I apologize for the ridiculously long wait, for this, what happens to be the final chapter. It took a very long time for me to write, and when finished, took a while for me to let go. I'm sad now, because I liked this one, but there are a few plot bunnies hopping around right now, for those interested. Look out!
Thank you, every one for the reviews and encouragement. They mean a lot.
Feedback is loved. Enjoy!
Chapter 7: The Question
The what if hasn't been her companion in a long time – she stopped worrying and started directing her energies to caring – but it invites itself back in stealthily, opening the door so quietly and inching up so she doesn't notice it's there until too late. Cameron embraces it. She might as well.
What if everything turned out differently?
"Everything" is such a vague description.
She rests her cheek on folded hands, hair all over the pillow. Night is the favoured time of the dreaded what if's and it's such a perfect scene: she's alone. The clock reads 1:17 AM. She's awake and restless. And something has happened to make her wonder.
Lights, camera, action.
"You look like hell," Foreman tells her as she makes a beeline for the coffeepot.
"Thanks," she says. "Good morning to you, too."
"Just a fact." He flips through some papers.
"It's nothing," Cameron replies.
"Where is everyone?" she asks.
Foreman glances at his watch. "It's not eight o'clock yet."
"So, a few hours before House deigns to show up."
"You're in a good mood," he says.
Cameron decides to ignore this. She pours some coffee (still warm; she's fortunate) and sits at the table, hugging the mug. "What are you reading?"
"Cuddy dropped off some case files," he replies. "Pick one, start working."
"And she wants us to…?" she asks.
Foreman points to the taller stack. "These are the ones that haven't been filed yet. This -" he points to the lone file lying beside the pile "- is our new case."
"There's at least a year's worth in that stack," Cameron says.
"He never completes paperwork."
How she hates Foreman's ability to make her feel stupid while telling her things she knows. "And what are we going to do about it?"
She raises her eyebrows. "Okay."
"'Morning." Chase lets the glass door swing into place again, making the rest of the wall vibrate. Cameron jumps a little more than she meant to. Foreman gives her his characteristic smirk before taking another jolt of coffee.
"Good morning," she replies. It's hard to sound natural, and she's not sure if she manages to pull it off. But no one stares. Safe.
"What's this?" Chase asks.
"Hell," Foreman says.
It's later, after the taunting and the clinic hours and the mound of paperwork, that Cameron catches Chase alone in the conference room. "Hi," she says, announcing herself as a friendly solider.
"Hey," he answers.
"What's up?" It's lame and small talk-ish when they have bigger fish to fry, but these are the only words that have found their way to the surface.
"Something you want to talk about?" he asks.
Oh, Chase. The thought is a sigh – and she realizes how finely he has attuned himself to her body, her actions, her emotions.
She realizes she's twisting her hands. "I think we should…I mean, I -" She trips and falls over her words. (Why can't she string a sentence together?) "Never mind," she replies, defeated. "I'll catch you later."
Cameron slinks out of the conference room the way she came in: quick, quiet, with her head bowed. This time, there's someone watching.
He sits on the ledge of the window. A draft works its way into the room, even though they're halfway to summer. The chill settles on his skin, but seems to be happening to someone else.
Someone else. He breaks away from the window, preparing to actually leave. He can see the parking lot from here, watches as cars leave and go.
Chase shuts the door behind him. He thinks of that unsure fleck in Cameron's eyes.
She saw it on a TV show once – two characters sat around snapping pieces of spaghetti. She finds herself sitting on the kitchen floor, sweeping up the raw noodles, wondering what she should do with the wasted pieces. Snapping them – sorry, bending them might be fun. She's so rarely pointless like that.
A piece of spaghetti goes flying across the kitchen, hitting the cupboard. She smiles and picks up another piece.
The doorbell rings.
Cameron lets spaghetti rain to the floor. "I'm coming," she calls. The water is spilling over the pot, bubbling and steaming. "Shit," she mumbles. She turns down the heat and tries to wipe up the puddle.
Her pre-made sauce is burning. Why does she bother?
"Hi," she says, breathlessly, opening the door. It's Chase. "Oh. Hey."
"May I?" he asks.
"Sure," Cameron replies.
Intimate, he thinks. Her shell has fallen around him.
She pads into the kitchen. "Chase," she says slowly, "do you know how to cook?"
Cameron has to hand it to Chase: he agrees to stay for dinner, he suffers his way through the spaghetti, he lets her chat about nothing.
He lets her steer.
He gives her some remaining shreds of dignity when she is bared for him to see. (The spaghetti is still all over the kitchen floor; she wouldn't let him go in there.)
"Can I ask you something?" she says.
Chase shrugs. "It's your turn."
Is it? Does she want to keep playing her games? "You didn't really come here for a poorly cooked supper," Cameron says, resting her feet on the coffee table.
Chase smiles, eerily. Cameron shivers. "I had a feeling," he says, "that you might want to talk."
"About what?" She's being deliberately dense, and she'll hate herself later for it, but right now, she's deriving some small enjoyment from it.
"Cameron," he says. "Allison."
"I'm sorry." She laces her fingers together. She doesn't know what to say. At all. Now. Ever.
"Perhaps I was wrong," he murmurs.
"No!" she bursts out. "No, you weren't."
"Then we should talk."
"Yes, we should."
Silence. Cameron looks at her rug. She likes this particular rug. "Chase," she says, "did you mean everything?"
He tilts his head. "Everything, Cameron?"
"You know what I mean. Expectations. Wanting more."
"Surprisingly, I do." He leans back.
"Chase?" she asks.
"Yeah, I did."
Cameron chews her lip. "Chase," she says again, "I didn't mean it."
He nods. I understand, the action says to her. All along, I knew.
She ducks her head. Can you forgive me? she wants to yell out. For my everything.
Why he does, she'll never know.
Early morning sunlight beams through the window. Angel rays. Cameron sits up, holding a hand to her eyes. Shielding, protecting. She forgot to close the blinds again.
It's strange to be up so early without anywhere to go; today she is off. It's strange to wake up and not be alone.
It's strange to stay.
She leans against the headboard, relaxing. She waits.
It's strange, but it feels right.
Chase shifts, blinking at her blearily. Cameron smiles, a ribbon of happiness curling up inside. "Good morning," she says.
"Good morning," he replies.
Her hair brushes his shoulder as she leans over to kiss him.