NOTES: Originally written for the Halloween fest at LJ's finallytuesday. The title is named after the song by Idina Menzel. There are many, many references to my other fics in this piece. (Cookies for people who catch them!) While you don't necessarily have to have read them, it will probably help a lot. This is my first true Cameron character piece, and I think I've been trying to write it for a couple of months now. I would love to know what you think.
If I Told You
I'm shedding my skin so you can see my face
I need you to know who I am
At first everything is incredibly difficult. She's made her decision, set flame to all the bridges and now she's swimming through molasses. She's been here before, knows this place, and it's all about strength. Her strength, because it's too much for her to turn back but now there's a current and it's getting harder and harder to keep herself afloat. Sometimes she's absolutely certain she's going exactly nowhere.
She leaves the hospital quickly, then freezes on the doorstep. This should be a moment, the striking of the match, but everything is clammy and the spark's died out. She starts toward the parking garage but veers off halfway and ends up on the bridge across the street. It's darker here and the stars are out, the lights of a thousand gleaming eyes reflected across the water. Their judgment tears through her like a knife.
Remembering an echo, she gathers a handful of twigs from the ground and drops them into the water one by one, watching them go under.
The sun is rising when she knocks on Chase's door again. She's been here before, but his front porch is always unbearably large and so easy for her to get lost in. He looks exhausted when he opens the door, eyes red-rimmed and dark-circled, and for a moment she thinks she can see the façade crumbling. She feels a pang of sympathy for him, quickly followed by a wave of anxiety.
"I resigned," she says, not giving him the chance to ask. Surprise and hurt cross his face for an instant before he can force himself back into careful neutrality. He nods wordlessly.
"Sorry I didn't wake you." She ought to feel guilty about that, but this is personal and she's selfish with her emotions. Then she isn't sure what to say, because she's made her decision final. She wishes she could see how this is going to end.
"Are you okay?" Chase asks after a long moment.
Suddenly she realizes that she's been up for the better part of three days and now the adrenaline's fading. The world is hazy in the early-dawn light, and she wonders if it's her eyes. She thinks for a fleeting moment that she really ought to go home, but that's never been her apartment. Her home has been torn to pieces over the course of the past two weeks, and now she can't ever go back there. So she does what she's always done when she's found herself lost. She forces herself to dive in head first.
"Can I come in?" Cameron takes a step toward him. "I promise I won't disappear this time."
It's night again when she wakes, and there's a terrifying, lost moment before she remembers where she is. She's only been in Chase's apartment once before, and even that's a memory she's managed to almost completely ignore. He's almost obsessively private even with her, and she wonders what he has to hide. But he isn't there, and she wonders if he's gone out.
Cameron sits up and wraps the sheet around her like the blanket of certainties she's woven in her mind. She's doing this because it's convenient and she needs something to hold onto. There's a space in her life that needs to be filled, and while he might be more than a means of getting off, she certainly doesn't love him.
She hates him, really, if she thinks about it in enough different ways. She hates him because he reminds her what she's had, what she's lost, what she's denied herself. Because she knows that he sees her, understands things about her that she might never grasp herself. She hates him because his damage doesn't show, and in his light she looks cracked and cheap.
The floor is smooth wood, and it's cold beneath her feet. She slips into the living room, the sheet still wrapped around her shoulders. She stops short at the sight of Chase sleeping on the couch, and she remembers falling asleep with her head on his shoulder. He must have carried her into his bedroom, she realizes, and then come back out here. There is the familiar tug of annoyance in her gut, and she considers waking him to ask why. But she suddenly isn't sure she knows who he is, and that thought sends a thrill of fear through her.
The room is lined with cabinets, she notices, and she's struck with the feverish desire to know what's in them. She opens a door just far enough to see multicolored bindings; a spectrum of books bright enough to make out in the relative darkness. She crouches to look at the titles, breath leaving her as she realizes they're all fiction. She closes the first cabinet and opens another, and then another, reading on in sick fascination.
It shouldn't mean anything, but it does. It's like sipping water and tasting vinegar instead. Because the man that Chase is to her wouldn't read books like these. Because when she thinks about it, really, she's never known who he is at all. Because she's leapt without looking and now the water is closing over her head.
Because there isn't a fine line between love and hate but the stones are crumbling and maybe all along they were just a façade.
The second time it isn't an accident anymore. She slips out of bed and pads barefoot across the wood floor, the books calling to her like they have some power of their own. She opens one cabinet and then another, unsure of what she's hoping to find this time. She's never pegged Chase as a fiction reader; she's always assumed he spent his time either at work or cultivating the social life that ought to go with his looks. She isn't sure what it says about him that he's so desperate to escape into fantasy.
After a long moment Cameron closes the cabinets and turns to head back into the bedroom, but something catches her eye. A black frame is lying face down on the coffee table. She's certain she's never seen it here before, and for a moment her heart skips a beat with the thought that Chase has discovered her nocturnal exploration and laid it as a trap of sorts. She isn't sure what implications this has either; she knows she wouldn't forgive him for going through her things, and yet there is no guilt in the thought.
Taking a breath, Cameron picks up the frame and is confronted with her own image. Even in the dim glow coming from the kitchen nightlight, she recognizes it as one of Emma Sloane's photos, and suddenly the bottom's fallen out of her world. It's been black and white and easy, so simple to condemn, and Foreman can claim that House has corrupted him, but she's been running from the evil in herself all along.
She senses movement out of the corner of her eye, looks back up and finds Chase standing in the doorway. And it is deliberate, he's invited her here to determine something, only it's a test, not a trap. Her heart catches in her throat because she knows this is one that she's already failed a thousand times over. She glances back at the photo, and suddenly she can see his longing reflected in the whites of her eyes.
"Oh, god," she whispers to his shadow on the wall. There are no words for this; an apology now would be as useless as a water glass to wildfire. Instead she sets the photo down with shaking fingers and forces herself to look back at Chase. He watches her warily as he crosses the room, eyes wide and glistening. He looks soft, a little disheveled, reminding her for a moment of a frightened animal.
She wishes again that there was something to say, but there are no words and if there were she knows he wouldn't accept them. She reaches out and gently brushes messy bangs off his forehead, then takes his hands and guides them to the small of her back, up under the hem of her t-shirt.
This is what she knows, this tragedy of heat and skin and emptiness that they have shared from the beginning. The darkness is like a void as he lowers her onto his couch.
She starts making it a point to go to his apartment whenever possible. She tells him that it's nicer, that she feels more comfortable there, but in truth she's manipulating him again. She tells herself it's different this time, that she's trying to learn. Sometimes she looks at him and feels herself sinking; sometimes she thinks she's been falling through the center of the Earth. It's time to come out on the other side.
Mysteries bother her, because she's never been the one who's good at figuring them out. She chips away methodically, scooping the prison walls with a spoon while House and Foreman and even Chase manage to blow the roof clean off with stick after stick of strategically placed dynamite. Sometimes she's so jealous it burns.
She returns to the living room at night. She thinks Chase must know, but she can't get the photograph out of her mind. Feeling the cold floor against her legs, she sits and pulls volume after volume from the shelves, flipping through the pages and straining her eyes to see in the dim light from the street. She thinks, ridiculously, that the key to everything she can't understand must be here in these pages. Perhaps she just can't find it on her own.
"I looked at your books," she admits eventually. She isn't sure why this should be a sensitive subject, but he doesn't talk about himself and she isn't sure if he wants to.
Chase nods silently, and she has the feeling again that he already knows. He looks at his hands, then back up at her through a few strands of hair that have fallen across his eyes. He looks resigned, she thinks, like he's expecting her to deliver some decisive blow. She feels sick at the realization that she's given him no reason to expect anything less.
"I didn't know you had time to read," she tries again.
Chase shakes his hair out of his eyes and looks at her for a long moment before answering. "I've always made time. It helps."
Cameron thinks about the things she does know but hasn't ever allowed herself to consider. That his family has been torn apart for a long time, that he's far away from anything resembling home and maybe now even further. That when she dares to admit it, they really aren't very different at all.
"I read a lot too." She meets his gaze cautiously, not ready to give up on this.
Chase gapes at her for a moment, shocked, and she knows she's gotten through.
"Who's your favorite author?" he asks softly.
"I'm sorry," she says eventually. It's early morning, and they're lying in her bed, listening to light rain through the open windows. Two months and nothing's resolved at all; sometimes she's sure she's made a bigger mess of her life by trying to clean it up.
"For what?" Chase sits up against the pillows, looking concerned.
And it's this impasse again, because there still aren't words that don't sound trite. She thinks she ought to apologize for being who she is, for having whatever it is that's made him love her.
"Nothing." She pulls the sheets tighter around her shoulders and rolls over to the sound of a gentle peel of thunder.
"I'm not going back there," says Chase resolutely when Cuddy calls. "I'm particularly not crawling back under wraps like some sort of pariah."
"What are you going to do?" Cameron finds herself almost afraid to hear the answer. Employment is a touchy subject, and they've managed to mostly avoid it thus far. She hasn't told him that she's failed to get any offers at all until now.
"There's a job at the Mayo Clinic. My own team." He shifts uncomfortably, then quickly adds, "I haven't accepted yet. I don't…know how I feel about moving that far."
She knows he's asking whether she'll follow, and she can't decide whether to be relieved or devastated. She's known her answer for months now, or at least thought she did. Convenience can only stretch so far, but suddenly she's not sure where convenience ends and something else begins.
"You should take it," she says quickly. It's gotten oddly hard for her to speak, though there's no rational reason to be upset. She crosses her arms and looks at the far wall. "I'm going to take Cuddy's offer."
It's his apartment, but she takes refuge in the bedroom just the same.
The sun hasn't risen yet, and it's not like they have anywhere to be, but she follows the noise that's woken her and finds Chase in the kitchen. He has his back to her, a pot of sweet-smelling oatmeal boiling quietly on the stove. She watches silently as he separates coffee filters, long fingers bathed gold in the nightlight that's turning the rest of him to silhouette. She feels a sudden swell of emotion, the prick of tears in her eyes catching her by surprise. He opens the can of coffee and its husky, dark aroma spreads over the kitchen like sunlit warmth. She takes a deep breath of it, hoping it will give her strength.
"You took Cuddy's offer?" Cameron takes a step closer, but stays in the shadows, arms crossed over her chest, eyes on the floor. She isn't sure why, but she's suddenly afraid.
Chase glances over his shoulder and nods curtly, then turns back. "You read my email?"
"You left it up on the screen," says Cameron. She doesn't apologize, because she thinks he probably intended for her to see it, like everything else. She understands this about him now; on the rare occasion that he does want to share, he leaves things for people to find. She wonders whether he even knows how to show or tell anything about himself.
He turns on the coffee pot, its gentle gurgling filling the tense silence that's suddenly sprung up between them. He keeps his back turned, hands braced on the counter, and she wonders what he's thinking. Whether he's expecting her to hurt him again.
"You could do so much better." It sounds hypocritical now, but she has to be sure. She has a feeling she knows what he's going to say, and she's almost terrified to hear it.
"I know," says Chase simply. He takes a mug from the drying rack and starts pouring coffee. "That isn't what's important to me now."
Cameron's breath hitches in her throat, and she thinks that now not even the shadows will be dark enough to hide the tears that are suddenly streaming down her cheeks. Because as long as she's known him, his job has been his life, and she's never been the receiver of a sacrifice. She closes the distance between them and catches him in a crushing hug from behind. Chase laughs as coffee sloshes over the side of the mug. He sets it down and turns in her grasp. In the sunlight that's just beginning to come in the window, she can see that he's crying too.
It's early evening when her shift finally ends, and Cameron finds herself on the bridge again. The water is brown in the fading light, too murky to make out the bottom. She kicks aside a pile of leaves, searching for twigs, but there aren't any this time.
"Did House figure it out?"
Cameron jumps and turns to find Chase leaning against the opposite rail, watching her. She doesn't bother to ask how he's found her; she has the uncanny feeling that this place was somehow his first.
She nods slowly. "He came to see me."
Chase raises an eyebrow. "And?"
"He didn't know we were back. I mean not before." She knows Chase has suspected all along, but it's still hard for her to say aloud. She's been clinging to the certainty that House would have to know, because he always knows everything and if he hasn't figured it out then either he's lost something vital or she's smaller than she thinks.
"I know," says Chase. "I saw him before too. In surgery. He's turned his hiring into some kind of game."
Cameron swallows the tang of bitterness, because of course he would. And she's angry about it, but not because it's unwise or irresponsible. She's come to expect that. It hurts because this time she doesn't get to play. Shaking her head, she looks to the far end of the bridge where a little walking trail breaks off into the woods. For a moment she stares at the horizon, and then she's chasing it, her legs burning as she practically runs away, wishing the trees here were dense enough to hide in. She can hear Chase behind her and the dust they're kicking up tastes like betrayal and broken promises.
The trail ends at the top of a little hill, and Cameron comes to an abrupt halt, swaying on her feet for a moment before Chase catches her by the elbows. She looks back across at the buildings, and everything just looks so small. The hospital was a monster once, a challenge waiting on the horizon to swallow her up. Now it's just more brick and mortar; indifferent stones watching life and death and agony go by.
There is a question here, an answer floating in the fading September light. She can smell rain on the way. Chase turns her gently in his grasp, and then he's kissing her before she can find the words she wants to say. In the air over his shoulder, she catches a glimpse of a butterfly, fragile wings being buffeted in the storm-portent wind.
It's cold the day her turn comes. She can smell Halloween night in the air. Looking back she thinks she ought to have known, ought to have seen the smoke and heard the thunder.
The patient is a little boy whose name she can't remember later. He comes into the ER with a knot of black, putrid tissue on his arm and a bag of Halloween candy in his hand. She can hear House's voice in the back of her mind. (I don't care if he's cute, amputate.) She orders surgery and falls back into the rhythm of saving lives.
It's four hours later when she's called to the phone, and she's honestly expecting it to be something entirely banal. The surgeon's voice is snowy and hollow in her ears, like her mind is going through a period of bad reception.
"…complications…crashed during surgery….died on the table." Cameron puts the receiver down without a word. She's known her time would come eventually, seen it stalking her from the shadows in the early hours just before dawn. Somewhere, in the blackest part of her heart, she's surprised it wasn't sooner.
Chase's eyes are filled with empathy when she finds him, because of course he's already heard. He folds her against his chest and she's very far away, looking down from the sky at the world turned on its head.
"You've just got to remember that this doesn't tip the scale," says Chase against her hair. "Think of all the good you've done."
There's a silent pause before she pulls away, breathing in his scent. He smells like penance and absolution, the light at the end of this tunnel she's dug. Cameron feels oddly peaceful as she nods.
"Come over tonight," says Chase, though the invitation is entirely unnecessary. She practically lives with him now. "There's something I want to show you."
There are costumed children everywhere when Cameron parks on the street in front of Chase's apartment. She's never put much stock in Halloween, never had a reason to celebrate it, but she has to smile now as she notices the pumpkin lights that have suddenly appeared over his doorway.
"Do I get candy?" she asks when he opens the door. There's a large pumpkin-shaped basket of it on the floor by his feet.
"Maybe." Chase hands her a piece but kisses her before she can get it out of the wrapper. She has him pressed against the wall, the first few buttons of his shirt undone when the doorbell rings.
He pulls away awkwardly and runs a hand through his hair. "I um…should get this."
Cameron steps back as he opens the door to a group of riotously excited children. Of course he would do this, she thinks, though she's never imagined it before. She remembers Clancy and his aliens, the way that Chase has always known how to connect. She watches him silently, knowing he's letting her witness something sacred.
Chase smiles as he crouches to give a chocolate bar to a boy dressed like a ghost, and he's beautiful. Cameron feels an unexpected swell of emotion watching him, the sudden fullness of tears in her throat again. She wonders if he wants children, then whether she'd like to have them with him. Yet another possibility she's never considered. She mirrors his smile as he closes the door and turns back to her, the pumpkin basket hung ridiculously over his arm.
The summer has been a journey, though somehow the farther she travels, the more she finds she's been here all along. And things aren't perfect, but they're better than they've been in a long time, and it hurts in all the right ways.
"Is this what you wanted me to see?" she asks, though she's fairly certain she already knows.
Chase nods silently. He takes the basket from his arm and offers it to her as the doorbell rings again. She takes it nervously, cold fingers brushing against his. And it's the beginning of something, but she can't quite say what.
"Thank you," says Cameron. Because she can finally see it all, and the only way to go from here is up.