leaving here was my first mistake. And I know that Diagnostics is where I want to be."
Cuddy watches him for a very long moment, then slowly nods. "I'll give you a call early next week."
He feels unnaturally light as he pushes back the chair and gets to his feet. He's halfway to the door when Cuddy stops him.
"Chase." She's on her feet now too. "It's good to see you again."
Cameron meets him in the hall. She hasn't told him to expect it, but he's known all along that she'd be here. She's wearing her white lab coat and Princeton Plainsboro ID, and for a moment it's all so familiar that it hurts. He tries to thank her but there's a lump in his throat and he can't seem to swallow it.
"Lunch?" she asks, because she knows better than to talk about the interview now. Chase nods mutely, and follows.
He's falling, and the ground is getting closer and he isn't sure whether it's going to be soft or hard. Sometimes he thinks if he doesn't slow down, he's going to punch straight through.
"Chase." Cameron pauses just outside the entrance to the cafeteria and pulls him into a corner. She reaches up and touches his shoulders very gently. "Chase, I'm scared."
"Of what?" he asks softly. But he already knows.
An object falling can only accelerate so much before it's snatched up and slowed by a force equally as enigmatic as the one pulling it down.
Terminal velocity, the speed you're going when somebody reaches out and catches you, and you aren't falling anymore.
"You're my best friend," Cameron whispers against his lips. Her hands move to the back of his neck, urging his head forward.
"I know," he says, and then he's kissing her, and his feet are firmly on the ground, and the coming back down hasn't hurt at all.
Review please::puppy eyes::