Disclaimer: I still don't own anything!
Author's Note: Sorry for the wait, everyone (all two of you!). I would once again like to thank leiadiana and jcshipper for their invaluable encouragement and help with this story. Appreciation also goes out to the finallyTuesday Livejournal community, without which this story wouldn't have been prompted and this author wouldn't know where to find Chase/Cameron fics! Finally, I would like to thank you, the readers, just because.
He doesn't want to hide it. This desperation. Anger. Blame. Did you remember the recipe for that old cocktail? Were the words familiar in your mouth? What was it you used? Barbital? Alphenal? Was it what you gave me?
(He is young and hurting and so helpless and he holds his chart in front of him but he just can't understand. She climbs onto his bed, kisses, is this good-bye? He loves her, but he loves the other one too… Give me the forms you need signed, she says, and what he hears is that she's saving his life but what he knows is that she's ruining it and oh, his leg his leg his leg. Not this one: Save them both. He could be in pain the rest of his life, no don't do it don't do it don't do it…)
"What," he repeats slowly, "have you done?"
Cuddy turns around to Chase and Cameron, gesturing for them to leave. They resist at first, but she nags: "It was my decision. Go." Foreman follows them, and House is finally, finally glad they are gone, although they probably will hear every word he and Cuddy exchange.
She looks back at him. "She was having a brain stem herniation," Cuddy begins firmly, as if sojourning into a long bedtime story for the kids, and the vengeance is so sweet - but this is not what he wanted for her. "Chase intubated and hyperventilated the patient, and Cameron administered Mannitol. It took us too long to realize what was going on to not put her in the coma - she would be paralyzed or dead otherwise. Cameron wouldn't have done it if I said no, but I told her to.
"And - and you screwed up, House." A deep, tired sigh. "You let someone else make your decisions for you and you're letting random symptoms influence the diagnosis." He looks at her blankly. "The irritability, House. She's fifty-nine years old and she's all alone here. No husband. No kids. Her biggest support system is her colleagues, and where are they now? Not here. Not with her. Professionally, she's achieved what no other woman has but personally, wouldn't you say she's a failure? And she's realizing this all now when it's…when it's too late. And this, somehow, all went ignored by you."
(Was it you who nearly killed me? Where is the guilty party?)
He is staring at her - tell me more - but something in her eyes flickers and its, "oh, don't look at me like that. I've done nothing but try to help you this year and you've been a complete asshole in return. But what was I expecting? This isn't about you, House. You know we did what we had." And who is she talking about again?
(It's a good thing you never became a mother. Because you suck at it.)
This is it, then. This is how it ends.
Dr. Ambrose is calling from Melbourne General again, and Chase is literally unable to keep this from Cameron any longer. They are driving back to the hospital after picking up donuts for the team together, the streetlights a rolling blur outside their windows on this terrible night. It is one in the morning in New Jersey, but it's two in the afternoon in Australia.
Cameron picks up Chase's ringing phone and checks the caller ID. "I think you're getting a job offer," she yawns. "From…wow." A connection in her tired mind.
Chase pulls into a parking space and turns to her. "Yeah. He's called a couple times before. Dr. Ambrose. He's the Dean of Medicine at my dad's old hospital - must have heard I'm out of work."
"Oh." Her voice is quiet as she pulls her up into a neater ponytail for the hospital. This job is here, and she could stay so easily. There is nothing pulling her to that continent… "Do you want to take it?" Her question is so honest, so wholly sincere, that it throws Chase off for a second.
"I - I'm not sure. Maybe," he says, and waits for her to rush out of the car. But she stays.
The Dunkin' Donuts box is wide on her lap. "Well," she begins. Diplomatic. Calm and controlled. "Could you see yourself living there again?"
He turns to her. His desire to tell her the truth, to include her, is so all-encompassing that it seems to leave room for nothing else. "I always figured I'd go back home eventually." The confession. Here it is, Cameron. Allison. How's it going to be from now on?
"Oh." Her hand drifts from the door handle and onto the flat lid. She can be in the hospital, Chase realizes, but for now - she is with him. The million-dollar choice. The difference is in the distance, and the hospital is bright and welcoming here and there.
It had all fit. The irritability. The elevated WBC. The fever. The vomiting. The headache. The herniation could be explained. And yet…
The negative LP. It all dwindles down to this one sordid fact. It's not meningitis.
Foreman is sitting across from Chase and Cameron in that proverbial conference room, the lair of the jerk, and suddenly he wants to get away now. Misdiagnosis is one thing, but malice is another. Don't you pick up on the behaviors around you? Isn't that some psychology theory? Can't this be easily explained?
(When it is the environment that is making you sick, the simplest cure is removal from the environment.)
"Maybe," he says, rubbing his fingers across the surface of the table, "we have some extra symptoms. Irritability and confusion can both be facets of her personality…"
"I don't think so." Cameron frowns at him, placing a half-eaten donut on a crumpled napkin. "Her team spent seven days and nights with her - they reported that there was a change."
"And I doubt the space program would have let Dwyer captain a shuttle if she was disoriented most of the time," Chase says, finishing the job.
"Maybe they felt guilty about not noticing it before," Foreman presses. "They could have been dismissive…"
(And what if it's not the environment? What if it's genetic? How can you cure something that's ingrained into your DNA?)
Cameron rolls her eyes, as though astronauts are on a higher moral plane than everyone else.
"Maybe Foreman was right," Chase says, although it's clear to Foreman that that is not the case. "It's not meningitis, but since personality changes were recorded, it's probably neurological."
Foreman nods. "I'll get a CT," he says, bowing down to someone else's idea. The latest surrender, and he can't bring himself to care.
The Delivery Room Lounge is still awesome. It's got a mini-fridge, wide, overstuffed couches, and now it also features Wilson - it is where he was instructed to be at 7:45 that morning, as per House's page. The good friend. He tends to follow directions.
Distraction is the best cure.
He knows the ugliest truth.
Wilson is still waiting at 8:15 when House suddenly rushes into the room, bagel in hand, and flips on the news. "Check it out," he says, and Wilson is a little disturbed at his lack of surprise to see Cuddy standing in front of the very hospital they are in, on the news.
"As a doctor who respects doctor-patient confidentiality," News-Cuddy is saying, "I cannot tell you whether or not Lucy Dwyer has meningitis. But Ms. O'Hara--"
House grins as he watches Cuddy struggle not to roll her eyes. "But Celeste," she continues, "I can tell you that she is being treated by some of the best, most capable doctors in my hospital. I don't know who"leaked" some confidential medical information, but I promise that no matter what the reports suggest, Ms. Dwyer is in excellent care."
"That Dwyer has some haircut," Wilson remarks under his breath, commenting on the thumbnail picture the news has put up in which Dwyer is sporting an unfortunate crew-cut.
"It's longer than your last girlfriend's," House replies, thinking of Grace. Bald, dead Grace.
Wilson immediately tenses in his seat. "Yeah, your patient will join her soon if you don't do your job," he responds, but his jibe is weak. "You know, Cuddy managed to get the entire team back - you could at least be in the same room as them for over five minutes at a time."
"But not quite as long as yours," House persists. Again with the hair. He turns to look at Wilson. "Well, maybe it is."
"Show me," Wilson demands, thinking of thirsty horses that are too stubborn to drink. But if the water looks interesting enough…
Cameron, Foreman, and Chase are prepping Dwyer for the CT when House and Wilson arrive. "See?" House says, running his fingers through Dwyer's gray hair. "She's only some stubble and surgery away from you in twenty years."
But his fingers hit a bump: The flaw in the plan. House frowns, the mechanics of his mind beginning to turn. He brushes some of Dwyer's hair away, and notices a red, swollen injury. "You idiots," he says, scowling at his former team. The old routine. "She's had a concussion. Check for signs of trauma on the CT."
He stalks angrily out, but Wilson is satisfied: One successful battle out of a million.
Cameron is the last to arrive in the conference room, where Foreman and Chase are already examining the CT, that depression in black and white. "House was right," Chase says to her as she stands beside him. "Dwyer has sustained a concussion. Recently too, it looks like."
"…Which accounts for the disorientation, drowsiness, and irritation," Foreman sighs.
"Maybe," Cameron murmurs, studying the CT. "Did Dwyer just slip and fall? Or did she pass out and the concussion is just the result of that?"
"It's the latter if it's neurological," Foreman says. "But there's a CT right here and there doesn't seem to be much wrong," he finishes just as Chase announces, "I think I've found a problem."
Chase points his fingers to some abnormal coloring in the sinuses Cameron hadn't noticed before. "Fluid."
"We should get an MRI," Cameron responds immediately. "With gadolinium enhancement," she adds. "It should be sensitive."
"I'll do it," Foreman volunteers, and rushes out. Usefulness is such a precious gift, Cameron thinks, before stepping closer to Chase.
"Have you given any more thought to Australia?" She is tentative, unsure. What is the answer she wants to hear?
"No," Chase responds quietly, as though he is afraid to disturb the peace. He wraps his arm around her waist, hugging her a little. "Not really." So afraid to commit to a firm answer.
"What's the weather like there?" And suddenly, with a rush of emotion, she wants to know: The questions of the everyday, of curiosities that linger in the wide gaps between Kodak moments, have implanted themselves in her mind in the most unexpected way.
Chase smiles at her for the shortest second, but it lights his whole face up. "Are you really interested?"
Cameron leans into Chase, committing to the hug, and thinks the question over. House and Cuddy's spat suddenly replays in her mind with new meaning: Cameron has let her heart decide her career for her - first her husband prompting her to go to medical school, then quitting - and soon coming back - for House. And that decision has always, always left her miserable and alone and mourning for what was and wasn't. Her personality was a cold reflection of this but this one... this one saw it and pursued her anyway.
And oh, she loves him wholly, intuition and charm and nerve and sheer presence: He is here.
He is with her.
He is here.
He is, he exists,but there's more. There's emotion.
(My heart is with you.)
"Yes," she says, and the word sets over their lives like a glittering sun, leaving them glowing in its wake.
He finds Foreman in Radiology, staring at the patient's MRI results on a computer screen. He wanted some privacy, House reasons. A private fall from grace. House has a sudden, inexplicable but undeniably necessary desire to tell Foreman that silence does not cushion the drop, to warn him that loneliness is hungry and casts a far-reaching shadow. But one can never quite be unaccompanied in a hospital - House can see Dwyer's feet poking out of the long MRI tube.
"It's a subdural empyema," Foreman says flatly to House, refusing to take his eyes off the screen. "That's what's wrong with her."
And it clicks: The fever and the headache. The excess fluid. The herniation. The lumbar puncture had relocated the pressure from the empyema to the brain stem when the CSF was drained. The concussionhad been an accident - the injury had triggered an eroding sinus wall to completely break down. There was nothing more to Dwyer's fall than age.
And the irritability was a symptom after all.
"The antibiotics Chase prescribed saved her life," Foreman continues quietly, still not looking at House. "They halted the empyema's progress. If I had things my way - if I had just gone ahead with the LP - she'd be dead by now."
But she's not. They will perform surgical drainage and dose her up with more antibiotics. She'll be fine. She'll fall into the 'any other patient' category, and their lives will go on. But where's that sense of satisfaction, that familiar pleasure? Where is the weak, fleeting fulfillment he relies so heavily on?
Then, on the heels of that, the heady realization: This was not the mystery House needed to solve after all.
Her office is the room at the end of the world, so incredibly far away. It's been hours since she's talked to House and oh, he's going to know everything. That secret she's tried so desperately to hide from the world, hoping that its absence would cancel out its existence. Cuddy begins power-walking there, because if she slows down, she doesn't think she'll be able to resist the urge to fall against the wall and fold into herself, and this, she thinks, is an apt metaphor for her life.
She feels something grasp her shoulder, and knows it is his hand. "What?" she asks coldly, because that is the easiest emotion to feel.
House looks at her almost…sadly. "How long have you known?" he asks, and his voice is so much quieter now than it was before.
And he's figured it out. Her personal enigma. What he's interested in. Everyone will know now, and that makes her foul fact terribly real and true. Denial is so easy when you're alone. "Remember that pregnant photographer? Emma Sloan? I found out the day of her surgery." Her voice is terribly quiet, and House thinks of five tiny fingers wrapping around one of his. "I can't have kids, House. I can't have kids. I'm actually unable to."
"I," House begins, but doesn't continue, at an apparent and blessed loss for words. "I'm so sorry," is what he finishes with, but it's to be interpreted as 'I can't cure this.'
(This is not the last time he will let you down, just the most recent...)
"Actually," she says wryly, "today it's a good thing. Usually I have to be drunk to say it out loud." Her tone is dark and unnatural, and Cuddy is suddenly struck by the fear that she will grow into it.
There is a brief quietness, a reprieve from this terrible conversation. House is leaning on his cane, frowning. "You wouldn't suck. As a mother. I lied."
"I know," Cuddy admits, and isn't this the most heart-breaking part about it? Her baby would be so lucky.
If only it could exist.
"You'd be good at it. Great, even." And though his words are tragic by tense, they remind her of sun rays, crashing through a hardened skin of ice.
The East Jersey State Prison reminds him inexplicably of Congress, with its round, dome roof and the windows which, from a distance, make Foreman think of elegant pillars. If he wanted to, he could almost pretend this is not a jail, and that this represents accomplishment instead of failure. That this place does not mean that something went wrong. That everyone is actually innocent.
But he can't.
The plexiglass window that segregates the jailers from their families is scratched and smudged with fingerprints. It stretches the length of the Visiting Center, and is punctuated here and there by mothers and friends and lovers who press their hands against the barrier as though this will make a difference. But what changes? Not the sentence. Not the crime. Not the betrayal.
Foreman sees his brother approach the window. "S'been a while," Foreman says, and the glass seems to melt between them. What was wrong can be made right, he suddenly understands. There is parole. Not all sentences are for life.
Being in jail didn't ruin his life, it just shaped it. He will be fine - one day. As will Marcus. Foreman still has the ability to deny his own history, and no one
would give it a second thought. But instead, he chooses to embrace.