NOTES: This is I've had in mind for a long time, but haven't committed to actually finishing. I promise another chapter of The World Turned by next weekend or early the week after, it's just too heavy and involved for a week when my brain is already fried. Thanks for bearing with me.


The Midnight Oil

It's well past the end of visitation hours when House shows up, sometime between three thirty and four, the darkest part of the not-quite-morning when ghosts are sighted all over the world. Chase leans against the wall near the door, ready to bolt at the first sign of movement. He thinks he ought to get out while he still can; there's nothing for him here but undeserved guilt and jealousy over a father who's inadequate in a different way than his own.

But Chase can't tear his eyes away from the monitors, from the fresh bandages on Foreman's skull from where his drill bored holes just hours ago, surreally quiet, like practicing on a cadaver. He tells himself it's concern for Cameron, who's fallen asleep sideways in the awkward wood-backed chair, that keeps him here. She's shivering, he notices, and wonders whether she'd want to be woken.

The impact of House's cane on the outside of the glass wall nearly makes Chase fall over; a dizzying second later he's face to face with his uncharacteristically disgruntled boss. It stirs an odd discomfort in the pit of Chase's stomach to remember how House actually seemed upset over the prospect of Foreman's death, like he's accidentally seen something he shouldn't.

"Get out," says House sharply, and Chase jumps again, off balance with too much adrenaline and not nearly enough sleep. Cameron stirs, looking blearily at the pair of them, and Chase just barely manages to catch the end of House's cane before it pokes her in the shoulder.

"Why?" asks Chase irritably. He's not sure why staying is suddenly important to him, but he doesn't think he has the energy to move.

"Because sitting here's pointless," says House. "It's not going to make him wake up any faster, it's just going to make the two of you even more useless than you already are. There's so much guilt in here it's a miracle he doesn't need a ventilator already."

Chase looks at Cameron, debating whether to protest, but she just shakes her head and stretches weakly, leaning unsteadily on the back of the chair as she gets to her feet.

"Come on." Chase pats her shoulder awkwardly as she passes him on her way to the door, because touching her seems like the right thing to do now, even though he isn't sure exactly how to do it.

"Are you going home?" asks Cameron when they're out of House's earshot. They've made it to the door of the locker room, but stopped here, reluctant to actually retrieve their things. The action seems oddly banal, routine, and this has been a strange night, even by Princeton Plainsboro Diagnostics standards.

Chase shrugs, considering. His instinct is to run home and curl up in a ball under the covers, escape from the pervading misery that now seems to disseminate through the sick yellow glow of the fluorescent lights. But there isn't closure yet, and he knows he won't be able to sleep even if he does leave. And besides, he isn't sure he has the energy to be driving without at least a little bit of hope to bolster him.

"I guess not," he says at last. It's only a few more hours until sunrise. Somehow, illogically, it feels like everything will be all right again in the light of day. He doesn't have to ask Cameron to know that she isn't leaving.

Chase turns and starts to walk almost aimlessly, looking for any decent excuse for a place to sit down. Diagnostics is their usual default, but the air in there still seems toxically charged with desperation and guilt. Cameron's heels echo as she follows him, the building oddly silent. It's only in the dead of night, this odd before-dawn witching hour, that the place is finally still.

They end up sitting in the darkened lounge, Chase on the couch and Cameron in a chair, eyeing each other in the Exit-sign-red glow. He's reminded always, in moments like this, of how much and how little he has to say to Cameron. It's like the uncertain brush of his fingers against her arm, the need for contact, but they might as well be staring at each other through the glass walls of the isolation room.

"He's gonna be fine," says Chase, unconsciously echoing the ill-advised and empty words of Rodney Foreman. It seems like the right thing to say until it's out of his mouth; afterwards it just seems foolish.

"You don't know that." Cameron's voice is flat and abrupt. She looks at her hands in her lap, cupped empty like there's an invisible mug of tea between them.

Chase shrugs, trying to find a rationale that won't upset her further. They don't agree on much when it comes to patients, and he's almost accepted the fact that they never will.

"He's going to live," Chase amends, figuring that Cameron can't find fault in that point, at least.

"Yeah." She almost spits the word it's so filled with bitterness. "And what's that life going to be like?"

Chase sighs, unsure of how to respond to that one. Rationalization is his oldest coping mechanism, the one that's gotten him sanely through life so far. It's a skill Cameron doesn't seem to have, and he wonders how she's dealt with her share of tragedy.

"That's not yours to worry about," says Chase, because he's reached the point of exhaustion at which coming up with an answer she'll like is no longer an option.

"How can you say that?" Cameron looks surprised, but it's an argument they've had countless times before. "I probably ruined his life."

"You made a choice," says Chase calmly. "It was one he asked you to make, and one you thought was necessary to save his life."

"But it wasn't necessary!" She sounds like she might cry, and Chase feels the tug of discomfort again. Cameron isn't the kind of woman who shows weakness often, and he feels a stab of pre-emptive shame on her behalf. It isn't that he can't deal with people being emotional, but he's come to feel a sense of dread when the usual touchstones fall apart.

"You didn't know that." Chase wonders whether he ought to just be quiet, but the prospect of the world crumbling further around him fills him with panic. "Besides, you only ordered the biopsy. It's not like you were the one actually drilling into his head."

Cameron pauses at that, eyeing him intently. "Are you saying that you should be the one feeling guilty about this?"

"No." It comes out harsher than intended, and Chase hopes he hasn't just hurt his point by snapping at her. He wonders whether he ought to feel guilty, having been the one to actually perform the biopsy, but the concept seems foreign and superfluous not knowing whether there's even been any damage done. "I'm saying that any way you look at it, you've got no reason to blame yourself. You should be feeling good about what you did."

Cameron gets up and moves to stand a few feet in front of him, meeting his gaze with an intensity that makes his heart speed up. "Would you have ordered the biopsy?" she asks very softly.

Chase pauses, taken aback, because he honestly isn't sure how to answer. The right course of action always seems clear in his mind until he hears things House's way, and then it's as if he's been blind all along, seeing the situation for the first time. He thinks, probably, if he'd been told by House to wait, he would have waited. Cameron's choice is nobler, more responsible, but potentially more damaging in the end.

"I did the biopsy," says Chase firmly, opting not to comment. "And there's no sense in questioning it now. It's done and Foreman's alive."

Cameron nods curtly and comes to sit beside him on the couch, the conversation clearly over. She curls into the cushions with her back to him, chin propped on the arm. Chase reaches out and lays his hand against the center of her back, almost shocked by the remembered softness of her hair against his palm. He can't tell whether she's fallen asleep, but for once she doesn't shrug him off.


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