Somewhere Along in the Bitterness
It's a strange feeling, knowing that the Earth has shattered and you weren't there to see it. It's like walking into your apartment, ready to fall into bed, only to find the place completely trashed. Like getting up in the morning and seeing a black funnel cloud yawning back at you from the innocence of the dawn sky.
You thought you were ready. You've been expecting this for years now, after all.
You were a naïve fool, and you've been taken for all you're worth.
There's a half-eaten pizza sitting on Cameron's kitchen table, and the ten o'clock news is presenting a story on some strange white powder at the airport that's turned out to actually be plaster dust. She's never been much for watching television, or lying on the couch, or really relaxing at all, for that matter. It's nice, she thinks, to have shifts with definite beginnings and endings. Even if she is starting to get bored.
"If we keep this up you're going to make me fat," she says to Chase, who's searching for wine glasses in her kitchen. The more time he spends at her apartment, the less actually gets done. Later they're going to tackle the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink, Cameron decides, because although it doesn't bother her like it would have once, they're running out of clean ones to use.
"Sorry," says Chase, giving up on the glasses and grabbing two coffee mugs from the cabinet above the sink. He sets them on the table and sits beside her. "I don't think you want me to cook. We both might starve to death before I came up with anything edible."
"We could go out," says Cameron half-heartedly. The truth is, she really doesn't want to move from the couch except maybe to her bedroom, but she's trying to make a point.
"It's Tuesday," says Chase. He turns toward her, the wine forgotten, and gently pushes back the blanket she's wrapped around her shoulders. She's wearing a tank top, and goosebumps run the length of her arm as his hands brush against the relative warmth of her skin.
"Are you ever going to stop saying that?" Cameron mumbles against his lips in mock annoyance.
"Not as long as you're around." He kisses her before she can say anything else, and truthfully she's glad. It's been a long time since she's had something like this. She's out of practice.
They almost don't hear the phone ringing.
"What did House do now?" asks Wilson as he takes a seat in front of Cuddy's desk. The look on her face has already told him all he needs to know, and truthfully he rarely meets with her to discuss anything else.
"He stuck a knife in an electrical socket," says Cuddy. Her voice is tired and filled with exasperation, like she's complaining about a small child throwing toys, not an adult attempting to kill himself.
"Seriously?" It shouldn't be a surprise, Wilson knows, not after everything House has said. And yet he didn't fully consider it a possibility. He's grown too used to his friend crossing the line only to redraw it further out. They're both inevitably going to reach the edge of the cliff if they keep on like this.
"You're not surprised?" asks Cuddy sharply.
Wilson feels himself flinch under her gaze. "He…mentioned some things earlier. I didn't think he'd actually do it, though!"
"He needs help," says Cuddy.
"No, he doesn't," Wilson counters. "what he needs is a good hard slap on the wrist. He wasn't trying to kill himself, he was trying to make a clinic patient look like an idiot."
Cuddy's brow furrows in frustration. "And did he succeed?"
Wilson sighs. "No. That patient is dead."
Cuddy shakes her head. "Go find his teams. Their isn't going to stop dying just because his attending wanted to see God."
Chase dives for the phone on the seventh ring, nearly falling off the couch in the process. Cameron watches as he glances at the caller ID and then picks up the receiver. A few weeks ago answering her phone would have been unforgivable; now she finds herself hoping that it's something he can deal with quickly and get back to their evening.
"What?" says Chase, his entire expression changing. Cameron swallows hard and tries to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "What?" Chase sits silently for a moment and then hangs up the phone with a clang.
"What happened?" She tries to think of another time she's seen Chase this shaken, and comes up empty.
"House stuck a knife in an electric socket." Flat, like he's reporting on a patient's condition.
"He's dead?" Cameron thinks she ought to be shocked, but the adrenaline just isn't coming. She's had the suspicion for a while now, but somehow she's always pictured herself being the one to find him.
But to her surprise, Chase shakes his head. "No. He stuck a knife in an electric socket." His voice practically drips bitterness, and for a moment Cameron is stung. But the grief and anger are finally there, and she's collapsing in on herself, and Chase has his arms around her as she tries not to cry.
"We should go see him," Cameron murmurs into Chase's shoulder. He smells like the soap in the hospital locker room, and it's bringing back too many memories. Truthfully she isn't sure whether she wants to reassure herself or give House hell.
"No," says Chase abruptly, his entire body going rigid against her. After a moment he takes a breath and visibly forces himself to relax. "Sorry. I just don't think there's a point. We'll see him at work eventually."
It isn't the truth, and they both know it, but for the moment it's what he needs to believe.
Cuddy stands outside House's room with her shoulder pressed to the wall, training her eyes around the side of the doorframe. She feels a stab of shame that she she's hiding in her own hospital, and yet she knows she isn't ready.
She's been letting things go for so long, telling herself that House always comes through in the end. He's brilliant, she thinks, brilliant and irresponsible, but he always saves the patient in the end. She's rationalized so many things this way, but now she can see that time is running out.
Soon she is going to face the fact that House has lost something, is losing something, maybe for good this time. She's going to have to take things away from him and actually mean it for once. She isn't sure she's strong enough.
And so she stands, hiding in her own hospital, peering around the doorframe to survey the damage House has done to himself. She wonders whether she's the one who made him this way.
"You're an idiot," says Cameron. House is lying in a hospital bed, his eyes closed, but he obviously isn't asleep. For a moment she has a flashback of those horrible few hours after the shooting, of sitting with Chase in the ICU and feeling horribly out of place, wishing she were able to do something, anything to help.
"You woke me up to tell me that?" House grunts. His voice is hoarse, and Cameron flinches at the sound of it.
"You weren't asleep," she insists. "And yes, I needed to tell you." Before coming here, she'd promised herself that this would be about reassurance and support, but now that he's in front of her, there's only anger. She feels the familiar sting of betrayal and abandonment, accompanied in equal parts by guilt. She's known something is wrong since her first day back, a strange vibe like the hospital has crossed over into another dimension.
"The ER killed your idealism that fast?" says House. "Impressive. I'll have to schedule my new team for a rotation there."
"You turned a man's life into a game," snaps Cameron. "And then your curiosity mattered more. He's dead because you had to prove that you could destroy a man's faith!"
House sits up and eyes her carefully. "That's not why you're upset."
"Damn it, House, why didn't you call me?" And there it is, as always. Her weakness carved out and laid bare for him to critique. There was a time when she would have considered simply crawling into his hospital bed at a moment like this. Now she thinks about going to the surgical lounge to look for Chase.
"You'd gone home," says House glibly. "If there was traffic I might have died before you got here."
"I meant before you stuck a knife in an electric socket," says Cameron, though she knows he knows. "I'm still here, you know."
"Fine," says House, "I need your help." He gives her a grotesquely desperate expression. "Would you tell the nurses to up my morphine? My hand is killing me."
Cameron turns on her heel and leaves.
The scalpel catches the morgue lights, sending reflections glinting weirdly off the walls like a macabre disco ball. It travels soundlessly through the skin, quick and smooth like cutting butter. Clean, easy.
Simplicity is the enemy here. Boil it down, cut and dry, condense until you've got a diagnosis. Better do it fast, faster or you're out. They're not diseases, but murderers, waiting in the dark with guns and knives. Shoot on sight. Stop them before they've got a chance to strike.
She's gotten too hasty, stumbled into their waiting ambush, and now a man is dead.
She's said it herself. House is crazy, but he's not irresponsible; he wouldn't have made it a game unless he was sure he knew what he was doing. But she's made it a game too, seeing how long she can keep him guessing.
"I've got the lungs exposed," says the older man who's been performing the autopsy. And there they are, strongeloides worms staring her in the face. "You can tell House he was right, Doctor…" He pauses for a reply.
"Call me Thirteen," she says sardonically. "Apparently I'm bad luck."
It's late night when Chase makes his way down the hall toward Diagnostics, and he's half banking on the assumption that House will already be gone for the night. He's been coming here whenever he knows the office will be empty, standing outside the glass walls and looking for ghosts. There are traces of writing on the whiteboard, handwriting he doesn't recognize. His stomach twists with acid resentment, and then somehow House is standing there staring empty-eyed like an apparition in a mirror.
Chase jumps and contemplates running, but it's too late not to be seen, betrayed by the glass walls as always. Somehow they've never bothered him before tonight. He forces himself to walk into the office and face House.
"Come to spy?" asks House. "It would be a good idea to at least know who you're enabling."
"I'm not enabling anyone," says Chase. "I was trying to help a patient."
"Who is now dead. And yet you still came to see me." House pauses. "Interesting."
"I didn't come to see you," snaps Chase.
"Then why are you here?" House has that slightly triumphant look that Chase hasn't seen directed at him in a considerably long time. He isn't sure how to feel about it. It's better than being ignored, treated like a bad memory. But still he wants to yell at House, to demand how, with all the skills of deduction he's acquired over the past four years, he still can't figure out why he always gets abandoned by anyone he respects.
"I'm doing my job," says Chase. It's become like a mantra lately. "I have to go."
He's half hoping that House will say something to make him turn back as he walks out the door. Nothing comes.
It's three a.m. when he's standing outside Cameron's door again. He hesitates for a second before knocking, an old reflex that has yet to die away. Chase swipes a hand across his eyes as he waits for her to answer the door. He feels strangely raw, like a wound with gravel buried deep in it. Cameron is still dressed when she opens the door, and he wonders whether she's fallen asleep in her clothes or stayed up waiting for him.
"You went to see him?" Her voice is taut with an emotion he still can't read.
Chase feels a stab of guilt over his own hypocrisy, but knows he can't lie to her. He nods slowly, a sore tendon in the back of his neck suddenly protesting.
"Me too," says Cameron softly. She shrugs, clearly searching for something to say. "Earlier. He seemed…" She trails off, and Chase nods again. The same. And irrevocably changed. And terribly far away.
He takes a step forward, and then he's pressing her against the doorframe, lips locked with hers, hands struggling with the belt she's still wearing in the middle of the night. Because he can.
Because nothing is ever really going to be the same again, and now everyone can see.
It's a strange feeling, knowing that the Earth has shattered and you weren't there to see it. You were a naïve fool, and you've been taken for all you're worth.